Page images
PDF
EPUB

of eloquence, that it is a mere superficial attainment, fitted only for show, and unworthy the attention of men who would be esteemed for sound sense and intellectual vigor. Who does not know, that the mind of Chatham possessed the power of expressing more thought by a single phrase, an intonation of the voice, or a glance of the eye, than many of these grave but uncouth prosers could exhibit in a long discourse ? Who does not know, that the enchantment by which Garrick held his hearers in spell-bound subjection to his will, consisted in a genius to conceive and represent most fully and vividly the scenes which tame description cannot give? And who that has felt the magic influence of Shakspeare's language, breathing, even in the silent page, but knows that it is the messenger to his soul of more than he can tell, except by an humble reference to the original ?

It is not, indeed, in the nature of eloquence to be analyzed, explained, and represented, in all its freshness, to a heavy, plodding intellect. While you gaze at it, in the attempt, with scrutinizing eye, it vanishes from your sight. It is like the beauty of motion, - stop it, and it ceases to be,

you may only catch a glimpse as it fits quickly by. But it sends a thrilling impulse to the heart, which is not the less real because it is so hastily given, and leaves an impression that is not the less permanent because the power that made it is so soon removed. The flame that is struck by the light

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ning's flash is no less real and efficient, than that which is slowly kindled by a burning coal..

Without descanting further, then, on the characteristics and importance of eloquence in general, I trust it will not be considered presumptuous, if I direct your attention, for a moment, to the genius of pulpit eloquence, -or that particular kind of eloquence which we are expected to cultivate.

It is true, that no system of rules and principles is acknowledged, in any science or art, by which all minds are to be reduced to the same shape, and made to operate precisely in the same way.

Nor is there any department, perhaps, so limited and refined, as not to admit of a proper development of original genius, and a free exercise of all its valuable peculiarities. Richard Sheridan, Fox, and Burke stand conspicuous among the distinguished speakers of the British Parliament. Yet Sheridan is not Fox, nor Fox, Sheridan, neither do both united embrace all the excellences of the inimitable Burke. Your own recollections will suggest similar examples of diversified genius in the eloquence of the pulpit. Let every man be bold to be what the God of nature designed that he should, — let him be himself, - and aim only to improve himself.

But there are certain general principles in every department, which none may venture entirely to overlook. The eloquence of the pulpit should always be calm and dignified. The spirit of our holy religion demands it. The bold flourish of a poetical recital, the passionate starts of an actor in

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a tragic scene, and the wild rant of an infuriated demagogue, ill accord with those sacred truths which angels bow to learn, and which Jesus himself proclaimed with all the simplicity, tenderness, and majesty of God. The man, whose soul has once sunk under the weight of conscious guilt, — who has felt his burthen removed by the tokens of a Saviour's love, whose bosom has been filled with

the influences of his heavenly Comforter, who has risen in his contemplations to the society of the redeemed above, and united harmoniously with them in their purest adorations of Jehovah, - must suffer an awful incongruity, must do violence to his sensibilities, if with these feelings fresh about him, he comes forth to fill the sanctuary with sounding declamation, noisy rhapsodies, and extravagant, incoherent appeals. True piety, indeed, is always calm as the air of Eden, delicate as the softest music, and elevating as the strains which angels sing; its melody is disturbed, and its influence is broken, by the harsh dissonance of bombastic and vociferating address.

Tranquil dignity is essentially necessary to produce the most desirable effects. The design of preaching the gospel is not to stir up a momentary, ungovernable excitement, but to make a deep and permanent impression, - to instruct the ignorant, to establish the wavering, to fortify the weak, to attract the attention of the thoughtless, and to bind a world with eternal cords to the throne of God,

to draw out the sympathies of every heart, and weave them

[ocr errors]

around the bosom of one common Saviour. The high-wrought passion which is sometimes produced by those preachers who have nothing of Paul but his zeal, and nothing of their imitated Whitefield but his strength of voice, too often comes with the vehemence, and passes away with the rapidity of a tempest, sweeping the heart of its tenderest sensibilities, and leaving the mind that has suffered it but a moral wreck.

The influence of the pulpit on the general character of society also demands a similar consideration. The present is emphatically an age of action, of excited feeling, of enterprise, of novelty and experiment. This spirit manifests itself in our literature, our systems of education, our forms of business, our politics, and our religion. We have already lost much of the puritanic stability of New England; and it will be well for us, if with it we do not lose those literary, political, and religious institutions which our Puritan ancestors with such proud congratulation have bequeathed us. The consecrated teachers of the people, who have it in their power almost to form the public taste, to mould the youthful mind, and to stamp on the genius of childhood its distinguishing features, should beware, lest, by an incautious influence, they hasten on that sad catastrophe. While they strenuously exert themselves for the salvation of the world, let them do nothing to defeat their purpose. But I must only allude to this subject. The instructions of every week, and the exhortations of every day, cannot

[ocr errors]

fail to be felt; habits begun with religion seldom end with it; and if men are accustomed, from their earliest infancy, to a sort of religious intemperance, to irreverent, disorderly, and boisterous harangues, to passionate addresses and preternatural excitement,

- God forgive his ministers their mistake, and save them from the responsibility of its consequences.

The exhibitions of the pulpit, which should, therefore, be calm and dignified in their general character, require, moreover, a chaste and elevated style of expression. The purity of divine truth is equally degraded, when decked out in all the gaudy trappings of a harlot, or when clothed in the coarse and tattered garments of barbarity. The exquisite niceties of poetic diction, and the awkward vulgarities of colloquial language are alike unbeconing those truths which inspiration itself has adorned with simple beauty. He who implanted within us a taste for whatever is elegant and sublime, and manifested so much regard to that principle as to adorn the heavens with sparkling lustre, to paint even the clouds with unrivalled hues, to give every bird its plumage, and every plant its flower, has not lost that regard, nor thrown off his character in the written revelation of his will. The Scriptures themselves are a standing proof, that piety and a just taste, instead of being repugnant to each other, are of the same origin, of kindred spirit, and, like twin sisters, exhibit their sweetest charms only when found in each other's embrace.

We shall be safely guided in this respect, if we

« PreviousContinue »