Obrazy na stronie

From the circumstances which I have now recounted, you will be able in a great measure to collect the reasons why my sermons have received the peculiar form and division which they possess. For me to imitate a master, when I was obliged to begin preaching, was impossible. From the history of literature indeed, I had become acquainted with the most distinguished men in this department, but of their mode of sermonizing I was totally ignorant. The above named Passion Sermons of Saurin were the only ones I had ever read, and all the idea I ever had of imitating this excellent man, soon passed away in the midst of a pressure of business, or was annihilated by that activity of thought which will not readily submit to restraint. I gave myself up, therefore, to my own opinions and feelings.

When a professor, I was in the habit of composing my discourses in a very methodical manner, and this habit followed me into the pulpit. My sermons contained definitions, divisions, and arguments, just like my lectures; and

illusion that what he says and feels is the result of the moment, and transforms him into a mere teacher. It may be tolerated in an aged man, but should be wholly avoided by the young. To extemporize leads to superficiali'y and chattering. True, the ancients often extemporized, but not until after years of training, and then on occasions which spontaneously furnished the orator with enough to say; whereas the minister has to draw from his own meditations. It is far better, indeed, for a man to speak from a plan, than a half written, half committed sermon; but I advise you, my dear friend, to extemporize as little as possible." The opinion here expressed, is quite a prevalent one in Germany, and has many plausible arguments in its favor; but is it correct? Of the different modes of addressing an audience, that is the best which enables the orator to keep the field of thought the most vividly before him. With the Germans, we must ask, What can be more unfavorable than reading a sermon, in this respect? To speak a sermon memoriter is ascending a grade higher, provided it be well committed, and the man have a soul that will kindle. How easy, however, even in this case, to lose sight of the field of thought, in the mechanical process of rehearsing words? That many eloquent discourses must be composed, long and intensely analyzed, studied, and repeated, be fore a man can become an orator, is readily admitted; but is memoriter preaching the most favorable to oratory? Will it enable a man to keep the field of thought most vividly before him? And yet the objections made by the Germans to extemporary speaking, are also founded in truth. Nothing can be more injurious in the end, to real oratory, or to the cause of truth, than that chattering mode of declaiming which is so generally known as extemporary preaching. There is another mode, which if I mistake not, combines the advantages both of memoriter preaching and extemporizing, enables a man to keep the field of thought before him, thus lighting up the fire within, and holds him ready for new impulses; the attainment of which, will constitute the perfect orator. It consists in committing thoughts and illustrations to memory with little or no reference to words, and then giving the audience an unhesitating and simple description of what lies before the mind, as we describe a beautiful landscape to a friend.]

were as closely directed in every respect to the devotion of my hearers in the church, as the latter were to the attention of my hearers in the theological lecture-room. That the early education I received had greatly inclined me to this kind of preaching, you will infer, my dear friend, from what has already been said. There were some particular reasons, however, which justified me, as I supposed, in this, I may almost say, scholastic mode of preaching. As I had to preach in the University Church, the majority of my hearers were learned men and students. To these, capable as they were of following out a regular and closely connected discourse, I considered it my duty to have particular respect. Strictly speaking, they had been intrusted to me, and constituted my church. To this it may be added, that my capricious memory did not well retain any thing but what was closely connected together. The more accurately and methodically my sermon was adjusted in all its parts, even the smallest divisions, the easier I found it to be gotten by heart.* That in the midst of the loads of business of every kind with which I was surrounded, I should avail myself of this assistance as much as possible, was natural. Finally, I learned from experience that this mode of preaching proved of great utility, even to common people. At first, only a few came to hear me. My manner of preaching was too strange to them to present them with many attractions. These few however, gradually became accustomed to my style of writing, and soon their numbers increased; so that in the end, I found myself by no means destitute of illiterate hearers. Those of this class who attended, were, in a short time, able accurately to remember the whole train of thought contained in each sermon, together with its principal contents. There were citizens' wives, who could, from Sabbath to Sabbath, give a minute account of each discourse they heard, with all its divisions and sub-divisions. As, therefore, I considered it my duty to preach from memory, and felt anxious to have my hearers as intimately acquainted as possible, with what I said, utility required me, as I believed, to continue this mode of sermonizing.

* Quintilian expressly recommends good arrangement for the sake of the assistance it affords a man's memory. Institut. Orat. 1. XI. c. 2, 9, 36, 37.


It is true, that in so doing, I was obliged to renounce many things connected with rhetorical taste; but I did this the more willingly, as I had always looked upon the Christian minister, as a teacher, rather than an orator; and from experience, I gradually learned, that a discourse so composed as to constitute a well arranged whole, is not only capable of being clothed in an interesting dress, but also of being filled with animation. Farther on, however, I shall call your attention more particularly to some parts of this method, which I either do not wish to have imitated at all, or, at least, not by preachers in the country.

Here I must add the confession, that the sermons I preached during the first years of my ministry, were, in reality, very imperfect. The reason of this was, that I had gone through no exercises in this department, and was obliged to acquire all the skill which I ought to have brought with me to the work, in the progress of the work itself. cannot forbear saying, therefore; let no one destined for the ministry, fail to improve every opportunity which presents, in attending to the necessary preparatory exercises. The greatest natural talents will not compensate for the want. of such exercises. A man of genius will get along better, indeed, under such circumstances, than one that is not, and complete his task at an earlier period; but length of time will certainly not accomplish what, with a little more diligence in the proper season, might have been accomplished at once. I felt the imperfection of my sermons very sensibly, more sensibly than my goodnatured hearers. Hence, though I had preached at Wittemberg for eight years, yet I had not been persuaded to print more than eighteen sermons, two of them separately, as I have already informed you, my dear friend; the remaining sixteen, in a volume by themselves. I became more deeply sensible, however, of the imperfections of these sermons, some time afterwards, than I was while at Wittemberg. I then undertook to repeat some of the sermons which I had formerly delivered, but could not, so dissatisfied was I with them, without working them entirely over. Many years have now elapsed since I altogether relinquished such an attempt; for though I now have more than a hundred such sermons by me, yet, taken as a whole, they are, according

to my present feelings, so very imperfect, that I should be obliged to work them all over in order to render them tolerable.

Let me conclude this letter, my dear friend, with a confession which I feel bound to make by way of caution to young ministers. Perhaps my sermons would have been far better at an earlier period, if I had read and studied the best masters in the department to which I was devoted, taking them for my guides. This, however, I never did, and, oppressed as I was with business, was utterly unable to do. It is true, I had the charge of a little society, which inet once a week, formed plans, and wrote sermons, submitting them to my criticism. With this society, there was also connected a reading association, in which fifty volumes of works selected by myself with an especial reference to the ministry, were circulated every week. Of course, these works comprised some of the best collections of sermons then in existence, and which students might well have considered as patterns. However diligently they were read by others, I had no time to read them. Indeed, obliged as I was, constantly to compose sermons for myself, I could not think of reading the sermons of others. If I was ever so happy as to get any time for reading, I wished to devote it to something in another form which was calculated to recruit me by novelty or variety. It was not until I had been Court Preacher for several years, that I began to form an acquaintance with the spirit and manner of the best French, English, and German preachers. Some of Zollikofer's sermons were the first 1 read for this purpose. I immediately found the productions of this great man, fraught with a thousand excellencies which mine did. not possess, but which they might have possessed, at least in part, had I made myself acquainted with them at an earlier period. I was now too old, however, to think of imitation, and too much habituated to my own method, to effect any great changes in it. The only advantage therefore which I could at this time, and which I actually did, draw from them, consisted in the fact, that they induced me to lay myself under higher obligations, and made me feel very vividly how far I still was, from the goal of perfection.

[ocr errors]

I hope that young preachers will take warning from my example. In more than one respect, it is necessary and useful for a man to obtain a practicable knowledge of what is best and most worthy of being read, in the department to which he is devoted; nor will it contribute in any small degree, towards perfecting the education of a minister, if he from time to time make himself acquainted with the greatest masters in his art and study their works; not for the purpose of slavishly imitating them, but in order to quicken his perception of the truly beautiful and great, correct his taste, and then form a method of his own which shall harmonize the best with his powers, talents, and the circumstances in which he is placed. I had been taught by Cicero, to neglect none of the productions of the greatest orators. Every body acquainted with his works, knows from his Brutus, how familiar he was with all the Greek and Roman sciences connected with his art, and with what diligence he studied the literature of his department. May his example so much neglected by myself in this respect, prove exciting and salutary to others. Farewell.


Chooses to speak of his creed-Began preaching in times of great religious controversy-was censured by some, apologized for, by others, for adhering to Orthodoxy-Very much pained by the latter-How he arrived at his religious views-Early saw the necessity of adhering entirely to reason, or entirely to revelation-Those following a middle course, involved in uncertainty-Knew not what they were about-Felt himself obliged to adhere entirely to revelation-Welcomes truth however from all quarters-A belief in revelation favorable to reason and effect-The grand cause of his adherence to the Gospel, his need of a Saviour-Solemn conclusion.


You will excuse me, you say, from speaking of the subjects and contents of my sermons, inasmuch as it

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PoprzedniaDalej »