Page images

operations which a prudent surgeon will not perform without a professional brother by his side. The preacher's manuscript is a faithful mentor to him. After a "minister of the people" had given an extemporaneous description of the atonement, he uttered in his closing prayer the just, but ungraceful confession: "Thou knowest that thy servant has marred and mauled this precious doctrine." Pastor Harms of Hermannsburg held his closed Bible in his hand, as he stood before the pulpit and recited verse by verse of the Psalm which was the lesson of the day, and commented richly on each verse as he repeated it from memory. He then opened the Bible, and read closely and consecutively all the verses which he had recited and explained. The reading of the verses attracted more attention than the recitation of them. It was an appropriate token of reverence for the Word of God. Those ministers who are the most expert in extemporaneous speech illustrate the importance. of occasional reading, when they make argumentative (not illustrative) quotations from the Bible. They turn over the leaves of the sacred volume, find (sometimes in a manner too demonstrative) the desired proof-texts, recite them with the eye fastened upon them. The passages might have been recited memoriter; but the reading of them is more fitting, more expressive of respect for the inspired word, more apt to dispel the drowsiness of the audience. The testimony of a prophet is to the preacher what the testimony of a courtwitness is to a lawyer. When Mr. Webster, in the Senate of the United States, uttered his solemn protest against the "Expunging Resolutions," he held up his manuscript, read it deliberately and with great majesty. His hearers felt that he was performing an act of historical importance, and was uttering words not only for his contemporaries, but also for posterity. The importance of reading sentences or paragraphs is proportioned to their critical or adventurous nature and the exactness with which they have been elaborated.

1 Whenever the Bible is read in the pulpit, the look and tones of a reader are far more appropriate than those of a declaimer. The pastor need not make gestures when the apostle is speaking.

[blocks in formation]

B. The reading from a manuscript may be sometimes peculiarly appropriate to the relation subsisting between the preacher and his audience. He may be called to address his superiors on an occasion which demands instructive words. The young man preaching a Concio ad Clerum, addressing the teachers and students of the university, the state or national legislature, discoursing in a style necessarily didactic, may depart from his usual method of extemporary speech, and betake himself, not slavishly, to his manuscript. Thus he exhibits a becoming respect for his auditors. They may be accustomed to hear discourses read, may be prejudiced against the other modes of preaching, and may feel the indignity of being instructed extempore by a comparative novice, who might well sit at their feet. Even so fluent an orator as Rufus Choate was accustomed to exhibit, if not to use, his manuscript when he delivered a lyceum lecture; for he regarded the lecture as designed to inform and instruct men who are already intelligent; and therefore he considered himself as violating the rules of decorum if he should appear to be giving them new ideas out of his own unaided resources.1 Some lecturers and some doctors of divinity have pretended to be reading when they were extemporizing; and if "hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue," these pretences indicate that there is some virtue in reading

1 Some recent reformers of the pulpit are contending that the occupant of it, instead of discussing the truths of theology, ought to discuss themes of juridical and political science, the principles of casuistry which are to regulate the business "of a broker, or lawyer, or merchant, or railroad man, or banker, or commission merchant." To understand these principles the preacher must have not only "considerable knowledge of human nature, but a wide practical acquaintance with the political economy and customs of many trades and manufactures and of the money-market, and a fair acquaintance with the practice of the courts and with legal history and legal principles," etc. etc. But it is certain that if a clergyman devote himself to the study of these intricate themes he cannot devote himself to the study of theological truth; and if he attempt to instruct merchants, manufacturers, bankers, lawyers, railroad officials, in the details of their respective employments, he cannot safely trust himself to unwritten remarks. Such remarks will be often inaccurate; and the laymen who are reproved by him for their misdemeanors will convict him of ignorance as well as condemn him for slander, and the church will be converted into a beargarden.

a discourse. There are, then, different kinds of exception to the half-forgotten verses:

"In point of sermons, 'tis confest,

Our English clergy make the best;
And, what seems paradox at first,

They make the best, and preach the worst."

C. The reading of his sermon may be sometimes peculiarly appropriate to the mental or physical state of the preacher. Those who know his condition may be in a painful tremor for him, if he have no manuscript. His health may be such on the morning of the Sabbath, his avocations may have been such during the preceding week, his intellect and his sensibilities may be so unaccountably disordered, that if he speak extempore his thoughts and words will drag, like Pharaoh's chariot-wheels in the mud. Many an aged divine can address an audience in written words more effectively than in what was once indeed free speech but is now forced and hesitating. After a preacher had committed his manuscript sermon to the flames in order to force himself into the extemporaneous method, and after he had proved his success on days when he was at the heights, but his want of success on days when he was at the depths, for he was a man of moods, and shone sometimes as a merely flickering light-he said: "If I had kept my sermons they might have illumined my people when my days were dark." It is sometimes safe, at other times unsafe, to burn the boats when the river is crossed. A few years after the first Secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions had removed from the pastorate of a church in the country to that of a church in the town, he put into the fire nearly all the sermons which he had written during his country pastorate. They had been composed with great care; but he said: "I found that I was making crutches of them." A crutch is hurtful to a strong man; but who is certain that he will not in time become lame, and will not find it better to walk leaning than to fall down? 1

1 We must confess, however, that Dr. Worcester's sermons, although written

Not only when the preacher is in a state of lassitude, but also when in a state of tumultuous excitement, it may be more fitting for him to read a sermon, than trust himself to his fresh emotions. He may be called to deliver a funeral discourse over the remains of a beloved friend; to speak on some recent casualty, which overpowers both himself and his hearers; to preach when his thoughts are drowned in the tide of his feelings; and when he is in danger of losing his power to articulate, or else of uttering incoherent rhapsodies. A manuscript may then save him from sudden shocks of feeling; it may repress new and unhealthy agitations, and guide him over the danger of extravagant remarks, as a bridge would conduct him over a swollen torrent. It may also preserve his auditors from such harassing fears for him. as will incapacitate them for heeding his instructions.

D. The reading of a sermon may be especially appropriate to the constitution and general character of a clergyman. Every plant should bring forth fruit after its kind. We should not complain of the fig-tree for not bearing olive berries, nor of the vine for not bearing figs. Every soul, too, must bring forth its fruits according to its own make. Its peculiar constitution is the peculiar call of God to the soul's peculiar form of duties. His call we must respect. A special facility of speech is an indication that the possessor of it should speak extempore. In some rare cases, however, his facility is fatal. The pages of a written sermon are needed now and then to compress his loquacity, as the banks of a river turn a waste of waters into a fertilizing stream. When he occasionally reads a discourse, his hearers expect an unwonted concentration of thought and pay a special heed to him. Unlike a lawyer the pastor speaks habitually on the same class of topics. Hence he is more exposed than laboriously, were written with too little research. During the first year and a half of his pastorate he had composed a hundred and thirty-four; and during the first two years and a half, two hundred and twenty-four, some of them double although numbered as single, and thus he reached the average of nearly two sermons every week. See Life and Labors of Samuel Worcester, D.D., Vol. i. pp. 206, 207, 394.

a lawyer to fall into a hackneyed strain of address. The occasional reading of a sermon which was written with a design to variegate and freshen his style checks his tendency to excessive repetition. On the other hand, not many, but a few, men are utterly incapable of acquiring a facility in extemporaneous remark. Reading their sermons, they may do eminent service in the pulpit; attempting free speech they perform the best service when they cease from the attempt. Their thoughts are too weighty for unprovided words; their feelings too resistless for connected utterance. As there are some men who cannot by any amount of labor acquire the needed readiness of extemporaneous preaching, so there are some who can acquire it, but not without an unwise expenditure of labor. These few men can accomplish better results if they will apply their toil to other pursuits. They are affluent spirits, and it is difficult to turn their ingots of gold into small coin. We feel that certain masters of thought are in an unfitting position, and they work under a needless disadvantage when they hesitate for the precise word, recall a phrase after they have pained themselves in the selection of it, are so conscientious in their scholarship that they speak with stammering accent, and so fastidious in their taste that they blush in confusion at the verbal infelicities which they are the only persons to detect. In their private study they see with clearness and write with power; but in the presence of unlettered hearers they are like a blind man grinding in the prison-house of the Philistines. They speak with the greater ease, because their manuscript is a kind of surety for them, and the intelligent hearer has more of a pleasant sympathy with, than of a painful sym-. pathy for them.

Perhaps Bishop Sanderson was one of these exceptional men. When he was Chaplain in ordinary to Charles the First, the king said of him: "I carry my ears to hear other preachers, but I carry my conscience to hear Mr. Sanderson." This preacher to the conscience had his own sphere of usefulness; he ought not to have abandoned the pulpit, of which

« PreviousContinue »