« VorigeDoorgaan »
English divines are deficient. Were they to speak to a few calm dispassionate hearers, they certainly use the properest methods of address; but their audience is chiefly composed of the poor, who must be influenced by motives of reward and punishment, and whose only virtues lie in self-interest or fear.
How then are such to be addressed? not by studied periods or cold disquisitions; not by the labours of the head, but the honest spontaneous dictates of the heart. Neither writing a sermon with regular periods and all the harmony of elegant expression; neither reading it with emphasis, propriety, and deliberation; neither pleasing with metaphor, simile, or rhetorical fustian; neither arguing coolly, and untying consequences united in a priori, nor bundling up inductions a posteriori; neither pedantic jargon, nor academical trifling, can persuade the poor; writing a discourse coolly in the closet, then getting it by memory, and delivering it on Sundays, even that will not do. What then is to be done? I know of no expedient to speak; to speak at once intelligibly, and feelingly, except to understand the language. To be convinced of the truth of the object, to be perfectly acquainted with the subject in view, to prepossess yourself with a low opinion of your audience, and to do the rest extempore: by this means strong expressions, new thoughts, rising passions, and the true declamatory style, will naturally ensue.
Fine declamation does not consist in flowery periods, delicate allusions, or musical cadences; but in a plain, open, loose style, where the periods are long and obvious; where the same thought is often exhibited in several points of view; all this strong sense, a good memory, and a small share of experience, will furnish to every orator; and without these a clergyman may be called a fine preacher, a judicious preacher, and a man of good sense; he may make his hearers admire his understanding, but will seldom enlighten theirs.
When I think of the methodist preachers among us, how seldom they are endued with common sense, and yet how often and how justly they affect their hearers, I cannot avoid saying within myself, had these been bred gentlemen, and been endued with even the meanest share of understanding, what might they not effect! Did our bishops, who can add dignity to their expostulations, testify the same fervour, and intreat their hearers, as well as argue, what might not be the consequence! The vulgar, by which I mean the bulk of mankind, would then have a double motive to love religion, first from seeing its professors honoured here, and next from the consequences hereafter. At present the enthusiasms of the poor are opposed to law; did law conspire with their enthusiasms, we should not only be the happiest nation upon earth, but the wisest also.
Enthusiasm in religion, which prevails only among the vulgar, should be the chief object of politics. A society of enthusiasts, governed by reason among the great, is the most indissoluble, the most virtuous, and the most efficient of its own decrees that can be imagined. Every country, possessed of any degree of strength, have had their enthusiasms, which ever serve as laws among the people. The Greeks had their kalokagathia, the Romans their amor patriæ, and we the truer and firmer bond of the protestant religion. The principle is the same in all; how much then is it the duty of those, whom the law has appointed teachers of this religion, to enforce its obligations, and to raise those enthusiasms among people, by which alone political society can subsist.
From eloquence therefore the morals of our people are to expect emendation; but how little can they be improved by men, who get into the pulpit rather to show their parts than convince us of the truth of what they deliver, who are painfully correct in their style,
musical in their tones, where every sentiment, every expression, seems the result of meditation and deep study?
Tillotson has been commended as the model of pulpit eloquence; thus far he should be imitated, where he generally strives to convince rather than to please; but to adopt his long, dry, and sometimes tedious discussions, which serve to amuse only divines, and are utterly neglected by the generality of mankind, to praise the intricacy of his periods, which are too long to be spoken, to continue his cool phlegmatic manner of enforcing every truth, is certainly erroneous. As I said before, the good preacher should adopt no model, write no sermons, study no periods; let him but understand his subject, the language he speaks, and be convinced of the truths he delivers. It is amazing to what heights eloquence of this kind may reach! This is that eloquence the ancients represented as lightning, bearing down every opposer; this the power which has turned whole assemblies into astonishment, admiration, and awe, that is described by the torrent, the flame, and every other instance of irresistible impetuosity.
But to attempt such noble heights belongs only to the truly great, or the truly good. To discard the lazy manner of reading sermons, or speaking sermons by rote; to set up singly against the opposition of men, who are attached to their own errors, and to endeavour to be great instead of being prudent, are qualities we seldom see united. A minister of the church of England, who may be possessed of good sense and some hopes of preferment, will seldom give up such substantial advantages for the empty pleasure of improving society. By his present method he is liked by his friends, admired by his dependents, not displeasing to his bishop; he lives as well, eats and sleeps as well, as if a real orator, and an eager asserter of his mission; he will hardly therefore venture all this to be called
perhaps an enthusiast; nor will he depart from customs established by the brotherhood, when by such a conduct he only singles himself out for their contempt.
CUSTOM AND LAWS COMPARED.
WHAT, say some, can give us a more contemptible idea of a large state than to find it mostly governed by custom; to have few written laws, and no boundaries to mark the jurisdiction between the senate and people? Among the number who speak in this manner is the great Montesquieu, who asserts that every nation is free in proportion to the number of its written laws, and seems to hint at a despotic and arbitrary conduct in the present king of Prussia, who has abridged the laws of his country into a very short compass.
As Tacitus and Montesquieu happen to differ in sentiment upon a subject of so much importance, (for the Roman expressly asserts that the state is generally vicious in proportion to the number of its laws); it will not be amiss to examine it a little more minutely, and see whether a state, which like England is burthened with a multiplicity of written laws, or which like Switzerland, Geneva, and some other republics, is governed by custom and the determination of the judge, is best.
And to prove the superiority of custom to written law we shall at least find history conspiring. Custom or the traditional observance of the practice of their
forefathers, was what directed the Romans as well in their public as private determinations. Custom was appealed to in pronouncing sentence against a criminal, where part of the formulary was more majorum. So Sallust speaking of the expulsion of Tarquin, says, mutato more, and not lege mutata; and Virgil, pacisque imponere morem. So that in those times of the empire, in which the people retained their liberty, they were governed by custom; when they sunk into oppression and tyranny, they were restrained by new laws, and the laws of tradition abolished.
As getting the ancients on our side is half a victory, it will not be amiss to fortify the argument with an observation of Chrysostom's; "That the enslaved are "the fittest to be governed by laws, and free men by "custom." Custom partakes of the nature of parental injunction; it is kept by the people themselves, and observed with a willing obedience. The observance of it must therefore be a mark of freedom, and coming originally to a state from the reverenced founders of its liberty, will be an encouragement and assistance to it in the defence of that blessing; but a conquered people, a nation of slaves, must pretend to none of this freedom, or these happy distinctions, having by degeneracy lost all right to their brave forefathers' free institutions, their masters will in a policy take the forfeiture; and the fixing a conquest must be done by giving laws, which may every moment serve to remind the people enslaved of their conquerors, nothing being more dangerous than to trust a late-subdued people with old customs, that presently upbraid their degeneracy, and provoke them to revolt.
The wisdom of the Roman republic in their veneration for custom, and backwardness to introduce a new law, was perhaps the cause of their long continuance, and of the virtues of which they have set the world so many examples. But to show in what that wisdom