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vout; but in preaching, as in everything else, the greater number of instances constitute the rule, and the lesser the exception.
A distinction is set up, with the usual inattention to the meaning of words, between moral and religious subjects of discourse; as if every moral subject must not necessarily be a Christian subject. If Christianity concern itself with our present, as well as our future happiness, how can any virtue, or the doctrine which inculcates it, be considered as foreign to our sacred religion? Has our Saviour forbidden justice-proscribed mercy, benevolence, and good faith? or, when we state the more sublime motives for their cultivation, which we derive from revelation, why are we not to display the temporal motives also, and to give solidity to elevation by fixing piety upon interest?
There is a bad taste in the language of sermons evinced by a constant repetition of the same scriptural phrases, which, perhaps, were used with great judgment two hundred years ago, but are now become so trite that they may, without any great detriment, be exchanged for others. "Putting off the old man- -and putting on the new man," "The one thing needful," "The Lord hath set up his candlestick," "The armour of righteousness," etc., etc., etc., etc. The sacred Scriptures are surely abundant enough to afford us the same idea with some novelty of language: we can never be driven, from the penury of these writings, to wear and fritter their holy language into a perfect cant, which passes through the ear without leaving any impression.
To this cause of the unpopularity of sermons may be added the extremely ungraceful manner in which they are delivered. The English, generally remarkable for doing very good things in a very bad manner, seem to have reserved the maturity and plenitude of their awkwardness for the pulpit. A clergyman clings to his velvet cushion with either hand, keeps his eye riveted upon his book, speaks of the ecstasies of joy and fear with a voice and a face which indicate neither, and pinions his body and soul into the same attitude of limb and thought, for fear of being called theatrical and affected. The most intrepid veteran of us all dares no more than wipe his face with his cambric sudarium;* if, by mischance, his hand slip from its orthodox gripe of the velvet, he draws it back as from liquid brimstone, or the caustic iron of the law, and atones
* Classical Latin for a cloth to wipe away perspiration, or, a handkerchief.
for this indecorum by fresh inflexibility and more rigorous sameness. Is it wonder, then, that every semi-delirious sectary who pours forth his animated nonsense with the genuine look and voice of passion should gesticulate away the congregation of the most profound and learned divine of the Established Church, and in two Sundays preach him bare to the very sexton? Why are we natural everywhere but in the pulpit? No man expresses warm and animated feelings anywhere else, with his mouth alone, but with his whole body; he articulates with every limb, and talks from head to foot with a thousand voices. Why this holoplexia* on sacred occasions alone? Why call in the aid of paralysis to piety? It is a rule of oratory to balance the style against the subject, and to handle the most sublime truths in the dullest language and the driest manner? Is sin to be taken from men as Eve was from Adam, by casting them into a deep slumber? Or from what possible perversion of common sense are we all to look like fieldpreachers in Zembla, holy lumps of ice numbed into quiescence, and stagnation, and mumbling?
It is theatrical to use action, and it is Methodistical to use action.
But we have cherished contempt for sectaries, and persevered in dignified tameness so long, that while we are freezing common sense for large salaries in stately churches, amidst whole acres and furlongs of empty pews, the crowd are feasting on ungrammatical fervour and illiterate animation in the crumbling hovels of Methodists. If influence over the imagination can produce these powerful effects; if this be the chain by which the people are dragged captive at the wheel of enthusiasm, why are we, who are rocked in the cradle of ancient genius, who hold in one hand the book of the wisdom of God, and in the other grasp that eloquence which ruled the Pagan world, why are we never to rouse, to appeal, to inflame, to break through every barrier, up to the very haunts and chambers of the soul? If the vilest interest upon earth can daily call forth all the powers of mind, are we to harangue on public order, and public happiness, to picture a reuniting world, a resurrection of souls, a rekindling of ancient affections, the dying day of heaven and of earth, and to unveil the throne of God, with a
* A medical term, indicating a paralysis of the whole body, as opposed to paraplegia or hemiplegia, a palsy of a part.
wretched apathy which we neither feel nor show in the most trifling concerns of life? This surely can be neither decency nor piety, but ignorant shame, boyish bashfulness, luxurious indolence, or anything but propriety and sense. There is, I grant, something discouraging at present to a man of sense in the sarcastical phrase of popular preacher; but I am not entirely without hope that the time may come when energy in the pulpit will be no longer considered as a mark of superficial understanding; when animation and affectation will be separated; when churches will cease (as Swift says) to be public dormitories; and sleep be no longer looked upon as the most convenient vehicle of good sense.
I know well that out of ten thousand orators by far the greater number must be bad, or none could be good; but by becoming sensible of the mischief we have done, and are doing, we may all advance a proportional step; the worst may become what the best are, and the best better.
There is always a want of grandeur in attributing great events to little causes; but this is in some small degree compensated for by truth. I am convinced we should do no great injury to the cause of religion if we remembered the old combination of car et foci, and kept our churches a little warmer. An experienced clergyman can pretty well estimate the number of his audience by the indications of a sensible thermometer. The same blighting wind chills piety which is fatal to vegetable life; yet our power of encountering weather varies with the object of our hardihood; we are very Scythians when pleasure is concerned, and Sybarites when the bell summons us to church.
No reflecting man can ever wish to adulterate manly piety (the parent of all that is good in the world) with mummery and parade. But we are strange, very strange creatures, and it is better, perhaps, not to place too much confidence in our reason alone. If anything, there is, perhaps, too little pomp and ceremony in our worship, instead of too much. We quarreled with the Roman Catholic church, in a great hurry and a great passion, and furious with spleen; clothed ourselves with sackcloth, because she was
*Fuller, in his Holy State, has said: “It is a shame when the Church itself is cœmeterium, wherein the living sleep above ground, as the dead do beneath." Swift makes the most of this subject in his witty sermon on Sleeping in Church.
habited in brocade; rushing, like children, from one extreme to another, and blind to all medium between complication and barrenness, formality and neglect. I am very glad to find we are calling in, more and more, the aid of music to our service. In London, where it can be commanded, good music has a prodigious effect in filling a church; organs have been put up in various churches in the country, and, as I have been informed, with the best possible effect. Of what value, it may be asked, are auditors who come there from such motives? But our first business seems to be, to bring them there from any motive which is not undignified and ridiculous, and then to keep them there from a good one: those who come for pleasure may remain for prayer.
Pious and worthy clergymen are ever apt to imagine that mankind are what they ought to be-to mistake the duty for the fact -to suppose that religion can never weary its votaries—that the same novelty and ornament which are necessary to enforce every temporal doctrine are wholly superfluous in religious admonition; and that the world at large consider religion as the most important of all concerns, merely because it is so: whereas, if we refer to facts, the very reverse appears to be the case. Every consideration influences the mind in a compound ratio of the importance of the effects which it involves, and their proximity. A man who was sure to die a death of torture in ten years would think more of the most trifling gratification or calamity of the day than of his torn flesh and twisted nerves years hence. If we were to read the gazette of a naval victory from the pulpit, we should be dazzled with the eager eyes of our audience—they would sit through an earthquake to hear us. The cry of a child, the fall of a book, the most trifling occurrence is sufficient to dissipate religious thought, and to introduce a more willing train of ideas: a sparrow fluttering about the church is an antagonist which the most profound theologian in Europe is wholly unable to overcome. A clergyman has so little previous disposition to attention in his favour, that, without the utmost efforts, he can neither excite it nor preserve it when excited. It is his business to awaken mankind by every means in his power, and to show them their true interest. If he despise energy of manner and labour of composition, from a conviction that his audience are willing, and that his subject alone will support him, he will only add lethargy to languor, and confirm the
drowsiness of his hearers by becoming a great example of sleep himself.
That many greater causes are at work to undermine religion I seriously believe; but I shall probably be laughed at when I say that warm churches, solemn music, animated preaching upon practical subjects, and a service some little abridged, would be no contemptible seconds to the just, necessary, and innumerable invectives which have been levelled against Rousseau, Voltaire, D'Alembert, and the whole pandemonium of those martyrs to atheism who toiled with such laborious malice, and suffered odium with such inflexible profligacy, for the wretchedness and despair of their fellow-creatures.
I have merely expressed what appears to me to be the truth in these remarks. I hope I shall not give offence; I am sure I do not mean to do it. Some allowance should be made for the severity of censure when the provident satirist furnishes the raw material for his own art, and commits every fault which he blames.
THE sun is now fallen in the heavens, and the habitations of men are shaded in gross darkness. That sun is hastening onward to other climates, to carry to all tongues, and people, and nations the splendour of day. What scenes of mad ambition and of bleeding war will it witness in its course. What cruel stripes; what iron bondage of the human race; what debasing superstition; what foul passions; what thick and dismal ignorance! It will beam upon the savage and sensual Moor; it will lighten the robber of Arabia to his prey; it will glitter on the chains of the poor negro. It will waken the Indian of the ocean to eat the heart of his captive. The bigot Turk will hail it from the summit of his mosque; it will guide the Brahmin to his wooden gods; but in all its course it will witness perhaps no other spectacle of a free, rational people, gathered together under the influence of Revelation, to lighten the load of human misery, and to give of their possessions to the afflicted, and the poor.
* From a Sermon preached for the Scotch Lying-in Hospital, at Edinburgh.