« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
in the definition of his terms, still his hearers, it may be, liave been in the habit of attaching a somewhat different meaning to them ; and they will therefore be constantly disposed, in the course of the sermon, to associate with these terms the meaning to which they were accustomed, rather than the one which the preacher gave. And thus it often happens in controversial theology, that what the preacher considers as a legitimate inference, his hearers, a large part of them, regard as a non sequitur ; and the reason is obvious. With his definition attached to the terms, the doctrine contended for is true; with the meaning which they habitually associate with the same, the doctrine is false.
Now, if in addition to this mode of reasoning, which, we are perfectly willing to allow, is frequently employed with advantage, rhetorical arguments were introduced, in which the very objects to which the truths relate were presented to the minds of the audience by a graphic description, the truths would be more clearly understood, and make a deeper impression on the mind. To illustrate our meaning, by an example of the two modes of reasoning. An argument for the immortality of the soul, in the logical form, stands thus: Beings that are greatly elevated above plants and animals, will not like them perish in the earth ; but man is thus elevated; therefore he will not perish like them, but is immortal. Wollaston presents the same truth in a rhetorical argument. “Must I then, bid my last farewell to these walks when I close these lids, and yonder blue region and all this scene darken upon me and go out? Must I then only serve to furnish dust to be mingled with the ashes of these herds and plants, or with this dust under my feet? Have I been set so far above them in life, only to be mingled with them in death?" Now there are some men, who, while they call the first mode argumentation, would degrade the other by the name of declamation. And yet, if the character of a passage is to be judged of from its effect in producing conviction, the latter is an argument of much greater strength than the other. A subject placed in a “ dry light" can hardly interest the feelings enough to procure attention.
We dwell on this point with the more particularity, because the principle we are supporting is not readily admitted by all. Our own opinions on this subject, have undergone some change. When we studied Locke for the first time, we were half inclined to admit his views on this subject, though they now seem sufficiently preposterous. “But yet,” he remarks, "if we would speak of things as they are, we must allow that all the art of rhetoric, besides order and clearness, all the artificial and figurative application of words eloquence hath invented, are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions, and thereby are perfect cheats: and therefore, however laudable, or allowable oratory may render them in larangues or popular addresses, they are certainly
in all discourses that pretend to inform or instruct, wholly to be avoided; and when truth and knowledge are concerned, cannot but be thougbt a great fault either of the language or person that makes use of them. It is evident how much men love to deceive and be deceived, since rhetoric, that powerful instrument of error and deceit, has its established professors, is particularly taught, and has always been had in great reputation.” Chap. x. Book 3. Essay on Human Understanding. It seems to have escaped that great master of reason, that if figurative language is such a powerful instrument of deception in the hands of the deceiver, surely it must be a powerful instrument of instruction, in the hands of the lover of truth; as the example of holy men of old, and especially of our Savior, the great teacher, clearly proves. Many of the manifestations of the Deity, as described in the language of the prophets and apostles, very strongly address the imagination; and this faculty must be active, first, in order to obtain a clear conception of them from the sacred pages, and next, in order to present a distinct view of them to others.
The fact is, the operations of the mind can be described only by a reference, more or less remote, to the properties of sensible' objects. Spiritual existence can be illustrated only by an appeal to what is material. He who can trace analogies with the greatest distinctness between these two ranges of existence, will be most successful, other things being equal, in exhibiting to his hearers the objects of faith, whether these objects are the perfections of the Deity, the government which he exercises over moral agents, or all that is terrible in the retributions of eternity. Could Shakspeare have had the moral qualifications for preaching the gospel, that eye of his“ glancing from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven," would have seen things that others see not; and his imagination, which could body forth the form of things unknown, and "give to airy nothing, a local habitation,” would have clothed the realities of an invisible world with such appropriate imagery, that others could see what he saw. This has been proved by Jeremy Taylor, who has been denominated the Shakspeare of divinity. Besides the solid qualities of learning, good sense, and piety, he had a "ray of lightning of his own," which would dart far into the regions of the eternal world, and render visible the objects upon which the clouds of futurity rest.
We are not pleading for an artificial parade of words, that would conceal the poverty of sentiment by tawdry ornaments. We wish to see no composition, and least of all a sermon, as flowery as a garden in May. But we see no reason why illustrations may not be drawn from nature and art, to clothe the shadowy forms of essential existence with appropriate drapery. We are willing to allow the distinction between the classical and the romantic style in wri
ting, upon which Sismondi insists; and we should say that the former is the proper one for a sermon. Still we love in a preacher, something of that vigorous imagination, that Whitefield at tiines manifested. One of his hearers described to us the strong impression which he produced on a particular occasion. He was preaching to a large multitude on the banks of one of the noble rivers of Virginia. In the course of his sermon, he spoke of the strength of human depravity and of the insufficiency of the means of grace, without the influences of the Spirit. “Sinners,” said he, " think not that I expect to convert a single soul of you, by any thing that I can say, without the assistance of him who is mighty to save. Go and stand by that river, as it moves on in its strong and deep current to the ocean, and bid it stop, and see if it will obey you. Just as soon should I expect to stop that river by a word, as by my preaching to stop that current of sin that is carrying you to perdition. Father in heaven! see they are hurried on towards hellsave them or they perish!” The impression which this produced upon his hearers was so strong, that they were ready to respond with trembling, “ Save Lord or we perish.”
We intended to say something of the means that were used in the rites and ceremonies of the old dispensation, for addressing the imagination. We likewise intended to advert to the means still used in some portions of the christian church, for the same purpose. All that the limits of this part of the subject will allow us to say, is that a preacher who possesses a strong imagination, like the author of these sermons, needs not the assistance of the visible mercy-seat with its cherubim, of gold, to give force to his words, since he can exhibit distinctly to his audience, that more glorious spiritual mercy-seat in the heavens surrounded by bright intelligences of that world. He needs not in the sanctuary, to assist the conceptions of his hearers, the paintings of some great master of his art, like Michael Angelo's description of the last judgment; since by moral painting and appropriate imagery, he can place distinctly before them all that is terrific and glorious in the scenes of that day.
It is no part of our design to furnish a critique on these sermons. We may however say that judgment in the plan and taste in their execution, is uniformly exhibited. We can say of them in the language of Cowley,
His candid style like a clear stream does flow,
Does like the sunshine on it play. As exhibiting the attribute of an active imagination, out of many passages of a similar character, we select the following.
Let us then, my hearers, attempt this adventurous flight. Let us follow the path by which our blessed Savior ascended to heaven, and soar upward to the great capital of the universe, to the palace, and the throne of its greater King. As we rise, the earth fades away from our view; now we leave worlds, and suns, and systems behind us. Now we reach the utmost limits of creation; now the last star disappears, and no ray of created light is seen. But a new light now begins to dawn and brighten upon us. It is the light of heaven, which pours in a flood of glory from its wide open gates, spreading continual meridian day, far and wide through the regions of etherial space. Passing swiftly onward through this flood of day, the songs of heaven begin to burst upon your ears, and voices of celestial sweetness, yet loud as the sound of many waters and of mighty thunderings, are beard exclaiming, Alleluia! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Blessing, and glory, and honor, and power, be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever. A moment more, and you have passed the gates; you are in the midst of the city, you are before the eternal throne, you are in the immediate presence of God, and all his glories are blazing around you like a consuming fire. Flesh and blood cannot support it; your bodies dissolve into their original dust, but your immortal souls remain, and stand naked spirits before the great Father of spirits. Nor, in losing their tenements of clay, have they lost the powers of perception. No: they are now all eye, all ear, nor can you close the eyelids of the soul, to shut out, for a moment, the dazzling, overpowering splendors, which surround you, and which appear like light condensed, like glory which may be felt. You see, indeed, no form or shape; and yet your whole souls perceive, with intuitive clearness and certainty, the immediate, awe-inspiring presence of Jehovah. You see no countenance; and yet you feel as if a countenance of awful majesty, in which all the perfections of divinity shone forth, were beaming upon you wherever you turn. You see no eye; and yet a piercing, heart-searching eye, an eye of omniscient purity, every glance of which goes through your souls like a flash of lightning, seems to look upon you from every point of surrounding space. You feel as if enveloped in an atmosphere, or plunged in an ocean of existence, intelligence, perfection, and glory; an ocean, of which your laboring minds can take in only a drop; an ocean, the depth of which you cannot fathom, and the breadth of which you can never fully explore. But while you feel utterly unable to comprehend this infinite Being, your views of him, so far as they extend, are perfectly clear and distinct. You have the most vivid perceptions, the most deeply graven impressions, of an infinite, eternal, spotless mind, in which the images of'all things, past, present, and to come, are most harmoniously seen, arranged in the most perfect order, and defined with the nicest accuracy: of a mind, which wills with infinite ease, but whose volitions are attended by a power omnipotent and irresistible, and which sows worlds, suns and systems through the fields of space with far more facility, than the husbandman scatters bis seed upon the earth;-of a mind, whence have flowed all the streams, which ever watered any part of the universe with life, intelligence, holiness, or happiness, and which is still full, overflowing and inexhaustible. You perceive also, with equal clearness and certainty, that this infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, all-wise, all-creating mind is perfectly and essentially holy, a pure flame of holiness, and that, as such, he regards sin with unutterable, irreconcilable detestation and abhorrence. With a voice, which reverberates through the wide expanse of his dominions, you hear him saying, as the Sovereign and Legislator of the universe, Be ye holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy. And you see his throne surrounded, you see heaven filled by those only, who perfectly obey this command. You see thousands of thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand of angels and archangels, pure, exalted, glorious intelligencies, who reflect his perfect image, burn like flames of fire with zeal for his glory, and seem to be so many concentrations of wisdom, knowledge, holiness, and love; a fit retinue for the thrice holy Lord of hosts, whose holiness and all-filling glory they unceasingly proclaim. pp. 94–97.
But the most important circumstance still remains to be mentioned, namely, his entire devotedness to the spiritual welfare of his hearers, every where apparent in these sermons. He might have had a practical acquaintance with the truths of the christian religion; and skill in selecting those truths that are adapted to the character of his hearers, and a powerful imagination, in presenting these truths in such a manner as to make an impression ; still, without this devotedness of feeling to the spiritual welfare of his hearers, he never could have exerted that moral power upon their minds of which we spoke at the commencement of this article. It has ever been true that those who have distinguished themselves on the broad theatre of human exertion in arts, in arms, in science, and in moral enterprize, have likewise been distinguished, for the enthusiasm with which they have followed the object of their pursuit. Such a state of mind quickens the intellect; for it has almost passed into a maxim with the masters of mental science, that the conceptions are vivid in proportion to the excitement of the feelings. It moreover renders the mind ingenious in discovering and creating means for the accomplishment of the object; “Love will find a way;" and it likewise prompts to perseverance in the application of those means. We see internal proof in these sermons, that they were composed under the influence of an intense desire to be instrumental in leading his people to the cross of Christ for salvation. We can believe that to accomplish this, all the faculties of his soul were concentrated; that when he knelt at the mercy-seat his people were earnestly commended to God; that when he looked abroad on nature, that other book of God's revelation, he was always in search of motives to duty ; that when he was engaged in severe study, or in reading books of taste, he still was aiming either directly or indirectly, at promoting the spiritual welfare of his people,—that “ by any means he might win some.' Every thing was subservient to this object. Having a full heart and full mind, persuasion dwelt upon his lips. He felt emotion and therefore expressed it. His heart is always awake.
His heart is always awake. In the language of the advertisement prefixed to the sermons," he never nods.” His zeal for the house of God glowed in his breast like a consuming passion ; It wasted the powers of life.
I have exerted, to the utmost, the abilities God has given me; in his name, I have, by turns, reasoned and persuaded, exhorted and entreated,