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If you have knowledge and good sense, they will be the principle and source of good pulpit composition. It would be easy to lay down formal rules, and not very difficult to observe them. But the result would be, what we too often witness, and what I wish you to avoid,—the mere artificial enunciation of what in common parlance, I may call, cutand-dried common-places. I have noticed preachers of this stamp. You could see that they first laid down a plan, and then comes the elaborate filling-up. I am always reminded by these formal preachers of those old-fashioned houses, in which you see the wooden frame-work, often painted and ornamented, and all between just filled-up with lath and plaster. You will, of course, for your own sake, and to enable your hearers to see your object and to recollect your plan, have your divisions, and you will distinctly state them. After all that has been said on the other side, the argument appears to me to be decidedly in favour of a simple, distinct enunciation of your plan. Your object is not to surprise your hearers, but to carry them with you, and to make your own conclusion theirs also. But this plan of dividing, is nothing but the due arrangement of an entire subject, clearly before your own mind, and which you wish to be as clearly before the minds of your hearers. The divisions will be the natural stages of your own thought, in your progress to your conclusion. But this is very different from laying down a frame-work in the first instance, and then labouring hard to fill up the interstices. I have known preachers whose divisions seem to be the principal parts of their discourse. The enunciation, if not in rhyme, is yet elaborately rhythmical. Two or three propositions there will be, of two principal words in each, or three, but always the same number, and jingling away like the bells sometimes attached to the harness of cart-horses. You will have a journey to be begun,-a pathway to be observed,-an end to be attained. Let your mind be full of your subject, and you will be above these little prettinesses. Study order, and you will then find no difficulty in bringing distinctly before others what is distinctly present to yourself. The greater the preacher, the more truly simple will his plan be.
J. Still, you would not have the various rules that have been given for pulpit composition altogether overlooked?
S. You may read some of them with advantage, provided you only refer them to general method, and make it your principal care to have a well-stored mind,—the power of correct and forcible expression, and the habit of so arranging all the parts of a subject, as that they shall be seen to bring out the conclusion you wish to establish. Fenelon's Dialogues on the Eloquence of the Pulpit contain some admirable reflections,—all the better for being somewhat general. The text-book on the subject, I believe, is the Essay by Claude. Read it in reference to your own habits of composition, but not for the purpose of servile imitation. I am not certain whether a small work which was published in America not long ago, and has been since reprinted in England, will not furnish you with all you need on this subject,-“ Lectures on Homiletics and Preaching ; by Ebenezer Porter, D.D., President of the Theological Semi
Take Dr. Porter's Lectures as a whole, and, as far as the study of a system of “ Homiletics” may be useful to you, you have the opportunity of pursuing it in them. It is as good a text-book as you can have for what you will allow me to term, self-lectures. You will find in the work as many references as you want to the various kinds of pulpit composition, and to the best way of treating particular texts. I dismiss this subject, therefore, by reminding you that whatever rules you adopt, none will be truly serviceable to you unless you remember,—First, to keep the heart in a right state ;-Second, to have a good store of useful knowledge,—to be mighty in the Scriptures, and well-acquainted with human nature;—and Third, to be aware of the best methods of arranging any portion of truth which you may wish to bring before your congregation so as that they may accompany you with pleasure and profit, and be prepared to see the logical force of your conclusion, and thus, to aid you in your great task of bringing the
* Reprinted in “Ward's Library of Standard Divinity.”
conclusion to bear on the conscience. Keep these general rules before you; and works like those of Claude and Dr. Porter will be studied with advantage. J. And, supposing that I should occasionally take up
skeleton of a sermon,” how am I to make a good use of it?
S. You say rightly—“a good use;" for there is one which you ought never to make. You put before you the outline of a discourse, and, without entering into the meaning of the composer, (much less into the fulness with which the subject is connected,) you endeavour to fill up the insterstices with a few remembered common-places which you have in your possession. Some of these may be very meager; some of them, if derived from a superior source, may be very good. But the result is only a formal, and often a very incongruous, discourse, in which all your hearers who are accustomed to think seriously on what they hear, will at once perceive that there is no original thought whatever. There is a very
familiar expression used to describe all this, and I employ it earnestly to entreat you to avoid this plan of “cut-and-dried” sermons. However plain and obvious your thoughts may be, let it be seen that they are your own; that if they were (as in most cases they must be) suggested to you from without, yet that you have, by serious reflection, completely naturalized them, that by due digestion they are now mixed and incorporated with your own living system of knowledge. This will give, even to your plainest statements, a character of originality which, from the thoughtfully pious, at all events, will obtain a greater degree of attention than might otherwise be paid: and to such persons they will come with a freshness and juiciness, very materially contributing to their more profitable reception, and distinguishing them from the mere repetition of certain theological phrases, correctly remembered, perhaps, but at the same time imperfectly understood.
J. What then is the good use to which I may put the skeleton," when I may happen to employ it?
S. I would advise that this be only done occasionally: but when it is done, endeavour to do it advantageously. For this purpose, instead of copying it out in the first instance, read
åt attentively. Reflect on it. Endeavour to get your own mind into the same train of thought. Try to realize the entire subject; and then you will see what is the position occupied by those more prominent statements which form the outline, and what are the subordinate matters which connect them together. The writer of the “skeleton ” only puts down the chief places on his route : read and meditate on what is before you till the whole route, with all its intermediate tracks-is as clearly before your own mind as it was before that of the writer. You
then sit down, and instead of patching up what will be at last but a very inconsistent discourse, -one with good points, but with no good filling-up, you may write a new skeleton for yourself, more suited to your own habits of thought; and thus, by going over the whole subject completely, it will be more easy for you to pursue the same track in the pulpit. You will be seen and felt to be a preacher who, in preaching, thinks aloud; and not one who only says what he has previously “ got off by heart.”
J. I see for this I shall want much theological knowledge, a well-disciplined mind, and great self-command.
S. You will. You must clearly perceive what is your duty,—firmly resolve to devote yourself to its performance, and constantly live in the spirit of piety and prayer. Let me, in conclusion, quote an observation or two of Dr. Cotton Mather's, in his “Life of John Eliot.” 6. The Lord Jesus Christ was the loadstone which gave a touch to all the sermons of our Eliot: a glorious, precious, lovely Christ, was the point of heaven which they still verged unto. Hence also it was that he would give that advice to young preachers, * Let there be much of Christ in your ministry.' I have heard him thus express himself to a preacher returning from public service : ‘ Brother, there was oil required for the service of the sanctuary, but it must be beaten oil. I praise God that I saw that your oil was well-beaten. The Lord help us by good study to beat our oil, that there may be a clear light in the house of God.' But he looked in a sermon for more than the mere study of man. He was for speaking those things, from those impressions, and with those affections, which should compel the hearer to say, 'The Spirit of God was