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which some of them may escape him when he comes to the finishing part.
Secondly, It will lead him to break his sermon into heads, which is absolutely necessary for giving strength and clearness to the whole, and for engaging the attention of the audience; which will be soon blunted and tired with hearing an harangue where all the parts are run into one general mass, and nothing distinctly and specially offered to the understanding.
Thirdly, The memory of the hearers will be greatly relieved ; for a sermon thus broken into particular heads will be better imprinted, and more easily recollected, by reason of the dependence and connection of the parts, where one draws another after it like the links of a chain.
And lastly, It will give the preacher an opportunity of interspersing apt texts of holy scripture for the support or illustration of every particular head.
There may indeed be a faulty extreme on this hand; for I have heard a sermon that has been so overloaded with texts of scripture, that the thread of the reasoning was in a manner lost, and the whole looked like a piece of rich patchwork, without any ground appearing at the bottom. But the other extreme, of a penury of sacred texts, preyails too much in our modern and refined compositions; which, for that reason, may rather be called orations than sermons.
A due medium therefore ought to be observed in this case; but of the two, the latter extreme is most blanieable ; for a sermon will appear lean and unsatisfying to a religious palate, when it is not sufficiently larded with scripture, but the whole is made to rest on the reasonings of the preacher, unsupported by the authority of God's word.
By this means likewise he will become an expert textuary, which is the first excellency of a Christian divine; and the people will occasionally be made acquainted with the holy scriptures.
Now this is what I call a sermon, in contradistinction to an oration, which by one uniform flow of eloquence, without proper breaks and divisions, glides like a smooth stream over the soul, leaving no traces behind it. The word thus delicately sown may, like a concert of music, delight the ear while it lasts, but dies with the sound, and the hearer will carry little home, besides a remembrance that he was sweetly entertained.
The effect of this will, where there are any kind of
talents for it, be a good style; by which I would be understood to mean that simplicity and propriety of language, which clearly conveys the sense of the speaker into the mind of the hearer. When therefore, by the method before prescribed, the preacher is become master of his subject, and has ranged all his materials fitly, fit words and expressions will readily offer themselves to answer to his clear ideas; for nothing perplexes the style but a confused and perplexed manner of thinking.
He therefore who would convince and persuade his hearers should above all things aim at that perspicuity and simplicity, which are the greatest ornaments of language: whereas, on the contrary, a tawdry style, garnished with flowers of rhetoric and flights of fancy, which are incident to young preachers, makes only a bright confusion, that glares upon the mind without enlightening it.
As to the doctrinal part of a sermon, the style cannot be too plain and chaste, though it need not descend to be base and vulgar, (for there is a wide difference between these two,) because it is addressed to the understanding; but as the practical part is designed to move the affections and passions, the style may rise, and grow warm with some heightenings of imagination, the better to answer that purpose.
I have only two short remarks to add on this head. The first relates to the introduction, the second to the conclusion of a sermon.
As to the former, if an introduction be necessary, it should always be short, pertinent, and leading as soon as may be to the main subject of the discourse. If the text needs any light from what goes before and follows it, this should be collected, and brought to bear upon the text with the utmost brevity and clearness; for people are naturally impatient to know what the minister would be at, and to have him take his main business in hand. When I hear a preacher set out with a general preamble, that has no immediate relation to his text, and can never carry him to it but by a mighty circumference, I easily conclude with myself what I am to expect in the sequel of the discourse.
With regard to the conclusion of a sermon, it should be always practical, and persuasive to a good life; it should consist of exhortations and motives proper to enforce such duties and virtues as may pertinently arise from the doctrines and positions before laid down. For the great end of preaching is to make men better : mere knowledge put into the head, if it does not penetrate to the heart, and from thence diffuse itself into the life and conversation, becomes not only useless, but hurtful, as it will turn to a man's greater condemnation.
I shall dismiss this general head with some remarks upon the subject of pronunciation or elocution. And here I must observe to you, that no one manner of pronunciation will befit every sermon, nor every part of the same sermon, but that it must be diversified according to the nature of every period; it is impossible therefore to give precise rules where so great a variety of circumstances will arise, which require a different modification of voice and action ; but every preacher must, in a good degree, be left to the direction of his own judgment, and the best examples.
All that I shall therefore attempt under this head, is to propose some general rules that will extend to all cases, and that may be of use for correcting some common faults and mistakes.
The first is, to pronounce every word and syllable distinctly, and to beware of sinking at the close of the period. This is undoubtedly the first and chiefest excellence of pronunciation, because the very end of speaking is so far lost, as it is not distinctly heard.
I would not be here understood to recommend that heavy and phlegmatic delivery that retails out words by their syllables ; for this is more properly to be called spelling than speaking, and is apt to tire men's patience, and lull them to sleep: but I mean that articulate expression, with rests and pauses properly interposed, which shall break and distinguish the parts of a period according to the sense; and herein consists the propriety and beauty of elocution, which both speaker and hearer will sensibly enjoy.
This rule is calculated for the cure of two faults that are not unfrequent; one is a thick and confused delivery, which runs syllables and words into one mass, so that the ear cannot well separate them, and the hearer is forced to make up the sense by conjecture. The other is a rapidity of speech which runs off too fast to impress any distinct idea on the mind, by which means both the pleasure and profit of a sermon are in great measure lost. A little time, and practice will certainly cure this fault, where there is no natural defect in the organs.
The second rule I would mention is, to be careful not to exceed the compass of the voice. There is a certain ne
plus ultra to the organs of speech in every man, and his own feeling alone can teach him where it lies : if he goes beyond this, his pronunciation will be harsh, unmusical, and disagreeable both to himself and to his hearers, who cannot receive with pleasure what they perceive he delivers with pain and violence; besides, that it is impossible for him duly to temper and govern his voice under these unnatural strainings and efforts.
It is a great mistake to imagine that a voice must needs be well heard, merely because it is loud. This is indeed a noble foundation for art and skill to work upon ; but without the aid of these, it is often swallowed up and lost in itself.
A moderate strength of voice, with a due articulation of words, and distinction of pauses, will go further, even in a large congregation, than the thunder of an unskilful tongue; and this is that suaviloquentia, that mellowness and sweetness of speaking, so much praised in some of the Roman orators, in opposition to the rusticity of noisy declaimers.
Let me here add, by way of caution, the danger of forcing and straining the internal organs. I wish I were not an unhappy example of this kind, and that I did not to this day feel the sad effects of making too violent efforts in the pulpit, many years ago : from my own experience therefore let me advise young preachers, who have not the most robust lungs, to have recourse to art and management, rather than to force, for supplying that defect.
The third rule I would recommend to you is, to observe one even and uniform manner of pronunciation. I would not be here understood to mean, that a preacher is to confine himself to one simple note or sound, or to one degree of time and motion, from the beginning to the end of his discourse; for this is that monotonia, or una quedam spiritus ac soni intentio, which the great teacher of Roman oratory explodes. It would be most absurd to do this, unless every thought and every occasion were perfectly alike. The spirit and beauty, and, I may say, the very essence of pronunciation, lies in proper emphases and accents, and in varying the notes and times pursuant to the diversity of sentiments and occasions.
But I am levelling this rule against that subsultory way of delivery, that rises like a storm in one part of the period, and presently sinks into a dead calm, that will scarce reach the ear. I allow that elevations and softenings of the voice, judiciously managed, are both ornamental and useful; but those sudden starts and explosions are most ungraceful, and unbecoming the gravity of the pulpit, and are of no use, that I can think of, unless it be to startle a hearer that happens to be asleep: and the other extreme of sinking below the ear is still more ridiculous; for words which cannot be heard may as well not be spoken.
The fourth and last general rule I would suggest is, to distinguish carefully between the doctrinal and practical part of the discourse, in the manner of your pronunciation. The intention of the doctrinal part being to enlighten the understanding, and to lead it to the knowledge of truth, by cool reasoning and argumentation ; all that is proper and necessary here, is that simplicity of accent and emphasis, which may serve to point out where the force of the argument lies; and no man, who is master of his subject, can greatly err in this part.
But the practical part of a sermon requires a very different conduct; for the mind having been before sufficiently enlightened, and the nature and obligation of virtue clearly proved, the intention is now to persuade the will to embrace it; to which end the passions are to be excited to come in to assist the reason. And here it is that the pathetic allurements of voice will be useful and proper : for experience shews us the power of the outward senses in this case, and particularly that action and motion skilfully presented to the eye, and musical sounds received by the ear, produce wonderful effects on our passions and affections. It is therefore necessary, when your design is to raise fear or hope, joy or sorrow, love or hatred, to vary the action and pronunciation from cool and sedate, to that which is more warm and moving; in order to touch the spring of that passion which you would make use of to answer your end.
To descend to particulars in this case is impossible, because the variety is infinite. The simple accents required in reasoning are few and easy, and good sense alone will direct these; but the various modulations of the voice, which render tone and cadence harmonious, are talents of quite another kind: for these being in reality nothing but different notes in the scale of music, require a musical ear to form and direct them; and where this natural gift is wanting, the preacher will fall into discords, and only expose himself by his attempt.
For this reason, the safest way is, generally, of the two extremes, to avoid that of running into too much tone