« PreviousContinue »
biblical literature and Christian history, as well as of a fervent and highly cultivated piety. The inspired historian has well recognized the distinction I have made when, in describing that early Christian orator, Apollos, he not only says he was “eloquent,” but adds also "mighty in the Scriptures," and “fervent in spirit;"-eloquence, in his view, being something more than mere learning and piety.
Theology, so justly called “the art of arts and science of sciences," must emphatically be so to the Christian orator. Unless he be thoroughly indoctrinated in the Christian system, unless he fully understand the foundations on which it rests and the evidence by which it is established ; unless he knows what are the great truths which it embraces, whether they appear in the form of doctrines, duties or motives, the principles on which they are based, their relations and connexions,—with what face can he stand up as the messenger of Christ to man, to explain, vindicate, and enforce the truths of God ? How can he discharge his only peculiar function-wield “the sword of the spirit which is ihe word of God," when that very instrument itself is out of his grasp ? With what confidence or authority, moreover, can he deliver his message unless he be well versed in the study of the Scriptures ;-unless he knows that he delivers what God has revealed-knows from his own investigations and not merely from the opinions of fallible men, the grounds of which he neither can see nor understand-knows fully as he may know with all the light of learning reflected on the pages of inspiration, directly from the near lamp of his own welllighted intellect, and not merely from the distant lamps of other minds, or, rather with all the light of other minds concentrated and directed in one full steady beam from his own? How, again, shall he be able to discover the errors and mistakes, the follies and crimes, into which imperfect men are liable to fall, even under the light of the gospel, and the means of avoidance or rescue? How shall he show clearly, convincingly, and movingly, 10 others, their dangers, and exhibit to them their encouragements? How shall he be able to illustrate and explain, by the light of experience, unless he can hold up before them, and before his own eyes also, the torch of Christian history?
Still more is a heart of tender sensibilities, a soul ihat can be swelled with the noblest, purest passions, a soul that is
filled with the love of Christ and of men, consuming every other emotion, and glowing with an ardor that cannot be repressed, indispensable to the Christian preacher. Without this, his learning, his gifts, his accomplishments are vain ; his eloquence is cold and lifeless, and his hearers will freeze and die under the very brilliancy of its icy splendor.
But essential as are these gifts and qualifications to the Christian orator, they are now to be regarded only as the necessary foundations on which he must stand ; —the air which must sustain his speaking breath. We are to view him only as wielding these mighty elements of mind. The question before us is, what is it to use them with energy and effect? These, the elements to be used, and the skill to use them, are widely to be distinguished. He is not necessarily a musician who has possessed himself of the choicest instrument. That may command an admiration ;-we may wonder at the beauty of the workmanship ;-we may admire the taste and sumptuousness of the purchaser—but it is not till we hear the sweet strains of its melody and the smooth concord of its harmony, brought out by the touch of practised taste, that, ravished and chained, by our very rapture, we acknowledge the musician's skill and power.
It is one thing to possess “the sword of the spirit;" it is quite another thing to be able to wield it with success. There may be mind, furnished with all the stores of knowledge and trained to the highest vigor of discipline, joined to a soul of the warmest passion, and yet the effective preacher, the eloquent Apollos, inighty in convincing, mighty in persuading, be wholly wanting.
There is an art to be superinduced upon this intellectual discipline and furniture ;-a high, noble art, I know not but I may say the highest, noblest art of which man is capable. For when does man seem more exalted, more godlike, than when, by the power of his eloquence, he sways, at will, the judgments and passions of men? Go-witness its displays and its energies. Enter the halls of judicature, and notice there the voice of truth and fervor guiding ignorance and doubt into light and knowledge, subjecting prejudice to reason, and confounding all the arts of sophistry and error, while it yields protection to innocence, extends succor and redress to the injured, and restores to right and to law its authority and respect. Go with Demosthenes into the tumultuous
assembly of an alarmed, incensed and factious populace, met to adopt measures that are to decide the destiny of the state. Follow him with your eye, as he ascends, treinbling yet decided, the bema. The eye glistens, the lips move, and, as if by the power of Him who “spake and it was done,” who turns the hearts of men as the rivers of water are turned, the tumult is hushed; the strife is appeased; the alarm is dispelled; perplexity has fled ; confidence returns, and Athens rends the air with its united, determined cry, “to arms ! to arms !” and rushes to the conflict. Witness this, and can you conceive of a scene where man can appear more exalted, more godlike? Yes—there is one, and but one. It is that in which the ambassador of God, with the truths of inspiration on his tongue, and the love of Christ burning on his lips, and speaking from his eye, breaks up the lethargy of sin, convinces the unbelieving, enlightens the ignorant, melis the insensible, subdues the perverse and obstinate, comforts and cheers the troubled and desponding, and transsuses all hearts with the power and blessedness of the love of Christ. There is a scene in which man appears superhuman, nay, super-angelic; for even Gabriel might aspire to be the mover and actor in a scene like that.
I am well aware that the art whose province it is to fit man for this high function has been decried, resisted and despised. But when I question experience, and hear her declare that the noblest fruits of eloquence are the products of rhetorical art;—that in all ages the orators who have risen to the highest eminence at the bar, in the forum or the pulpit, are the men who have subjected themselves most entirely to its forming hand : when she tells me of Demosthenes devoting years, and thousands of gold, upon a single branch, and that almost the least, that of vocal expression; of Cicero, applying himself under the direction of the most eminent masters of the art, year after year, with untiring assiduity ; of Chatham, contending, like those ancient orators, with the difficulties of an infirm bodily constitution, and consenting to the most prierile tricks of the art, as they have been sneeringly called, practising, hour after hour, before a mirror, that he might acquire a free, graceful and forcible action :—when she takes me into the church of God, and points me to a Chrysostom-him of the golden mouth, so styled, from the surpassing richness of his eloquence,--the devoted pupil of
the art; and, in modern times to a Reinhard, the untiring student of the ancient rhetoric, as well as of the ancient orators; to a Robert Hall, remarkable in early life, as much for his attention to the culture of oratory, as for his philosophical investigations, I am content to pass by, unnoticed, the sneers of ignorance and the detractions of envious sloth and weakness.
But rhetoric has received her deepest wound from her own votaries. She has been conceived of, even by professed teachers of the art, only as a stern, morose, capricious, critic, with chisel and mallet in hand, liewing off this angle, or chipping out that excrescence, but as incapable of adding a beauty as of infusing original life. The rhetorician, it is said, necessarily succeeds the orator. He can, therefore, only analyze, classify, enumerate. He
detect deformi. ties, and smoothe an outline, but with that terminates his power.
The logic is false ; and the conception low and unworthy. Rhetoric, in the true notion of its office, is developing and formative, as well as corrective. It cannot, indeed, give original life; but it can do something more than prune off an unproductive or injurious limb. Its province is to take the plant living, indeed, but undeveloped, unformed, and weak, and by the judicious and assiduous application of water, light, and air, by the timely direction of every shoot, and the removal of every needless stem and stalk, develope its infant energies, its generous juices, and its beauteous foilage, and thus make that the noble, majestic tree or vine yielding its rich and beautiful and plenteous fruits in their season, which otherwise had been choked with weeds, withered in the drought, or wasting all its life in a rank luxuriance of leaves, alike shapeless, cumbersome, and destitute of fruit.
It has here a great, a noble task to perform, worthy of the most gifted and most richly furnished intellect. Receiving the mind, thoroughly disciplined in all its intellectual faculties, and stored with the richest fruits of knowledge, with its sensibilities and capabilities of feeling, also, expanded, trained, and pliant, taking in short intelleci and soul in the highest degrees of their cultivation, it has, first, to set forth a standard of eloquence and fix it firmly in the mind, by the judicious and forcible exhibition of the finest models. It has, next, to inspire a generous enthusiasm for its attainment, which will
mock difficulties, and turn toil to pleasure, by opening the eye upon the peculiar charms and delights of the study, and by presenting the rich rewards that attend success. It has, then, to direct and superintend the severe course of training, which shall elevate the enthusiastic aspirant to the standard and aim he desires ;-a course of training which shall bring into perfect control all the attainments of learning, and make all subsidiary to the designs of eloquence; which shall also give him command over all the powers of feeling, and enable him to transfuse the life and energy of passion into the coldest, driest, most lifeless forms of thought; which shall make easy a ready arrangement, rendering every process of reasoning clear and convincing; every description and narrative simple, consecutive, and symmetrical; and every passionate appeal timely, unerring and effective : which shall, moreover, put at service all the powers of expression, so that thought can be made to appear, not in cold and inanimate forms of language, but in its own living body, in distinct and graceful outlines, plump, fresh, and vigorous : and which shall
, still more, superadd a graceful, appropriate and energetic action, that will seem but the outward covering, the skin, if you please, of the verbal body of the thought, partaking its life and picturing, in its changing hues, the stirrings of the soul within.
I need not say that here is no slight task to be performed, both by him who superintends and by him who undergoes this process of training. I need not say that it is by no means strange, so few have been willing to take the requisite pains, and submit to the necessary toil—that so few, therefore, have attained the enviable power of swaying, by the force of truth enlivened by feeling, the minds and hearts of men.
Indeed, it is a most rare occurrence that we find any one ready to admit, that eloquence is an attainment at all; that it is any thing else than a gift conferred. Into such neglect has the art fallen in modern times, that the maxim once so current, orator fit, is now received with almost universal skepticism. Men witness the prodigies of oratory,--they are themselves the victims of its power, and suppose it wholly a boon of heaven. They have no idea of the midnight study and the toil by day; the severe discipline, the long and patient training which the fruits of eloquence have cost in their production : and were they told of a Chatham coming into par