« AnteriorContinuar »
The importance of the mode in which truth is communicated is apparent, first, from the nature of mind on which truth operates; secondly, from the nature of truth itself.
1. The mind which is to be operated upon, is of such a nature that, in order to be profited by any subject, it must attend to that subject, and it will not attend unless it be pleased. To the question,
« what moves the mind, in every particular instance, to determine its general power of directing to this or that particular motion or rest ?” Mr. Locke replies, “the motive for continuing in the same state of action, is only the present satisfaction in it; the motive to change is always some uneasiness ; nothing setting us upon a change of state, or upon any new action, but some uneasiness."*
This impulse after happiness is so various in its operations, that the mind may follow a train of ideas which in many respects is disagreeable, but the neglect of which would be still more disagreeable. Little pleasure is derived from the train itself, but the uneasiness in rejecting it would be such, that the mind chooses the less of two evils, and on the great whole finds its happiness in attention. It pursues the train, however, with irresolute and intermittent step, seizes every casual association to escape from the repulsive to some attractive objects, and by its forcible efforts to recal itself, soon becomes fatigued and in need of rest. The preacher then is to remember that, though in one sense he must be superior to the desire of pleasing men, and intent only on pleasing God, yet in another sense he must please men in order to please God. He must not neglect the great law which God has given, nor attempt to enter the heart by an avenue which God has not opened. He should honor the Creator by adapting truth to that principle, which was at the creation implanted so deeply in the soul, and which in its quick movement prompts to the acquisition of all knowledge, and may as well allure to salutary as to hurtful trains of thought. The more wisely a preacher avails himself of this ever-active and ever-leading appetency for pleasure, so much the more deeply does he arouse the interest of his hearers, and the deeper their interest so much the more impressible their hearts. It is an old rule, that an orator must first please, then instruct, then gain or conquer.
Hearers will be sometimes pleased by the congeniality of the subject with their tastes and wants, but they ordinarily demand
* Essay on the Human Understanding, Chap. 21. p. 29, Vol. X. No. 28.
something more than a naked presentation of the subject. “If knowledge be communicated,” says Augustine, in an unpleasant manner, the advantage of it accrues only to the few who are most studious, and who desire to know all things which are to be learned, even though the things be expressed in a low and uncultivated style. When they have obtained their knowledge, they feed on it with delight; indeed it is a distinguished tendency of good minds to love, not words, but the truth contained in the words. For of what use is a golden key, if it cannot open what we desire; and what harm if the key be of wood, provided it will unlock the door of knowledge ; for we desire nothing, but that the things be laid open which are now shut up.
Yet since there is some resemblance between eaters and learners, on account of the fastidiousness of most men, even those articles of food which are essential to life, must be made palatable by condiments."
.”* Though a few minds may attend to truth for truth's own sake, yet even they would attend with more constancy, and therefore with more profit, if the truth were arrayed in its appropriate garments; just as a good man would entertain his friends even if meanly apparelled, but entertain them with more cordiality if their apparel corresponded with their character. And where there is one good man, who will, for the sake of substantial excellence, overlook the repulsiveness of its first appearance, there are ten even good men, who will be deterred by the haggard envelope from penetrating to the riches which it conceals. A dull preacher may flatter himself that he has communicated the truth ; but he has not communicated it, for no one has received it, and in rhetoric, communication implies not merely the giving by one man, but also the taking by another. We have perhaps heard a sermon on the shortness of life, and have almost felt, while it was “long drawn out,” as if the sermon itself were almost as long as it represented life to be ; but again have we heard a sermon on the same trite theme, and have been startled at the discovery of time's wonderful rapidity, seeming to have never thought of the thing before. The style of our Saviour was preëminently distinguished by wrapping the most novel beauties around the most ordinary subjects ; but if any one will look into bishop Wilkins's Ecclesiastes, or into Claude's Specimens of Rhetorical Discourses, he will wonder at the great pains-taking of some men to make their discourses chiefly useful, as trials of the patience and tests of the submissive
* Aug. de Doctrina Christiana, Lib. IV. Cap. 11.
temper of the laity. The physician of the body and the physician of the soul have seemed to differ in one point of their practice, the former sweetening his most nauseous pills, the latter concealing the sweetest aliment beneath a distasteful exterior. Mr. Lye, a minister of the seventeenth century, in a sermon on 1 Cor. 6:17 says, “these terms I shall endeavor ovo temo clearly to explain.” He then explains the text in thirty divisions, “ for the fixing of it on the right basis," and adds,“ having thus beaten up and levelled our way to the text, I shall not stand to shred the words into any unnecessary parts, but shall extract out of them such an observation as, 1 conceive, strikes a full eighth to the mind of the Spirit.” He then subjoins fiftysix additional topics, making in the whole eighty-six divisions. Another preacher of the seventeenth century, Mr. Drake, published a sermon of one hundred and seventy divisions, to which are appended “sundry queries and solutions,” and to all these is added the asseveration, that the writer “has passed sundry useful points, pitching only on that which comprehended the marrow and substance.” The regular structure for the “improvement” of a discourse has been, to divide it into several heads for the use of edification, several for the use of direction, several for the use of reproof and self-examination, several for the use of exhortation, and, says Flavel in his sermon on EngJand's duty, “it remains that I shut up all with a use of consolation." *
But of what use in stimulating the heart are all these applications, their unwieldly frame-work making them so unnatural and inexpressive. How soon will an audience who have sat sluggishly under such prolix discourses, “prick up their predestinating ears," when a subject is announced with directness and simplicity, and they see in a single sentence the nucleus of the whole sermon. An unlettered preacher, famed for dexterity in interesting an unlettered audience, took for his text the address to Noah," thou shalt come into the ark," and proposed to draw practical instruction from the life of Noah by considering, “into what, from what, for what, with what, by what, Noah was to come;" this sudden and comprehensive, though singular announcement roused the curiosity of the rude listeners, and opened their minds to receive the truth, which when thus inserted would never drop out. How similar the division here adopted by a natural orator, to one adopted by Father Bernard, and long
* See Claude's Essay, Robinson's notes, Vol. I. p. 45.
celebrated in the schools, but of which the natural orator had never heard. The text was, “ The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” The division was, “ Who will descend? Whence? Whither? When: How ? For what?" The freshness and liveliness of such a plan will quickly wake up the dormant inquisitiveness of an audience, engage their interest as well as attention ; and the nature of the heart is such, that unless it do not merely attend but attend with interest and zeal, it will not be radically benefited. Truth is indeed the grand instrument of moral effect, and is adapted to produce all effects that are needed, but still it becomes operative, only when it has obtained full possession of the heart. It is the entrance of the divine words which giveth light; therefore they must be adjusted so that they will enter. If the city is to be razed by the besieging army, the army must first find means of getting within the walls, perhaps by a Trojan horse. If the stubborn disposition of man is to be riven by iron, the iron will not work well unless it be wedge-like in its form. Fair and smooth must the truth be, if it would glide easily into the soul's recesses ; there must be no juttings out of cant phrases, rude technicalities which roughen the whole sentiment, and increase the friction of its passage. Let a preacher adopt the rule of Cotton Mather, " to crowd into his discourse as much matter as he can without producing obscurity,” or let him roughcast his style by such phrases, as man's lapsed state, law-works, creature-conforts, heaven-pleasing frames, unspeakableness, worldly-mindedness, and the thousand arbitrary terms with which many Puritan sermons are crowded; he will leave his hearers as little profited as the benches which they sleep on. But let him file off unseemly excrescences, expel common-place remark and words haunted with stale associations, and let him exhibit his subject in a transparent covering, it will be seen, felt, perhaps loved. Compare the operose and awkward circumlocutions of John Owen, with the directness and pungency of Richard Baxter, and you will not wonder why ihe Saini's Rest is destined to live forever as a devotional classic, while the excellent treatise on Spiritual-Mindedness, even after the numerous rescissions upon it by Porter, is read from a sense of duty. Hervey's Meditations are valuable, but how many times must a sober man sigh in reading them ? Cecil's Remains are written in a man's style, and the first time of reading
them is an inducement and a preparative for the second. There is a sermon on “the way to be saved,” preached by Dr. Edwards of Andover, and afterwards published by the American Tract Society, which will impart to a common audience a better system of religious truth, tban volumes written on the same theme by some good English divines, who no sooner obtained a weighty thought, than straightway they hid it, as if for safe keeping, under a clumsy paraphrase, and whose deep instructions are now so highly prized, partly because it is so difficult to get at them through the superincumbent rubbish of words. These writers have notably reversed the advice of Usher, “ to back all practical precepts and doctrines with apt proofs from the holy Scriptures ; avoiding all exotic phrases, scholastic terms, unnecessary quotations from authors, and forced rhetorical figures ; since it is not difficult to make easy things appear hard, but to render hard things easy, is the hardest part of a good orator as well as preacher.”
2. The nature of truth is such that it cannot be taught without scrupulous attention to the manner of teaching. The figure of any thing is the thing itself figured, and the configuration of a doctrine is the doctrine itself in its just arrangement. To separate the mode of stating a truth from the nature of it, is to separate the contour of an image from the substance of it. The theologian flatters himself that he does the solid work at the quarry, and when he has hewn out a block of marble he throws it to the rhetorician, with the assurance that all is done except the very trifling labor of finding the statue, which lies hid somewhere in the block. It may however be asked, what is the effect of the statue, if there be abstracted from it the new manner of its existence which was given it by the sculptor's chisel ? It is indeed true, that the stones, and the brick, and the wood, and the mortar, and the iron are the substantial parts of a house, and the conformation of these parts, is but a shadow ; yet if this intangible conformation be taken away, there is some question what becomes of the house. « There is but one indivisible point, says Pascal, from which we should look at a picture ; all others are too near, too distant, too high, too low. Perspective fixes this point precisely in the art of painting," and I may add, rhetoric fixes it in the art of preaching. The minister who disregards this doctrinal perspective, who, so be it that he really hold out the real picture, cares not in what light he holds it, nor how its lineaments are reflected to his people, will often show