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There is nothing vague or uncertain, nothing obscure or unintelligible in the speech of such a one. He presses earnestly towards his object. His heart's desire is that his hearers may be saved. The power of that inward emotion he cannot conceal. Chains cannot bind it. Mountains cannot bury it. It thaws through the most icy habits. It bursts from the lip. It speaks from the eye. It modulates the tone. It pervades the manner. It possesses and controls the whole man. He is seen to be in earnest; he convinces; he persuades.
It is a most important service which religion has rendered not only to the eloquence of the pulpit but to every department of Christian literature, by putting the faculties under the pressure and power of a grand motive. The heart of man must be pressed and well-nigh crushed before it will give out its wine and its oil. “Wo is me," said Paul, “if I preach not the gospel of Christ.” He who would preach with force and effect, must subject himself to that religious sense of responsibility, which is alone competent to bring into action every dormant faculty; and bear about with him the solemn and weighty reflection that he watches for souls as one that must give an account. Whenever the heart and conscience exert their combined power in this direction; every talent will be employed; the whole man is urged to full and efficient action. Cast such a man into prison, and like Bunyan, “ingenious dreamer," will he describe the progress of the soul to God; confine him to a bed of sickness, and like Baxter will he sweetly muse and write of the rest of the saint in heaven; blind his eyes, in total night, and “ celestial light” will shine inward, enabling him, like glorious Milton, to
see and tell Of things invisible to mortal sight.
Fetter him with chains, and in the very presence of kings and governors, he will, like Paul, reason about a judgment to come; nail him to the cross, his heart will still palpitate with inextinguishable love, and his latest breath will be spent, like his Master's, in praying and speaking for others' good.
Great advantage has he, who is well experienced in religion, by understanding the right method of approach to his hearers. He who knows himself, knows all others also. It is not the wit of the Pilgrim's Progress, keen and fine though it is, it is not the ingenious form of its construction, nor yet the religious doctrine which it contains, which has made that work the greatest favorite among all classes and ages. It is the consummate knowledge of human nature which it exhibits and discloses; a knowledge which Bunyan acquired, not from books nor from travel, but from his own bosom. In intellectual qualities great are the differences which exist among men. In the essential qualities of the heart all are alike. There is a conscience in every man's bosom. He, accordingly, who has explored his own heart, observed the movements of his own conscience, and disciplined his own affections, is qualified to preach with effect wherever he goes. He addresses those principles and properties which are universal in man. Whether he proclaims his message to the intelligent and refined, or the ignorant and rustic; whether he preaches beneath the domes and turrets of a city cathedral, or in the cabins and forests of the most rural retreat, he deals with man after the same manner, and with the same effect. Circumstances may change, conditions vary, but man is everywhere the same. Hence is it that skilful preaching to the conscience and the heart is not only powerfül, but always popular preaching. After Paul's first sermon in Antioch, the “ Gentiles besought him that those words might be preached to them the next Sabbath; and the next Sabbath came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” “Never man spake like this man,” said the rude soldiers who were sent to apprehend our Lord. Doubtless he had been dealing with their consciences; and they dared not lay their hands on one who proved that he knew their very hearts. Observe the conversation of our Lord with the woman of Samaria. Under a most simple and beautiful imagery, he informed her, while sitting at Jacob's well, that in him, the Saviour of the world, she might obtain that water of life, which her soul needed. She could not comprehend his meaning. Again was the same illustration repeated, and revolved yet again. Still she remained obtuse, and ignorant of the spiritual truth. Now we see His divine skill. He changes his mode of approach. He touches her conscience. “Go call thy husband.” She was living in sin. “He whom she then had was not her husband.” Her heart was smitten through by his words; and she went exclaiming: “ Come, see the man who told me all that ever I did.” No preacher can be popular, in the best sense of the word, that is, capable of reaching and moving all classes of men alike, who does not speak directly to the conscience and the heart; for these are the qualities which, amid all the social and intellectual differences of men, are homogeneous and universal the world over. But to this power of speech, no man can attain, except through that intimate knowledge of himself which experimental piety is always sure to promote. The advice of Burns to a young friend is truly characteristic:
Conceal yourself as weel 's you can
The young minister of the gospel, who would know his fellow-men, must examine his own heart. A strenuous conflict with one bosom sin will teach him more than all reading and observation, for as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man. In aid of this knowledge, so indispensable to every preacher, the Bible is the most wonderful of books. Of all books, it is the best for the study of human nature. It is the only book which gives unity to human history and human character. Uninspired men trust to fancy for their delineation of men in the earlier ages of the world. Hence with the beings with whom a fanciful mythology first peopled the world, we have no sympathy; they are not men, but demigods. But inspired history has given us a fresh, distinct and true impression of the human heart, ever since it first beat. We love to feel our oneness with the remotest antiquity. The past lives again when we look upon its emotions ; it lives in our own. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are men like ourselves; and Sarah laughing behind the door of her tent, is the same as woman now. Send not the orator to the dramas of Shakspeare, for a knowledge of man, so long as inspiration holds up to nature its large, and true and perfect mirror. The Bible is the text-book of the rhetorician, as well as the exegete and theologian. Men, countries, nations perish; but the affections of the heart are in. dependent of place and time.
There is a certain other effect of piety which is but little thought of, but which is of great price, both to the man and the preacher. Wemean its tendency to promote a love for the simple and the natural. It distastes every thing meretricious. It revolts from that which is forced and artificial. The first principle of religion, to be what we appear, corresponds well to the first law of rhetoric to appear just what you are. Religion tends to promote individuality. It composes the turbid elements, and makes the character clear and transparent. It gives life and distinctness to all the original peculiarities of the man, sending the “living sap” to the topmost twig as well as the great trunk. The full tide of the sea conforms itself to all the indentations of the shore, be they small or large; and religion runs not men into one mould, but brings out all the distinctive features of each individual; qualifying him to be just what God made him. Wonderful is this power of the simple, the true, the natural!
Other influences of piety there are, in aid of the preacher, to which we can give no more than a passing allusion. Such is its direct effect upon his hearers, if we may so express it, as a conductor to impression. Quinctilian, Cicero, and every writer of antiquity on the rhetorical art have mentioned among the essential qualifications of an orator, that he should be a good man. 'Tis true, in their passionate zeal for a favorite science, ancient rhetoricians claimed for it much which it could not appropriate to / itself exclusively, since Milton's Belial was eloquent. But certain it is that persuasion in regard to that which is good is not easily effected except there be a feeling of confidence in the goodness of him who speaks. It is really, indisputably so with every preacher of righteousness. Confidence in his moral qualities is the great power which binds him to his hearers. Great are the advantages and opportunities for producing impression which he possesses. He associates with men on peculiar terms. He goes into the very sanctuary of domestic privacy. The portals of the heart are opened to his fidelity. Emotions which are told to no other, are told to him. His words are received with deference. But it is because of his character as a man of God that it is so. Let the confidence which is felt in his piety be impaired in the least; let his face lose the brightness which it has when coming from before God; and he becomes at once as other men, the rod of his success is broken, the secret of his power is gone.
After all, whatever aids and advantages the preacher may possess, in performance of his appropriate work, he must, at length, come to feel, that weak and worthless are the utmost endeavors of man, of themselves; and the same spirit of piety which enables him to speak most forcibly to men, leads him also to plead most fervently with God. It was the saying of a dis
SECOND SERIES, VOL. VII. NO. 1.
tinguished French divine that one half of the work of a preacher was to be achieved in his closet. It is true to the letter. His relations are both God-ward and man-ward. While pleading with men, without God he can do nothing. Not only has he to come forth unto his brethren; he must also go in unto the Great King, bearing the names of his people on his breast-plate. The celebrated sermon of Dr. Livingston in the kirk of Schotts, which resulted in the hopeful conversion of five hundred souls, was preached after a whole night spent in prayer. In ways which we can never define, the prayers of a devout preacher facilitate and perpetuate the impressions of the truth. Those sermons have accomplished the most, which were written with many tears, preached with fervent ejaculations, and followed by earnest prayer.
What, now, is the testimony of facts on this whole subject? Who have preached the gospel with the greatest effect? The very first time the gospel, distinctively as such, was proclaimed, three thousand were converted at once. Whenever the apostles spake in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, great multitudes believed. To what causes are such astonishing effects to be ascribed ? To the miraculous prerogatives with which the apostles were invested ? Little else, do we believe, did miracles accomplish than to furnish the truth that vantage-ground, which, now that its evidences are established, it possesses, without their aid. Shall we resolve them into the surpassing intellectual qualities of the apostles? The sturdy native sense of the fishermen of Galilee we cannot sufficiently admire; but thousands there were among their hearers, superior to them in learning and education. Perhaps their hearers were especially favorable to the truth. Never was prejudice half so inveterate, or hate so active. The Scribe was indignant. The Pharisee swept haughtily away. Philosophy uttered her sage contempt. The Stoic frowned. The Cynic sneered. The Epicurean jested. Yet whole cities and nations were moved. Their words were accompanied by the mighty power of God! 'Tis true. Without this they would have spoken in vain. But live we not under the dispensation of the Spirit, as well as they? And is not the promise of the same Spirit made to us as to them? Was not the experience of the day of Pentecost only the beginning of that which is yet to be repeated in a still larger measure ? And are not certain modes of feeling, speaking and acting more coincident with the Spirit than all others? We