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weekly lecture, national calamities or a private funeral, bis thoughts gradually inclined from the chosen theme, till they flowed easily in the deeply worn channel.
In Adam's fall
We sinned all, might have been his universal text, as it was, in the main, the burden of his discourses. Far otherwise did Dr. Chalmers preach. His subjects were as various as his sermons, and when he had said all he wished on the chosen one, he ended. He preached not because “he wanted to say something, but because he had something to say.” Indeed, he carried this virtue of individuality to excess, and lacked in comprehensiveness. There is ground for the criticism of Robert Hall.
“ His mind," said Mr. Hall, seems to move on hinges, not on wheels. There is incessant motion, but no progress. When he was at Leicester, he preached a most admirable sermon on the necessity of immediate repentance; but there were only two ideas in it, and on these his mind revolved as on a pivot.”
The stateliness of Mr. Hall is indeed totally different from the various and striking originalities of Dr. Chalmers. The page of the former stands out in calm and living light, transcendently pure and beautiful and majestic; that of the latter, in splendid corruscations, which yet are true solar beams. We are charmed with the dignity and completeness of the one, with the distinct minuteness of the other. If we are filled with awe in regarding Mr. Hall, we receive a vivid impression of reality from Dr. Chalmers. The former uncovers before you a whole side of the temple of truth, when perhaps your dim vision will permit you to see the whole, only " as through a glass darkly.” The other directs your view to one pillar, shows its foundation, and its height, its delicate beauties, and its important support ; carries you to one side and the other, that you may view its relations, see where it is joined to the main building, and where it is separate ; uncovers partly its mysterious foundation, and points to the rays which gild its summit, and if you see but the one pillar, yet you see it. The hearers of the former might go away, with an impression of the great intellect of their preacher, but with the painful consciousness of being unable to comprehend the full meaning of the discourse. Those of the latter, perceiving indeed, that the sermon contained only a fragment of truth, would yet be satisfied with the certainty that they understood it, and should remember it.
Mr Hall preached to all men as if they were philosophers. Dr. Chalmers preached to philosophers as if they were but men. We would by no means speak of the great minister of Bristol, as if he were at all vague or rambling. We would not in the least depreciate his exalted abilities. Not till after an age has passed away, shall we see his like again. We have compared him with the Scotch divine only in respect to the comprehensiveness of his general discourses, in which, (whether it be a fault or a virtue,) he has been excelled by no one of modern times.
But though Dr. Chalmers introduces but one or two leading ideas into each discourse, he is not tiresome. This leads us to notice another characteristic, viz. a wonderful variety and pertinency of illustration. The same great talker, whose criticism we have already quoted, remarks in view of this trait, “ His mind is like a kaleidoscope. Every turn presents the object in a new and beautiful form.” Not unfrequently does he begin with painting a common scene in nature, a common occurrence in life, which would, in ordinary hands, be very common, but as the picture is filled, you perceive that the artist has brought fresh
upon the canvass, a multitude of hitherto unnoticed beauties; and then you begin to see the aptness of the illustration. At first, the analogy seems unnatural, or faint, at the last, it is perfect. An instance occurs in the sermon on the restlessness of human ambition, where the different impression of a near, and of a distant landscape, the former unattractive because its minute evils are seen, the latter altogether lovely, because distance lends enchantment, is made the archetype of that foolish restlessness, which is forever panting after some untasted pleasure, forever exclaiming, “Oh that I had the wings of a dove, that I may fly away and be at rest," as if the blue mountain which looks so calm in the distance, had not its peculiar inconveniences and dangers, as truly as the plain. These illustrations are so interwoven with the whole texture of the discourse, (and this discourse is but a sample of others) the thought changes so easily from the natural landscape to the moral landscape, that you are imperceptibly and quietly borne along to the conclusion of the discourse, as if floating upon a cloud.
His manner of developing a subject is peculiar. He frequently omits all numerical heads, or introduces them with as little abruptness as possible. Perhaps he thought these angles and projections to fasten attention upon, too little consistent
with the flowing line of beauty. Perhaps he thought that, following nature, the skeleton should be as much as possible concealed by the soft and fair flesh, instead of standing out, leanribbed, sharp-jointed, and spare. Indeed he does not lay out the subject upon the table, and like the anatomical demonstrator, with scalpel and forceps, coldly dissect away the integuments, and show you the nerves, and heart, senseless and lifeless. No such work of death is his. The heart he shows is beating with strong pulsations, full of life and feeling. His breath is the breath of life, and he breathes it into every truth he touches, and you see the form grow and expand, as life would naturally expand it. The mere acorn you behold at first, and he unfolds the spreading oak which was so curiously wrapped up in the acorn, just as the rain and the sunshine would unfold it, till you can lean against it, and rest under its shade. And as we have said without metaphor, it is the oak which he unfolds. Не does not weave the ivy among its branches, though the sight would be beautiful, nor plant in its top the parasitic misletoe, though a druid might therefore worship at its foot.
The forms of logic, he does not assume. He forgets the requirements of the schools, but quietly writes and speaks, and leaves to others the application of the rules. We are glad, at least for a change, to see this characteristic, for we have thought of subjects, and heard them treated of, under the logical formulary, till we are tired of the formality. We have been bound by the ceremonial law of dialectics, till we are glad of the freedom (not lawlessness) of another dispensation. And though we by no means think that the old law had better be done
away, yet its rigid requirements, its nice exactions of mint, anise, and cummin, may well sometimes give place to a more liberal policy. Oh, there are truths, with which logic has nothing to do. They would stiffen into the unbending rigidity of death, the moment its iron hand was stretched out over them. Men have affections as well as intellects; affections, ten-fold more mighty than the strictest logic; affections which will not operate merely because you prove that they ought to operate, which will operate though you unanswerably show that virtue and vice, happiness and misery, are but names, that the outward world is not, that man himself is but the “dream of a shadow.” The head is confused, but the heart is true. Reasoning is silenced, the skeptic triumphs, but the man is not convinced, the victory is useless. Well may we exclaim with the philosophic poet,
“ Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears." The preacher who understands the heart, is the preacher who will persuade his audience. Such a preacher is Dr. Chal
You cannot always tell why you love his sermons, yet you love them. You wonder and adore and
You wonder and adore and weep, when you have not so much as thought whether you ought to wonder, and weep. You believe, yet cannot tell the process by which you were made to believe. He throws his whole soul into his subject. His sympathies, his fears, his love, gush out in a living stream, and yours must flow with them. The idea is presented to your mind, just as you might think it sprang up in his
, during the investigation. As you read, thought after thought accumulates, each suggested by, or intimately connected with, the preceding ; and yet all are, usually, but different aspects of the main proposition. His sermons do not resemble a number of parallel, or converging streams, rushing noisily to mingle in the same ocean; on the contrary, they frequently remind us of one broad river, shooting out in beautiful coves, on whose silently extending bosom you are wafted, with here and there a cascade, till you finally lift up your eyes to behold the illimitable ocean, upon
which you have been unconsciously launched. Yet there is no lack of directness, no apparent fear of offending his hearers, no honied phrases to sweeten the bitterness of the truth. The sword he uses is a sharp sword. Though the truth be proclaimed with no loud outcry to attract notice, yet it is the truth which is proclaimed. He does not indeed ransack the vocabulary of anger or vulgarity for bitter words and stinging sarcasms and cant phrases, but neither does he withhold from men that 'the wages of sin is death,' and he is careful that no conventional uses, no habits of society, no amiable virtues, shall hide the deformity and deceitfulness of the unrenewed heart. The directness and form of appeal differ somewhat, from that to which, in our land of excitement, and change, and enterprise, and revivals, we have been accustomed, but we lay it altogether to the fact, that the preacher was born and lived in Scotland, not in New England. We draw no inference from the circumstance therefore, against his zeal or piety.
We have said that he does not assume the forms of logic, but it would be the farthest from our intention to convey the idea, that he is desultory or illogical, nor indeed would our after-remarks permit such an inference. There is argument, though no
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syllogism. There is application though rarely methodical “inferences," or "remarks.
In the very subjects themselves, if there is nothing new, there is something uncommon. They are subjects which are not very frequently introduced into the pulpit, though each, as he has treated it, comes to be a matter of immediate practical importance. He does not scruple to preach on "cruelty to animals," nor to unfold with wonderful sagacity the morality of mercantile operations, and from the stars, he reads us one of the sublimest lessons of the power, and wisdom, and goodness, of that Almighty Being who made them all.
Another characteristic of the sermons of this great man is their originality. In this respect we can hardly point to his equal. Not a sermon do we open without finding something new in the exposition of the text, in the application, or general deductions. If there be but one thought, that is so ingenious, displays such a knowledge of human nature, or of abstract truth, that you can bear very well to have it expanded and enforced even through the length of an ordinary discourse. The novelty relieves you from all sense of weariness. He presents himself, his own thoughts, his own feelings, to his hearers. There is the freshness of life about them. The material which he has drawn from others, has been thoroughly digested, and wrought into his own system, has become a part of his own bone and muscle. He constantly shows the restless activity of bis mind. No one who has not reflected, who does not habitually reflect, could write as he has written.
Though in a single sermon, as we have said, he confines himself to a single point, and is perhaps too abundant in repetition, no charge can be more unjust, than that, in his series of sermons, (of which there are several,) he is either circumscribed in his views, or indulges in the same recurring strain of thought. Look at the comprehensiveness of his astronomical, and mercantile discourses ; descend into that mine which he has there opened, to exhaust which, would require ages, instead of hours. This productive power of his mind, we have thought one of the most valuable. He suggests more than he tells. This is the prerogative of genius, for genius is ever original, and originality always inspires. “ His discourses," as Robert Hall says of another divine,“ were not the painful productions of a barren mind, straining itself to meet the exigencies of the moment; but, gathered from a rich and cultivated soil, they were a mere Vol. X. No. 28.