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least of diverting the attention, even mere grammatic blunders, with those who are capable of discerning them, are but too apt to produce. Besides, from the greater intercourse we have now with England, it is manifest, that their idiom and pronunciation are daily gaining ground amongst us. In consequence of this, more will be expected' than formerly from a public speaker, who in every improvement in regard to language, which so nearly concerns his own department, ought to be among the first, rather than among the last. But this only by the way.
The more immediate object with us is rhetorical not grammatical elocution, and only that kind of the former which is specially adapted to the christian oratory. For though there be not perhaps any qualities requisite here, which may not with good effect be employed by those whose province it is to harangue from the bar or in the senate, and though there be very few of the qualities of elocution, which may not on some occasions, with great propriety, be employed from the pulpit; yet some of them, without all question, are more essential to one species of oratory than to another, and it is such as are most adapted to the discourses with which we are here concerned, that I propose now particularly to consider. Before all things then, in my judgment, the preacher ought to make it his study that the style of his discourses be both perspicuous, and affecting. I shall make a few observations to illustrate each of these particulars, and then conclude this lecture.
First, I say, his style ought to be perspicuous. Though it is indeed a most certain fact, that per
spicuity is of the utmost consequence to every orator (for what valuable end can any oration answer, which is not understood ?) this quality doubtless ought to be more a study to the christian orator than to any other whatever. The reason is obvious. The more we are in danger of violating any rule, (especially if it be a rule of the last importance,) the more circumspection we ought to employ in order to avoid that danger. Now that the preacher must be in much greater danger in this respect than any other public speaker, is manifest from the mixed character at best, often from the very low character in respect of acquired knowledge, of the audience to whom his speech is addressed. Perspicuity is in a great measure a relative quality. A speech may be perspicuous to one, which to another is unintelligible. It is possible indeed to be obscure in pleading before the most learned and discerning judges, because the pleader's style may be remarkably perplexed and intricate; but without any perplexity or intricacy of style, it is even more than possible, that a man of reading and education shall speak obscurely when he addresses himself in a set discourse to simple and illiterate people. There is a cause of darkness in this case, totally independent of the grammatical structure of the sentences, and the general character of the style. It is, besides, of all causes of obscurity, that which is most apt to escape the notice of a speaker. Nothing is more natural than for a man to imagine, that what is intelligible to him is so to every body, or at least that he speaks with sufficient clearness, when he uses the same language and in equal plainness,
with that in which he hath studied the subject, and been accustomed to read. But however safe this rule of judging may be in the barrister and the senator, who generally address their discourses to men of similar education with themselves, and of equal or nearly equal abilities and learning, it is by no means a proper rule for the preacher, one destined to be in spiritual matters, a guide to the blind, a light to them who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of babes. Therefore, besides the ordinary rules of perspicuity in respect of diction, which in common with every other public speaker he ought to attend to, he must advert to this in particular, that the terms and phrases he employs in his discourse be not beyond the reach of the inferior ranks of people. Otherwise his preaching is, to the bulk of his audience, but beating the air; whatever the discourse may be in itself, the speaker is to them no better than a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. It is reported of Archbishop Tillotson, that he was wont, before preaching his sermons, to read them privately to an illiterate old woman of plain sense, who lived in the house with him, and wherever he found he had employed any word or expression, that she did not understand, he instantly erased it, and substituted a plainer in its place, till he brought the style down to her level. The story is much to the prelate's honour; for however incompetent such judges might be, of the composition, the doctrine, or the argument, they are certainly the most competent judges of what terms and phrases fall within the apprehension of the vulgar, the class to which they belong. But though such an expe
dient would not answer in every situation, we ought at least to supply the want of it, by making it more an object of attention than is commonly done, to discover what in point of language falls within and what without the sphere of the common people.
Before I dismiss this article of perspicuity, I -shall mention briefly a few of those faults, by which it is most commonly transgressed.
The first is pedantry, or an ostentation of learning, by frequent recourse to those words and phrases which are called technical, and which are in use only among the learned. This may justly be denominated the worst kind of obscurity, because it is always an intentional obscurity. In other cases a man may speak obscurely, without knowing it; he may on some subjects speak obscurely, and though he suspects it, may not have it in his power to remedy it; but the pedant affects obscurity. He is dark of purpose, that you may think him deep. The character of a profound scholar is his primary object. Commonly indeed he overshoots the mark, and with all persons of discernment loses this character by his excessive solicitude to acquire it. The pedant in literature is perfectly analogous to the hypocrite in religion. As appearance and not reality is the great study of each, both in mere exteriors far outdo the truly learned and the pious, with whom the reputation of learning and piety is but a secondary object at the most. The shallowness however of such
pretenders rarely escapes the discovery of the judici
But if falsehood and vanity are justly accounted mean and despicable, wherever they are found; when they dare to show themselves in the
pulpit, a place consecrated to truth and purity, they must appear to every ingenuous mind perfectly detestable. It must be owned however, that the pedantic style is not now so prevalent in preaching, as it hath been in former times, and therefore needs not to be further enlarged on. There is indeed a sort of literary diction, which sometimes the inexperienced are ready to fall into insensibly, from their having been much more accustomed to the school and to the closet, to the works of some particular schemer in philosophy, than to the scenes of real life and conversation. This fault, though akin to the former, is not so bad, as it may be without affectation, and when there is no special design of catching applause. It is indeed most commonly the consequence of an immoderate attachment to some one or other of the various systems of ethics or theology that have in modern times been published, and obtained a vogue among their respective partisans. Thus the zealous disciple of Shaftesbury, Akenside, and Hutcheson is no sooner licensed to preach the gospel, than with the best intentions in the world, he harangues the people from the pulpit on the moral sense and universal benevolence, he sets them to inquire whether there be a perfect conformity in their affections to the supreme symmetry established in the universe, he is full of the sublime and beautiful in things, the moral objects of right and wrong, and the proportionable affection of a rational creature towards them. He speaks much of the inward music of the mind, the harmony and the dissonance of the passions, and seems, by his way of talking, to imagine, that if a man have this