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MR. EDITOR-I offer for insertion in the Christian Disciple, the translation of a passage in Gisbert's L'Eloquence Chrétienne, dans l'idée, and dans la pratique. Gisbert was of the Roman Catholic Church. He published the second edition of this work in 1728. It contains a great deal that is highly interesting and useful, and though much will of course be found unsuitable to the state of preaching amongst protestants, yet there is much also that is universally applicable, and has perhaps, never been placed in a clearer and truer light than in this book. L'Enfant speaking of it, exclaims, O, l'admirable and le terrible livre ! and adds, it is equally suited to encourage and perfect good preachers, and to improve bad ones. One may say of this author, with at least as much truth as Boileau said of Longinus, that in speaking of the sublime he is himself sublime. It would be necessary to copy the whole volume if I would point out all the fine passages. There is scarcely a selection to be made.'
Io selecting a passage for publication I have been not a little perplexed to choose one which might serve as a fair specimen of a book which I believe is little known, and some acquaintance with which might be not wholly unprofitable. I have been however the less solicitous to present your readers with the finest passage, as I hope to be encouraged to make other translations for your future numbers. But in choosing, as I have, almost at random, I could not choose ill. The title of the Chapter is IMPROPER VIEWS IN PREACHING.
The clergy doubtless make it their aim to excite their hearers to virtue and to dissuade from vice; let us not therefore search too deeply into their hearts, lest we find among them, some one who, seeming to preach Jesus Christ only, really preaches but for his own reputation. Let the preacher then probe his own heart; let him reflect without self deception upon all the motives which induced him to enter the ministry, and every design which he has in view in its exercise. It may be that he will find the spirit which animates him, is not christian zeal alone.
There are some who enter the profession with 'no other design than that of preaching. They preach, because it is an eligible employment. They must have some occupation ; so they preach; they preach for the sake of preaching. Ask them if it is their desire to eradicate error, to correct vice, to bring sinners to repentance? They will tell you, if they speak sincerely, that they do not trouble themselves at all about it, that they preach, and that is all they pretend to do. As for the rest, let each profit by it as best he may. What can we expect from a man who composes a sermon and delivers it with this frigid indifference? Today he preaches upon avarice; but do you believe that he interests himself in the welfare of the misers to whom he speaks? Not at all. He merely wants to declaim upon avarice; and the covetous man who listens to him returns as avaricious as he went. These are men who have in view no object either good or bad. If some little praise follows them, they are pleased to receive it; but it is what they are not very solicitous about. They speak, they beat the air, they are so many mere voices. They are without zeal, and also without ambition. They labour neither for the honours of this world or of the world to come.
We see others again who embrace the clerical profession with wholly profane views : they merely wish to put ihemselves forWard' in the world to acquire a name, to be distinguished ; and the christian pulpit appears to them a proper field. How many there are, who preach to make a fortune; how many to obtain patrons; how many to win the regard and confidence of the ladies; how many from cupidity and avarice; how many more that the public may say, what a learned man! how accomplished! what an agreeable speaker !
The profession is ruined by the admission of these foreign motives. They bring into it the very worst taste in eloquence. Your sole desire is to appear to be a scholar, deeply learned in the sciences. What follows ? Why, your sermons are a mere tissue of useless quotations; fine spun arguments, in which nobody is interested. You wish to obtain the reputation of genius, and of acquaintance in the world ; you then infallibly run into the use of a thousand false ornaments; your diction is affected, and your whole style artificial and formal.
I will venture to say that if you will suppress every motive and design unsuited to your profession, you will find yourself almost immediately in the right course. You have very nearly acquired a good taste, when you have got rid of a bad. From this moment think only how to be useful. If you will embellish the truth, let it be only as much as will enable you to find for it an easy admission to the minds of your hearers. Such ornaments will be manly, simple and unaffected; and far from weakening the truth will give it new force, and place it in its fairest light. Thus you will sacrifice without compunction all which you would make use of merely that the world might call you a man of genius, learning and accomplishments.
The preacher will find it his interest to make a generous sacrifice of all his most brilliant thoughts, to the welfare of bis hearers. It is natural to love our fine thoughts ; to love our own better than those of others. In the eyes of our vanity, these are our finest offspring. This therefore will be a difficult sacrifice for self love to make. What is most brilliant, one is ready to think most valuable, and if he does not take care, he will suffer himself to be burried along by the ardour of youth. He will not even conceive it possible to write well without attempting to dazzle. He will not be rid of this bad taste, until he has acquired a relish for true eloquence, and until he has relinquished every other design except that which every christian orator ought to propose to himself; to excite his hearers to do well, and avoid evil; to make an impression on their hearts; to bring them to repentance. There will at times arise in his mind, while composing a sermon, certain turns of thought or expression, which charm at first and impose upon him by their brilliancy; but he must resist their seductive charms; he must do violence to his feelings, and accustom himself by degrees to reject them, as if they were really bad; thereby following the advice of the prophet, Dash these little ones without mercy against the stones.'
By what means, think you, did Demosthenes bear away the palm of eloquence from the many competitors who disputed it with him in the Athenian senate ? had he more talents than they? more genius ? perhaps noi. L, what then, was he superiour ? in having a nobler design! When Demosthenes spoke, he had in view the good of his country alone. It was for that he ha- . rangued, that was the prime motive which influenced him; it was that which gave him all his solidity, vigour, persuasiveness, by which he transported and inastered all. In short, it was that which rendered him the most illustrious orator in all Greece, whilst others, who thought only how to please and flatter the Athenians, received nothing more than vain praises and empty applause, unable to get beyond the merit and reputation of de claiiners and sophists.
Can you with truth give in your own favour the testimony which Plato has rendered to himself. “I do not speak to please ; I endeavour to say, not what will be most agreeable, but most useful.'
If certain preachers had no other view than the conversion of their hearers, they would a rite very different discourses from those which now attract for them so much admiration. Flowers would not be spread over them in such profusion. They would be less admired perhaps, but would still be better sermons.
The things for which a sermon is greatly admired, applauded
and cried up, are not always best. It does not follow that a thing is really good, because it is admired; and the reason of this is, that admiration supposes, not that the object is of great real value, but only that it is new, or at least appears to be so ; consequently we say, what indeed, appears to be a paradox, that an audience may occasionally admire certain passages, while those
very passages may be utterly repugnant to reason and good
It often happens too, that we soon condemn what we had at first so much admired.
Applause and acclamations are far from being unequivocal proofs of a lofty and sublime eloquence. Embellishment of a very inferiour kind is sufficient to excite these flattering murmurs in an audience, while the really sublime, by its weight and magnificence, quells the tumult, and impresses upon the hearer a silence which suspends every faculty.
A kind of civil war raged for a long time in one of the cities of Africa. The inhabitants separated into two armed bodies, and fought each other on certain days of the year, which they considered as solemn festivals. The combat was always bloody, and fatal to some of the combatants. Augustine undertook to abolish this brutal custom. He ascended the pulpit, and employed all the power of his eloquence. The people were charmed with his fine speaking, and lavished on bim applauses and acclamations. This only afflicted him however, and served to convince him how far he was from having attained the loftiest pitch of eloquence; and it was not until the applauses ceased, and he found them followed by sighs and tears, that he felt he had succeeded.
There is one species of applause which is received from actions, not from words. This is what Chrysostom wished to obtain from his hearers. Of what use,' says he, are the acclamations 1 hear, and these loud marks of approbation? I wish to be rewarded not by your praises, but by your good deeds. This is the benefit I wish to derive from my discourse, and this is all my ambition. I prefer your conversion to a kingdom.' The applause of actions is an almost infallible proof of real eloquence ; that of words is very equivocal.
It is the mark of a truly good preacher, that, while he is actually preaching, the hearer does not think of him at all; that is, does not consider whether he speaks well, has talents, learning, refinement, gracefulness; but is entirely engrossed by the subject of the discourse, and the impression it makes on his mind and heart; so that if he thinks of the preacher at all and praises him, it is only upon reflection afterward. He will perceive then, that this man affected him, persuaded him, convinced
him; he must be then an able man, a powerful preacher. This is a very fair conclusion. Such praise is not unsuitable to the christian orator; on the contrary, it is the just and legitimate tribute which no reasonable hearer can help paying to true eloquence.
Every thing in a religious discourse should be for the hearer's sake, and nothing for the speaker's; for one enters the pulpit to preach, not to exhibit. He shonld be constantly asking himself while writing, will this attract the hearer's attention to myself? If so, strike it out. If sermons were built upon this principle, how many which have been admired and applauded, would be felt as worthless!
A sermon ought to be a sort of entertainment, at which every thing is served up for the hearer alone. But this order is reversed, and the preacher is enjoying an abundant and delicious repast, while the hearer is perishing with hunger. And more than this ; for the hearer, who should have no object but to partake and be nourished by the bread of life, often finds himself only called upon to furnish by his admiration and applause, an agreeable but dangerous food to the vanity of the preacher.
It will geuerally happen, that when the preacher has had no view, in composing his sermon, but to his own reputation, the hearer will be led to think only of him, in bearing it delivered. It is sermons thus written, which produce the exclamations, what a delightful speaker! what brilliant expressions! what beautiful figures! The good preacher makes his hearers think of themselves; the bad makes them forget thumselves.
JEREMY TAYLOR ON THE DIFFICULTY OF EXPOUNDING SCRIPTURE,
This great writer, in his Liberty of Prophecying, devotes a section to an enquiry into the means of expounding scripture. He regards these means as of two kinds, external and internal. The external are church authority, tradition, fathers, councils and decrees of bishops. These he treats of afterward; and certainly no consistent Protestant can think them entitled to much deference. Here he considers only the uncertainty and invalidity of those means which are internal: and these he