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close as possible to the pure style of holy writ, which the apostle calls “the sincere or unadulterated milk of the word.” The things, which the Holy Spirit hath taught by the prophets and apostles, give not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but in the words which the Holy Spirit teacheth, a much more natural and suitable language. But be particularly attentive that the scripture expressions employed be both plain and apposite. The word of God itself may be, and often is handled unskilfully. Would the preacher carefully avoid this charge, let him first be sure that he hath himself a distinct meaning to every thing he advanceth, and next examine, whether the expression he intends to use be a clear and adequate enunciation of that meaning. For if it is true, that a speaker is sometimes not understood, because he doth not express his meaning with sufficient clearness, it is also true that sometimes he is not understood, because he hath no meaning to express. The last advice I would give on the head of perspicuity is, in composing, to aim at a certain simplicity in the structure of your sentences, avoiding long, intricate and complex periods. Remember always that the bulk of the people are unused to reading and study. They lose sight of the connection in very long sentences, and they are quite bewildered, when, for the sake of rounding a period, and suspending the sense till the concluding clause, you transgress the customary arrangement of the words. The nearer therefore your diction comes to the language of conversation, it will be the more familiar to them, and so the more easily apprehended. In this too the style of scripture is an excellent model. So much for perspicuity.
The next quality I mentioned in the style, was, that it be affecting. Though this has more particularly a place in those discourses, which admit and even require a good deal of the pathetic, yet, in a certain degree, it ought to accompany every thing that comes from the pulpit. All from that quarter is conceived to be, mediately or immediately, connected with the most important interests of mankind. This gives a propriety to the affecting manner in a certain degree, whatever be the particular subject. It is this quality in preaching, to which the French critics have given the name of onction, and which they explain to be, an affecting sweetness of manner which engages the heart. It is indeed that warmth, and gentle emotion in the address and language, which serves to show, that the speaker is much in earnest in what he says, and is actuated to say
it from the tenderest concern for the welfare of his hearers. As this character however can be considered only as a degree of that which comes under the general denomination of pathetic, we shall have occasion to consider it more fully afterwards. It is enough here to observe, that as the general strain of pulpit elocution ought to be seasoned with this quality, this doth necessarily imply, that the language be ever grave and serious. The necessity of this results from the consideration of the very momentous effect which preaching was intended to produce; as the necessity of perspicuity, the first quality mentioned, results from the consideration of the character sustained by the hearers. That the effect designed by this institution, namely the reformation of mankind, requires a certain seriousness, which though occasionally requisite in other pub. lic speakers, ought uniformly to be preserved by the
preacher, is a truth that will scarcely be doubted by any person who reflects. This may be said in some respect to narrow his compass in persuasion, as it will not permit the same free recourse to humour, wit and ridicule, which often prove powerful auxiliaries to other orators at the bar and in the senate, agreeably to the observation of the poet,
Fortius et melius magnas plerumque secat res. At the same time, I am very sensible that an air of ridicule in disproving or dissuading, by rendering opinions or practices contemptible, hath been attempted with approbation by preachers of great name. I can only say that when the contemptuous manner is employed (which ought to be very seldom) it requires to be managed with the greatest delicacy. For time and place and occupation seem all incompatible with the levity of ridicule; they render jesting impertinence, and laughter madness. Therefore any thing from the pulpit, which might provoke this emotion, would now be justly deemed an unpardonable offence against both piety and decorum.
In order however to prevent mistakes, permit me here, in passing, to make a remark that may be called a digression, as it immediately concerns my own province only. The remark is, that in these prelections, I do not consider myself as limited by the laws of preaching. There is a difference between a school, even a theological school and a church, a professor's chair and a pulpit ; there is a difference between graduates in philosophy and the arts, and a common congregation. And though in some things, not in all, there be a coincidence in the subject, yet the object is different. In the former, it is purely the information of the hearers, in the latter, it is ultimately their reformation. I shall not therefore hesitate, in this place, to borrow aid from whatever may serve innocently to illustrate, enliven or enforce any part
of my subject, and keep awake the attention of my hearers, which is but too apt to flag at hearing the most rational discourse, if there be nothing in it, which can either move the passions, or please the imagination. The nature of my department excludes almost every thing of the former kind, or what may be called pathetic. A little of the onction above explained is the utmost that here ought to be aspired to.
There is the less need to dispense with what of the latter kind may be helpful for rousing attention. I hope therefore to be indulged the liberty, a liberty which I shall use very sparingly, of availing myself of the plea of the satirist,
Ridentem dicere verum
Quid vetat ? So much for the perspicuous and the affecting marrner, qualities in the style which ought particularly to predominate in all discourses from the pulpit. There are other graces of elocution, which may occasionally find a place there, such as the nervous, the elegant, and some others, but the former ought never to be wanting. The former therefore are characteristic qualities. The latter are so far from being such, that sometimes they are rather of an opposite tendency. The nervous style requires a conciseness, that is often unfriendly to that perfect perspicuity which ought to predominate in all that is addressed to the christian people, and which leads a speaker rather to be diffuse in his expression, that he may the better adapt himself to ordinary capacities. Elegance too demands a certain polish, that is not always entirely compatible with that artless simplicity, with which when the great truths of religion are adorned, they appear always to the most advantage, and in the truest majesty. They are “ when unadorn'd, adorn’d the most.”