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dom, while a product developed by a similar process in physical science would be rejected as the veriest folly. Men seek to be wise, not only above what is written, but independently of what is written, and need it be occasion of surprise if their boasted light proves to be darkness ? Let a man accept the “ law and the testimony" for his guide, and he will find himself brought into harmony with the devout and enlightened thinkers of every period, and will recognise in revelation, and in the interpretation furnished by the catholic faith and the sentiment of ages, those conditions under which he may realise the loftiest aspirations of an enlightened understanding, and the sanctified desires of a pure heart.
ART. III.–POPULAR PREACHING.
AN ESSAY READ TO THE YOUNG MINISTERS OF THE SUNDERLAND
PREACHERS' ASSOCIATION, MAY, 1868.
POPULAR preaching is preaching which pleases the populace or
; nity which is not distinguished by rank, office, profession, or education; and which comprehends all those persons which stand in the most need of instruction of every kind. And, unhappily, those who need instruction the most desire it the least. Public Libraries and Mechanics’ Institutions established for the purpose of informing and enlightening the people are treated by them with such indifference that many of them could not be kept open were it not for the liberality of those who do not need them. And the instructive preacher who takes the most pains to expound the Word of God is seldom very popular. The thoughtless and irreligious are ever in search of something to please the senses or excite the passions. Hence, publichouses, theatres, races, and pugilistic encounters have great attraction for the multitude. Reason has little to do with the control of their actions; their conduct is generally governed by impulse, they are fickle and fond of change, suddenly adopting new opinions without taking the trouble to ascertain what foundation they have in truth. The object of their admiration today may be the object of their displeasure tomorrow. It is said that on one occasion, as Oliver Cromwell was going in his carriage to the House of Commons he was cheered very loudly by the people, when a gentleman sitting by his side remarked, “ You hear, sir, how popular you are." Yes," said Cromwell, “I hear them, and they would shout quite as loud if they saw me going to the gallows.” Cromwell had read the Gospels, and remembered, no doubt, how suddenly the loud shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David !” were changed into the murderous cries of “Crucify him, crucify him.” The preacher who is most successful in exciting the passions and gratifying the love of novelty is the greatest favourite. If he think of himself more highly than he ought to think, and speak great swelling words of his own superiority as a Christian or minister, the ignorant people will stare at him with wonder and admiration. If he have the impudence to rail against good men, and speak evil of dignities, the multitude will regard him as a man of singular courage and daring, whose praise should be in every man's mouth. Enlightened, edifying, and long-tried ministers are neglected, while crowds listen to the flippant and sensational addresses of ignorant and egotistic strangers. This condition of the people is much to be deplored, and one is tempted to think that it is peculiar to our age, for Wesley and Whitfield preached to greater numbers of the people than perhaps any other men ever did in this country, yet they did not entertain their vast congregations with flippant, sensational, egotistic, or abusive discourses; but the multitude heard plain and serious sermons about God and their souls. But plain and serious sermons preached in rooms and fields a hundred years ago were as great a novelty as the most eccentric discourses are in our day. And therefore the same love of novelty probably drew the thousands of people together to hear the sober preaching of Wesley and his coadjutors as moves the crowds to listen to the extravagant preaching of our times. Yet we must not despise nor neglect the people. We must not forget that we are of the people, and the greatest philosophers, poets, statesmen, ministers, and benefactors of mankind have sprung from the people. The natural constitution of the peer and the peasant is the same, both possess the same passions and faculties. The difference between them is not the result of birth, but of education and circumstances. We must, therefore, love the people, and earnestly seek to enlighten, reform, and elevate them. And certainly we should go about this important work in the most promising way to accomplish it. We should address them in a inanner the most likely to arrest and retain their attention, and to impress their minds with the solemn truths we teach. Yet we should not dishonour our great Master and his holy religion, nor degrade our sacred office by stooping to clap-trap and trickery, for surely such contemptible means are not necessary to accomplish so glorious an end. Let us go to the Great Teacher and his apostles for examples, and we shall find their matter and manner in perfect harmony with the solemnity and dignity of the cause they advocated. Still, it is not unlikely that the most eloquent preacher would not be able to draw together so large a number of the thoughtless multitude as would gather round an ordinary mountebank. If the preacher were to imitate the mountebank, the preacher might prove a dangerous rival to his opponent, but the success would only be transcient. The mountebank preacher is never able long to retain his hearers; to retain them they must be instructed, and that is out of his power. A less popular, but more able minister would attract to himself a less number of hearers, but he would keep them who came, because they would find themselves enlightened and improved under his ministry.
Now it is of importance to ascertain what are the qualities essential to popular preaching, apart from eccentricity and extravagance. It is not the object of this essay to point out the matter, so much as the manner of preaching, which shall at the same time be legitimate and acceptable to the people. And the first requisite in this respect is NATURALNESS. It is remarkable that few public speakers comparatively address an audience in a really natural manner. The man who speaks easily and naturally to a few friends at the fireside mounts a pair of stilts when he speaks to a hundred, and sounds out his words in a monotonous tone, between speaking and chanting, missing the naturalness of the one and the melody of the other. What a relief it is when such a speaker descends from his lofty harangue to ask some person to open a window to let in a little cold air. But the treat is soon over, and, alas, on he goes again in the same high-sounding tones! But the man who speaks to five hundred as he speaks to five will speak with greater ease to himself, and make a deeper impression upon his hearers. He will speak with more warmth and energy to five hundred than to five, but if the warmth and energy be natural, the speaking will be natural too. Let your manner of speaking be entirely your own, imitate no one, do not imitate the best speaker you ever heard, or ever will hear, let your own individuality stand out boidly and independently; God has made no two men quite alike, and it is best to retain the original stamp he has fixed
Second : FLUENCY. Some very instructive preachers are given to hesitate in their delivery, perhaps to recall a lost thought, or to find a fitting word to represent an idea. They would rather pause awhile than speak at random. A thoughtful hearer is willing to wait some time for a good idea well expressed. But the multitude will not tolerate hesitation. They will have no halting, a pause of unusual length would, in their estimation, spoil a fine sermon, and ruin the reputation of the preacher. They prefer a blunder to a halt, you must keep going, better too fast than too slow; at any rate, keep going. The medium be
tween fast and slow is best; it is more impressive, and what is thus spoken is longer remembered.
Third : COURAGE. This is a quality admired by all men. Those who are incapable of appreciating anything else, set a high value upon courage
and detest cowardice. Sometimes mere boldness or impudence passes for courage. But the sham is soon detected. Courage is not noisy and insolent, but calm, firm, and dignified. It becomes no man more than a minister, and no man needs it more. He must fear no man, and be free from respect of persons, must as readily rebuke the rich as the poor, and must not shun to declare the whole counsel of God. The Prophets, Apostles, Reformers, Puritans, Wesley and his preachers, and the founders of our own Connexion, abounded in courage, and it gave them a wonderful power over the people.
Fourth : EARNESTNESS. Trifling or indifference is out of all harmony with the solemn duty of preaching the Gospel. He who performs this duty in a light or careless manner is denied credit for sincerity and belief in the doctrines he preaches. When a man speaks earnestly, he is believed to be honest, and is respected, though he might be known to be in error. The people reasonably expect a preacher to be in earnest upon a question that concerns their everlasting well-being. Earnestness is in itself attractive, it aids in securing attention, removing prejudice, and impressing the mind with the importance of the truths delivered. Fifth: APT AND STRIKING ILLUSTRATIONS. Let
illustrations be simple, interesting, and easily understood. Take the parables of our Lord for examples, and remember the common people heard him gladly. Draw your illustrations from nature, history, art, science, observation, and experience; the universe is at your service for this purpose; intermeddle with all knowledge, and bring it all to your aid in explaining and enforcing the truths and doctrine of the Bible. A good anecdote is often of great service in arresting attention, and giving point and force to an argument. The man who will listen to nothing else, will listen to an anecdote, and remember it too. I once saw a man at a missionary meeting sitting in a lounging position in the corner of a pew, with his legs along the seat, and his side towards the platform. Several very good speeches were delivered, but he never turned his head to see who was speaking; it seemed as if nothing had yet been said worthy of his attention, and his face wore an expression of disdainful indifference. It was my turn to speak last. I was the greatest stranger, and I flattered myself that he would condescend to look at me; but no, although I spoke for some time as well as I could, he did not turn an eye towards me. At last I told an anecdote, and down came his legs, his whole body turned in the direction of the platform, and his eyes were fastened upon me from that moment to the end of my speech. Ever since then I have had great confidence in anecdotes. But don't use them too freely, not more than one or two in a sermon. Like all luxuries they should be given sparingly, lest they produce a surfeit or lower the character of your sermons, by turning them into the means of entertainment rather than instruction.
Sixth: A FIRM BELIEF THAT YOU ARE CALLED OF GOD TO DO THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY. You speak in his name and by his authority. You are his ambassadors; the message you deliver is the most blessed and solemn the world ever heard. One is your master, even Christ; to him you are responsible, and woe to you if you preach not the Gospel. This belief produces a feeling and bearing of seriousness, reverence, and dignity, which seldom fail to produce a solemn and favourable impression upon an audience, disposing them to listen with attention and docility to your discourse.
These are a few of the qualities which I think are necessary to popular preaching. But it must not be forgotten that popular preaching is not the end, but only a means to an end. The end is the glory of God in the salvation of men. To accomplish so great and grand an end we must not depend upon mere human appliances. God as well as men must have something to do with this. We preach his gospel, we preach in his name, and by his command, and we have the promise of his presence to be with as alway to aid us, to comfort us, and to bless us. It is no doubt possible to be very popular without any sense of the Divine presence or dependence upon the Divine Being, or any reference to him at all, but looking solely to our own fame and glory, or worldly gain. And perhaps it is possible to be of some service in the conversion of sinners, while we ourselves are strangers to God, providing we preach the truth as it is in Jesus to the people. God might bless his own truth though spoken by a sinner; the truth is the truth, whoever may speak it, and the character of the speaker does not alter the character of the truth, but might affect the disposition of the sinner to receive it or refuse it, if the character of the speaker be known to the hearer. If the hearer know the speaker to be a hypocrite, that knowledge will close his heart against the preacher's message ; but if the hearer believe the eloquent sinner to be a saint, that belief tends to open his mind to receive the word delivered; and there is reason to believe that some popular preachers of very doubtful character have been successful in converting sinners, though perhaps no such man was ever successful in building up the church, for christian experience is necessary to that. Jonah, by preaching one short sermon several times in one day, produced the greatest revival of which we have any record in the history of the church ; one hundred and twenty thousand persons “ believed God,” and “turned from their evil way." Yet Jonah