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For Thy sake, beloved Lord,
I will labour in Thy Word;
On the knees, in patient prayer;
At the desk, with studious care;
In the pulpit, seeking still
There to utter all Thy will.
I pursue the subject of attractive preaching, taking still the word attractive in its worthiest sense, and again laying stress on the necessity of attractiveness of the right sort. We have looked a little already at some of the external requisites to this end; now let us approach some which have to do with matter more than manner.
On the way, I pause to say a word in general on one of the reasons why we should do our best to speak so that our hearers shall care to hear. The supreme reason is manifest; it is the glory of our Master and the good of souls. For His sake, and for the flock's sake, we long and must strive to speak so as to draw their attention to His message and to Himself. But subordinate to this great motive, and in fullest harmony with it, there is another; and252 this is a motive which, once clearly apprehended, will affect not our preaching only, but all parts of our ministry—our conduct of public worship, our pastoral visitation, our whole intercourse with our neighbours. I mean, the simple motive of a loyal and faithful considerateness for others, as we are on the one hand Christian men and English gentlemen, and on the other hand servants, not masters, of the Church and parish. Possibly this aspect of the Pastor's public and official ministry may not have presented itself distinctively as yet to my younger Brother; but it cannot be recognized and acted upon too early. Some things in our clerical position and functions tend in their own nature to make us forget it, if we are not definitely awake to it beforehand. In some respects the Clergyman, even the youngest Curate, has dangerous opportunities for inconsiderate public action. Take the management of divine Service in illustration. In his manner of reading, his tone, his pace, the Clergyman may allow himself, only too easily, to think of himself alone. In the reading-desk, or at the Table of the Lord, he may consult only his own253 likes and dislikes in attitude, gesture, and air. But if so, he is greatly failing in the homely duty of loyal considerateness. What will be most for the happiness and edification of the congregation? What will least disturb and most assist true devotion? How shall the Minister best secure that the worshippers shall remember the Master and not be uncomfortably conscious of the servant? The answers to such questions will of course vary considerably under varying conditions; but it is the principle of the questions which I press home. Our office, and the common consent and usage of the Christian people, give us a position of independence in such matters which has its advantages, but also its very great risks; and it is for us accordingly to handle that independence with the utmost possible considerateness.
This thought was much upon my own mind lately during the interesting experiences of a Continental summer chaplaincy, to which I referred in the last chapter. As usual in a health resort abroad, the English residents represented many different shades of Church opinion and practice. By the convictions of254 many long years, I am an Evangelical Churchman, in the well-understood sense of the term; and of those convictions I am not at all ashamed. My manner of conducting public worship, especially in the Communion Office, would probably make it plain at once to most worshippers where I stand as a Churchman. But that does not mean, I trust, that I am to allow myself to be inconsiderate of the feelings of others in the matter; and on the occasions referred to it was my earnest and anxious aim to remember this with regard to worshippers, and particularly communicants, whose beliefs, or however whose sympathies, were what is called "higher" than my own. On their account I sought to make it plain that no rubrical direction was neglectfully treated by me, and that reverence of manner and action was a sacred thing in my eyes—a reverence not elaborated, but attentive. I hope I should have been reverently careful whatever the composition of the congregation was; but under the circumstances the duty of this obvious sort of ministerial considerateness was laid on my heart with special weight. That duty bears255 in many directions. It is, I venture to say, inconsiderate, on the one hand, when the Clergyman conducts the services of the Church with a disturbing artificiality of performance. It is inconsiderate, on the other hand, when he conducts them with any, even the least, real slovenliness and inattention.
TEMPTATIONS TO FORGET IT.
But if all this is true of the desk and of the blessed Table, it is true also, and in a high degree, of the pulpit. Singularly independent, up to a certain point, is the position of the preacher. He chooses his own text; he assigns himself (at least in theory) his own length of discourse; he is entitled, under the ægis of the law of the land, to speak on to the end without interruption; he is bound, within the limits of a sanctified common-sense, to speak with the authority of his commission. Here are powerful temptations to an inconsiderate man, perhaps especially to an inconsiderate young man, to show much inconsideration. And therefore, here is a pre-eminent occasion for the true Pastor, who thinks, prays, loves, and is humble, to practise the beautiful opposite. Shall you and I seek grace to do so?256
RESPECT ELDER HEARERS.
Put yourself often, my dear Brother, while I do the same, into the position—which we once occupied always, and often do still—of the hearer. You, the Curate, or the young Incumbent, have recently come into the parish, and you are full of a young man's energy and enterprize, and a little infected perhaps with a common and natural belief of your time of life, but a belief not quite true to facts, that the world is made for young men. And among your hearers, week by week, as you preach from that pulpit, sit men and women who were working, and thinking, and perhaps believing, literally long before you were born. Put yourself in their place. Into many of their experiences, and their sympathies born of experience, you cannot possibly enter personally. You cannot feel personally how this or that innovation of language or manner, this or that too crude statement of your message, this or that baldly new and perhaps by no means true theory, aired as if it were all obvious and of course, must look and sound to them. You cannot feel it all; but you can think about it. Perhaps these are educated257 and refined people, and accustomed all their lives to value clear thought and pure diction, in any case accustomed to carefulness in the matter and manner of the sermon. You cannot enter into all their mental habits in your own mental workings; but you can take account of them, and in a loyal and thoughtful considerateness you can remember them in practice, and honestly aim so to prepare and to preach as to conciliate the thoughtful and the elders.
Such considerateness will not mean the stifling of prayerful conviction, or the failure to be faithful as the messenger of the Lord. But it will mean a severity upon yourself as regards the tone and spirit of your thoughts, and also as the manner of your utterance. You will take pains, even at a heavy cost to self (and such costs are always gains in the end), so to minister as to attract the attention of the flock, not to yourself, but to your blessed Master and His Word; preaching "not yourself, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and yourself their servant for Jesus' sake." [2 Cor. iv. 5.]
With this aim of Attractiveness, then, in our minds, and with this motive of Considerateness258 beside it, let us come to some thoughts in detail about the matter of preaching.
And here first I must bring in another word to meet the word "attractive." That word is "faithful."
WRONG KINDS OF ATTRACTIVENESS.
As a matter of most obvious fact (we noticed it in the previous chapter), there is a false and useless attractiveness, as well as a true. There is the poor and miserable attractiveness—it draws a certain class of modern hearers—of mere brevity; the "ten-minute sermon." There are no doubt exceptional occasions when ten minutes, or even five, may be the right limit to our utterance; but there is something wrong with both sermon and audience if in the regular ministration of God's holy Word the preacher must at once begin to stop. There is again the specious and spurious attractiveness of excitement and froth of manner, or of a merely emotional appeal to perhaps not the deepest emotions, an attraction which has little in it of that divine magnet which draws the will and lifts the soul in regenerate faith and surrender. There is the attraction, tempting, but futile for the true259 purposes of the pulpit, of the sermon which is after all only a lecture, or a leading article; full of the topics of the day, of the hour; full perhaps of some celebrated name just immortalized by death3232 "I went longing to hear about Christ, and it was only Newman from beginning to end." This was the actual lament of an anxious soul, one Sunday in 1890.; but not full of the eternal message for which the pulpit exists. Most certainly there is no divine rule which excludes from the sermon all allusions to politics, to society, to science, to great men; but there is a divine rule, running through the whole precept and example of the New Testament, which keeps such things always subordinate to the supreme work of preaching Jesus Christ.
Across all our thoughts how to secure attractiveness, as a co-ordinate line which fixes attention to the true point, runs the word "Faithfulness." The preacher is to be attractive while faithful, faithful while attractive. And he is to be attractive not for the sake of so being, but in order that he may win an entrance for the words of faithfulness, to his Master's praise.
WE ARE MESSENGERS.
Yes, this is what we are to be as preachers.260 We are to seek "mercy of the Lord to be faithful." [1 Cor. vii. 25.] We are not popular leaders, looking for a cry, or passing one on. We are not speculative thinkers, feeling out a philosophy, communicating our guesses at truth to a company of friends who happen to be interested in the investigation. We are "messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord." We are in commissioned charge of a divine, authentic, and unalterable message. We are the expounders of a "Word which liveth and abideth for ever," [1 Pet. i. 23.] a Word which man is always trying to judge and to disparage, but which will judge man at the last day [Joh. xii. 48.]. We are the bondservants of an absolute Master, who is at once our Sender and our Message, and who overhears our every word in its delivery.
It is a grave mistake, as we saw in our last chapter, to think that faithfulness means a repellent utterance of "the faithful Word." [Tit. i. 9.] But it is at least an equal mistake to think that attractiveness means a modification of that Word, which to the end of our world's day will still be a "folly" and261 a "stumbling-block," [1 Cor. i. 23.] in some respects, to the unconverted soul, and will always have its searching point and edge for the converted soul also.
But this consideration here is only by the way. I return from it to the matter of a right and faithful attractiveness and some of its higher conditions.
SECRETS FOR TRUE ATTRACTIVENESS.
"Preach the Gospel—earnestly, interestingly, fully." Such, I believe, is the prescription given, by the great preacher whom I cited in the last chapter, to the Pastor who would fill his church, and keep it full. In the first instance, no doubt, Mr Spurgeon gives it as a prescription to the Nonconformist Pastor; but it is quite as much to the purpose for the Conformist, so far as he is a Minister of the Word.3333 And let it never be forgotten that this is his primary function in the mind of the Church of England. See the Priest's Ordination, particularly its Exhortations, its Commission, and its final Collect. What I have to say in these present pages shall run on the lines of that sentence of good counsel.
"PREACH THE GOSPEL."
i. "Preach the Gospel," that is to say Jesus Christ, in His Person, His Work, His Offices, 262His Teaching, all applied to the souls and lives of men. Would you truly and permanently attract, with an attraction which God will bless? Let that be your first condition. I do not dilate upon it here, but with all the earnestness possible I lay it upon my younger Brother's heart as we pass on. Preach the Gospel, that is to say the Lord, in all He is for man as man is a sinner, a mortal, a mourner, a worker. Do not let Christ be one subject among others. As little can the sun be one among the planets. He is the Subject; all others get their reality and importance for us preachers by their relation to Him. In particular I venture to say, do not let occasional, temporal, local topics, even very important ones, dislodge Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ of the whole Bible, from His royal place in your preaching; and do not forget continually (though not monotonously) to keep to the front the fact that He is the sinner's Saviour. More will be said later about that point of view, but I state it at once. Speak indeed of Christ as Exemplar, Ideal, Friend, Man of Men; but do not let your brethren forget that, "first of all, Christ263 died for our sins, according to the Scriptures," [1 Cor. xv. 3.] and that His primary practical relation to us is always that of Saviour to sinner. That truth is not altogether in fashion now. But it is eternal; it is deep as the human soul, and as the Law of God, and as such it is a mighty condition to attractiveness, wisely and truly handled. It corresponds to the inmost facts of the hearers' being, whether they are aware of it yet or not; and is there not here the most powerful of magnets, at least in posse?
"PREACH IT EARNESTLY."
ii. "Preach the Gospel earnestly." This does not mean necessarily with vehemence, or even with fervour, of manner. Some men's delivery is fervent, or even vehement, in the most natural way possible; and let such men preach so, if they will do it thoughtfully and to the purpose. But the slightest artificial cultivation of such qualities, or of the semblance of them, is a great practical mistake. And earnestness is at once a wider and a simpler matter all the while. The man who preaches earnestly is the man who is altogether in earnest, and speaks out his conviction and his purpose.264
*PREACH IT AS A WITNESS.
He is the man who has the Lord's message deep in his own soul, and is conscious of its vast importance for the souls of others. He is the man who does not merely discuss, or explain, or even expound, however soundly and luminously, but whose words—well chosen, well weighed, well ordered—are also the living words of one who "testifieth that he hath seen." [Joh. iii. 11.] Yes, the essence of the right sort of earnestness is the witness-character of the preacher. What is a witness? One who has personal knowledge of the matter of his words [2 Tim. i. 12.]mdash;"I know whom I have believed." Is there not a great need at this time, in our dear Church, of more such witness-preaching? I do not mean preaching that advertises the preacher as a remarkable Christian, certainly not preaching that puts for one moment our "testimony" on a level with the infallible Word once written. But I do mean the preaching which, by one of the surest laws of our nature, attracts attention to that Word in a living way by the preacher's manifest confession that its message is a mighty reality and certainty to himself.265
Some years ago I heard an account of the peculiarly impressive preaching of a young Mission-clergyman. It was described to me as remarkable not for energy of manner, or warmth of diction, but for the impression left on all hearers that the truths handled by the man were for himself absolute and present facts. He stated them with a directness and quietness which was emphatically matter-of-fact. This sort of preaching is earnest indeed.
"PREACH IT INTERESTINGLY."
iii. "Preach the Gospel interestingly." How shall we secure this? Some recipes for interest are familiar. There is the method of illustration; there is the method of anecdote: both excellent, and almost indispensable. Only, they are methods which have their risks, and must be used with care. Illustrations are apt to overwhelm the thing illustrated, the moment much detail is allowed; and they are apt to go on three feet, or even upon one, instead of upon four; and they may be drawn from quarters too remote to strike the hearers with effect. Anecdotes have the same risks; and, besides, they need, if they are to be used aright, to be carefully sifted and verified. I266 say this not to disparage what in some preachers' hands is a most powerful and also a most delicate weapon; yet the caution is certainly needed, especially by younger men.
INTEREST OF EXPLANATION.
But the surest secrets of interesting preaching lie deeper than anecdote and illustration. One of them, a very simple one to state, is clearness of thought, and of the expression and explanation of thought. I entreat my Brother to be an explanatory preacher, by which I mean, not that he should treat his brethren as if they were his children (unless indeed it is a children's sermon), but that he should handle familiar religious terms with the resolve to make them live and speak to the ordinary hearer. Nothing is more opiate-like than a sentence which is unreal to the hearer because it is mere phraseology. Nothing can be made more interesting than familiar phraseology (supposing it to be true and important) so treated as to speak its meaning out fresh and living in modern ears.
INTEREST OF EXPOSITION.
Another deep and unfailing secret of interest, so that it be used intelligently and prayerfully, is close akin to this last. It lies in the right267 sort of expository preaching. I have in my mind such exposition as will be found in Dr Vaughan's sermons on the Philippian Epistle. The charm and power of those sermons lie, I know, very much in the extraordinary excellence, the curiosa simplicitas, of their literary style, so unpretentious and so masterly. But it lies also in the fact that the preacher takes us over a familiar Scripture passage, verse by verse, phrase by phrase, and translates it into the dialect of present circumstances. Let me heartily commend this sort of preaching from my own parochial experience in past days. In a congregation consisting chiefly of the poor, I found that the most intelligent and sustained interest was excited by a series of Sunday evening sermons on a selected chapter or paragraph, in which the aim was first to paraphrase the sacred phrases, as it were, into modern shapes, and then at the close to enforce some main message of the portion. The method is as old as the Homilies of Chrysostom, and older.
INTEREST OF PRACTICALITY.
Another secret of interest, permanent and effectual, is practicality in preaching. I protest, whenever I can, and I hope to do so to268 the last, against the common but unhappy fallacy of an outcry against doctrine: "Give us not a creed, but a life." The whole New Testament, the whole Bible, protests against such a sentence. There, a divine creed is always seen as necessary for a divine life. Supernatural facts, livingly apprehended, are necessary for supernatural peace and power in this formidable natural world. But then, on the other side, it is a fallacy almost as fatal to preach the supernatural fact and truth without a constant and practical application of them to the crude and stern realities of life. A young pastoral preacher was once, in my hearing, warmly and lovingly thanked for his pulpit-work, on the eve of his quitting his Curacy; and the point on which his humble friends dwelt was that he had always preached Christ, and always showed them how to make use of His presence and power in the actual circumstances of their lives. Eloquent words, aye and true words, spoken in vacuo, will be dull to most hearers; eternal truths laid alongside the weekday work and temptation will always be interesting.269
"PREACH THE GOSPEL FULLY."
iv. "Preach the Gospel fully." Here is our great Nonconformist's last adverb, in his recipe for attractive preaching. Its point is not so obvious perhaps as that of the other words, but it is nobly true. "The Gospel" is, as I have said, and as we know, nothing less than Jesus Christ the Lord, in His whole harmonious glory of Person, Work, and Word. It is deeply true that in that mighty and manifold theme there are points which must be always prominent and ruling; and most surely the man-humbling and soul-blessing truths of the Atoning Sacrifice are such points. "First of all" (we have recalled that all-significant sentence already), "first of all, Christ died for our sins." [1 Cor. xv. 3.] Alas for the Church, for the congregation, for the pulpit, where that is forgotten, obscured, or put into a secondary, or perhaps a tertiary place! One thing is certain; that pulpit cannot be bearing its right witness meanwhile to the "exceeding sinfulness" of sin—not merely the deformity of sin, but the awful evil and condemnable guilt of sin [Rom. vii. 13.]. But then it is a thing to be regretted (and corrected) when the Pastor's preaching is270 always and only concerned with the urgent need, and wonderful provision, for the pardon and acceptance of the believing sinner. I dare to say it is impossible that such preaching should be permanently, or even long, interesting and attractive, and this because of the nature of the case.
*PREACH PARDON, BUT MORE ALSO.
Man's fallen and sinful soul needs pardon unspeakably, and always, but it needs it as a means to an end; and that end is nearness to God, conformity to Him, power to do His blessed will as His servant for ever. For this same great end the soul needs, even in the range of truths which are of the order of means, to learn more than the glorious rudiments of forgiveness. It needs to know something of the heavenly Offices of the once Crucified One: His Mediation, Suretyship, and Intercession; His Priesthood; His Royalty; His Headship. In Him lie stored the divine treasures with which our whole extent of need is to be met. And the preacher who would permanently attract his people, by bringing out of his storehouse things eternally old and new, must seek and pray to preach Christ fully.271
CHRIST FOR US AND IN US.
To some devoted men it seems impossible not to be always preaching the glory of "Christ for us"; others can never leave the precious theme of "Christ in us." But if they are not missioners, but pastors, they will assuredly find that a permanent attraction can only be secured by doing what the Word of God does—setting forth both glorious sets of truths in fulness, in harmony, and in application to the realities of sin and of life.
So we have thought awhile about attractive preaching. Need I say again what the sort of attractiveness is which I have in view? It is indeed, on the surface, attraction to the church, attraction to the sermon; but its whole inner purpose is an attraction which neither church nor sermon can in the least degree cause, but which the Eternal Spirit, sovereign and loving, can cause through them—an attraction to Jesus Christ, in true repentance, living faith, genuine surrender, and patient, happy service.
Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim,
And publish abroad His wonderful Name;
The Name all victorious of Jesus extol,
His kingdom is glorious and rules over all.
"Then let us adore and give Him His right,
All glory and power, all wisdom and might,
All honour and blessing with angels above,
And thanks never ceasing, and infinite love."
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