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Every dying groan alarmed the prince of hell, and shook the pillars of his dreary domain.” Vol. III. pp. 139, 140.
We set down “ The Church Safe” as, on the whole, the most admirable production of its author. Few sermons have made a stronger sensation on their publication. It was extensively sought and read, and contributed not a little to awaken the benevolent energies of the church, to the enterprise before her. The writer vividly remembers the evening when the village, where he resided, were summoned together to the reading of this sermon, by a young man who had brought it in from abroad. It is no small achievement to have prepared and put forth to the world one such discourse.
The sermon, entitled “ The Enemies of the Church made to promote her Interests,” is another fine specimen of argumentation from facts. Here, as in the preceding, they are marshalled in the most admirable order. There is a quick and strong movement; at once, rhetorical beauty and flow, and argumentative clenching. The sermon is a good example of a discourse, in which unpalatable truths are set forth and firmly established by the simple force of facts. The facts are so employed as to hedge up the hearer to the conclusion he hates to come to. The obnoxious point is God's sovereignty in the use and disposal, the award and punishment of his rebellious creatures,-a point kindred with that which our Saviour, in a similar way, fixed incontrovertibly upon his hearers, in the village where he had been brought up. It is an example worthy of imitation, whenever we are to propound truths in the face of strong prejudices and passions ; let the preacher keep to the ground of God's simple sayings, and the admitted facts of his Providence, and the deep unsilenced monitions of conscience, and if he does not produce conviction and belief of the truth, he will do something toward checking cavils and silencing objections.
Mr. Clark bears some resemblance to President Edwards in his manner of reasoning and discussion. Neither of them falls into the gratuitous blunder of attempting to shore up the divine affirmation of a doctrine, by their own arguments. The doctrine is received upon the divine testimony. This perfectly establishes it. The main object of the argument or illustration is indirectly to do away objections and prejudices, and directly to commend the truth to the hearer's conscience; to make it real, vivid, convicting, arousing to the sinner's mind. It is the blindness of men which constitutes the grand barrier to the progress and the redeeming results of truth. If the preacher can but give to truth breadth and body, and impart reality to its disclosures men will see it; and the next thing with many will be, they will feel it ; finally, the Spirit helping, they will receive it.
The reductio ad absurdum is a form of argument, in which our author seems to be much at home. He wields it now and then with terrible, almost annihilating power. In connection with it, there occasionally appears a little spice of satire ; and a disposition to confound his opponent and cover him with shame, instead of satisfying and recovering him to the path of truth. In some instances, he runs, in the first place, the erroneous position to its legitimate results, and holds up the glaring absurdities of the case, and then breaks out in a strain of the most vehement reprobation of the obnoxious point. For example, on the error that Christ is a finite created being :
He indebted to another for his own existence, but we must trust in him for eternal life; he our shield, and still he has no power of his own to protect; he our guide, but another must enlighten and guide him ; he our intercessor, and still he cannot know when we pray. .... If there is a scheme, which, rather than any other, charges God foolishly, makes the plainest truth a mystery, and the whole Bible a bundle of absurdities, and proudly conducts all its votaries to death, it is that which thus quenches the light of Israel. Must I choose between it and open infidelity, I would be an infidel. By the same dash with which I blot the name of the Redeemer, I would obliterate the Father, and believe the grave the end of me. I would not waste my time and strength, and torture my conscience, to mutilate the book of God; but would believe the whole a lie, and warm myself in its blaze, and wish I were a brute. Then I would calmly expect one day to be a supper for the worms, free from dread of the worm that shall never die.” Vol. III. pp. 176, 177.
There is a similar strain in another sermon, in which the same low views of Christ as above are opposed. Our author is speaking of the incalculable injury, which even a doubt of the proper divinity of Christ would be to the believer :
“ That doubt would mar their creed ; for they must yield
other doctrines, when their Redeemer has become a creature. That atonement, which he only could make; that ruin of our nature, which he only can repair; that ever-enduring hell, from which he only can rescue us; that Sabbath, which his rising made ; that Comforter, whom he kindly sent; and that plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, which establishes his divinity, must be all plucked from their creed, and it would stand then, like a pine, lightning-smitten, scorched in its every leaf, and rived to its deepest roots, to be the haunt of the owl and the curse of the forest. When you shall blast my creed like this, you may have, for a farthing, the remnant of my poor, mutilated Bible, and I will sit down and weep life away, over this benighted world, to which is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Vol. III. p. 88.
These passages are exceedingly powerful and striking; they were written, unquestionably, under a mighty tide of emotion. Mr. Clark we think often wrote in this mood; and in the rush of feeling and strength of expression dictated thereby, now and then there would escape from him a sentiment, very nearly transcending the bounds of truth and propriety. We cannot but doubt the correctness and wisdom of declaring or implying, in any connection, that absolute infidelity is rather to be chosen, than that form of Christianity, which denies the divinity of its author.
The style of Mr. Clark is throughout very decisively characterized by strength. It is manifest that he aimed chiefly at this; that to this he was willing to sacrifice the light and winning graces of language. In his preface, he expresses the conviction, “ that writings are often spoiled by too much smoothing and polishing. Hence the present volumes are permitted to go forth with those occasional roughnesses, which, it it is hoped, may not give offence, but simply stir up thought and rouse proper feeling.” Mr. Clark's prominent faults and excellencies, both in language and spirit, are to be traced to the reaching forth of a fervid and powerful mind for great strength of thought and diction. There is uncommon compactness and condensation in our author's style. There are but few words which can be safely blotted out; nor, by recasting, can we diminish the space a thought occupies. There is a very sparing use of epithets and qualifying terms. The principal words are selected with so much precision generally, that he succeeds in conveying his idea without the aid of thronging expletives and adjuncts. When reading him, we are constrained sometimes to pause and admire the amount and pungent force of meaning, conveyed by some single word, or brief combination of words. This is one of the very highest excellencies of style,-every word fraught with meaning. It takes some a long time to get weaned from their love of the jingle of adjectives and adjuncts, though assured, from every quarter, that no other single thing does more to encumber and enfeeble the style. One of the great rhetorical sins in preaching, it seems to us, is overdoing, saying too much on the topics introduced, and especially taking up altogether too much time in saying what we do say.
Mr. Clark has not only strength, he has frequently a simple elegance and harmony. This harmony indeed is very common, when it is not disturbed by a bold and startling harshness. The following is a fair specimen of the often easy and musical flow of the sentences. “ Individuals may prosper most when they are nearest destruction. The old world and the devoted cities were never more prosperous, than when their last sun was rising. Men may be ripe for the scythe of death, their cup of iniquity full, while yet their fields wave with the abundant harvests, and the atmosphere is fragrant with the odors of the ripened fruits and flowers, and echoes with the song of the cheerful laborers.”
Another attribute for which Mr. C.'s style is remarkable is vivacity. There is nothing about it dry, abstract, dead. Every thing is living, moving. He is almost constantly giving us vivid pictures. He shows great skill in gathering and grouping the interesting circumstances of a scene or case. It is this skilful touching of some characteristic circumstance, which brings before the mind the picture of a whole scene: “How many, once as rich as you, are now poor; or as healthy as you, are now in the grave; had a home as you have, but it burned down; had children, as, it may be, you have, but the cold blast came over them and they died. And was it not kindness in God that saved you what you have ?” Another example: “ Where had we been if the hand of God had not been under us? To what world had we fled, when some friend was closing our eyes? How employed on the day of our funeral solemnities ?” Once more: “ Were Christ to come again and put himself in the power of sinners, would not many of our communicants leave the sacrament, and go away to crucify him ?”' It is very obvious that nearly all the peculiar freshness and force of these passages is owing to the striking pictures brought before us. Mr. Clark abounds in examples of what Campbell calls “ speciality” in the use of terms; that is, the seizing upon those which are particular and determinate, which, of course, present a more vivid image. Our author, we think, is more remarkably characterized by the use of this figure, if it may be called a figure, than any preacher of our acquaintance. We perceive it in every paragraph, almost in every sentence. Everywhere we are met with the specific stroke. Speaking of the rumseller: “He has the heart of a tiger, and blood is his legitimate prey.” In another somewhat rough extract from the same discourse: “If the article must be sold for the use, and ruin, and utter damnation of men, I would place at the tap the same lying serpent, that handed Eve the apple, that it might appear the very infernal commerce it is.” Again, “the lips of profaneness touch the symbols of a dying Christ.” Again, “ This institution is connected intimately with all that is interesting in the rescue of the idolater from his gods, the papist from his relics and his saints; the Jew from his Talmud ; the Mohammedan from his Koran; the African from his chains, and the assassin from his pistol and his knife.” • To speak of a property kindred with the above, we may add, that Mr. Clark's style is enlivened and strengthened with a great deal of rapid and bold metaphor. It is everywhere a leading characteristic. He speaks of “reining in the passions;" of “ cradling the corrupt passions ;” of “feeding the appetite;". “ blunting the reason ;" “ killing the keenness of conscience;" of “ hewing down men in the prime of life;" of " being harnessed for the divine service;" of " digging after comforts;" of “ fencing the truth from the sinner's dying pillow;” of “wading to the grave in tears." These are specimens; and some of them manifestly border, to say no more, upon a visitation of good taste; but the book abounds with the like, and many of them are very fine and forcible. “When I heard of this fact, [that ministers were called for, and could not be had,] it had on my ear the effect of a dying groan, and stole through the heart like the cold stream of death.” Speaking of a mild, forgiving, unresisting spirit, he says: “thus, by wrestling with the blast, we are liable to be discomfitted; when, had we lain down and been quiet, the storm would have beat upon us a little and passed over, and we should have seen the sun again in all his