Gentlemen, in the lecture before last I spoke of the prophet's call to the service of God, and in the last lecture of the work itself which he had to do. To-day I am to speak of the instrument with which he did it.
This was the Word; the prophet was a Man of the Word. In accomplishing his great and difficult work he wielded no other weapon. It seems the frailest of all weapons; for what is a word? It is only a puff of air, a vibration trembling in the atmosphere for a moment and then disappearing. But so might one speak of the cloud whose rolling coils of vapour, changing every moment, seem the least substantial of all things; yet out of it breaks the forked lightning, which rives the giant of the forest, and overturns the tower which has defied ten thousand assailants, and, loosening the crag, sends it thundering down the mountain-side. Though it be only a weapon of air, the word is stronger than the sword of the warrior. Words have overturned dynasties and revolutionised kingdoms. When the right virtue is in them, they outlast every other work of man. Where are the cities which were flourishing when David sang? where are the empires whose armies were making the world tremble when Isaiah wrote? Nineveh and Babylon, Tyre and Memphis -- where are they? But the Psalms of David still delight, and the wisdom of Isaiah still instructs, the world.
The prophets were well aware of the temper and force of this weapon which they wielded. Jeremiah refers with especial frequency to the power of the word. |Is not My word,| he asks, |like a fire, saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?| When putting this weapon into his hand, the Lord said to him, |See, I have set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and pull down, and to destroy and throw down, and to build and to plant.| How was one man to be able to throw down and build up kingdoms? He speaks as if he were at the head of irresistible legions and equipped with all the enginery of war. But so he was; for all these and more are in the word. Such military notions seem to have occurred naturally to the wielders of it. Another of them says, |The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.| Yet another of them says, |The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.| And Isaiah says, in the name of the Servant of the Lord, |He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand hath He hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in His quiver hath He hid me.|
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The word of the prophets has two aspects: it is, on the one side, a Message from God, and, on the other, a Message to Men.
1. The word which the prophets wielded was the word of God. Herein lay the secret of its power. For the word of God is the thought of God; and this is more ancient than the stars and lies more deeply embedded in the constitution of things than the roots of the mountains; it is the prop by which the universe is sustained. God's word is before all things, for it created them; and his thoughts are the rails on which the course of the world runs.
It was the privilege of the prophets to approach so near to God, to enter so completely into sympathy and fellowship with Him, and to know so clearly what were His purposes, that their own thoughts became identical with His; and, therefore, when they spoke, their words were God's words. Not only do they preface many of their utterances with |Thus saith the Lord,| but -- what is far more strange -- they often begin, without any preface, and go on speaking in the first person singular, when not the prophet but Jehovah is the speaker; as if their personality were so enveloped in His as to disappear altogether.
But this remarkable knowledge of the thoughts of God was not given to the prophets for themselves. The philosopher may shut himself up in secret to study the laws of the universe and keep his conclusions to himself; and even the poet perhaps may be so happy in his own vision of beauty that he does not care to utter his song to the world; but not so the prophet. He, indeed, was also, in the strictest sense, an original thinker, and the new conceptions of God which he was privileged to convey to the world dawned upon his own mind with that secret delight which makes the creative thinker feel himself to be
|Like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken.|
One of the prophets gives expression to this secret joy when he says, |Thy words were found and I did eat them, and Thy words were unto me the joy and the rejoicing of my heart;| and, after a night spent in receiving revelations, he says, |On this I awaked and beheld, and my sleep was sweet unto me.| But the knowledge of God's mind and will which the prophets obtained was not for themselves, but for others. It was not abstract knowledge, but a knowledge of God's will about the course of history -- about |what Israel ought to do.| It was, in short, not only a revelation, but a message.
Hence, one of the most outstanding characteristics of the prophets was the sense of being ambassadors charged with a communication which they were bound to deliver. If those to whom they were sent with it welcomed them, good and well; but, if not, they were not absolved from their duty. The man who speaks to men for his own ends -- to obtain influence in the management of their affairs or to display his talents and win a name -- will go on speaking as long as they are inclined to listen; but, if they do not appreciate his efforts or if he wearies of the employment, he can betake himself to retirement and be heard no more. But a prophet could not act thus. His message might arouse bitter opposition, and often did so: |Woe is me, my mother,| exclaims Jeremiah, |that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth.| Gladly would he have withdrawn from the contest, if he could, and sought a lodge in some vast wilderness. But the sense of being a messenger drove him on: |Then I said, I will not make mention of Him nor speak any more in His name; but His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I was weary of forbearing, and I could not stay.|
This was what lent the prophets the wonderful courage which characterized them. They forgot themselves in their message. The fire of God in their bones would not permit them to hesitate. Whether it was a frowning king or an infuriated mob the prophet had to brave, he set his face like a flint. Comfort, reputation, life itself might be at stake; but he had to speak out all that God had told him, whether men might bear or whether they might forbear.
2. The other aspect of the prophets' word was that it was a Message to Men. If, on the one hand, the word of the prophets was a power because it was the word or thought of God, it depended, on the other hand, for its effect on becoming a word which those to whom it was communicated could repeat in their own vocabulary and thereby turn into a thought of their own; for it was only when men's minds were so modified by the prophets' words that they began, in their degree, to think the thoughts of God, that the prophetic message became an influence in their life. The prophet had, therefore, to stand in a double attitude, and a double process had to be performed in his mind. He had, in the first place, to turn himself wholly round to God and away from the world, and clear his mind of everything else, that he might receive the message in its purity; but then he had, in the second place, to turn himself round towards men and, taking their circumstances into account, deliver the message to them in the most effective way. He had first to allow the Divine message to master him; but then he had to turn upon it and master it, before he could be the medium by which it was conveyed to others.
The prophets had to go amongst men, even if it were at the risk of life, and deliver the Divine message. They had to use every device to make it telling, striking in at every opportunity and giving line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. They did not disdain the homeliest means, if it served the purpose. A prophet would go about in public carrying a yoke on his neck, like a beast of burden, or lie a whole year on his side, to attract attention to some important truth. More than once we find a prophet setting up a board in the market-place, with only a few words written on it, into which he had condensed his message, that the passers-by might read it.
On the other hand, when it was appropriate, they did not spare themselves the trouble of cultivating the graces of style by which words are made attractive and impressive. The prophetic books are almost as artistic as poems. Their literary form is not exactly poetry, though now and then it crosses its own boundary and becomes poetical. It is a kind of rhythmical prose, governed by laws of its own, which it carefully observes. All the prophets are not, indeed, equally careful. Some of them appear to have been too completely carried away with the message which they had to deliver to think much of the way of delivering it. But these were not the strongest of the prophets; and it is worth observing, that those who took the most pains about the form in which what they had to say was couched have been the most successful prophets in this sense, that they have been most read by subsequent generations.
At the head of them all, in this respect, stands Isaiah. If the book of an ordinary reader of the Bible were examined, it would be found, I imagine, that Isaiah is thumbed far more than any other portion of the prophetical writings; and this is due not only to the divinely evangelical character of his message, but also to the nobly human style of his language. All the resources of poetry and eloquence are at his command. Every realm of nature ministers to his stores of imagery; and his language ranges through every mode of beauty and sublimity, being sometimes like the pealing of silver bells, and sometimes like the crashing of avalanches, and sometimes like the songs of seraphim. He is generally supposed to have been a native of Jerusalem and to have spent his life within its walls. So identified, indeed, is he with it, that he is coming to be called Isaiah of Jerusalem; and a recent expounder of his prophecies says that Jerusalem was more to him than Athens to Demosthenes, Rome to Juvenal, or Florence to Dante. But, at some period of his life, he must have had ample experience also of a country life; because the aspects of the country are mirrored in his pages with incomparable charm.
He lets us see nature, as it existed in his day, both wild in the forest and wilderness, and cultivated around the abodes of men; and he paints for us the figures of the country people themselves and the labours they went forth to. We see in his pages the trees of the wood moved by the wind; the willows by the water-courses; the fresh branches sprouting from the stock of the pollard oak or terebinth. We hear the doves mourning from the depths of the thicket, and see the roe, chased by the hunter, disappearing within its shelter, and even the schoolboy rifling the birds' nests so ruthlessly that |there was none that moved the wing or opened the mouth or peeped.| We see the swarms of bees and flies resting on the branches in the summer heat; the ploughshare lying in the furrow; the tow and the distaff; the ox turning its head to be patted by the hand of its owner, and the ass trotting off at feeding-time to its master's crib. The prophet looks with a specially observant and sympathetic eye on the toils of men -- the woodman thinning the trees of the forest; the carpenter, with saw and axe, turning to his own uses the sycamore and the cedar; the builder among his bricks and stones; and the farmer, on the exposed height of the threshing-floor, winnowing his corn with the shovel and the fan. As is usual in the Bible, the shepherd is portrayed with special honour, whether he calls out his neighbours to frighten away the lion from his flock or is seen gathering the lambs in his arms and carrying them in his bosom. But most of all does the poet-prophet love to linger in the vineyard, marking accurately all the operations of the vine-dresser and all the stages of the growth of the vines. We see the tearing up of the hillside with the mattock, the accumulation of soil, the gathering out of the stones, the construction of the winepress and the watch-tower. Then we see the roots planted and growing from stage to stage -- from that |afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect and the sour grape is ripening in the flower,| to that when the vineyard is ringing with the songs of the vintage and the gleaners are picking the last relics from the outermost branches.
At whatever period these pictures of nature were laid up in the memory of Isaiah, they came back to him when he was engaged in the work of a prophet, and supplied the imagery by means of which the Divine truths which he heralded were made impressive and attractive to his countrymen and acceptable to all subsequent generations; for men are so made that they are never so won by the truth as when they see it reflected in a physical image.
These two sides of the prophet's activity nearly correspond to what we should call Thought and Expression. Or, to put it still more broadly, the preacher must be a man who both has something to say and knows how to say it. On these two apparently simple qualifications hang all the science and art of our vocation.
In reality they are not simple. To have the right thing to say is a great commandment, and to know the right way to say it is, though second to it, hardly inferior. But the problem of the ministry is to have both in perfect equipoise -- to utter a word which is at the same time both a message from God and a message to men.
It would be possible to be so taken possession of by the message from God as to lose self-control and even reason itself. In Scripture we meet with manifestations of prophecy which are akin to madness. Just as the wind, catching the sail, would, if the ropes were not adjusted to relieve the strain, overturn the boat, so the Wind of God might sweep the mind off its balance, the human personality being overborne by the inrushing inspiration. Thus religion may make a man a fanatic, who has no control over his own spirit, and no wisdom to choose the times at which to speak or the terms in which to address his fellow-men. On the other hand, the opposite excess is still more easy. So much stress may be laid on the form of words, and so much mastery obtained of the art of winning attention, that the necessity of having a Divine message to deliver or of depending on the power of the Spirit of God is forgotten. The windy master of words, whose own spirit is not subdued either by the impression of great thoughts or the sense of a great responsibility, but who can draw the eyes of men on his own performances and earn the incense of applause, has always been too familiar a figure in religion. It is to a man like Isaiah we must look for the absolute balance of both sides. There you have the blowing in all its degrees of the Wind of God, from the gentlest whisper to the force of the tempest, but, at the same time, the most perfect self-control and the adaptation of the word to the tastes and necessities of those to whom it was delivered.
There is a name sometimes applied by the prophets to themselves which admirably expresses the combination and balance of these two aspects of their activity. They call themselves Interpreters. The process of interpretation is a most interesting one, when it is well done. I have heard a speaker address with the greatest fervour a multitude who did not understand a word he was saying; but, as fast as the sentences fell from his lips, another speaker by his side caught them up and, in tones as fervid and with gestures as dramatic as his own, rendered them to the hearers in their own tongue with such effect that the performance made all the impression of an original speech. An interpreter is one who receives a message for people in a language which they do not understand and delivers it to them in their own tongue. Jehovah was incessantly speaking to His people in the vicissitudes of their history, but they did not apprehend His meaning. The prophet, however, understood; he took the Divine message into his own soul, and then he went and communicated it to the people in terms with which they were familiar. An interpreter requires to know at least two languages -- that in which the message comes and that in which it has to be delivered. If he knows either imperfectly, his interpretation will be proportionately imperfect. No interpreter of God, perhaps, knows both languages equally well. Some know the Divine language imperfectly, while they know thoroughly the language of men. What they say is interesting, fresh and human; but there is not much of a Divine message in it. Others have got far into the secret of God and know the Divine language well; but they are not sufficiently masters of the language of men. These are saintly men and command reverence by their character, but what they say does not find its way to men's business and bosoms.
I have seen the same truth put in another way. Tholuck, one of the most gifted of modern preachers, has made the remark that a sermon ought to have heaven for its father and the earth for its mother. Why, he asks, do one half of our sermons miss the mark? It is because, while they treat of the circumstances and relationships of life in an interesting way, they do so only in the light which springs from below, not in that which streams from above; they have the earth for their mother, but not heaven for their father. And why do the other half of our sermons fail to touch the heart? It is because, while they display the heavenly things shining at a distance, they do not bring them down to the homes and workshops, the highways and byways of ordinary life; they have heaven for their father, but not the earth for their mother.
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Indeed, gentlemen, the definition of the preacher as a Man of the Word covers a very large area of our duty, and an analysis of its contents will furnish a kind of natural history of that which is the most important part of a minister's work from week to week.
1. To be a Man of the Word is to be a master of the Divine Word. In the pulpit not only must a man have something to say, but it must be a message from God. Where is this to be found? We do not now require to seek it, as the prophets had to do, in the empty void. Their work was not in vain. They were working for their own times, but they were also working for all time. The prophets and apostles put into a permanent form the principles on which the world is governed, and gave classical expression to the most important truths which man requires to know for salvation and for the conduct of his life. Thus they are still serving us, and we can begin where they left off. He who receives the message of God now finds it in the Word of God.
Hence one of the primary qualifications of the ministry is an intimate familiarity with the Scriptures. To this end a large proportion of the study required of you at college is directed; and the subsequent habits of ministerial life have to be formed with the same object in view. A large portion of our work is the searching of the Scriptures, and a preacher of the highest order will always be a man mighty in the Scriptures. We chance at present to be living at a time when the questions about the Bible are the most numerous and the most difficult in theology, and many accepted opinions are cast into solution. I dare say it is the experience of most students of divinity that they are more perplexed about inspiration and related questions than about any other subjects. On the other hand, the attention directed to the Bible was never so great as it is at present; and the methods of studying it are daily improving. And, in spite of all the difficulties, it is questionable if there ever was in the Church an intenser conviction that the voice of God is heard in His Word. The experience of the ministry deepens this conviction every year. If I may give utterance to my own experience, I have never come to the end of a close study of a book of Scripture in the congregation without having both a fresh respect for its literary character and a profounder impression of its Divine wisdom. The more the Bible is searched, the more will it be loved; and the stronger will the conviction grow that its deep truths are the Divine answers to the deep wants of human nature.
Yet to deliver the message of God is not merely to read what prophets and apostles penned and to repeat it by rote. The man who is to be God's messenger must himself draw near to God and abide in His secret, as they did. The word must detach itself from the book and become a living element of experience before it can profit even the reader himself; and much more is this the case, of course, before it can profit others. It is the truth which has become a personal conviction, and is burning in a man's heart so that he cannot be silent, which is his message. The number of such truths which a man has appropriated from the Bible and verified in his own experience is the measure of his power. There is all the difference in the world between the man who thus speaks what he knows from an inner impulse and the man whose sermon is simply a literary exercise on a Scripture theme, and who speaks only because Sunday has come round and the bell rung and he must do his duty.
The selection of the theme for preaching is to be determined chiefly by the power of the Word to lay hold of the conviction of the preacher. Or, if the subject is prescribed, as when one is lecturing through a book of the Bible, the points to be treated are to be determined in this way. Sometimes, as a preacher reads the Word, a text will leap from the page, so to speak, and, fastening on the mind, insist on being preached upon. A sermon on such a text is nearly always successful; and a wise man will, therefore, take care to garner such texts when they occur to him. He will underline them in his Bible, or, better still, enter them in a note-book kept for the purpose, adding a few words perhaps to indicate the first lines of thought which have occurred to him. These notes may be multiplied from time to time; and, when the minister turns to a page which has been thus filled, he will often find his sermon nearly made to his hand. Dr. Wendell Holmes tells of Emerson that he kept such a note-book for subjects on which he might lecture, and for suggestions of lines of thought which he might follow out. He called it his Savings Bank, because, though the payments into it were minute, they gradually swelled to riches; and passages which his hearers and readers supposed to be outbursts of sudden literary creation were really the results of slow accumulation. If this was necessary for even a genius like Emerson it will be far more necessary for the ordinary man. The gold of thought has generally to be collected as gold dust.
2. But this already brings me to the second stage of this natural history, which is, that the preacher must be a master of Human Words. The message from God which we carry is to become a message to men, and therefore we must know how to introduce it successfully to their notice. Strong as our own conviction may be, yet it may be crude and formless; and, before it can become the conviction of others, it must take a shape which will arouse their attention. It may belong to a region of thought with which they are unfamiliar, and it has to be brought near, until it enters the circle of their own ideas.
This is the problem of the composition of the sermon, whether this means the writing of it out or the arrangement of the materials in the memory in preparation for delivery. And many rules might be given to help at this point.
One often recommended is to keep the audience in view to which the composition is to be addressed. If by this is meant that the writer, as he sits at his desk, should try to conjure up in his imagination the benches of the church and their occupants, I do not know whether it is a practicable rule or not. But if it means that the preacher, as he composes his sermon, should keep in view the circumstances of his hearers -- their stage of culture, the subjects in which they are interested, the Scriptural attainments which they have already made, and the like -- it is one of the prime secrets of the preacher's art, and I will return to speak of it more fully in a subsequent lecture. I once heard Mr. Spurgeon preach a characteristic sermon on an unusual text. It was on these words in Hosea: |I was unto them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.| To illustrate the first clause he drew a graphic picture of a London carter in Cornhill loosening the harness, when his horse had surmounted the incline, taking the bit out of its mouth, and fastening on the corn-bag; and he applied the second clause with humorous wisdom to the behaviour of preachers. As the carter in the stable |lays| the hay to his horse, so the preacher has to |lay| the food to the congregation. The carter must not put the food too high, where the horse cannot reach up to it, nor too low, where it cannot get down to it, but just where it can seize and devour it with comfort. So the preacher must neither pitch his message too high, where it will be above the comprehension of the congregation, nor too low, where it will not command their respect, but just where they can reach it easily and comfortably. This quaint illustration has often recurred to me in the study, and made me anxiously consider whether I was putting the truth in such a way that the congregation could grasp it.
Many rules have been proposed for winning the attention of the congregation. Some have laid stress on commencing the sermon with something striking. Mr. Moody, the evangelist, whose opinion on such a subject ought to be valuable, recommends the preacher to crowd in his best things at the beginning, when the attention is still fresh. Others have favoured the opposite procedure. During the first half of the discourse nearly every audience will give the speaker a chance. At this point, therefore, the heavier and drier things which need to be said ought to occur. But about the middle of the discourse the attention begins to waver. Here, therefore, the more picturesque and interesting things should begin to come; and the very best should be reserved for the close, so that the impression maybe strongest at the last. St. Augustine says that a discourse should instruct, delight and convince; and perhaps these three impressions should, upon the whole, follow this order. The more instructive elements -- the facts and explanations -- should come first, appealing to the intellect; then should follow the illustrative and pathetic elements, which touch the feelings; and then, at the close, should come those moving and over-awing considerations which stir the conscience and determine the will. Thus the impression would grow from the commencement to the close.
To obtain command of language it is good to hear the best speakers and to read the best books. It has been my fortune to be acquainted with a good many celebrated preachers; and I have observed that, almost without exception, they have had a thorough acquaintance with the whole range of the higher English literature. To have the music of Shakespeare or Milton echoing in your memory, or to have lingering in your ear the cadence and sweep of the sentences of Thackeray and De Quincey, will almost unawares give you a good style. In reading over an old sermon of my own, I can almost tell whether or not, in the week of its composition, I was reading good literature. In the former case the language is apt to be full and harmonious, and sprinkled over with gay flowers of maxim and illustration, whereas in the latter the style of the performance is apt to be bald and jerky.
Let me mention one more rule for the composition of the sermon which appears to me to be the most important of all. It is, to take time. Begin in time and get done in time -- this, I often say to myself, is the whole duty of a minister. The reason why so many of our sermons are crude in thought, unbalanced in the arrangement of the materials, destitute of literary beauty, and unimpressive in delivery, is because they are begun too late and written too hurriedly. The process of thinking especially should be prolonged; it is not so important that the process of writing should be slow. It is when the subject has been long tossed about in thought that the mind begins to glow about it; the subject itself gets hot and begins to melt and flash, until at last it can be poured forth in a facile but glowing stream. Style is not something added to the thought from the outside. It is simply the beauty of the truth itself, when you have gone deep enough to find it; and the worst condemnation of a careless and unattractive style is that it does the truth injustice.
3. The preacher ought to be master of the Oral Word. There is a stage which the truth has to pass through after it has been prepared in the study for the consumption of the hearers. This is the oral delivery; and it is a part of the natural history of the sermon which must not be overlooked. A sermon may be well composed in the study and yet be a failure in the pulpit. Indeed, this is one of the most critical stages of the entire process. There are few things more disappointing than to have received a message to deliver and spent a laborious and happy week in composition, and yet on Sunday, as you descend the pulpit stair, to know that you have missed the mark. This, however, is far from an infrequent occurrence. The same sermon may even be a success on one occasion, and on another a partial or a total failure.
Wherein a good delivery consists it is difficult to say. It is the rekindling of the fire of composition in the presence of the congregation; it is the power of thinking out the subject again on your feet. This must not be a mere repetition of a byegone process, but a new and original action of the mind on the spot. Tholuck, to whom I have already alluded in this lecture, says that a sermon needs to be born twice: it must be born once in the study in the process of composition, and it must be born again in the pulpit in the process of delivery. Many a sermon is a genuine birth of the mind in the study which in the pulpit is still-born.
Some preachers have an extraordinary facility of putting themselves at once, and every time, en rapport with the audience, so that there is from first to last, whilst they speak, a commerce between the mind in the pulpit and the minds in the pews. To others this is the most difficult part of preaching. The difficulty is to get down amongst the people and to be actually dealing with them. Many a preacher has a thought, and is putting it into good enough words, but somehow the people are not listening, and they cannot listen.
If the Senate of this University were ever to try the experiment of asking a layman to deliver this course of Lectures on Preaching, I am certain he would lay more stress on this than we do, and put a clear and effective -- if possible, a graceful and eloquent -- delivery among the chief desiderata of the pulpit. I do not know how it may be among you; but, when I was at college, we used rather to despise delivery. We were so confident in the power of ideas that we thought nothing of the manner of setting them forth. Only have good stuff, we thought, and it will preach itself. We like to repeat, with Faust,
|True sense and reason reach their aim
With little help from art and rule;
Be earnest! then what need to seek
The words that best your meaning speak?|
So we thought; and many of us have since suffered for it. We know how many sermons are preached in the churches of the country every Sunday; but does anyone know how many are listened to? The newspapers supply us now and then with statistics of how many hearers are present in our congregations; but who will tell us what proportion of these are listeners? If we knew the exact percentage, I suspect, it would appal us. Yet it is not because there is not good matter in the sermons, but because it is not properly spoken. In the manufacture of steam-engines the problem is, I believe, to get as much work as possible out of the coal consumed. In every engine which has ever yet been constructed there has been a greater or less waste of heat, which is dispersed into the surrounding air or carried away by the adjacent portions of the machinery, without doing work. Engineering skill has been gradually reducing the amount of this waste and getting a larger and larger proportion of work out of the fuel; and a perfect engine would be one in which the whole of the coal consumed had its full equivalent in work done. One of our problems, it seems to me, is a similar one. There is an enormous disproportion between the amount of energy expended during the week in preparation and the amount of impression made on the hearers on Sunday. Ministers do not get enough of result in the attention, satisfaction and delight of their hearers for the work they do; and the failure is in the vehicle of communication between the study and the congregation -- that is to say, in the delivery of the sermon. What I am pleading for is, that there should be more work to show for the coal consumed.
4. Allow me, gentlemen, in closing this lecture, to emphasize another sense in which the prophets were men of the Word, and in which they are worthy of imitation. They were masters of the Written Word. They not only spoke the word of God, but wrote it for publication, in a form sometimes more diffuse and sometimes more compressed than their oral utterances; and by this means they not only extended their influence in their own day, but have enormously prolonged it since.
It is surprising how few of those who have spoken the word of God have cultivated this mode of delivering it; and it is perhaps equally astonishing how few of those who have cultivated it have done so in earnest. In the last century, promotion in the Church of England was won by literary achievement; but the would-be bishop did not generally think of religious literature: he published a political pamphlet or edited a Greek play. Among the Scottish Moderates there was a keen ambition for literary distinction; but it was the more prized the more remote the fields in which it was won lay from a minister's peculiar work. This led the Evangelicals to discountenance literary productivity, which they regarded as springing from unholy motives and as likely to distract the mind from the true ends of the ministry. But surely there is a juster point of view than either the Moderate or the Evangelical. This work ought to be cultivated with precisely the same aims as preaching and with the same earnestness. When a man is truly called to it, it brings a vast audience within his range, and there may rest on it a remarkable blessing. Here is a significant extract from the history of British Christianity: Richard Baxter wrote A Call to the Unconverted, and Philip Doddridge was converted by reading it; Philip Doddridge wrote The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, and William Wilberforce was converted by reading it; Wilberforce wrote the Practical View, and Thomas Chalmers was converted by reading it. What a far-extending influence does each of these names represent! The writing of books is perhaps the likeliest of all avenues by which to carry religious influence to the most select minds.
The Servant of the Lord is a prophet; and in the descriptions of him in this character we can perhaps best see what was Isaiah's conception of a prophet. See especially ch. lxi.1-3.
See Ewald's Introduction to The Prophets.
|Bonorum ingeniorum insignis est indoles, in verbis verum amare, non verba. Quid enim prodest clavis aurea, si aperire quod volumus non potest? Aut quid obest lignea, si hoc potest, quando nihil quaerimus, nisi parere quod clausum est? Sed quoniam inter se habent nonnullam similitudinem vescentes atque discentes, propter fastidia plurimorum etiam ipsa sine quibus vivi non potest alimenta condienda sunt.| -- ST. AUGUSTINE.
See the excellent chapter on Isaiah's style in Driver's Isaiah.
The same idea has long been helpful to me in a third form -- in the following lines of Platen --
|Was stets und aller Orten
Sich ewig jung erweist
Ist, in gebundenen Worten
Ein ungebundener Geist.|
|Into Ezekiel's hand there was put a roll written within and without with lamentation and mourning and woe, an objective revelation which he himself had not written; but, before he could deliver it to others, he had to eat it: all that was written on it had to become a part of himself, had to be taken into his inmost experience and be digested by him, and become his own very life's blood.| -- MARCUS DODS, D.D.
This is what our Lord chiefly meant by a teacher's |treasure| -- |Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of God bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.| How much the treasures of different preachers differ in magnitude! It is worthy of note that the Saviour calls the preachers of the New Testament |scribes.| In spite of the evil associations of the name He retained it, because it emphasizes the fact that the Christian preacher is to be a student and an expounder of Scripture.
Some preachers keep an interleaved Bible, in which references to passages in their reading are entered opposite the texts which they illustrate -- an excellent device.
|The strongest part of all great sermons is the close. More depends on the last two minutes than on the first ten.| -- From a choice little tract on Preaching, by |Prediger.|
He is quoting Cicero. Dixit ergo quidam eloquens, et verum dixit, ita dicere debere eloquentem, ut doceat, ut delectet, ut flectat. Deinde addidit: Docere necessitatis est, delectare suavitatis, flectere victoriae.... Oportet igitur eloquentem ecclesiasticum, quando suadet aliquid quod agendum est, non solum docere ut instruat, et delectare ut teneat, verum etiam flectere ut vincat. -- De Doctrina Christiana, IV.13.
An esteemed friend, the Rev. John McMillan of Ullapool, some years ago repeated to me the following rhyme on the method of constructing a sermon, and, although I have never succeeded in coming up to its standard, yet it has often floated before me with advantage in the hours of composition --
When most impressed
To spirit wed form;
Sit down in a storm.|
It will be remembered that John Bright used regularly, during the session of Parliament, to read aloud from one of the poets the last thing at night.
Tholuck gives another weighty reason why ministers should know the best literature: In einer Zeit wo Shakespeare eine staerkere Autoritaet fuer Viele ist als Paulus, und ein Distichon Goethes eine kraeftigere Belegstelle als der ganze Roemer-und Galaterbrief, darf der Geistliche, welcher auf seine Gemeinde wuerken will, mit ihren Gewaehrsmaenern nicht unbekannt seyn. Wenn irgendwo, so gilt auch hier des Apostels Wort: Alles ist Euer.
|Aber nicht bloss die Erzeugung der Predigt geschehe im heiligen Geist, sondern auch ihr Vortrag. Es laesst sich nicht aussprechen, welch' ein Unterschied zwischen der Wuerkung einer Predigt, welche bloss aus der Erinnerung von der Kanzel herabgesprochen wird -- wie trefflich sie auch uebrigens seyn mag -- und welche dort zum zweitenmal geboren wird in lebendigem Glauben.... Die Predigt muss eine That des Predigers auf seinem Studirzimmer, sie muss abermals eine That seyn auf der Kanzel; er muss, wenn er herunter kommt, Mutterfreuden fuehlen, Freuden der Mutter, die unter Gottes Segen ein Kind geboren hat.|
Adolphe Monod, himself a distinguished master of the art of delivery, gives some good hints on it in a paper on The Eloquence of the Pulpit, translated and published as an article in The British and Foreign Evangelical Review, January, 1881: --
|In general, people recite too quickly, far too quickly. When a man speaks, the thoughts and feelings do not come to him all at once; they take birth little by little in his mind. It is necessary that this labour and this slowness appear in the reciting, or it will always come short of nature. Take time to reflect, to feel, and to allow ideas to come, and hurry your recitation only when constrained by some particular consideration.|...
|Talk not in the pulpit. An exaggerated familiarity would be a mistake nearly as great as declamation: it happens more seldom; it is, nevertheless, found in certain preachers, those especially who have not studied. The tone of good conversation, but that tone heightened and ennobled, such appears to me the ideal of pulpit delivery.|...
|In order to rise above the tone of conversation, the majority of preachers withdraw too far from it. They swell their delivery, and declaim instead of speaking. Now, when bombast comes in, nature goes out.|
In regard to the first of these extracts I should say that many Scotch speakers fail through lack of pace in the delivery. The interest is lost in the pauses between the sentences. A slow delivery is only effective when a thought is obviously being born, for which the audience is kept intently waiting.
But the most remarkable thing in the article is the following quotation from Talma, the actor: --
|We were rhetoricians and not characters. What scores of academical discourses on the theatre, how few simple words! But by chance I found myself one evening in a drawing-room with the leaders of the party of the Gironde. Their sombre countenance, their anxious look, attracted my attention. There were there, written in visible letters, strong and powerful interests. They were men of too much heart for those interests to be tarnished by selfishness; I saw in them the manifest proof of the danger of my country. All come to enjoy pleasure; not one thinking of it! They began to discuss; they touched on the most thrilling questions of the day. It was grand! Methought I was attending one of the secret councils of the Romans. 'The Romans must have spoken like these,' said I. 'Let the country be called France or Rome, it makes use of the same intonations, speaks the same language: therefore, if there is no declamation here before me, there was no declamation down there, in olden times; that is evident!' These reflections rendered me more attentive. My impressions, though produced by a conversation thoroughly free from bombast, deepened. 'An apparent calm in men agitated stirs the soul,' said I; 'eloquence may then have strength, without the body yielding to disordered movements.' I even perceived that the discourse, when delivered without efforts or cries, renders the gesture more powerful and gives the countenance more expression. All these deputies assembled before me by chance appear to me much more eloquent in their simplicity than at the tribune, where, being in spectacle, they think they must deliver their harangue in the way of actors -- and actors as we were then -- that is, declaimers, full of bombast. From that day a new light flashed on me; I foresaw my art regenerated.|