An Earnest Ministry—the Need of the Times

John Angell James, 1847



Demosthenes, on being asked what was the first excellence of an orator, replied, "Delivery!" what the second, "Delivery!" what the third, "Delivery!" An impressive admonition this, from such an authority, to all preachers, on the importance of that part of our subject which we are now considering.

After the death of that seraphic man McCheyne, there was found upon his desk an unopened note from one who had heard his last sermon, to this effect, "Pardon a stranger for addressing to you a few lines. I heard you preach last Sabbath evening, and it pleased God to bless that sermon to my soul. It was not so much what you said, as your manner of speaking it, that struck me. I saw in you a beauty of holiness I never saw before."

This is only one instance out of ten thousand, in which the earnestness of a preacher's manner has secured that attention to his matter, which would not otherwise have been paid to it. The power of oratory has its foundations in the principles of our nature. It is not merely that ideas are conveyed by articulate language through the ear to the mind—but also that emotion is awakened by agreeable tones and pleasant modulations of the voice. Hence the power of music—and what is human speech but music? No instrument has ever yet been constructed which can emit sounds so exquisitely moving as the human voice! Art is in this respect still below nature. True it is that we must go to the best voices for this superiority; but even in voices far below the best, there is an expression of the various passions which no instruments can equal. All nations, therefore, savage as well as civilized, have confessed the power of oratory, not only as a vehicle of instruction—but as a means of impression. It is vain to pretend that matter is or ought to be everything—and manner nothing. Truth, it may be said, ought to make its own way, independently of the accompaniments of good elocution and graceful action. So it should—but these things are necessary, in many cases, to gain for it attention, and to secure that due consideration, without which it can make no impression. Manner is, so to speak, the harbinger and herald of matter, summoning the faculties of the soul to give audience to the truth to be communicated, and holding the mind away from all other subjects, which would divert the thoughts and prevent impression. It is not only the more illiterate and feeble-minded, not only the multitude who are led by feeling more than by reason, that are influenced by good oratory—but also men of the sturdiest intellect, and of the most philosophic cast of mind. The soul of the sage as well as of the savage, is formed with a susceptibility to the power and influence of music, and therefore to the power and influence of elocution.

The importance of manner is consequently great, yes, far greater than either tutors or preachers have been disposed to admit. It is true that a good voice is necessary to good speaking—but not always to earnest speaking. Nature must do much to make a graceful and finished orator; but in the absence of this, a man of ardent mind, burning for the salvation of immortal souls, can, by an impressive earnestness of manner, be a more intense and effective speaker, notwithstanding naturally weak and unimpressive organs of speech—than the possessor of the finest voice, if destitute of life and feeling in his delivery; just as an exquisite performer can bring better music out of a bad instrument, than a bad musician can out of a good one. What may be done, for supplying deficiencies and correcting faults in elocution, where the mind is resolutely bent upon accomplishing this, Demosthenes has taught us; and were a tenth part of the pains taken by us to obtain a powerful and effective method of pulpit address which this prince of orators bestowed that he might become an effective speaker; did we exert the same determination to overcome every obstacle—we too would be orators in our better cause. And if ambition or patriotism, prompted Athenian and Roman orators to such studies and efforts for self-improvement; ought not love for souls, and zeal for God, to prompt us to similar endeavors? Did they cultivate elocution with such unwearied perseverance to counteract the designs of Philip, or to defeat or destroy Cataline; and shall we not use it to destroy the works of the devil, and to advance the kingdom of the Redeemer?

It is impossible not to observe how much the popularity of some preachers depends upon their manner; they do not say better or more striking things than other men—but they say them in a better and more striking manner. There is passion in their tones, power in their looks, and gracefulness in their gestures—which other men have never studied, and therefore have never acquired. This was eminently the case with Whitfield, the greatest of preachers. Much of the wondrous power of that extraordinary man lay in his voice and action. I have already given an extract from his sermons to illustrate his manner as regards style of composition—but who that never heard him, or indeed who that had, could illustrate his manner of delivery? Think of such paragraphs as those just quoted, delivered with an utterance appropriate to their nature; with an eye melting into tears; a voice tremulous with emotion, shrill yet full, now swelling into thunder, and then dying away again in soft whispers; one moment adoring God, and the next piercing the sinner's conscience with an appeal that was as sharp arrows of the Almighty; at one time pouring out a stream of impassioned pity for the sinner, and the next moment a torrent of burning indignation against his sin; his very hands, and every gesture all the while seconding his matchless elocution and seeming to help his laboring soul; all this being not the trickery of an artificial rhetoric to catch applause—but only the expression of his burning desire to produce conviction in his hearers; not the acting of a man striving after popularity—but the spontaneous gushing forth of a heart agonizing for the salvation of immortal souls! What oratory must that have been which extorted from the skeptical and fastidious Hume the confession that it was worth going twenty miles to hear; which interested the infidel Bolingbroke; and warmed even the cold and cautious Franklin into enthusiasm? In those discourses which roused a slumbering nation from the torpor of lukewarmness, and breathed new life into its dying piety, you will find no profound thought, no subtle reasoning, no philosophical disquisition; for these never formed, and never can form, the staple of pulpit eloquence—but you will find "thoughts that breathe, and words that burn," and that when delivered with the magic of his wondrous voice, spoke, by the blessing of God, life into thousands dead in trespasses and sins! The following account is from a letter of Whitefield himself–

"For many years, from one end of the large London fair to the other, booths of all kinds have been erected for performers, clowns, players, puppet shows, and such like. With a heart bleeding with compassion for so many thousands led captive by the devil at his will, on the day of the fair, at six o'clock in the morning, I ventured to lift up a standard among them in the name of Jesus.

"Perhaps there were about ten thousand people in waiting, not for me--but for Satan's instruments to amuse them! When I mounted my field-pulpit, almost all flocked immediately around it. I preached on these words, 'As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so shall the Son of Man be lifted up!' They gazed, they listened, they wept; and I believe that many felt themselves stung with deep conviction for their sins. All was hushed and solemn.

"Being thus encouraged, I ventured out again at noon. What a scene! The fields, the whole fields were ready for Beelzebub's harvest! All Satan's agents were in full motion--drummers, trumpeters, singers, masters of puppet shows, exhibitors of wild beasts, players, and so forth, all busy in entertaining their respective audiences. I suppose there could not be less than twenty or thirty thousand people. My pulpit was fixed on the opposite side, and immediately, to their great dismay, they found the number of their attendants sadly lessened.

"Judging that like Paul, I would now be called as it were, to fight with beasts at Ephesus, I preached from these words--'Great is Diana of the Ephesians!' You may easily guess that there was some noise among the craftsmen, and that I was 'honored' with having a few stones, dirt, rotten eggs, and pieces of dead cats thrown at me, while engaged in calling them from their favorite, but lying vanities. My soul was indeed among lions--but the greatest part of my congregation, which was very large, seemed for awhile to be turned into lambs.

"This encouraged me to give notice that I would preach again at six o'clock in the evening. I came, I saw--but what? Thousands and thousands more than before, if possible, still more deeply engaged in their unhappy diversions! One of Satan's choicest servants was performing, trumpeting on a large stage; but as soon as the people saw me in my pulpit, I think all to a man left him and ran to me. For a while I was enabled to lift up my voice like a trumpet, and many heard the joyful sound.

"This Satan could not brook. The enemy's agents made a kind of roaring at some distance from our camp. At length they approached nearer, and one of the clowns (attended by others, who complained that they had lost much money on account of my preaching,) got up upon a man's shoulders, and advancing near the pulpit attempted to slash me with a long heavy whip several times--but always tumbled down with the violence of his motion.

"Soon afterwards they got a marching band with drums, to pass through the congregation. I ordered that passage might be made for them. The ranks opened, while all marched through, and then closed again. Finding these efforts to fail, a large group assembled together, and having got a large pole with their flag, advanced towards us with steady and formidable steps, until they came very near the skirts of our hearing, praying, and almost undaunted congregation. I prayed to the Captain of our salvation for present support and deliverance. He heard and answered; for just as they approached us with fearful looks--I know not why--they quarreled among themselves, threw down their flag, and went their way--leaving, however, many of their company behind, who before we were done, were brought over to join the besieged party. I think I continued in praying, preaching, and singing, (for the noise was too great at times to preach) for about three hours.

"We then retired to the Tabernacle, with pockets full of more than a thousand notes from people brought under concern for their souls, and read them amid the praises and spiritual acclamations of thousands, who joined with the holy angels in rejoicing that, in such an unexpected, unlikely place and manner--so many sinners were snatched out of the very jaws of the devil!"

I venture to pronounce this the greatest achievement of elocution which the history of the world presents, next to the splendid triumph of the apostle Peter's sermon over the murderers of Christ on the day of Pentecost. Who that considers the spot on which Whitfield then stood; the scenes by which he was surrounded; the discordant noises of the motley crew, which rung in his ears, and the ears of his audience; who, in short, that recollects what the wild uproar and the hurly burly of a popular London fair is, must not stand astonished, first at the courage of the man who could erect his pulpit, and preach a sermon in such a scene; and then still more at the marvelous success of his effort in the conversion of hundreds of souls by that one discourse? What, I ask, was the effect on the Athenians of the orations of Demosthenes, in rousing them against Philip of Macedon, compared with this? The illustrious Greek had on his side every advantage which the scenery, and the historic associations connected with it, and the prepared mind of his audience, could give to his splendid argument and declamation; but the Christian orator had to combat with, and to triumph over, everything that seemed inharmonious with his theme, and opposed to the accomplishment of his object—and what must have been the magic power of that elocution which could blind the eyes of an audience to the sights, and deafen their ears to the sounds so near them, and produce such fixedness of attention, and such power of abstraction, as to leave them at liberty for those processes of thought, which resulted in the conversion of hundreds to God!

And to what, in the way of instrumentality, shall we attribute this astonishing effect—but to the power of his wonderful oratory, combined with the simplicity and power of the truths he enforced? This fact has stood for a century upon record, and yet we have been slow to learn from it the lessons which it is adapted to teach, and among them, the effect produced by a commanding method of address, in circumstances apparently the most unlikely for such a result. I am not calling upon my brethren to imitate this daring attack upon the very citadel of Satan—even Whitefield never, I believe, repeated it, and perhaps ought never to have attempted it; but my object is to show the power of voice and action, and the nature of pastoral earnestness.

We shall now contemplate another instance of the power of oratory, which if it be less grand and commanding in itself, is perhaps more likely to be useful to the readers of this little work, because it is an instance brought nearer to their own times, and to the level of their own circumstances—I mean Spencer, of Liverpool. In reference to this transcendent young preacher, Mr. Hall remarks, "The writer of this deeply regrets his never having had an opportunity of witnessing his extraordinary powers—but from all he has heard from the best judges, he can entertain no doubt that his talents in the pulpit were unrivaled; and that had his life been spared, he would, in all probability, have carried the art of preaching to a greater perfection than it ever attained, at least in England. His eloquence appears to have been of the purest stamp—effective, not ostentatious; consisting less in the preponderance of any one quality requisite to form a public speaker, than in an exquisite combination of them all; whence resulted an extraordinary power of impression, which was greatly aided by a natural and majestic elocution."

In this last expression Mr. Hall has disclosed much of the secret of Spencer's popularity and usefulness; "a natural and majestic elocution," this setting forth with simple and unaffected earnestness of manner the grand doctrines of evangelical truth, accompanied as it was with a most engaging countenance and form, constituted the charm, and led to the success, of this most captivating preacher of modern times. Let the young ministers of this age read his "Life and Remains," as published by his gifted successor, Dr. Raffles; and also his posthumous sermons, which have been since given to the world, and they will find nothing whatever of extraordinary genius; no lofty eloquence, in the usual acceptance of that term; no profound thought; no splendid imagery or diction—but they will meet at every step with the doctrine of Christ crucified, set forth with manly vigor, in plain, perspicuous language; the utterances of a mind well instructed in the way of salvation, and of a heart overflowing with benevolence for the good of his fellow creatures.

To what then shall we attribute, under God, his success, not only in filling the large town in which he lived, and the nation at large, with his fame—but (what was infinitely more important in itself, and far more eagerly coveted by him,) in bringing so many souls to Christ? There is but one answer to be given to this, and that is, it was the fascination of his manner. He was in earnest. The stream of his simple, elegant, though by no means profound thought, flowed forth with a resistless impetuosity that carried away his hearers before it. There is scarcely any more instructive lesson to be learned, or any more important inference to be drawn from the short life of this young minister, so mysteriously cut off at the very commencement of his career, than the vast consequence of an animated manner of preaching the gospel.

I may here advert to another individual, who was considered to be, in a particular way, one of the most impressive preachers of his time, the late Mr. Toller, of Kettering. He also no doubt owed much of the effect which his sermons produced, to his mode of address; and their effect proves that vehemence, boisterousness, and vociferation, are not essential to earnestness and deep impression; for nothing can be more calm and subdued, though nothing more solemnly commanding, than his whole demeanor in the pulpit. His printed sermons are characterized by strength of thought uttered in language of great perspicuity, though not irradiated by any coruscations of brilliant genius. "A noble simplicity and amiable grandeur," says Mr. Hall, with whom he lived on terms of most intimate friendship, "were the distinguishing features of his eloquence." There was an irresistible charm in his manner which threw a spell over all his hearers, and fascinated alike the learned and the illiterate; he made the latter to understand, and the former to feel. I never heard him but once—but it was on a memorable occasion, the ordination of Mr. Robertson of Stretton, at which Mr. Hall delivered the admirable charge afterwards published under the title of "The Difficulties and Encouragements of the Christian Minister."

It is impossible ever to forget, and equally so to describe, the effect produced by two such preachers on such an occasion—it was the first time I ever heard either of them, and the last that I ever heard Mr. Toller, and it almost seemed as if I had never heard preaching before—both were excited no doubt, and stimulated to do their best, not only by the occasion—but by the presence of each other. The terms employed by Mr. Toller's biographer were the most appropriate that could be selected to describe his style and manner, "simplicity and amiable grandeur." It was impossible not to listen; neither eye nor ear played truant for a moment while he was preaching; his delivery was not the rushing torrent of impassioned eloquence which gushed afterwards from the lips of his distinguished fellow-laborer—but the majestic, silent flow of a noble river. "In the power of awakening pathetic emotions," says Mr. Hall in his Memoir, "he has excelled any preacher it has been my lot to hear. Often have I seen a whole congregation melted under him like wax before the sun—my own feelings on more than one occasion have approached to an overpowering agitation. The effect was produced apparently with perfect ease. No elaborate preparation, no peculiar vehemence or intensity of tones, no artful accumulation of pathetic images, led the way—the mind was captivated and subdued, it hardly knew how. Though it will not be imagined that this triumph of popular eloquence could be habitual, much less constant, it may be safely affirmed that a large proportion of Mr. Toller's discourses afforded some indications of these powers." The following is Mr. Hall's description of the effect of two sermons preached in his hearing by this eminent man.

"It was about this period (1796) that my acquaintance with him commenced. I had known him previously, and occasionally heard him; but it was at a season when I was not qualified to form a correct estimate of his talents. At the time referred to, we were engaged to preach a double lecture; and never shall I forget the surprise and pleasure with which I listened to an expository discourse, from 1 Peter 2. The richness, the unction, the simple majesty which pervaded his address, produced a sensation which I never felt before—it gave me a new view of the Christian ministry. But the effect, powerful as it was, was not to be compared with that which I experienced on hearing him preach later at Bedford. The text which he selected was peculiarly solemn and impressive his discourse was founded on 2 Peter 1:13-15, 'Yes, I think it proper, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up, by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle,' etc. The effect of this discourse on the audience was such as I have never witnessed before, or since. It was undoubtedly very much aided by the peculiar circumstances of the speaker, who was judged to be far advanced in a deadly illness, and who seemed to speak under the impression of its being the last time he would address his brethren on such an occasion. The aspect of the preacher, pale, emaciated, standing apparently on the verge of eternity, the simplicity and majesty of his sentiments, the sepulchral solemnity of a voice which seemed to issue from the shadows, combined with the intrinsic dignity of the subject, perfectly quelled the audience with tenderness and terror, and produced such a scene of audible weeping as was perhaps never surpassed. All other emotions were absorbed in devotional feeling—it seemed to us as though we were permitted for a short space to look into eternity, and every sublunary object vanished before 'the powers of the world to come.'

Yet there was no considerable exertion, no vehemence, no splendid imagery, no magnificent description; it was the simple declaration of truth, of truth indeed of infinite consequence, borne in upon the heart by a mind intensely alive to its reality and grandeur. Criticism was disarmed; the hearer felt himself elevated to a region which criticism could not penetrate; all was powerless submission to the master-spirit of the scene. It will be always considered by those who witnessed it, as affording as high a specimen as can be conceived, of the power of a preacher over his audience, the habitual or even frequent recurrence of which would create an epoch in the religious history of the world."

This description, even though some allowance should be made for the eloquence of friendship, is replete with instruction to our rising ministers. They may learn the vast importance of the manner in which a sermon is delivered, as well as the matter of which it is composed. Nor is this the only lesson, nor perhaps the most valuable one, to be learned from this short but precious piece of pastoral biography; for we gather what it is that, to minds of the highest order, such as Mr. Hall's, constitutes the nearest approach to perfect pulpit eloquence, and to which even such commanding intellects yield themselves up with willing submission; not the 'artificial elaboration' of men intent upon producing a great sermon; not the 'bombastic sermon' or 'splendid imagery' sought with ambitious eagerness by those who aim to shine; not the cold, abstract, philosophical reasoning of an academic professor—but the simplicity and earnestness which aim to instruct the judgment, to awaken the conscience, and to affect the heart.

All great minds love simplicity and detest affectation and pretense. This was especially the case with Mr. Hall. His censure of the mental quality most opposed to earnestness, amounted sometimes to eloquent extravagance and burlesque—and his sarcasms were not infrequently tinged with uncharitable bitterness. As his admiration of simplicity was occasionally expressed in somewhat exaggerated panegyric. The ambition of a preacher whose aim is usefulness might well be gratified by a remark which he once made after hearing a sermon, "I should not wonder if a hundred souls were converted tonight?"

These are only a few out of innumerable instances which could be adduced to prove the vast importance which attaches to an effective delivery. Far greater numbers of our preachers fail for lack of this, than from any other cause; and the fact is so notorious as to need no proof beyond common observation, and so impressive as to demand the attention, not only of the professors—but the committees, of all our colleges. It is too generally the case that adequate culture is not bestowed upon the speaking powers of our students, from the beginning to the end of their course of study. There is great assiduity manifested in securing them fullness of matter—but far too little in giving them impressiveness of manner. Assistance is granted to make them scholars, philosophers, and divines; but as to becoming good speakers, they are, I fear, left pretty much to themselves. No, it is not even inculcated upon them, with the emphasis it should be, to try to make themselves such. A complete system of pastoral education naturally includes great attention to elocution; and this should commence as soon as a student enters college, so that by the time he is put upon the preaching list, he may have some aptitude for the management of his voice, and not have his thoughts diverted then from his matter and his object, to his manner. He should by that time have acquired the habit of speaking well, so as to be able to practice it with facility, and without study.

The great objection to lectures on elocution is, that they are apt to produce a pompous, stiff, and affected manner; but this is an abuse of the art; its object should be to cure the vices of a bad, and to supply the lacks of a defective enunciation, and to form an easy, natural, and impressive delivery. When will preachers learn that preaching is but talking in a louder tone, and with a little more emphasis of manner? Why affect a preaching or a praying tone, a method of speaking peculiar to the pulpit? A conversational manner, occasionally elevated, animated, and energetic, as impassioned passages and feeling may require, is what we want. There are some men who are good talkers out of the pulpit, yet bad speakers in it. How much more acceptable would they be, if they would carry their easy, natural manner of conversation with them into the sacred desk!

I entirely concur therefore with Dr. Vaughan, in his important and impressive remark, "that let our students fail in the matter of a good elocution, and so far as regards their ministry among Protestant Dissenters, it will matter little in what else they may succeed." This is sustained by a reference to the great number we observe, who, though soundly orthodox in sentiment, possessed of large acquirements in scholarship and philosophy, partaking of undoubted piety, and desirous of doing good, yet make no way, can with difficulty procure a charge, and are filled perhaps with wonder, that men very much their inferiors in natural talent and literary acquirement, are every where followed, while they are every where neglected. The problem is easily solved, the mystery soon explained; these inferior men, by their earnest, animated manner, make their more slender abilities tell more upon the popular mind, heart, and conscience, than do the heartless dissertations and elaborate essays of dull scholars, frigid philosophers; and bad speakers, though possessed of useless stores of knowledge.

It should, however, be remarked, that there is nothing more likely to be mistaken than animation in the pulpit. There are many young ministers, who, being aware of the importance of a graceful and effective elocution, take no small pains to acquire it, by studying and practicing the most approved rules of the art. But it is not this alone for which we contend; for as the lessons of the dancing master produce only stiff and formal action, where there is no natural ease and elegance, so the teacher of elocution can do little to form an earnest and energetic speaker, where there is no living source of animation in the soul. It is not a pompous, swelling style of speaking that constitutes the excellence of an orator; not "the start and stare theatric," not modulations of the voice that sound as if the speaker were regulating tones and cadences by the fugleman motions of a teacher standing before him; but the impassioned vivacity of one who feels intensely his subject, and speaks under the influence of strong emotion, as one determined to make others feel. The secret of animation, and the source of earnestness, lie, as I have said, in an intense feeling of the subject of discourse; in a mind deeply impressed, and a heart warmed, with the theme discussed. All men are in earnest when they feel. Hence the anecdote of the pleader, who was so disgusted with a client's cold manner of stating her case, as to tell her that he did not credit her tale. Stung by this reflection upon her veracity, and this disbelief of her grievance, she rose into strong emotion, and affirmed with expressive vehemence the truth of the story. "Now," said he, "I believe you."

The hackneyed but valuable precept of the old poet remains, and ever will remain, as true as when first uttered, "Weep yourself, if you wish me to weep." Sympathy is the speaker's most powerful auxiliary—there is nothing so contagious as strong emotion. We have most of us, perhaps, seen a large portion of a congregation brought to tears by the pathetic and faltering tones, the tremulous lips, and suffused eyes of the preacher. But then it must be sincere, and not simulated emotion, must be excited by a subject worthy of it, and must be shown when the people's minds are prepared to sympathize with it. It is well said there is only a step between the sublime and the ridiculous; and the same remark may be applied to the pathetic, it may degenerate into mere puking. Genuine emotion is the charm of all speaking upon moral and religious subjects, and in the absence of it, the most measured and stately elocution, whatever pleasure it may impart to the ear, will have little power to affect the heart. We have sometimes listened to lofty and well composed music, to an overture for instance, which we could not but admire; but it was still cold admiration, for the whole piece had not a note of passion from beginning to end; but some simple melody followed it, which by the pathos of its notes or the power of its associations touched every chord in our hearts, and raised in us a tumult of emotion. Thus it is with different preachers, we listen to one, whose excellent composition, and sonorous, perhaps even musical voice, command our admiration; but not a passion stirs, all within is cold, quiet, and without emotion, his speaking is good—but it does not move us—while another has perhaps less talent, indeed less oratory in one sense—but has tones, looks, and manner all full of earnest feeling, and every word of his coming from his heart, awakens by sympathy a correspondent state of feeling in our hearts. Who is likely to be moved by hearing a man discuss the most solemn realities of eternal truth, such as the danger and doom of impenitent sinners, the glories of heaven, and the torments of hell, with as much coolness, and with as little emotion as a lecturer on science would exhibit when dwelling on the facts of natural history? Is it probable there can be any earnestness in the hearers, when there is none in the preacher?

"How is it," said a minister to an actor, "that your performances, which are but pictures of the imagination, produce so much more effect than our sermons, which are all realities?" "Because," said the actor, "we represent fictions as though they were realities, and you preach realities as though they were fictions." It is difficult to believe that a dull, cold, statue-like preacher, whose passionless monotony is a mental opiate for his hearers, can himself credit the message he is delivering. What, that man who never elevates or depresses his voice from one given pitch of soporific dullness, whose tone never falters, whose eye never glistens, whose hand never moves, who speaks as if he was afraid of awakening the slumberers whom his "drowsy tinklings" have lulled to sleep, he feel the weight of souls; he in earnest for their salvation; he endeavoring to pluck them as brands from the burning! Who will credit it? It is true he may have no great compass of voice, and a naturally phlegmatic mind, with great deficiency in the natural powers of oratory; but place him by the side of a river where he has seen a fellow-creature fall into the water, and let him throw a plank or a rope to aid the drowning man to escape, will he not have power of voice, and of animated tones, and of persuasive earnestness then, as he directs the object of his solicitude to the means of deliverance? Will he not rise out of his monotony there? Will he not make himself heard and felt there?

By an earnest manner, then, is meant, the method of delivery produced by a deep and feeling sense of the importance of our message. We are to persuade, to entreat, to beseech; and these modes of speech have an utterance of their own. What must Paul's manner have been, how impassioned and impressive, when he made Felix tremble, and Festus exclaim, "You are beside yourself, much learning does make you mad!" But even the sublime and solemn truths of revelation, if they do not press upon the heart of the preacher, and command and possess it, will be but coldly handled and feebly discussed. It is only when the love of Christ constrains us, and bears us away as with the force of a torrent, that we shall speak with a manner befitting our great theme. If we are not intensely real, we shall be but indifferent preachers.

This shows us the vast importance of our living under the powerful impression of the truths we preach. We cannot, like the actor, have a stage dress and character to put on for the occasion, and to put off when the curtain drops. There may indeed be an 'artificial earnestness' excited by the sound of our own voice, and by the solemnities of public worship; but this will usually be fitful, feeble, pretend, and very different from that burning ardor which is the result of eminent piety, and which imparts its own intensity of emotion to the words and tones of the speaker. It was the patriotism of Demosthenes that communicated the fire to his eloquence—he loved his country, and trembling for the ruin that Philip was bringing upon the liberties of Greece, he poured forth his lightning-words in tones of thunder. His diatribes were a torrent of the strongest emotion, bursting from his heart, though guided in its course by the established rules of eloquence. He could never have spoken as he did, had not the designs of the Macedonian and the dangers of Greece, wrung his soul with anguish.

So must it be with us, our animation must be the earnestness, not of rhetoric—but of godliness; not of art—but of renewed nature; and designed not to astound—but to convince and move; a manner studied and intended not to attract a crowd, and to excite applause—but to save the souls of men from eternal death! For this purpose whatever means we employ and whatever rules we lay down, to cure the vices of a bad elocution, and to acquire the advantages of a graceful one, (and such an aim is quite lawful,) we must ever remember that the basis of a powerful and effective pulpit oratory will be deep and fervent piety; and in the absence of godliness, the most commanding gift of public speaking will be but as "sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal."

Dr. Cotton Mather, in his invaluable work, now nearly forgotten, entitled, "The Student and Preacher," in speaking on this subject, remarks—"It is a pity but a well prepared sermon should be a well pronounced one. Wherefore avoid forever all inanes and all indecencies; everything that is ridiculous. Be sure to speak deliberately. Strike the accent always upon the word in the sentence it properly belongs unto. A tone that shall have no regard to this is very injudicious, and will make you talk too much in the clouds. Do not begin too high. Ever conclude with vigor. If you must have your notes before you in your preaching, and it be needful for you, let there be with you a distinction between the neat using of notes, and the dull reading of them. Keep up the air and life of speaking, and put not off your hearers with a heavy reading to them. How can you demand of them to remember much of what you bring to them, when you remember nothing of it yourself? Besides by reading all you say, you will so cramp and stunt all ability for speaking, that you will be unable to make an acceptable speech on any occasion. What I therefore advise you to is, let your notes be little more than a guide, on which you may cast your eye now and then, to see what arrow is to be next fetched from thence; and then with your eye as much as may be on them whom you speak to, let it be shot away with a vivacity becoming one in earnest for to have the truths well entertained by the auditory. Finally let your conclusions be lively expostulations with the conscience of the hearer; appeals made and questions put unto the conscience, and consignments of the work over into the hands of that flaming preacher in the bosom of the hearer. In such flames you may do wondrously."

Pity that Dr. Mather had not gone a little farther than this, and affectionately advised his younger brethren in the ministry to begin their career without any notes at all in the pulpit; advice still more necessary in this day, as there seems a rising inclination to adopt the practice of reading. Nothing can be conceived of more likely to repress earnestness, and to hinder our usefulness, than this method becoming general. True it is that some preachers may rise up, who, like a few living examples, may, in despite of this practice, attain to eminence, honor, and usefulness, such as rarely fall to the lot of ministers in any denomination; but this will not be the case with the greater number, who not having commanding intellect to lift them above the disadvantage of this habit, will find few churches willing to accept their dullness, for the sake of the accuracy with which it is expressed. And who can tell us how much greater our greatest men would be, if they delivered their sermons without their notes? Think of Whitfield, Hall, Parsons, reading their sermons. What a restraint upon their noble intellects and their gushing hearts!

Where is reading tolerated but in the pulpit? Not on the stage, nor at the bar, nor in the senate. It is conceded that we lose something of precision and accuracy by spoken discourses, as compared with those that are read—but is not this more than made up by what we gain in ease and impression? The aid borrowed from the expressions of the countenance and graceful action is lost by him who slavishly reads; the link of sympathy between his soul and those of his audience is weakened; the lightnings of his eloquence flash less vividly, and its thunders roll less grandly through this obstruction. Perhaps even those who do read are aware of the disadvantages of the habit, and would say to their younger brethren, whose habits are not yet formed, avoid if you can, the practice of reading your discourses. There are however occasions, when from the nature and extent of the subject, this practice is not only allowable—but necessary.

In connection with the subject of preaching, I may consider, with propriety, the matter and manner of PRAYER. There is a close and obvious connection between the two, for earnest sermons should ever be associated with earnest prayers; and it cannot be doubted that a godly, faithful, and devoted minister is scarcely less useful, at any rate in keeping up the spirit of devotion in his congregation, by the latter, than by the former. His chastened fervor, like a breeze from heaven, comes over the languid souls of his hearers, and fans the spark of piety in their hearts to a flame—while on the contrary, the dullness and coldness of some public prayers are enough to freeze what little devotion there may be in the assembled people. We have thought too little of this, and have too much neglected to cultivate the gift, and to seek the grace, of supplication. If entreating and beseeching importunity be proper in dealing with sinners for God, can it be less so in dealing with God for sinners?

Our flocks should be the witnesses of both these acts on our part, and hear not only how we speak to them—but how we plead with God for them; they should be the auditors of our agonizing intercession on their behalf; and be convinced how true is our declaration that we have them in our hearts. How such petitions, so full of intense affection and deep solicitude, would tend to soften their minds, and to prepare them for the sermon which was to follow! Who has not beheld the solemnizing and subduing effect upon a congregation of such holy wrestling with God? The audience seemed to feel as if God had indeed come down among them in power and glory during the prayer, and was preparing to do some work of grace in their midst. The crudest and most turbulent spirits have sometimes been awed, and the most trifling and frivolous minds made serious, by this holy exercise. We who practice extemporary prayer have advantages in this respect, of which we should not be slow to avail ourselves. Not being confined by the forms of a liturgy—but left to our own choice, we can give harmony to all the various parts of the service, and make the scripture we read, and the hymns we sing, as well as the prayers we present, all bear upon the subject of the sermon, and thus give unity of design, and concentration of effect, to the solemn engagements of the sanctuary. This should be an object with every minister, in order that the thoughts of the people may flow pretty much in one channel, and towards one point, without being divided or diverted. Moral, as well as mechanical effect depends upon the combination of many seemingly small causes.

But more especially should the prayers be in harmony with the sermon, and every preacher knows what the sermon is to be. If he is about to address himself in a strain of beseeching importunity to the impenitent and unbelieving, how much would it tend to prepare them for his appeal, if his heart were previously, in their hearing, to pour forth a strain of fervent pleading with God on their behalf. They would thus be awed and subdued into a state of mind likely to render the forthcoming sermon effectual, by the blessing of God, for their conversion. Such a prayer would be the most appropriate introduction he could give to his discourse. But then especial care should be taken that the hymn, and even the tune, interposed between the prayer and the sermon, should not be of a kind to divert the current of thought, much less to efface the solemn impressions already produced, and hinder the effect of the discourse about to be delivered. I remember to have heard a preacher, who was going to preach a very solemn sermon, breathe out one of the most impressive strains of intercession for the impenitent I ever listened to, as if anxious to begin by his prayer the work of conversion, which he hoped to finish by his sermon. The people sat down in solemn awe, when as if by the prompting of the wicked One, who snatches away the seed of the word out of the heart, the leader gave out a most inappropriate hymn, and the choir with a band of musical instruments, sang a tune more inappropriate still. As may be easily imagined, the seriousness produced by the preacher was instantly dissipated, and the preparation for the sermon entirely destroyed. How true is it, that the singing is often hostile to the usefulness of the pulpit, and the choir in opposition to the efforts of the preacher! Finney, in his book on Revivals, descends to so minute a specification of the circumstances to be attended to in preparing for a revival, as to expose him to the ridicule of many of his readers, and no attempt is made here to defend him, or to recommend his volume; but still there is true philosophy in the spirit of his directions, which amounts to this; that the effect of sermons, as indeed of all public speaking, depends often upon very little things. Trifles have great power to divert the current of thought, to break the chain of reflection, and to disturb the process of emotion. Everything connected with public worship should be still, orderly, and solemn, as befits a service conducted in the presence of God, and with reference to him.

Returning to the subject of prayer, it behooves every minister to take especial care that this shall be conducted with propriety, not only on account of its nature and design, as addressed to God, and as the medium of obtaining blessings at his hand—but because of its moral effect upon the people. We object to precomposed forms, (and we think on sufficient grounds,) as lacking in adaptation to the ever changing circumstances of the congregation, to the events of the time, and to the services of the minister, and as tending to produce formalism; but we are bound to take care that all these benefits are secured by our free prayers, and that they are in every respect adapted to edification.

But is there not room for much improvement in our public devotional exercises? In some cases there is too much elaboration and appearance of study; though in far more, a lack of richness and fullness of unction and importunity. The prayers are often too excursive and vague, a mere string of petitions which have no connection with each other, and are without unity of design, or definiteness of object. There are some admirable remarks on the subject of extemporary prayer in Foster's sketch of Mr. Hall's character as a preacher, which go to prove that more concentration of thought on particular topics would produce a greater effect than that unrestrained discursiveness which characterizes too many of our devotional exercises. We pass too rapidly from one subject to another, and thus as it were surprise our hearers, by their being brought to a new topic, before they are aware that they had left the preceding one; and it may be safely affirmed that it is very difficult to join in prayers which do not detain the thoughts on certain things for a few moments. "Things noted so transiently do not admit of deliberate attention, and seem as if they did not claim it." With the liberty of unrestricted variety which we possess, why should it be thought necessary to go always over the same ground, and to bring in the same topics, in the same exact order, in much the same length, and in almost the same words? Why may we not sometimes drop everything else, and break out into a continued strain in reference to one continued object? How deeply the audience would be convinced of the importance which we at any rate feel to belong to it, and how likely would such a method be to engage them in deep sympathy with us, in reference to it! We should also be careful to avoid addressing certain people in prayer—which would excite curiosity or disturb devotion, and especially all laudatory epithets on the one hand, and criminatory ones on the other.

In using our freedom, let us take care not to abuse it, and endeavor that the end and object of our preaching may be helped, and not hindered, by the method of our praying. If pre-composed forms of prayer have their disadvantages, so also has free prayer; and while we consider the balance of advantage vastly in favor of the latter, let us recollect that our brethren of the Establishment are of the same opinion respecting their liturgy; it becomes us therefore while we charitably bear with each other, each to make the best possible use of the method we prefer.

The MANNER of prayer, as well as its matter, demands also our serious attention. While the very nature of the exercise forbids everything showy or artificial; everything presumptuous and irreverent—and enjoins the utmost simplicity and spirituality—it no less prohibits all flippancy, carelessness, and pompous oratory. The most serious, reverent, and devotional manner is required, not only on our own account—but on account of the audience. There are some men whose very tones are enough to extinguish all devotional feeling at once, and render it almost impossible to conceive that we hear a sinful mortal addressing himself to the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God, before whom the seraphim veil their faces. While on the contrary there are others whose deeply devotional air, subdued manner, and awe-stricken demeanor, remind us that they are indeed speaking to the Almighty.

It is not necessary to suppose that earnestness requires boisterousness and loudness; a mistake too commonly made by many who work themselves up into vociferation and contortion of features. Such vehemence, like a violent blast of wind, puts out the flame of devotion, when a gentler breeze would fan it to intensity. It is well also to avoid that sing-song tone which we too often hear in those who lead the public devotions. But above all there must be earnestness; the earnestness of deep feeling, of lively devotion, of a heart intent upon its own salvation, and upon the salvation of those who are then waiting to hear the word of life.

Our pleading, though in the highest degree reverential, should be that of men who are standing between the living and the dead, subdued and chastened, yet importunate intercession, such as it might be supposed we should use in addressing an earthly monarch, when interceding for the lives of some for whom we were anxious to obtain the interposition of royal mercy.