« EelmineJätka »
such pains, though they bestow great pains in improving themselves in learning; which shews, that the neglect of this accomplishment, is more owing to the want of a due sense of its usefulness, than to any other cause. of the two, learning is much less necessary to a preacher, than skill in persuading. Quintilian* makes this latter the supreme excellence in his orator.
Let the reader only consider, that a shoemaker, or a taylor, is under a master seven years, at least, before he sets up for himself. But the preacher, goes into the pulpit at once, without ever having had one lesson, or article of instruction in that part of his art which is the chief and most weighty, and without which all his other accomplishments are worth nothing toward gaining the end of preaching:
It may be alledged that the clergy cannot be expected to be great orators for fifty or an hundred pounds a year, which poor pittance is as much as many bundreds, I may say thousands, of them, have to maintain themselves and tlieir families. The more is the pity.
But there are many players who do not get more than the lower clergy. And yet they study hard, for no greater encouragement, and actually
acquire such skill in working upon the passions of mankind, that, for iny part, if I wanted to have a composition of mine well spoken, I would put
it into the hands of a second-rate player, rather than of any preacher I ever heard.
What could be imagined inore elegant, if entertainment alone were sought ; what more useful, if the good of mankind were the object, than the sacred function of preaching properly performed? Were the most interesting of subjects treated with proper 'perspicuity and adequate judgment, and well wrought discourses, delivered to listening crowds, with that dignity which becomes a teacher of divine truth, and with that energy, which should shew, that the preacher spoke from his own heart, and meant to speak to the hearts of his hearers, what effects might not follow ? Mankind are not wood or stone. They are undoubttedly capable of being roused and startled. They may be drawn,
* Quint. Inst. Orat. L. vi.C. ik
and allured. The voice of an able preacher, thundering out the divine threatenings against vice; would be in the ear of the offender, as if he heared the sound of the last trumpet summoning the dead to judgment. And the gentle call of mercy, encouraging the terrified, and almost despairing penitent, to look up to his offended heavenly Father, would seem as the song of angels. A whole mula titude might be lifted to the skies. The world of spirits might be opened to the eyes of their minds. The terrors of that punishment, which awaits vice ; the glories of that state, to which virtue will, through divine favour, raise the pious, might be, by a powerful preacher, rendered present to their understandings, with such conviction, as would make indeliable impressions upon their hearts, and work a substantial reformation in their lives. *
The convincing and irrefragable proof, that real and important effects might be produced by preachers by a proper application of oratory to the purposes of instructing and amending mankind, is, That oratory has been in all times, known actually to produce great alterations in men's ways of thinking and acting. And there is no denying facts. To bring instances of this in a copious inanner, as the subject might deserve, would be to quote more history than could be comprehended in such a volume as this. Nor can any reader imagine, an art could have been in all free governments, so laboriously cultivated by statesman, had they not found it useful in the state. Do we not, in qur own times, see the effects produced by it in the British parliament ? But if any one should alledge, that there is nothing in the power of preachers by means of oratory; does it not follow, that then the whole function of preaching inay as well be laid aside ? for if good speaking will have no effect upon mankind, surely bad will have none.
Reasoning a priori, one would conclude, that we should see both the study, and the effects of oratory, carried to a pitch beyond what they reached in the ancient times of Heathenism. Have we not the advantage of those noble
* Quintilian (INST. ORAT. L. vi. C. ii) makes the knowledge and command of the pathetic, the main inftrument of perfuafion, which according to him, is the great bufness of the orator.
models, which the ancients struck out by the mere force of natural unassisted genius ? Ought we not to exceed those models? But do we come up to them ? Have we not incomparably clearer views of nature, and of all knowledge, than the ancients had ? Have we not whole sciences of which they knew nothing ? The Newtonian philosophy alone! to what sentiments does it lift the mind! How do the ideas, it gives us, of immensity filled with innumerable worlds revolving round innumerable suns; those worlds themselves the centres of others, secondary to them; all attracting : all attracted; enlightening, or receiving light; at distances unmeasurable, but all under one law ! How do these ideas tend to raise our conceptions of the Author of such a work ; Ought not our productions to exceed theirs, who had no such helps to enrich and enliven their imaginations ? But, above all, as much as the heavens are higher than the earth, so much ought the views which revelation presents us with, to ennoble all our productions above those of the ancients, on whom that glorious light never shone. What had a Demosthenes, or a Cicero, to inspire so divine an ardour into their addresses to the people, compared with those sublime doctrines, which angels desire earnestly to pry into? If the poetical description of Jupiter shaking the heavens with his nod, warmed the imagination of a Phidias to such a pitch, as enabled him to produce the inost majestic piece of statuary, that ever was beheld ; and if the imagination of the author* of that poetical description was exalted by the scenes he saw, and the learning he acquired by travelling into Egypt, and other parts ; how ought the genius of the christian orator to be elevated, how ought both his compositions, and his manner of delivering them, to shine superior to aļl that antiquity ever saw ; as he enjoys superior advantages for ennobling all his sentiments, and giving dignity and spirit to all he composes and utters ! If we find a Plato or a Cicero, whenever they touch upon the sublime doctrine of a future state, rise above theinselves, warmed with
shall I say the prospect? no—with the possibility, or at most, with the hope of immortality; how animated ought our descriptions to be, how forcible our manner of treating of what we pretend firmly to believe ; of what we know
* Hon. vid. U. 1.
the Author of our religion confirmed by actually rising from the grave, triumphing gloriously over death, and ascending visibly to heaven.
Poor were the inotives, and cold the encouragements which they could offer to excite their hearers to bravery, and to virtue, compared with those which we have to propose. For if they put them in mind of their country, their wives, their children, their aged and helpless parents; if they called upon them to shew themselves worthy descendants of their illustrious ancestors; if they roused their shame, or their sense of honor; if they held forth the prize of deathless fame! all these are as cogent arguinents now, as they were then. What advantage our Christian orators have over then, toward gaining their end, of alarming, persuading, and reforming mankind, appears from considering how little chance we should have of producing any good effect upon a people strongly attached to pleasures, riches, and honours, by telling them, that if they continued to pursue these their beloved objects by unlawful means, they might expect, after their death, to be carried before Minos Rhadamanthus, and Æacus, who would condemn their + souls to Tartarus, where the soul of Ixion was tied upon a wheel, and whirled about without rest; where Prometheus had his liver gnawed by a vulture, which grew again as fast as it was devoured, and where Danaus's fifty daughters had a set of barrels, with holes in their bottoms, to keep continually full to the top: and where all wicked souls would be condemned to some such punishment; but if, on the contrary, they would act the part of honest and worthy men, and exert themselves to the hazard, and, perhaps, loss of their lives, in the defence of the libera ties of their country, their souls would be ordered, by the judges of the dead, to be placed in the Elysian fields, where were pleasant greens, and lucid streams, and fragrant groves; and where they shold amuse themselves with the innocent pleasures, which delighted them while here. Had our Christian orators no better motives to urge, than such as could be drawn from the consideration of certain imaginary rewards and punishments to be distributed in a certain possible, but doubtful future state in some unknown subterranean region; it might be expected, that their zeal
in urging them would be but cold, and the effect of their addresses to the people, inconsiderable. But the ancient orators had no better motives, from futurity, than these which I have mentioned, and those they could draw from other considerations were ihe same, which we may use now. What accounts should we have had of the power with which they spoke, and of the effects of their speeches, if they had had the awful subjects to treat of, and the advantages for treating of them with effect, which our preachers have! O shame to modern times! A Pericles, or a Deinosthenes, could shake all Greece, when they warned their countrymen against an invasion, or alarmed them about the danger of their liberties! Whilst we can hardly keep our hearers awake when we stand forth to warn them in name of God, against the consequences of vice, ruinous to individuals, ruinous to nations; the cause not only of the subversion of states and kingdoms, when luxury and corruption spread their fatal contagion, and leave a people the unthinking prey of tyranny and oppression ; but of utter irretrievable destruciion of the souls and bodies of half a species* from the presence of God, and from the glory of his power, at that tremendous day, when the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, and when he shall sit upon the throne of judgment, from whose face heaven and earth shall fly away ;† whose voice shall pronounce on the wicked the dreadful sentence, “ Depart, ye cursed ;" and whose breath shall blow up the unquenchable flame in which rebellious angels and men shall be irrecoverably swallowed up and destroyed.
It may, perhaps, be objected here, that sacred truth needs no ornament to set it off, no art to enforce it. That the apostles were artless and illiterate men; and yet they gained the great end of their mission, the conviction of inultitudes, and the establishemnt of their religion. That therefore, there is no necessity for this attention to delivery, in order to qualify the preacher for his sacred office, or to render his labors successful.
*“Straight is the gate, and narrow the way, that leadeth to life, and few there be who find it." Meitt.. vii. 14.
+ Rev. xx. 11.