PREACHERS, PREACHING, PULPITS AND CLERICAL MANNERS. PREACHERS
UNDER THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION. — JOHN THE BAPTIST. — JESUS CHRIST. — THE
APOSTLES. — THE EARLY FATHERS. — CHRYSOSTOM, AUGUSTINE, AND OTHERS. — CLAUDE,
"JOHN THE BAPTIST was extraordinarily commissioned from
heaven to announce the advent of the promised Messiah, and he adopted a plan
formerly used by Ezra, appealing by public preaching to the common sense of
mankind. He took Elijah for his model, and, as the times were very much like
those in which that prophet lived, he chose a doctrine and a method very much
resembling those of that venerable man. His subjects were few, plain, and
important; repentance was the chief. His style was vehement, his images
were bold and well placed; his deportment was solemn, his action eager, and his
morals severe. The people flocked after him in great multitudes, and surrounded
him with a popularity of which his enemies were afraid. He fell, however, a
sacrifice to female revenge at a tyrant’s drunken bout, where despotism gave
whatever prostitution required.
"Jesus Christ had been openly introduced by John to the
knowledge and affection of the people, and at his death Jesus appeared in public
as a preacher.
Jesus Christ and the Apostles Model Preachers
"The ministry of the long-expected Messiah may be
characterized as the most beneficial that can be imagined. He took his doctrine
immediately from the holy Scriptures, to which he constantly appealed. The
truths of natural religion he explained and established; the doctrines of
revelation he expounded, elucidated and enforced, and thus brought life and
immortality to light by the gospel. These doctrines were all plain facts:
as, God is a spirit; God sent his Son into the world that the world might be
saved. Respecting himself and his gospel we find the following declarations:
'Moses wrote of me; he that believeth on him that sent me is passed from death
unto life; the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; the wicked shall go
away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous shall go into life eternal.
My kingdom is not of this world; the merciful are happy; happy are the pure in
heart; but few find the narrow way that leadeth unto life, while many go in at
the wide gate that leadeth to destruction.' All these and many more of the same
kind are facts plain and true, and they were the simple truths which Jesus
Christ chose to teach.
"The tempers in which he executed his ministry were
the noblest that can be conceived. He was humble, compassionate, firm,
disinterested and generous. He displayed in all the course of his ministry such
an assortment of properties as obliged some of his auditors to burst into
exclamatory admiration, blessed are the paps which thou hast sucked!'
Others to hang upon his lips, wondering at the gracious words that proceeded
out of his mouth, and all to acknowledge, 'never man spake like this man!'
This was not a temporary tide of popularity, it was admiration founded on
reason, and all ages since have admired and exclaimed in like manner.
"Add to these the simplicity and majesty of his style, the
beauty of his images, the alternate softness and severity of his address, the
choice of his subjects, the gracefulness of his deportment, the
indefatigableness of his zeal, * * * where shall we put the period? His
perfections are inexhaustible, and our admiration is everlasting. The character
of Jesus Christ is the best book a preacher can study.
"Jesus Christ never paid any regard to the place where
he delivered his sermons; he taught in the temple, the synagogues, public walks
and private houses; he preached on mountains, and in barges and ships. His
missionaries imitated him, and convenience for the time was consecration of the
place. He was equally indifferent to the posture — he stood or sat, as his own
case and the popular edification required. The time also was accommodated to the
same end. He preached early in the morning, late in the evening, on Sabbath days
and festivals, and whenever else the people had leisure and inclination to hear.
"Jesus Christ used very little action, but that little was
just, natural, grave and expressive.
"The success that accompanied the ministry of our Immanuel
was truly astonishing. My soul overflows with joy, my eyes with tears of
pleasure while I transcribe it. * * *
"Was he to pass a road, they climbed the trees to see him,
yea, the blind sat by the wayside to hear him go by. Was he in a house, they
unroofed the building to come at him. As if they could never get near enough to
hear the soft accents of his voice, they pressed, they crowded, they trod upon
one another to surround him. When he retired into the wilderness they thought
him another Moses, and would have made him a king. It was the finest thing they
could think of. He, greater than the greatest monarch, despised worldly
grandeur, but to fulfill prophecy, sitting upon a borrowed ass' colt, rode into
Jerusalem the Son of the Highest and allowed the transported multitude to
strew the way with garments and branches, and to arouse the insensible
metropolis by acclamations, the very children shouting Hosannah! Hosannah in
the highest! Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed be he that cometh in the name
of the Lord!
"The birth, life, doctrine, example, miracles, crucifixion,
resurrection, and ascension of Christ made a large addition to the old subjects
of preaching. The old economy was a rude delineation, the new was a finished
piece. It was no new doctrine, it was an old plan brought to perfection, and set
in finished excellence to last for ever. It was the religion of love to God and
man made obvious and universal.
"The apostles exactly copied their divine Master. They
confined their attention to religion, and left the schools to dispute, and
politicians to intrigue. Their doctrines were a set of facts of two sorts. The
first were within every man's observation, and they appealed for the truth of
them to common sense and experience. The others were facts, which from their
nature could be known only by testimony.
"Their gospel was a simple tale, that any honest man might
tell. As to all the circumstantials of public preaching, time, place, gesture,
style, habits, and so on, it was their glory to hold these indifferent, and to
be governed in their choice by a supreme attention to general edification. * * *
Great was the success of these venerable men.
"The apostles being dead, every thing came to pass exactly as
they had foretold. The whole Christian system underwent a miserable change;
preaching shared the fate of other institutions, and this glory of the primitive
church was turned into a lie. The degeneracy, however, was not immediate; it was
slow and gradual, and brought on by degrees, just as a modest youth becomes a
"It must be allowed in general, that the simplicity of
Christianity was maintained, though under gradual decay, during the first three
centuries. Christians assembled on the first day of the week, for public
worship. Prayer was offered to the Deity in the name of Jesus Christ. Psalms and
hymns were sung in praise of God, the Creator, the Preserver and Redeemer of
men. The sacred writings were read. The word of God was preached, its doctrines
explained, and its duties enforced.
"The next five centuries produced many pious and excellent
preachers, both in the Latin and Greek churches. The doctrine, however,
continued to degenerate, and the pulpit, along with all other institutes,
degenerated with it. It is impossible in this sketch, to investigate
particulars. We will just take a cursory, general view.
"The Greek pulpit was adorned with some eloquent orators.
Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, preacher of Antioch, and afterwards
patriarch of Constantinople, and Gregory Nazianzen, who all flourished in the
fourth century, seem to have led the fashion of preaching in the Greek church.
Jerome and Augustine did the same in the Latin church. Had the excellences only
of these great men been imitated by their contemporaries and successors, the
imitators would have been competent orators — but very far from able ministers
of the New Testament — but their very defects were adopted as pulpit endowments.
"The Greeks called sermons homilies, that is, public
discourses, spoken to the common people. The Latins named them at first
tracts, or treatises, that is, public discourses, in which subjects were
stated, argued and thoroughly discussed; afterward they called them
sermons, or speeches; perhaps some sermons were nothing more.
Peculiarities of the early Preachers
"When a bishop, or preacher, traveled, he claimed no
authority to exercise the duties of his functions, unless he was invited by the
churches where he attended public worship. The primitive churches had no idea of
a bishop at Rome presuming to dictate to a congregation in Africa. Nothing,
however, was more common than such friendly visits and sermons, as were then in
practice. The churches thought them edifying. In case the bishop was sick or
absent, one of the deacons, or sometimes a short-hand writer, used to read a
homily, that had been preached, and, perhaps, published by some good minister,
and sometimes a homily that had been preached by the bishop of the church.
"We have great obligations to primitive notaries, for they
very early addressed themselves to take down the homilies of public preachers.
Sometimes the hearers employed them, sometimes the preachers, and sometimes
themselves. For this purpose they carried writing tablets, waxed, and styles,
that is, pointed irons, or gravers, into the assembly and stood round the
preacher, to record what he said.
"The deacons placed themselves round the pulpit, and before
sermon, one of them cried, with a load voice, Silence! Hearken! or
something similar. This was repeated often, if necessary; I suppose at proper
pauses, when the preacher stopped. Their manners were different from ours; but,
really, our manners want some of their customs. It might do some drowsy folks
good to be alarmed every five or ten minutes with, Mind what you are about.
Let us listen. Attend to the word of God.
"The fathers differed much in pulpit action; the greater part
used very moderate and sober gesture. Paul, of Samoseta, used to stamp with his
foot, and strike his thigh with his hand, and throw himself into violent
agitations; but he was blamed for it by his contemporaries. They thought his
action theatrical and improper in a church; and yet, in every church, the people
were allowed, and even exhorted, to applaud the preacher, by shouting and
clapping their hands at the close of a period, as at the theater, or in a forum.
The first preachers delivered their sermons all extempore, and they studied,
while they preached, the countenances of their auditors, to see whether the
doctrine was understood.
"Sermons, in those days, were all in the vulgar tongue. The
Greeks preached in Greek, the Latins in Latin, for the preachers meant to be
understood. They did not preach by the clock, so to speak, but short or long as
they saw occasion. Augustine used to leave off when the people's hearts seemed
properly affected with the subject. He judged of this sometimes by their
shouting, and at other times by their tears. Their sermons were usually about an
hour long; but many of them may be deliberately pronounced in half an hour, and
several in less time.
"Sermons were generally both preached and heard standing; but
sometimes both speaker and auditor sat, especially the aged and infirm. Their
methods were, on some occasions, what we call expounding from several verses, on
others, preaching from a single passage. In many things they imitated the Jews,
by adapting parts of Scripture to particular seasons, and hence, in time, came
the appointment of select portions for Easter, Whitsuntide, and other festivals.
"Most of the sermons, in these days, are divisible into three
general parts. The first is a short introduction; the second an exposition of
the text; and the last a moral exhortation arising out of the discussion.
"In this period many noble places of worship were built. The
old Jewish temple was the original, the rest were all taken from it; a cathedral
was an imitation of the temple, and a village place of worship of a synagogue."
From the foregoing account of the manner of the fathers in
very few cases did they write out their discourses, either before or after
delivery, and to the notaries or reporters, as they would be called, we are
indebted for the ponderous volumes of sermons which have come down to us, * very few of which would be
------------------------------ * The nature of wax tables and the manner of using them
by notaries or reporters will be explained in my history of the Donatists in my
Ecclesiastical Compendium. read with interest if they were translated.
Chrysostom was no doubt a truly eloquent preacher. Augustine was logical, but I
could never see a great amount of eloquence in his writings. He has always been
accounted intensely orthodox, but on church discipline he was extremely lax, and
if his language is to be literally understood he was a decided advocate for
Through the dark ages there was not much preaching of any
kind among the Greeks or Romans, but their services consisted in repeating
church liturgies, and in public processions. We have good reasons for believing
many of the reputed heretics preached the gospel in truth and sincerity; very
little, however, has come down to us except of their sufferings. The preaching
monks had one text which they always employed in their declamations against the
enemies of the Church, namely:
"Who will rise up for me against the evil doers? Who will
stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?"*
With this passage always in their mouths, the zealous
defenders of the Church would traverse the country, and stir up the
rulers and the populace, against those who dissented from the dominant party.
-------------------------------------- * Psalm xciv:16.
I will now give some brief sketches of preachers and
preaching of modern times.
Claude's Essay on Sermonizing, with Robinson's Notes on
Rev. John Claude was a French
Protestant, of the Genevan school. He died in the latter part of the seventeenth
century at the Hague, to which persecution had driven him, where he was pastor
of the Walloon church. Rev. Robert Robinson was a Baptist minister of
England. He died about sixty years since.
Claude wrote many works, and among them an Essay on the
Composition of a Sermon, which was a standard work on this subject for a
long time after his death. The essay is of a moderate size. The notes are
superabundant. Both together make two large octavo volumes. In the notes are
found specimens of sermons by court preachers, prelates, and others, in great
My limits will admit of but a few selections from this
store-house of examples in the preaching line.
From Claude's Essay
On the Choice of Texts. — "Never
choose such texts as have not a complete sense; for only impertinent and foolish
people will attempt to preach from one or two words, which signify nothing. When
too little text is taken, you must digress from the subject to find
something to say." I call it roving all around the Bible country, in search of
matter to bring home to the text, instead of finding it in it.
"When too much text is taken, either many important
considerations which belong to the passage must be left out, or a tedious
prolixity must follow. “In strange churches do not choose a text of censure, for
a stranger has no business to censure a congregation he does not inspect.
"General Rules for a Sermon. — Respect should be had
to simple people who constitute the great part of most congregations, all of
whom need plainness; and learned hearers will prefer it to obscurity, however
learned. There must not be too much genius. A sermon must not be
overcharged with doctrine.
"Figures must not be Overstrained. — This is done by
stretching metaphor into allegory, or by carrying a parallel too far. A parallel
is run too far when a great number of conformities between the figure and the
thing represented by it are heaped together. Critical observations, different
readings, different punctuations, etc., must be avoided. Make all the use you
can of critical knowledge yourself, but spare the people the account, for it
must be very disagreeable to them."
On the division of sermons, this author says, those most
admired have only two or three parts.
The treatise under consideration abounds with similar
sensible rules, which are well worthy the attention of preachers of all
countries and times.
From Robinson's Notes
"I would send," says a divine of the last century, "a
worldling to read Ecclesiastes, a devout person to the Psalms, an
afflicted person to Job, a preacher to Timothy and Titus, a
backslider to the Hebrews, a legalist to Romans and Galatians, a
libertine to James, Peter and Jude, a man who would study providence
to Esther, and those who go about great undertakings to Nehemiah.
"Never refute errors, except when your text requires you to
"Express Yourself in a Familiar Manner. — There is a
soft, domestic style, such as a wise parent uses to his family, but this is
nothing like the silly cant of’ an old nurse. Dear souls, precious souls, dearly
beloved, and a hundred more such phrases, however proper in certain connections,
have been hackneyed out of their senses in Christian pulpits. Ministers, who aim
at this excellence, should remember there is such a thing as being too familiar.
"An immoderate love of money, is an extreme opposite to
prodigality — the first saves all, the last spends all A virtuous use of money,
is a narrow path that lies between two extremes. Moralists affirm that of the
two evils avarice is the greatest. Profuseness, say they, may be reformed by
poverty, but avarice is incurable an extravagant man benefits others, while he
impoverishes himself, but a miser neither profits himself, nor any other
person," etc., etc. * * *
"In this naked manner, as a boy strings birds' eggs, did this
old divine connect the parts of a sermon."
"For rhetoric he could not open His mouth, but out there
flew a trope."
"This method of extorting a sense, is what one of our old
divines calls bombarding the Scriptures, storming a text and taking it
These quaint expressions are made by Robinson with reference
to other authors, beside Claude.
Dr. Doddridge on Preaching and other Ministerial Duties
This famous divine, among the English Dissenters, delivered a
course of lectures to his students, from a few of which, namely, those on
composing sermons, on different strains of preaching, on the style
and the delivery of sermons, I will make a few selections.
"When we are about to compose a sermon we are to consider
what subject is to be chosen, in what strain it is to be handled,
the style of the composition, what thoughts we are to introduce,
and in what order we are to show them."
Dr. Doddridge names a number of subjects on which even
orthodox preachers should not often deliver full discourses, but instead of
that, refer to them in an incidental manner, and among those topics are the
doctrines of natural religion, the evidences of Christianity, inexplicable
mysteries of the gospel, the highest points of Calvinism, supposing them to be
believed, subjects of great terror, etc. "The hungry soul," says Dr. D., "will
go away from a full discourse on these points but little refreshed. It is
feeding the people with roots, instead of fruit.
"A continued series of discourses from the same verse, or
even chapter, ought to be avoided by young preachers. This method tends to weary
"Having shown what subjects you ought, generally, to decline,
I will now point out what subjects are to be preferred, and most
frequently insisted on, namely, those which relate immediately to Christ; the
glories of his person, and the riches of his grace, the Spirit and his
operations, the love of Christ and a devotional temper, the evil of sin and the
misery of sinners in consequence of it, death, judgment and eternity, and
examples of Scripture characters, and pieces of sacred history. These are very
interesting and entertaining subjects, and will often afford you natural
occasions of saying useful things in a very inoffensive manner. Sometimes a
virtue is better represented by such an example, than by a topical discourse.
"Strain," says Doddridge, "differs from style; the
first has respect to the composition, the other to the aspect of a discourse.
"The strain should be pathetic, insinuating, spiritual,
evangelical and scriptural.
"The style of sermons should be intelligible and clear,
strong and nervous, calm and composed, grave and solemn, orthodox, and always
plain and unaffected. The boyish affectation of crowding every thing with
ornament is despicable. A discourse of this kind is like a mean dress bespangled
"On the Delivery of Sermons. — This is evidently of
great importance, and almost everybody pretends to be a judge of it. A good
delivery is much in a man’s favor, and the contrary, is much to his
disadvantage. In some instances, hearers judge of a man's character by the
manner of his speaking as much as, or more than they do by his matter.
It should be distinct, affectionate, various, natural, and free,
that is, above the servile use of notes. And to be able to preach without
notes raises a man's character.
"Accustom yourselves to look about much on your auditory."
Doddridge, I conclude, was standard authority in his day on
the manner of conducting the pulpit service, in his own country.
American preachers have all sorts of customs in the business
of preaching, but of later years the theological schools do much to direct their
pupils in the modus operandi of the pulpit, which is about as various as
the institutions referred to. * f34
But in this whole concern without much impropriety we may say
"What’s best administered is best."
I did intend to make a few selections from Dr. Miller’s work
on clerical manners, as it is well worth the serious attention of young
ministers. But all I can now say is, to recommend to them the book itself.
------------------------------------- * Porter's Homiletics, I am informed, is the principal work on
this subject at Amherst, and also at Newton. It is a very able work, of more
than four hundred pages; much too large, I should think, for a text book, in