Absalom Peters Bela Bates Edwards.

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jriors were too much disposed to envy. He never affected to conceal
his own poverty ; he never shunned the inconveniences to which it
exposed him, but submitted without a murmur to the scofis of the
proud, and the insults of the vulgar. From the poor he chose out the
companions of his labors, and the partners of his sufferings. To the
poor he preached the Gospel, and insisted, too, on this v^ry circum-
stance as the most solid proof of its authenticity — the most distin-
guishing mark of its excellence — the most eminent instance of its
utility. The admiration, the gratitude of his hearers, sometimes led
them to load him with the highest commendations, and to force upon
him the most illustrious honors ; but he studiously declined all their
intended favors; he artfully drew off the attention of his hearers
from his own works to that piety which they owed to Grod, and pro-
fessedly referred the praise of every pious precept, every holy action,
every benevolent miracle, to the glory of Him by whom he was sent
into the world. Such was his condescension in those public scenes,
where his example was likely to have more extensive influence ; and
if we attend him in his hours of privacy and retirement, we shall find
him engaged in the same acts of humiliation, and influenced by the
same lowliness of heart. Evei^ proud thought, every aspiring wish,
that arose in the breasts of his disciples, he instantly suppressed.
Though their acknowledged Master, he vouchsafed to become their
servant ; he repeatedly pronounced that servant to be the greatest in
heaven, who had made himself the least on earth ; he founded his
own claims to their respect, on actions which seemed most to forbid
it ; and in spite of the modest refusal, the well-meant opposition of
the disciples, he stooped down to wash their feet Shall we then
listen to the scoffs of mfidels, who make the meanness of our Master's
situation on earth, an objection to the truth of his claims; who
call his condescension meanness, and who dare to brand his meek*

I by the ignominious title of cowardice?"

But we must bring our sketch to a close. The final scene
ony remains to be described. In the summer of 1824, Parr's

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1844.] The Ideal of a Perfect Pulpit Disamrse. 85

strength visibly declined, his appetite failed, and hi& spirits
sank. He was attacked by his last sickness in January of the
following year ; it was a fever, accompanied with erysipelas.
To the latter affection he had been subject for many years ; but
it now broke out with uncontrollable violence. Almost from
the beginning he was under the in£kience of delirium, without
any lucid interval of much length. Yet he once became suffi-
ciently self-conscious to refer to his present state, and to avow
his trust in God through Christy for the pardon of his sins.
Fifty days of helplessness and suffering, sometimes very acute,
did he pass, during which his patience and magnanimity must
have been drawn upon to the utmost, yet no murmuring accent
ever escaped him. He died on Suniday, the 6th of March,
1825, being sev^ntv-eight years of age.

As we take our last view of the lite and character which we
have undertaken to delineate, we are involuntarily reminded of
those half sportive but solemn verses of Cowper, in which be
computes the value of a day's conversation, as too justly descrip-
tive of the real worth of Dr. Parr's life and labors.

Collect at evening what the day brought forth,
Compress the sum into its solid worth ;
And if it weigh the importance of a fly,
The scales are false, or algebra a lie.

The Ideal of a Perfect Pulpit Discourse.

By Rev. HiiiKr N. Day, Profetior of Sftcred Rhetoric, Weiteni Reeenre College, Hadton,


We shall not be chargeable with extravagance or presump-
tion, if we assume that pulpit oratory belongs to the highest
grade in eloquence. Whether we consider its designs, its mate-
rials, or its occasions, we are constrained to claim lor it an equal
rank, at least, with any other species whatever.

That the eloquence of the pulpit has actually risen to the
kighest excellence of which it is capable, may, perhaps, be a
matter of doubt. We have, indeed, in our numerous collections

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86 2%e Idsal of a Ptrfket P^pit Butomae. [Jult,

of sermons, beautiful specimens of composition; we have bril-
liant effusions of genius and great ridiness of learning; we have,
what is more perhaps, unsurpassed efforts in argumentation and
persuasion. But where shall we look, in sacred eloquence, for
diose perfect models which we find in secular oratory ? where
is the preacher in whom stands forth embodied the idea of a
perfect orator ? Have we yet, indeed, attained a conception of
a perfect standard of pulpit dbcourse ? Where, in all our treatises
on the homiletic art — where, in all our systems of aesthetics, is it
presented in any such light as to show that the idea has been
fully, distinctly, self-consciously grasped ? Where is the living
teacher, in our numerous schools of sacred rhetoric, who suceee£
in infusing this idea into the minds of his disciples, so that they
go forth fully possessed of it, — inventing, composing, spe^king^
under the control of it, — impressing it more or less completely
in all their discourses ? Has the mmd any where been distinctly
turned on this point, — the possibility of conceiving a perfect
discourse ? Has the question been agitated. Can there be in
sacred eloquence, as in sculpture, in painting, in the drama, a
devel "pment of the essential idea of perfection 1 of the heau ideal
in pulpit oratory ? — does aesthetical science embrace this field,
also, in her domain, and can she establish here any firm, intelli-
gible, and trustworthy principles ?

Distinguishing, then, as we may, between the theoretical and
the empirical — between what is ideally practicable in pulpit
eloquence and what has already been attained, we may assume
that there is here room for indefinite progress and improve-
ment. But while in any art there may be tendency towards
perfection without any distinct apprehension of the essential
idea of the art, by which, as a perfect standard, every product
of the art may be tried, so, until that idea is grasped and the
standard ascertained, it is clear that tendency must be irregular^
slow and fitful. Even if that perfect idea is not fully realized,
if only approximations to that standard are attained, still, unless
easential error be embraced, that imperfect standard will not be
without its value in inspiring and directing effort.

In the hope, therefore, of Ourntrihuting something to the im^
proyeraent of that most important art — pulpit oratory — we pro^
pose, at the present time, to attempt the development of the
essential idea ^a ferfectjml'pU discourse.

Before entering directly on this design, it will be of use t0
indicate and justify the ground that is taken in the discus^on, aft
well as more clearly and distinctly to define our objects

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1844.] Tt%e Ideal of a Perfect Pulpit Discourse. 87

It must have been observed, in what has already been said,
that we regard pulpit eloquence as an art ; and not merely an
art in that more general sense in which none would deny it to
be an art, a product of human skill, but in that stricter, more
specific sense, in which it implies a definite aim or end, with a
reference to which the whole product of the art is contrived and
shaped. For the same may be said of eloquence which has
been said with so much truth and beauty of the sister art of
poetry. " There is an art, the child of a joyous nature, which
sings from a mere inability to do aught but sing. Its song, as
has been well said, is the voice of nature — the spontaneous
outburst of its own and the national feeling. Very different is
her sister art, which selects and considers, has views and follows
aims ; art, self-conscious of art,** There is an eloquence which
merely overflows ; which issues at no prompting of reason, and
follows no guidance of reason ; which flows out spontaneously
because the fountain is full, and falls, it knows not, it cares not
where. Such eloquence is rational only inasmuch as it proceeds
from a rational soul, all whose motions are tinged with ration-
ality. Reason, however, in the exercise of its own proper pre-
rogative, exerts upon it no control. This eloquence we some-
times meet with. There are those who court it. The uncon-
trolled outpourings of a feeling soul, the unchecked rovingsof a
restless imagination are with them the highest effusions of elo-
quence. Such effusions — they cannot be called productions — are
sometimes poured from the pulpit. They constitute, it is sup-
posed, nature's pure eloquence uncorrupted by art. This kind
of eloquence, which is mere expression without further object
or aim, is not oratory. For oratory, in its essential import, is
address, and necessarily implies an end out of itself. Such elo-
quence, therefore, is excluded from the comprehension of art in
our notion of the term.

Art, in its stricter sense, necessarily implies the control of the
reason ; and reasf n never acts without an aim. Nothing, there-
fore, is worthy of the name of art in which there is not a defi-
nite end or aim proposed and pursued. Art is highest in its
nature when the noblest aim is proposed. It is most perfect in
degree, when that aim is most strictly and perfectly pursued.

We shall not stop here, from these almost self-evident propo-
sitions, to establish for pulpit oratory the highest rank among
the arts; or to demonstrate the erroneousness of that opinion
which regards the attentive study of the peculiar aim of sacred

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88 The Ideal of a Perfect Pulpit Discoune. [Jult,

eloquence and of the means of accomplishing it, together with
all systematic training in the use of these means, as worthless or
absolutely injurious, because it cramps the free movement of the
spirit ; or to expose the folly, we may say the criminality of
those, who, to their preparations for the pulpit, apply no severe
eflTort of reason, but leave all to passion, fancy, and a purely
spontaneous intellect. But it seems necessary to dwell, one
moment longer here, in defining and vindicating the ground
from which the development of tne essential idea of the art of
eloquence must proceed, in order to throw in an illustration or
two for the preventing of misapprehension.

It is certain that different mmds move very differently in the
process of artistic construction. We may distinguish, particu-
larly, two great classes, in this respect, not separated from each
other in regard to the individuals which compose them by any
well defined line, but represented rather by the extremes to
which the one or the other of the individuals more or less ap-
proximates. In the one class, we observe the svbject taking a
firm and controlling hold of the producing mind, and, although
working even in subordination to the final end or aim, yet seem-
ing to proceed only from its own peculiar grounds, as if irre-
spective of any such end. In the other class, it is the end which
seems to control ; and the subject seems to be merely an instru-
ment to that end, although never managed in violation of its
own nature. We may easily perceive now minds from both
these classes might produce, from the same subject and with the
same end, essentially the same perfect result, when we con-
sider the matter from this point of view, — that truth in reference
to a designated end admits, theoretically, of but one perfect
development ; and that a particular end to be accomplished by
a specified truth can be perfectly attained only in one particu-
lar way, and these forms, being in the one case a development,
in the other a process, are coincident. We could not desire
happier exemplifications of this distinction than are furnished to
us in the two great poets of Germany, contemporaries and inti-
mates. Schiller is the representative of the first class. In him
the subject seems the great thing. Every where we discover
the earnestness which characterizes one wholly possessed of his
idea which labors within him struggling for expression, and
never resting till it has fully developed itself in objective reality.
What that shall be, it seems little anxious. With him art is a
travail, and its product is a birth. Goethe is the opposite of all

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1844.] The Ideal of a Perfect Pulpit Discoune. 89

this. It is the end which always seems uppermost in his mind.
He seems to stand aloof from the subject, in respect to which
he appears to be perfectly indifferent, and uses it only as a tool
to the accomplishment of his object With him art appears
under the image of a sculptor, with the perfect form of an Apollo
in his eye, taking almost with indifTerence his block of marble,
and, under the controlling guidance of that ideal form, frac-
turing and chiseling till his idea is realized. Schiller's birth, it
is however to be carefully remarked, is no shapeless monster,
although living, nor is Goethe's product mere form without life.
The birth and the product are identical. The mistake which
we wish to correct or prevent is, that Schiller is not equally
under the control of art as Goethe. The difference between
them lies not here ; but in the difTerent manner in which art
influences them. In both cases, there is a perfect conception of
what art requires — of the definite end, and of the means of at-
taining it. In both there is a perfect observance of the end
and adherence to the principles of art for its attainment. In the
one case, art plants itself on the subject ; in the other, upon the
end or aim. In both it equally controls the production. Schil-
ler's eloquence is the farthest possible removed from the so-
called eloquence of nature.

It would be idle to inquire which method implies the greater
mental power ; as to inquire whether perfection does not involve
a blending of the two. It b evident that in oratory the end and
the subject, for they must correspond to each other, — the nature
of a given subject determining the end, and a given end deter-
mining the character of the subject, — may, each, or both, deter-
mine which method shall predominate. In explanation, thus,
the method of proceeding must be deduced from the nature of
the subject. In persuasion, on the contrary, the method evi-
dently must be more objective.

Regarding, then, sacred eloquence as an art in the stricter
sense of the word," art, self-conscious of art," a perfect product
of this art, that is, a perfect pulpit discourse, must be strictly
conformed throughout to the great end of all pulpit oratory.
Not only must the end be seen and aimed at, but it must be un-
deviatingly pursued in every part of the discourse. It will be
unnecessaiy for our present puiposeto go into any exact deter-
mination of the essential idea of the art of sacred eloquence
generally.* It will be sufficient to take the popular notion of a

* This point has been discussed at great length by Professor

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90 T%e Ideal of a Perfect Pulpit Discourse. [Jult,

sermon simply modified by the view we have taken of it as the
product of an art, and, therefore, implying a definite end that is
undeviatingly pursued throughout the discourse. This popular
notion may be set forth in the following terms : a portion of
scriptural text expressing some important truth, which, defined
and modified according to the design or occasion of the discourse
in the preacher's own language, is then developed and applied
to the minds of the hearers with specific reference to the instruc-
tion or conviction of their intellects, the correction and excita-
tbn of their feelings, or the right direction of their wills, and
always in subordination to the great end of all preaching, viz.
the promotion of practical godliness.* This idea of a pulpit dis-

Schott of Jena, in his "Philosophische und religiose Begrund-
ung der Rhetorik und Homilitik." As the result of some
hundred pages of discussion, he gives the following as the fun-
damental principle of a theory of Eloquence : '* So work
through a continuous expression of thy inner life upon the
feelings of men, that they, as free moral beings, shall unite their
efforts in one and the same direction with thine ; or, in other
words, so work through the unity of thy own efforts, repre-
sented in continuous discourseon the feelings of men, that their
wills shall unite themselves with thine in a direction which
oonsistB with the general strife after the ideal of perfect human-
ity." p. 44*3. Leipzig Ed.

* We are aware that the propriety of regarding the text as
a constituent part of a discourse has been questioned. But
vre can perceive no good reason for this. Certainly it is not
a sufficient reason that it is not in the preacher's language.
For on this ground we must reject all quotations as not pro-
perly belonging to the discourse On the other hand, it seens
to us essential. For is that preaching, in the common appre-
hension of the word, which is not founded on some portion of
Scripture 1 Does not th^ text, at least ought not the text to
enter into the discourse, and modify all its parts 1 Is it not
part of the preacher's task to find for himself a text, to deter-
mine how much of Scripture shall be taken for the purpose ?
It not, in other words, a part of the preacher's labor in inven-
tion to be expended here 1 The circumstance that it usually
precedes and stands distinct from the discourse is a merely
accidental one. It might with perfect propriety be placed
after the introduction, as is sometimes done.

It miofht be thought, at a first glance, that the description
of a public discourse given in the text does not include exe«

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1844,] The Ideal of a Perfect Pulpit Ducowne. 91

course may be symbolized thus : a scriptural seed germinated
IB the preacher's mind and developed in the form of a perfect
tree, every part of which shall be determined in its character by
the germinated seed.

If we analyze now this general descriptioa, we shall detect
several particulars which enter into it as essential constituents,
and which may be distinctly considered. One of these is serifs
iural authority. What we mean is, that unless there be author-
ity derived from revelation for the particular sentiment developed
and applied in the discourse, there is wanting an essential feature
o{ a proper pulpit discourse. There is much, we are aware, that
goes by the name of preaching, which contains nothing of this
ingredient. The text is often regarded as a mere motto of a
sermon ; or as furnishing an occasion for saying something ; or
as supplying some suggestion which may be conveniently made
the theme of a discourse ; or as a mere formal appendage, the
use of which is to be justified only on the groun«l of custom. We
are aware that many preachers never dream of endeavoring to
found the truth which they propose on any authority of revelation
furnished in the text. It is enough if the proposition is in ac-
cordance with Scripture. The remotest allusion even in words
is sufficient to ju tify, in their minds, the use of a particular pas-
sage. Some even degrade themselves and their calling by the
pitiful attempt to show their skill in extorting some strange doc-
trine from a passage as foreign to it as possible, by applying an
4inwarrantable force to a word or an allusion that it n>a> happen
to contain. We can only say of such, that they utterly miscon-
ceive the nalureof preaching. If in any thing prearhing differs
from other species of discourse, it is in this: that the sentiment
— the proposition — is scriptural, ch arly founded in revelation.
If the use of a text can be vindicated on any gronntl, it b on this:
that it conveys the authority of God to the sentimmt and its
application in the discourse. If it fail to do this, it is obnoxious
to all the objections of Voltaire. It is worse than usehss ; and
the custom of prefixing it to pulpit discourses, in our view, is
far more honored in the breach than the observance.

ceticnl discourfe. It may not every variety of this species
pf discourse in form ; but, yet, as we apprehend, it does in
substance. The preacher's own apprehension of the truth is
not always presented in a single proposition or in one single
view, but it always must appear somewhere, even if in parts^

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92 The Ideal of a Perfect Pulpit Discourse. [July,

We regard, then, the office of the text, and from this we de-
duce the principle of selection and use to be this : to convey
divine authority to the discourse. Herein it is distinguished
from a mere motto, as well as from the motion which presents
the subiect of discussion at the bar or in the deliberative assem-
bly. It enters into the very life of the discourse ; — rather is the
source from which life is derived, and the vehicle by which it is
communicated, as the seed is the source of vitality to the tree.
It is an essential part of the duty of the preacher to elaborate
this vital principle of the text, and through the appropriate
organs transmit it to the proposition, in which it is to appear
again modified by the soil in which it has germinated, as the
trunk from which the branch, foliage, and fruit of the entire dis-
course shall be derived. Since, moreover, preaching loses its
essential character whenever it loses this divine authority from
its inculcations, or, what in the present case is tantamount to
this, whenever it appears to the hearer to lose this authority, it
becomes necessary that the sentiment of the discourse not only
be in fact revealed in the word of God, but also be clearly
sfunmi to be thus revealed by means of a lucid exposition. It
must be made to appear to the comprehension of the popular
mind, that the sentiment is the ^^mind of the will of God" in
the particular passage of Scripture on which the discourse is
founded ; — not merely that it is a possible sentiment which the
passage may convey, but the sentiment ; otherwise, obviously,
no positive authority from inspiration is derived to the discourse.

Inasmuch, however, as a discourse is a development of a
truth in the mind of the preacher, it is evident that this divinely
authorized sentiment must enter into his mind and partake of
its forms of thought and feeling. In other words, it is essential
to the perfect development of truth in a discourse, that it be
embodied in theform^ of the individual mind. Until this take
place, it is foreign to that mind. The mind cannot enter into '
it and quicken it with its own life. The development, if possi-
ble, must be one in which there is no life. It must be in modes
wholly independent of the laws of the preacher's mind. It can-
not possess the characteristics of his creative spirit. It is not,
strictly, of his paternity.

This impress of the preacher's mind, must, of course, be after
the present state of the mind, as determined not only by natural
idiosyncracies, by education and habit, but, also, Uy the particu-
lar circumstances, occasion, and design of the discourse. AU

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1844.] The Ideal of a Perfect Pulpit Discourse. 93

these enter into the soil in which the divine seed of truth is ger-
minated, and determine the character of its deyelopment. Thus,
while we retain for preaching its essential character — divine
authority derived from the Scriptures, we yet provide for the
fullest activity of the preacher's creative spirit. Thus the objec-
tion of Voltaire to the use of a text, that it imposes on the
preacher the toilsome labor of regulating a whole discourse by
a single line, is obviated ; for no such shackles as are implied
in the objection are laid on freedom of invention. The scrip-
tural text is but the occasion of suggesting truth, which, as con-
natural to mind, must find in it a free reception, neither con-
straining nor constrained. As food, rather, in the process of
assimilation in order to a new form of appearance, it quickens,
refreshes, and strengthens. Nor, further, is there any necessary
limitation placed on the preacher's power *to adapt truth to the
particular circumstances of the case. If all preaching, in order
to be such, must be founded ultimately on the word of God ; if
the preacher can never, in compatibility with his distinctive
character, desire to go out of that divine record for fundamental
truth, the widest lil^rty is allowed that the nature of the case
allows. For although specific applications of truth are not made

Online LibraryAbsalom Peters Bela Bates EdwardsThe American biblical repository → online text (page 10 of 52)