« EelmineJätka »
opposition and contradiction which they expect to meet with. Opponents sharpen one another, as iron sharpeneth iron. There is not the same spur either to exertion in the speaker, or to attention in the hearer, where there is no conflict, where you have no adversary to encounter on equal terms. Mr Bickerstaff would have made but small
progress in the science of defence, by pushing at the human figure which he had chalked upon the wall *, in comparison of what he might have made by the help of a fellow-combatant of flesh and blood. I do not, however, pretend, that these cases are entirely parallel. The whole of an adversary's plea may be perfectly known, and may, to the satisfaction of every reasonable person, be perfectly confuted, though he hath not been heard by counsel at the bar.
In regard to the End in view.
The fifth and last particular mentioned, and indeed the most important of them all, is the effect in each species intended to be produced. The primary intention of preaching is the reformation of mankind. The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that
denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this présent world *. Reformation of life and manners of all things that which it is the most difficult by any means whatever to effectuate; I may add, of all tasks ever attempted by persuasion, that which has the most frequently baffled its power.
What is the task of any other orator compared with this ? It is really as nothing at all, and hardly deserves to be named. An unjust judge, gradually worked on by the resistless force of human eloquence, may be persuaded, against his inclination, perhaps against a previous resolution, to pronounce an equitable sentence. All the effect on him, intended by the pleader, was merely momentary. The orator hath had the address to employ the time allowed him, in such a manner as to secure the happy moment. Notwithstanding this, there may be no real change wrought upon the judge. He
may continue the same obdurate wretch he was before. Nay, if the sentence had been delayed but a single day after hearing the cause, he would perhaps have given a very different award,
Is it to be wondered at, that when the passions of the people were agitated by the persuasive powers of a Demosthenes, whilst the thunder of his elo-. quence was yet sounding in their ears, the orator
* Tit. ii. 11, 12.
should be absolute master of their resolves ? But an apostle or evangelist, (for there is no anachronism in a bare supposition) might have thus addressed the celebrated Athenian, 'You do, indeed,
succeed to admiration, and the address and genius ? which you display in speaking, justly entitle you . to our praise. But, however great the conse
quences may be of the measures to which, by your eloquence, they are determined, the change pro
duced in the people is nothing, or next to noI thing. If you would be ascertained of the truth t of this, allow the assembly to disperse immediate
ly after hearing you; give them time to cool, and then collect their votes, and it is a thousand to one, you shall find that the charm is dissolved. 4 But very different is the purpose of the Christian orator. It is not a momentary, but a permanent effect at which he aims. It is not an immediate 6 and favourable suffrage, but a thorough change of • heart and disposition, that will satisfy his view. • That man would need to be possessed of oratory - superior to human, who would effectually persuade
him that stole, to steal no more, the sensualist to forego his pleasures, and the miser his hoards, the : insolent and haughty to become meek and hum·ble, the vindictive forgiving, the cruel and unfeeling merciful and humane.'
I may add to these considerations, that the difficulty lies not only in the permanency, but in the
very nature of the change to be effected. It is wonderful, but is too well vouched to admit a doubt, that by the powers of rhetoric you may produce in mankind, almost any change more easily than this. It is not unprecedented, that one should persuade a multitude, from mistaken motives of religion, to
of ruffians, fools, or madmen ; to perpetrate the most extravagant, nay, the most flagitious actions; to steel their hearts against humanity, and the loudest calls of natural affection : but where is the eloquence that will gain such an ascendant over a multitude, as to persuade them, for the love of God, to be wise, and just, and good ? Happy the preacher, whose sermons, by the blessing of Heaven, have been instrumental in producing even a few such instances! Do but look into the annals of church-history, and you will soon be convinced of the suprising difference there is in the two cases mentioned, the amazing facility of the one, and the almost impossibility of the other.
As to the foolish or mad extravagancies hurtful only to themselves, to which numbers may be excited by the powers of persuasion, the history of the flagellants, and even the history of monachism, afford many unquestionable examples. But what is much worse, at one time you see Europe nearly depopulated, at the persuasion of a fanatical monk, its inhabitants rushing armed into Asia, in order to fight for Jesus Christ, as they termed it, but as it
proved in fact, to disgrace, as far as lay in them, the name of Christ and of Christian amongst infidels; to butcher those who never injured them, and to whose lands they had at least no better title, than those whom they intended, by all possible means, to dispossess; and to give the world a melancholy proof, that there is no pitch of brutality and rapacity, to which the passions of avarice and ambition, consecrated and inflamed by religious enthusiasm, will not drive mankind. At another time you see multitudes, by the like methods, worked up into a fury against their innocent countrymen, neighbours, friends, and kinsmen, glorying in being the most active in cutting the throats of those who were formerly held dear to them.
Such were the crusades preached up but too effectually, first against the Mahometans in the East, and next against Christians whom they called heretics, in the heart of Europe. And even in our own time, have we not seen new factions raised by popular declaimers, whose only merit was impudence, whose only engine of influence was calumny and self-praise, whose only moral lesson was malevolence? As to the dogmas whereby such have at any time affected to discriminate themselves, these are commonly no other than the shibboleth, the watchword of the party, worn, for distinction's sake, as a badge, a jargon unintelligible alike to the teacher and to the learner. Such apostles never fail to make