« PreviousContinue »
for public worship Bishop Jewell could so imprint the chief topics of his sermon on his memory that he said: "If ten thousand people were fighting and quarrelling all the while I was preaching, they could not confuse me." Many preachers have so little control over themselves that they cannot repeat the Lord's Prayer correctly before their people. Some cannot even remember the biblical form of the benediction. One main advantage of memoriter preaching consists in its training the preacher to a command over the phraseology of the Bible. Some of his sermons are biblical in their style. Engraving them upon his memory, he impresses many precious texts upon it. If he can learn by heart a sermon, he can learn an Epistle of the New Testament. Wise men have disciplined themselves in acquiring a familiarity with the language of the Bible, not only for the sake of improving the diction of their written, as well as extemporary, sermons, but also for the sake of their spiritual growth. On his death-bed James Brainerd Taylor found an inexpressible relief in the choice texts which he had laid up in the storehouse of his mind. He had made it a rule to treasure up in his memory some portion of the scriptures every night before retiring to rest. When he was examined for liberty to preach the gospel, one who was present said of him: "I never heard any man quote the sacred scriptures with such fluency for the confirmation of his doctrinal views, as the questions were successively proposed to him." Dr. Chalmers, at the age of thirty-one, writes: "I finished my perusal of the New Testament a few days ago, and began it again, at the rate of a chapter every week-day, with the particular view of committing the most remarkable passages to memory."
IV. In proportion to the weakness of the preacher's memory should be his caution in attempting to speak memoriter. Bishop Hall says that "the same thoughts do commonly meet us in the same places, as if we had left them there till our return." Sometimes, however, they are truant.
1 Memoirs of Chalmers, Vol. i. p. 218.
Atterbury writes to Pope: "If you have not read the verses lately, I am sure you remember them, because you forget nothing." When a man who forgets nothing recites a sermon, his facile words are impressive; but when he is laboring to recall his discourse, he drawls, hesitates, stammers, repeats his words, as a boy runs back in order to make a fresh leap. True, he has the use of his arms; but they swing convulsively and without meaning. His eye is in full view; but, although it is called the open window of the soul, it has now a gauze curtain hanging before it. Introspective, retrospective, it betrays no sympathy with the audience; it does not glisten with love or hope, but is darkened with fear. In his naïve way, Izaak Walton says of the judicious Hooker: "His sermons were neither long nor earnest, but uttered with a grave zeal and a humble voice, his eyes always fixed in one place to prevent his imagination from wandering; insomuch that he seemed to study as he spake." When the preacher is studying as he speaks, his hearers will be looking out of the window. The Mohammedans in the mosque are attentive to everything rather than their Iman, who stands uttering words which he is struggling to remember; his body being visible, but his mind buried in the absent Koran.
If the preacher's retentive power be too frail to be trusted with the whole discourse, he may still deliver a part of it memoriter; for he may hold securely a few select paragraphs, although he would break down under the weight of many. An accurate elocution requires him, employing the figure of "vision," to extend the arm, elevate the head, direct his eye into the distance; then he needs to be entirely independent of his papers. As he addresses the Supreme Being, he will appear irreverent unless he look upward and concentrate his mind upon the heavens, rather than divide it between the heavens and his ink-sketches. In pronouncing such addresses, Theremin deemed the memoriter form of "eloquence a virtue."
1 Life of Richard Hooker, p. 90.
Sometimes a preacher is able in his study to recollect the entire sermon, and still in the pulpit delivers it from manuscript; as a musician, although quite familiar with the notes of a symphony, yet, while he is rendering them in public, feels the safer if he has them before his eye. This diffident man can read and remember more successfully than he can either read or remember alone. He is less effective than an accomplished extemporaneous speaker, but more effective than an ill-trained one. He does not attain the height which is easily reached by some who preach memoriter; but he rises higher than one who reads slavishly or remembers hesitatingly. He does not soar like the eagle; he does not creep like the snail; but like the ostrich he runs the faster because he has wings to assist his feet. There are some preachers who with all their effort can never do more than, as Macaulay says of Dryden, " attain the first place in the second rank" of their profession.1
V. Rules for the memoriter preacher. These may be arranged under the following classes:
1. In learning a sermon by heart take opportunities to improve it. Sometimes, perhaps, you have written what you yourself do not fully understand, and therefore cannot easily remember. Make it plain to your own mind and you will be able to recite it so as to make it plain to your hearers. Sometimes, perhaps, you do not perceive the reasons for the arrangement of your thoughts; perhaps you have no reasons for it; perhaps you have no philosophical arrangement. Then change the order of your ideas; make it easy to be recalled; so it will be more impressive upon your hearers as well as upon yourself. Many a sentence may be made the more emphatic, by so adjusting its clauses that one will sug
1 Macaulay's Miscellanies, Vol. i. p. 169. The first rank in poetry was beyond his [Dryden's] reach, but he challenged and secured the most honorable place in the second. His imagination resembled the wings of the ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar. When he attempted the highest flights, he became ridiculous; but while he remained in a lower region, he outstripped all competitors."
gest the other. The elder Pitt committed to memory some of Dr. Barrow's sermons. If Barrow, himself, had undertaken to commit them, he would have given them more of that excellence which in the present age is regarded as the chief one-- brevity.
2. In learning your discourse by heart keep yourself in sympathy with its doctrine and sentiment. Make your exercise a discipline not in mere words, but in thought and feeling. Cultivate an argumentative spirit, when you are storing away the argument in your mind. Cherish the appropriate emotions when you are learning to repeat an appeal to the sensibilities. Bring your hearers before you in ideal presence, and then put forth the same affections which you will have when they are in your real presence. This will require a lively imagination, but without this imagination a man will never be an effective preacher to the people.
3. Diversify your methods of committing your discourse to memory. First of all, enter into a sympathy with its spirit, but sometimes repeat it rapidly with prominent attention to the sequence of words. Now recite it without audible speech; then recite it aloud. Associate its thought and sentiment with the fitting tones and gestures. Let the delivery of it in the pulpit be no strange performance. Let the thoughts suggest each other. Let the words as seen suggest the thoughts; let the intonations as heard suggest the words: let the gestures as felt deepen the impression of the whole upon your mind. A fourfold cord is not quickly broken. The question is often asked, At what time shall a discourse be committed to memory? The answers which are given are these: Repeat the sermon soon after waking from sleep, when the mind is peculiarly receptive, a tabula rasa ; repeat the sermon immediately before retiring to sleep, and let it sink into the mind during the still hours of night,sometimes a dream will hold it fast; repeat the sermon when the mind is most vigorous and will grasp it with tenacity; repeat the sermon when the thoughts are exposed to frequent interruption, and thus habituate yourself to the chance as
sociations of the pulpit; repeat the sermon in your studychamber and in the market-place, and thus be prepared for any and every emergency. While it is true that no one rule is applicable to all persons, it is also true that all of these rules are often useful for one and the same person. The fact that some preachers entirely forget a discourse on the day after they have recited it memoriter, often results from the fact that they commit it to memory in only one state of mind and never can recall it in any other state. A man who can remember a collection of words when he is sitting solitary amid his books, may be unable to remember it when he is called to associate ideas and emotions with it before an audience. We have read the tale (ideally true) of a young Scotch candidate, who was called to deliver his first sermon when his aged mother was present. He recited his text, opened his mouth, and held it open, but not a word came out of it, and speechless he retired from the pulpit. The contrast between his position in the sanctuary and his position in the study struck him dumb for a short time. Dr. Abercrombie narrates the following incident: "A distinguished theatrical performer, in consequence of the sudden illness of another actor, had occasion to prepare himself, on very short notice, for a part which was entirely new to him; and the part was long and rather difficult. He acquired it in a very short time, and went through it with perfect accuracy, but immediately after the performance forgot every word of it. Characters which he had acquired in a more deliberate manner he never forgets, but can perform them at any time without a moment's preparation; but in regard to the character now mentioned, there was the farther and very singular fact, that though he has repeatedly performed it since that time, he has been obliged each time to prepare it anew, and has never acquired in regard to it that facility which is familiar to him in other instances. When questioned respecting the mental process which he employed the first time he performed this part, he says, that he lost sight entirely of the audience, and seemed to have nothing before him but