Page images
PDF
EPUB

peace!

[ocr errors]

text, raised his voice, exclaiming, “ Mark! Mark! Mark !” The unfortunate church dreamer, taken suddenly in the depths of a profound nap, started bolt up. right, in the midst of the congregation, at the call, when the preacher continued, Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is

Now a forcible illustration, a vivid, or pathetic, or exciting apologue, or incident, or fact, answers all the purpose of such eccentricities, in waking the mind from its slumbers. The hearer feels as if he were addressed by name, when the preacher sends the truth, thus clothed, thus armed, home upon him. Dr. Abercrombie speaks of the importance of illustrations and analogies, for assisting and training the memory of children. The same discipline is equally necessary for the hearers of sermons. Although they may have forgotten the text, the subject, and almost the whole design of the preacher; they will not unfrequently carry away the illustrations, and every thing in the train of thought lying immediately in their neighborhood. And, indeed, a single illustration will sometimes flash the meaning of a whole sermon upon minds that otherwise would have departed scarcely knowing the application of a sentence.

Unfortunately, some men are so habitually destitute of any thing approximating to the nature of illustration, so neglectful of it, so monotonous in the abstract mould of their discourses, that the unexpected introduction of a story or even a pointed comparison or incident, would rouse the congregation, almost as thoroughly, as if the preacher were to carry a loaded pistol into the pulpit, and fire it off at the third head of his discourse. How is it possible for an audience to be interested or stirred, even by the most important truth, if presented so monotonously, and in mere generalities?

The hearers of the gospel, are like poor men coming to be clothed from a public charity. If you give them cloth in the piece, they will dispose of it as they can, and keep their own rags. But if you have it made up, and give them plain, well-fitting garments, they will be likely to put them on and wear them. The truths of the gospel should, as much as possible, come saying, thou art the man.

It is not necessary for this purpose to add, thou David, or thou Mark, unless it be by private expostulation, where this is needed. An authentic incident, a forcible illustration, a striking analogy, a recorded case, will often so point the moral, that the consciences of all may apply it, without being afraid iest others should see them putting on the coat.

Illustrations from Divine Providence, especially in Christian biography, but also in history, in particular interpositions, and in marked steps in all men's lives, are a great help in fastening Divine truth. If a preacher merely say, I will tell you what such or such a person said to me, even that may fasten a sermon. It is like driving a nail into the mind, and hanging up the lesson upon

it. “ The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies.” Cecil records the effect of a few such words driven unexpectedly into his own mind, by a plain man from the country, who said to him one day, as he was coming out of the church, that men might cheer themselves in the morning, and they might pass on tolerably well, perhaps, without God at noon; but the cool of the day was coming, when God would come down to talk with them. Cecil says that he had himself been some time in a dry, fruitless frame, but per. suading himself that all was going on well, when it pleased God to shoot an arrow, by the hand of this simple but weak minister, into his heart. It was a message from God; he felt as though God had descended into the church, and was about to call him to his account.

Now this was a goad, a nail, unconsciously driven by one of his hearers, into the conscience of the master of the assembly himself. The hearer gave the preacher an illustration that fastened his own sermon. And how much good Cecil himself may have afterwards accomplished, simply by repeating that same message, none can tell. Sometimes, when we come upon such landing-places

[blocks in formation]

in the midst of a sermon, it is like anchoring at a verdant island, after a somewhat tiresome sail. You remember the lake itself more by the island in the midst of it, and by what happened there, than by the smooth expanse of water. We once heard the preaching of Rev. Christopher Anderson of Edinburgh, author of of the Annals of the English Bible, and other works. Although the whole sermon was deeply interesting, we cannot now recall but one thing in it, and that was a striking saying of the eminent and excellent Andrew Fuller, which Mr. Anderson gave, as spoken by Mr. Fuller to himself. Ah, dear brother, said that man of God, there was never but one being in this world, who could say, when he died, It is finished! We have to leave all our works unfinished. But we must work on, and do what we can, while the day lasts, and then we shall know all.

Every one must have observed the effect of the introduction of such lights and illustrations, upon an audience. The whole assembly may have appeared up to that point uninterested, listless, even oppressed with stupor. But the moment the preacher says, I will illustrate this point, by a relation of what took place in the life of such or such a person, an entire change comes on the whole congre. gation. Every countenance is lighted up with expectation, every mind is on the alert

, every ear is open and attentive. Even if the preacher simply says, We will

suppose a case, for the purpose of illustration, we will suppose a man placed in such or such a position, involved in such or such an emergency, or having committed such or such a crime. Even then, the attention of the hearers is at once aroused. The presentation of actual facts, or cases of interest in point, is so attractive, that if real incidents are not at hand, it were better to suppose thern, than leave the subject without such illustration, in instances where it admits of it. Accordingly, in the Scriptures, and in the discourses of our blessed Lord

, it is evident that suppositions are made, and fables are related, to illustrate and enforce truth, to give it life and action.

This constituted a powerful charm in our Savior's preaching, even for those who cared nothing for the spiritual lessons he was enforcing. The beauty and exceeding aptness of his cases and illustrations, may have caught many a care. less sout, when the bare, dry truth, would have failed to touch the heart. The truth that a man is miserable, who layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God, might have been stated in ever so forcible language, without reaching the conscience of the hearers. But when our Lord proceeded to say, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully; with the solemn close of the apologue, Thou fool! this night thy soul shall be required of thee! what conscience could remain unmoved ? Ic may have been under some such application, that Joseph of Arimathea nimself was arrested and brought to repentance.

The hearers of our blessed Lord were so deeply interested and absorbed in such narratives, that sometimes they seem to have forgotten that they were merely illustrative relations; and interrupted him, carried away by their feelings, or desiring the thread of the narrative to unwind differently; as in the case when they broke in upon one of his parables with the declaration, Lord, he hath ten pounds already!' One can see the company, their interest, their eagerness, the truth taking hold upon them; we can hear their exclamations, as if a drama of real life were enacting before them. And it was life, taken out of the form of abstract truth, and dramatized for their life, their instruction.

Much depends, we might almost say every thing depends, upon the manner, the feeling, the purpose, with which the parable, or illustration, or incident, is introduced and told. If it grows out of the subject and heart together, it makes a powerful impression. To use a familiar phrase, it tells. If well told it tells, and it is well told when it comes warm from the heart; and in that way, al. though gained from abroad, becomes like the mind's own creation, like an origi. nal part of the argument or persuasion of a mind glowing under the excitement

7

- them.

ar the

Mark, rtic in

ften so

afraid

[blocks in formation]

of truth, and intent on fastening it upon others. Illustrations, incidents, experiences, which have deeply impressed ourselves, will make a deep impression upon others, if related in the simplicity and solemnity of the same feeling with which the Spirit and the providence of God invested them in our own consciousness. Old things become new; tame and common things become inexplicably and unexpectedly charged with life and interest; truisms become mighty discoveries, issuing from the mint of personal and deep feeling. And the feeling, in such a case, is the best guide of the manner and the judgment.

One of the most remarkable preachers ever heard in England, was old Hugh Latimer, the venerable martyr of the early Reformation. No man, with such a fund of native humor and satire, ever went so deep and so familiarly into men's consciences. He owed not a little of his power to the use he made of anecdote and incident. He was like a master, converting the Scriptures themselves into a pictorial story book for his children, and studying it with them. Sometimes his preaching consisted very much in personal recollections and experiences, with accounts of the dealings of God with individual consciences; so that some of the most interesting notices of the English Reformation, are now to be derived from his sermons. He knew how to seize hold of occurrences that were exciting interest among the people, and to turn them to their profit in the gospel.

John Bradford, Latimer's interesting convert, a child of God by some years after him, but a martyr by some months before him, was another remarkable preacher, of great power in dealing with the conscience and the heart. He was full of penitence and prayer; and as it was Latimer's searching and personal appeals to the conscience, that were blest of God for his conversion, the mantle of his spiritual father seemed to have descended on the son; and in a still loftier style, but with much of Latimer's power of illustration, especially from the Scriptures, he poured the truth burning upon men's minds. One of his contemporaries tells us, that “he used to make unto himself a journal, in which he used to write all such notable things as either he did see or hear each day that passed; but whatever he did hear or see, he did so pen it, that a man might see in that book the signs of his smitten heart; for if he did see or hear any good in any man, by that sight he found and noted the want thereof in himself, ano added a short prayer, craving mercy and grace to amend. If he did hear or see any plague or misery, he noted it as a thing procured by his own sins, and still added, Lord have mercy upon me.” Now, in this habit of close dealing with himself, and noting and applying the ways of God's providence and man's guilt, we see the secret of his power over others, and of his happy faculty in apt and quick Christian reproof, which, says one who knew him, he used with such Divine grace and Christian majesty, that ever he stopped the mouths of gainsayers; speaking with such power, and yet so sweetly, that they might see their evil to be evil, and his good to be good.

In modern times, one of the most eminent examples of power in the use of incident, in illustrating and enforcing Divine truth, is that of Whitefield. He drew thousands upon thousands to hear him, who probably never would have come to listen, or never stayed a sermon through, but for his wonderful fertility and quickness in the dramatic applications of his subject. He was master of such pathos and naturalness, in describing events illustrative of the grace of God, the solemnity of Divine Providence, the power of conscience, and the nearness of eternal realities, that his facts seemed to come flaming from the fire of his feelings, by which he burnt them in upon the soul, and the truths of his subject along with them. An old fact put on a startling aspect in his hands; he galvanized every incident, and then threw it, in an electric stream, upon the conscience.

He had a most inimitable ease and happiness in the introduction of occur. rences into his sermon, that had fallen under his own observation, or had been related to him by others. He brought out the meaning of them, and traced

USIPSS

ene

thell

es: 9 nok

מן

con

vean rkable

[ocr errors]

28, their application, with such natural art, and spontaneous deep feeling, that they pressikonsumed a new revelation of truth, even to the original narrator of them. A with clergyman of this country states, that he once told an affecting occurrence to Mr.

Whitefield, relating it, however, with but the ordinary feeling and brevity of a vir and passing conversation; when afterwards, on hearing Mr. Whitefield preach, up

came his own story, narrated by the preacher in the pulpit, with such nature, such a pathos, and power, that the clergyman himself, who had furnished Whitefield

with the dry bones of the illustration, found himself weeping like a child. The i Hugh

imes of the soul possess an intensity and penetrating depth of feeling to subdue ih such the soul; and Whitefield, amidst all the thunder of a voice that could be heard

w an incredible distance, spake with the tones of the soul ; and his gestures hade of were impelled by the same spontaneous, magic influence, that made them, as

well as his words, seem part of the soul. According to the common saying, them.

au common that we forget the depth of meaning it covers up, he threw his soul ad er

into them.

And yet it is said that. Whitefield, when a boy, had been taught to ridicule this way of preaching in others. There was an excellent, familiar, plain minister named Cole, whose manner would seem to have been in some way so original as to excite notice, but whose method of story-telling drew young

Whitefield's tempt

. One of the congregation, asked the lad one day, what business he intended to pursue? He said he meant to be a minister; but he would take care necer to tell stories in the pulpit, like old Cole. About twelve years afterwards, ehen Whitefield had begun his career of flame, this old gentleman heard him preach, illustrating, in his own powerful way, the application of his subject by some interesting narrative. “I find,” said he, “that young Whitefield can now

tell stories, as well as old Cole.” Some of young Whitefield's stories may have the

been, indeed, the very same as old Cole's; but they had a new power, because they

came from the young man's soul, and not from the mere lumber-room of the

memory. This alchemy of fervent love to Christ and to souls, this power of intense religious feeling, turns all things into gold, creates out of all knowledges, arts, stories in the memory, all scenes of observation, all experiences, inward and external, the means and materials of a vivid eloquence. But there must be discipline of mind, to save even religious feeling from being wasted, and the stores of the memory wantoned away. There may be an idle habit of profuse storytelling, that, as we have hinted, is almost worse than no illustration at all. It is a poor resort to drag in stories merely to help out a sermon, or to conceal the want of thought. It is like our city milkmen stopping at the last pump, and filling their cans with water, when the milk threatens to give out. There must be thought ; and true religious feeling, in a well disciplined mind, produces thought, more than all things else together; and then illustrations will be used, not for mere amusement

, but to convey thought, and make it suggestive and productive. Habits of close attention, Cowper says:

Habits of close attention, thinking heads,
Become more rare, as dissipation spreads,
Till authors hear at length one general cry,

Tickle and entertain us, or we die.
The desire to be tickled is not confined to the dissipated readers of a trifling
Literature

. Sometimes, the preacher becomes to the congregation “as a very barely of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well upon an instrument;" and they go to church mainly to hear the music, and be amused. Insead of going to muse upon the things of God, they go to be a-mused, and drawn away from them. In this case, if the fault be in the preacher, there is, as John Randolph once said, both a lyre and a liar in the pulpit ; and the preacher is a tiar, because he is merely a lyre, to play them a pleasant tune. A man must have the magnificent anatomy of the doctrines of the gospel, to be

[ocr errors]

or

[ocr errors]

song

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

clothed upon

with his illustrations and feelings, or else he might as well be con. structing a balloon. When those great doctrines occupy and absorb the soul, being doctrines of life, and not speculation merely, illustration and intense feeling will grow out of them, and grow upon them, and that is the perfection of eloquence. The trite old rhetorical maxim, Ars est celare artem, is only a piece of rhetorical foolery or hypocrisy, having no place, where there is real, deep, heavenly interest in the subject, where the mind is kindled upon it. And illustration, to quote again a few lines from our sweet English Christian Poet, with the change of a word:

For illustration, choose what theme we may,
And chiefly when religion leads the way,
Should flow like waters after summer showers,

Not as if raised by mere mechanic powers. This is the secret of familiar, life-giving instruction with children. To attract them, we must, in a measure, be their playmates, and draw them on, and draw out their minds in companionship with our own, in illustrations that shall seem to delight us as much as them.

And here we come upon another great use of the excellent and important volume, to which these thoughts are introductory, that of interest andet

instruction in Sabbath schools. A fund of authentic stories and anecdotes, moral, a V providential, religious, is to Sabbath school teachers invaluable. And such

should know how to apply them. They should be at pains to gather and select them for their purpose. One or two little stories happily told, or the simplest anecdotes or incidents dwelt upon with interest, and bringing the lesson home to the heart, may make each exercise an enjoyment instead of a task, a delight instead of a mere duty. The teacher may present apples of gold in baskets of silver, and every youthful mind will take home a part of the fruit, and keep it. The truth so presented, the lesson so inculcated, will stay in the memory, will circulate in the understanding, as the air does in a room, instead of knocking at the door in vain for admittance. A child receives truth into the mind, presented in lively and interesting incident, as a quiet unruffled lake receives into its bosom the reflection of the sky and the clouds above it, or the trees and flowers upon its margin. There is nothing so susceptible of impression as a child's mind to Divine truth, when it comes in the shape of a story or a life, told in a winning, familiar, affectionate manner.

Here it is that teachers are often extremely deficient; and here is the reason why the pupils of one class will sometimes be charmed with their Sabbath exer. cises, so that the Sabbath shall be the day to which, perhaps, they look forward with more pleasure than to any other in the week; while those of another find the same lessons tiresome, and the Sabbath without delight. One teacher enlivens the exercise with anecdote, drawing from the Scriptures and from real life, a variety of beautiful proof and illustration; the other merely presents the truth in the abstract, dry form of question and answer, without life, without incident. A teacher had better, every Sabbath, tell something to awaken an interest, even if disconnected from the lesson, than leave his little class without such attraction. A volume which provides the materials of such interest, is a great and important gift, to the Sabbath school, the social circle, and the family fireside.

The use of the pictorial, whether in words or engravings, is an element of indispensable importance and incalculable power. The enemies of God, of the truth, and of the soul, employ it with dreadful art and energy for the destruction of men in sin, for awakening and depraving the passions, and then supplying them with pernicious gratifications and fiery stimulants. Let good men take the art of illustration, and use it for God, for heaven, for the salvation of the soul.

GEORGE B. CHEEVER.
New-York, January 25, 1848.

« PreviousContinue »