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Defence of Pulpit Eloquence.
It is sufficiently evident, that eloquence has a strong influence over the minds and passions of men.
I do not call the attention of the reader to those compositions which filled Athens with valour, which agitat5 ed or calmed, at the will of the orator, the bosoms of a thousand warriors, and which, all nations have consented to immortalize. The thunder which Demosthenes hurled at the head of Philip, continues to roll to the present hour; and his eloquence, stripped as it is of ac10 tion and utterance, mutilated by time, and enfeebled by translation, is yet powerful enough to kindle in our bosoms, at this remote age, a fire, which the hand of death has extinguished in the hearts of those who were originally addressed! We pass over, also, the eloquence 15 which Cicero poured out, in a torrent so resistless, that the awful senate of Rome could not withstand its force; an eloquence that could break confederacies, disarm forces, control anarchy !-an eloquence that years cannot impair, age cannot weaken, time cannot des20 troy! But we appeal to its influence, in an age not very remote, nor very unlike the present, in a neighbouring country, in the ministerial profession. The name of Massillon was more attractive than all the perfumes that Arabia could furnish; and this was the 25 incense that filled the churches of spiritual Babylon.
The theatre was forsaken, while the church was crowded; the court forgot their amusements, to attend the preacher; and his spirit-controling accents drew the monarch from his throne to his feet, stopped the impet
30 uous stream of dissipation, and compelled the mocking world to listen! This is not a picture delineated by fancy, but a representation of facts; and it is well known, that no fashionable amusements had attractions when the French bishop was to ascend the pulpit. While he 35 spoke, the king trembled; while he denounced the indignation of God against a corrupted court, nobility shrunk into nothingness; while he described the horrors of a judgment to come, infidelity turned pale, and the congregation, unable to support the thunder of his 40 language, rose from their seats in agony! Let these instances suffice to shew the power of eloquence, the influence which language well chosen has upon the mind of man, who alone, of all the creatures of God, is able to transmit his thoughts through the medium of speech, 45 to know, to relish, and to use the charms of language.
I am well aware that an argument is deduced from the power of eloquence against the use of it in the pulpit. It is liable to abuse;' say they, it tends to impose upon the understanding, by fascinating the imagi50 nation.' Most true! it is liable to abuse; and what is there so excellent in its nature that is not? The doctrines of grace have been abused to licentiousness; and the liberty of christianity used as a cloak of maliciousness.' This, however, is no refutation of those doc55 trines, no argument against that liberty. Because eloquence has been abused, because it has served Antichrist, or rendered sin specious, is it, therefore, less excellent in itself? or is it, for that reason, to be rejected from the service of holiness? No; let it be em60 ployed in the service of God, and it is directed to its noblest ends; it answers the best of purposes?
But the most eloquent are not always the most useful; and God hath chosen the ignorant, in various instances, to confound the wise." It is granted. But 65 does God uniformly work one way? When he sends,
it is by whom he will send; and he can qualify, and does qualify those whom he raises up for himself. He can give powers as a substitute for literature, and by his own energy effect that which eloquence alone
70 cannot. But we set not up this attainment against his energy, we know that it is useful only in dependence upon it. We know, too, why the ignorant are frequently exalted in the scale of usefulness, to show that 'the power is not of man, but of God;' and that no flesh 75 should glory in his presence.' But has he not blessed talents also, for the same important purpose? Has he never employed eloquence usefully? Has his favour been uniformly limited, or ever limited to the illiterate ? Because he sometimes works without the means, and 80 apparently in defiance of the means, are we therefore to lay them aside? Who possessed more advantages, or more eloquence than the apostle, whose words are alluded to in this objection? Did Paul make a worse preacher for being brought up at the feet of Gamaliel ?
But the gospel of Jesus disdains such assistance: for the apostle says to the Corinthians, 'I came not to you with excellency of speech :'-' and my speech, and my preaching, was not with enticing words of men's wisdom.' That the gospel of Jesus disdains the assis90 tance of eloquence, in a certain sense, I admit. It will not accept of any thing as its support. It stands upon its own inherent excellence, and spurns all extraneous aid. It is a sun absorbing every surrounding luminary. Its beauty eclipses every charm brought in comparison 95 with it. Yet, is this a reason why, in enforcing its glorious truths upon our fellow-men, we should disdain assistance which, although it aids not the gospel, is useful to them? Follow the opposite principle, and lay aside preaching. The gospel approves itself to the 100 conscience; every attempt to illustrate and enforce it
is useless, when applied to the truth itself, for it cannot be rendered more excellent than it is: yet it may be rendered more perspicuous to our fellow-men, it needs enforcing as it regards them; and preaching has been 105 instituted by God himself for that express purpose.
So eloquence cannot render assistance to the gospel itself; but may be useful to those who attend it. True eloquence has for its object, not merely to please, but to render luminous the subject discussed, and to reach 110 the hearts of those cencerned.
We live in a day when it becomes us to be equal every way to our adversaries. This we never can be, if we cherish a contempt for liberal science. Infidelity lifts her standard, and advances, with daring front, to 115 defy the armies of the living God.' Distinguished talents rally around her ensign. The charms of eloquence, the force of reason, the majesty of literature, the light of science, are all enlisted under her banner; are all opposed to the truth as it is in Jesus.' Let us, 120 in reliance upon divine aid, meet them upon equal terms, contend with them on their own ground, turn against them their own weapons! Let us meet them in the plain, or upon the mountain; let us ascend to their elevation, or stoop to their level! Let us oppose sci125 ence to science, eloquence to eloquence, light to light, energy to energy! Let us prove that we are their equals in intellect, their colleagues in literature: but that, in addition to this, 'One is our master, even Christ,'that we have a more sure word of prophecy,'—and 130 that our light, borrowed from the fountain of illumination, will shine with undiminished lustre, when their lamp, fed only by perishable, precarious supplies, shall be for ever extinguished!
The Blind Preacher.
One Sunday, as I travelled through the county of Orange, my eye was caught by a cluster of horses tied near a ruinous, old, wooden house, in the forest, not far from the road-side. Having frequently seen such ob5 jects before, in travelling through these states, I had no difficulty in understanding that this was a place of religious worship. Devotion alone should have stopped me, to join in the duties of the congregation; but I must confess, that curiosity to hear the preacher of such 10 a wilderness, was not the least of my motives.
On entering the house, I was struck with his preternatural appearance. He was a tall and very spare old man--his head, which was covered with a white linen cap; his shrivelled hands, and his voice, were all shaken
15 under the influence of a palsy, and a few moments ascertained to me that he was perfectly blind. The first emotions which touched my breast, were those of min gled pity and veneration. But ah! How soon were all my feelings changed! It was a day of the administra20 tion of the sacrament, and his subject, of course, was the passion of our Saviour. I had heard the subject handled a thousand times; I had thought it exhausted long ago. Little did I suppose, that in the wild woods of America, I was to meet with a man whose eloquence 25 would give to this topic, a new and more sublime pathos than I had ever before witnessed.
As he descended from the pulpit, to distribute the mystic symbol, there was a peculiar, a more than human solemnity in his air and manner, which made my 30 blood run cold, and my whole frame to shiver. He then drew a picture of the sufferings of our Saviourhis trial before Pilate-his ascent up Calvary--his crucifixion-and his death. I knew the whole history; but never, until then, had I heard the circumstances so 35 selected, so arranged, so coloured? It was all new;
and I seemed to have heard it for the first time in my life. His enunciation was so deliberate, that his voice trembled on every syllable; and every heart in the assembly trembled in unison.
His peculiar phrases, had that force of description, that the original scene appeared to be, at that moment, acting before our eyes. We saw the very faces of the Jews--the staring, frightful distortions of malice and rage. We saw the buffet-my soul kindled with a 45 flame of indignation, and my hands were involuntarily and convulsively clenched. But when he came to touch the patience, the forgiving meekness of our Saviour-when he drew, to the life, his blessed eyes streaming in tears to heaven--his voice breathing to God, a 50 soft and gentle prayer of pardon on his enemies, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,”— the voice of the preacher, which had all along faultered, grew fainter and fainter, until his utterance being entirely obstructed by the force of his feelings, he rais55 ed his handkerchief to his eyes, and burst into a loud