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object against the particular preacher ; his manner, his delivery, his voice are disagreeable; his style and expression are flat and slow; sometimes improper and absurd; the matter is heavy, trivial, and insipid ; sometimes despicable, and perfectly ridiculous; or else, on the other side, he runs up into unintelligible speculation, empty notions, and abstracted flights, all clad in words above usual understandings.
Secondly, They object against preaching in general; it is a perfect road of talk; they know already whatever can be said ; they have heard the same a hundred times over. They quarrel that preachers do not relieve an old beaten subject with wit and invention; and that now the art is lost of moving men's passions, so common among the ancient orators of Greece and Rome. These, and the like objections, are frequently in the mouths of men who despise the foolishness of preaching. But let us examine the reasonableness of them.
The doctrine delivered by all preachers is the same: “ So we preach, and so ye believe :” But the manner of delivering is suited to the skill and abilities of each, which differ in preachers, just as in the rest of mankind. However, in personal dislikes of a particular preacher, are these men sure they are always in the right? do they consider how mixed a thing is every audience, whose taste and judgment differ, perhaps, every day, not only from each other, but themselves? and how to calculate a discourse that shall exactly suit them all, is beyond the force and reach of human reason, knowledge, or invention. Wit and eloquence are shining qualities, that God hath imparted, in great degrees, to very few; nor any more to be expected, in the generality of any rank among men, than riches
and honour. But farther : if preaching in general be all old and beaten, and that they are already so well acquainted with it, more shame and guilt to them who so little edify by it. But, these men, whose ears are so delicate as not to endure a plain discourse of religion, who expect a constant supply of wit and eloquence on a subject handled so many thousand times; what will they say when we turn the objection upon themselves, who with all the rude and profane liberty of discourse they take, upon so many thousand subjects, are so dull as to furnish nothing but tedious repetitions, and little paltry, nauseous commonplaces, so vulgar, so worn, or so obvious, as, upon any other occasion, but that of advancing vice, would be hooted off the stage? Nor, lastly, are preachers justly blamed for neglecting human oratory to move the passions, which is not the business of a Christian orator, whose office it is only to work upon faith and
All other eloquence hath been a perfect cheat, to stir up men's passions against truth and justice, for the service of a faction ; to put false colours upon things, and by an amusement of agreeable words, make the worst reason appear to be the better. This is certainly not to be allowed in Christian eloquence, and, therefore, St. Paul took quite the other course; he “ came not with the excellency of words, “ or enticing speech of men's wisdom, but in plain “ evidence of the spirit and power.” And perhaps it was for that reason, the young man Eutychus, used to the Grecian eloquence, grew tired, and fell so fast asleep.
I go on, Thirdly, to set forth the great evil of this neglect and scorn of preaching, and to discover the real causes whence it proceedeth. VOL. X.
I think it is obvious, that this neglect of preaching hath very much occasioned the great decay of religion among us. To this may be imputed no small part
of that contempt some men bestow on the clergy ; for, whoever talketh without being regarded, is sure to be despised. To this we owe, in a great measure, the spreading of atheism and infidelity among us; for, religion, like all other things, is soonest put out of countenance by being ridiculed. The scorn of preaching might perhaps have been at first introduced by men of nice ears and refined taste ; but it is now become a spreading evil, through all degrees, and both sexes; for, since sleeping, talking, and laughing, are qualities sufficient to furnish out a critick, the meanest and most ignorant have set up a title, and succeeded in it as well as their betters. Thus are the last efforts of reforming mankind rendered wholely useless : “ How shall they hear,” saith the apostle, “without a preacher ?” But, if they have a preacher, and make it a point of wit or breeding, not to hear him, what remedy is left ? To this
neglect of preaching, we may also entirely impute that gross ignorance among us in the very principles of religion, which it is amazing to find in persons who very much value their own knowledge and understanding in other things ? yet it is a visible, inexcusable ignorance, even in the meanest among us, considering the many advantages they have of learning their duty. And it hath been the great encouragement to all manner of vice : For, in vain we preach down sin to a people, “whose hearts are “ waxed gross, whose ears are dull of hearing, and “ whose eyes are closed.” Therefore Christ himself, in his discourses, frequently rousech up the attention of the multitude, and of his disciples themselves, with this expression, " He that hath ears
to hear let him hear.” But, among all neglects of preaching, none is so fatal as that of sleeping in the house of God; à scórner may listen to truth and reason, and in time grow serious ; an unbeliever may feel the pangs of a guilty conscience; one whose thoughts or eyes wander among other objects, may, by a lucky word, be called back to attention: But the sleeper shuts up all avenues to his soul : He is “ like the deaf adder, that hearkeneth not to the « voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.”. And we may preach with as good success to the grave that is under his feet.
But the great evil of this neglect will farther yet appear, from considering the real causes whence it proceedeth ; whereof, the first, I take to be an evil conscience. Many men come to church to save or gain a reputation, or because they will not be singular, but comply with an established custom; yet, all the while, they are loaded with the guilt of old rooted sins. These men can expect to hear of nothing but terrours and threatenings, their sins laid open in true colours, and eternal misery the reward of them; therefore, no wonder they stop their ears, and divert their thoughts, and seek any amusement rather than stir the Hell within them. - Another cause of this neglect is, a heart set upon worldly things. Men whose minds are much enslaved to earthly affairs all the week, cannot disengage or break the chain of their thoughts so suddenly, as to apply to a discourse that is wholly foreign to what they have most at heart. Tell a usurer of charity, and mercy, and restitution, you talk to the deaf :
his heart and soul, with all his senses, are got among his bags, or he is gravely asleep, and dreaming of a mortgage. Tell a man of business, that the cares of the world choke the good seed; that we must not encumber ourselves with much serving; that the salvation of his soul is the one thing necessary : You see, indeed, the shape of a man before you, but his faculties are all gone off among clients and papers, thinking how to defend a bad cause, or find Aaws in a good one ; or he weareth out the time in drowsy nods.
A third cause of the great neglect and scorn of preaching, ariseth from the practice of men who set up to decry and disparage religion; these, being zealous to promote infidelity and vice, learn a rote of buffoonry, that serveth all occasions, and refutes the strongest arguments for piety and good manners. These have a set of ridicule calculated for all sermons, and all preachers, and can be extremely witty as often as they please upon the same fund.
Let me now, in the last place, offer some remedies against this great evil.
It will be one remedy against the contempt of preaching, rightly to consider the end for which ic was designed. There are many who place abundance of merit in going to church, although it be with no other prospect but that of being well enn tertained, wherein if they happen to fail, they retura wholly disappointed. Hence it is become an impertinent vein among people of all sorts to hunt after what they call a good sermon, as if it were a matter of pastime and diversion. Our business, alas! is quite another thing, either to learn, or, at least, be