1632 By George Herbert

The Parson preaching.

THe Countrey Parson preacheth constantly, the pulpit
is his joy and his throne: if he at any time intermit, it is
either for want of health, or against some great Festivall,
that he may the better celebrate it, or for the variety of the
hearers, that he may be heard at his returne more attentively.
When he intermits, he is ever very well supplyed by some
able man who treads in his steps, and will not throw down
what he hath built; whom also he intreats to press some point,
that he himself hath often urged with no great success, that
so in the mouth of two or three witnesses the truth may be
more established. When he preacheth, he procures atten-
tion by all possible art, both by earnestnesse of speech, it
being naturall to men to think, that where is much earnest-
ness, there is somewhat worth hearing; and by a diligent,
and busy cast of his eye on his auditors, with letting them
know, that he observes who marks, and who not; and with
particularizing of his speech now to the younger sort, then
to the elder, now to the poor, and now to the rich. This is
for you, and This is for you; for particulars ever touch, and
awake more then generalls. Herein also he serves himselfe
of the judgements of God, as of those of antient times, so
especially of the late ones; and those most, which are nearest
to his Parish; for people are very attentive at such discourses,
and think it behoves them to be so, when God is so neer
them, and even over their heads. Sometimes he tells them
stories, and sayings of others, according as his text invites
him; for them also men heed, and remember better then
exhortations; which though earnest, yet often dy with the
Sermon, especially with Countrey people; which are thick,
and heavy, and hard to raise to a poynt of Zeal, and fervency,
and need a mountaine of fire to kindle them; but stories and
sayings they will well remember. He often tels them, that
Sermons are dangerous things, that none goes out of Church
as he came in, but either better, or worse; that none is care-
less before his Judg, and that the word of God shal judge us.
By these and other means the Parson procures attention;
but the character of his Sermon is Holiness; he is not witty,
or learned, or eloquent, but Holy. A Character, that Her-
1 never dream'd of, and therefore he could give no
precepts thereof. But it is gained, first, by choosing texts of
Devotion, not Controversie, moving and ravishing texts,
whereof the Scriptures are full. Secondly, by dipping, and
seasoning all our words and sentences in our hearts, before
they come into our mouths, truly affecting, and cordially
expressing all that we say; so that the auditors may plainly
perceive that every word is hart-deep. Thirdly, by turning
often, and making many Apostrophes to God, as, Oh Lord
blesse my people, and teach them this point; or, Oh my
Master, on whose errand I come, let me hold my peace, and
do thou speak thy selfe; for thou art Love, and when thou
teachest, all are Scholers. Some such irradiations scatteringly
in the Sermon, carry great holiness in them. The Prophets
are admirable in this. So Isa. 64 [:1]. Oh that thou would' st rent
the Heavens, that thou wouldst come down, &c.
And Jeremy 2
Chapt. 10 [:23]. after he had complained of the desolation of
Israel, turnes to God suddenly, Oh Lord, I know that the way
of man is not in himself, &c
. Fourthly, by frequent wishes of
the peoples good, and joying therein, though he himself
were with Saint Paul even sacrificed upon the service of their
faith. For there is no greater sign of holinesse, then the
procuring, and rejoycing in anothers good. And herein St
Paul excelled in all his Epistles. How did he put the
Romans in all his prayers? Rom.1.9. And ceased not to give
thanks for the Ephesians, Eph. 1.16. And for the [II] Corinthians,
chap. 1.4. And for the Philippians made request with joy,
ch.1.4. And is in contention for them whither to live, or dy;
be with them, or Christ, verse 23. which, setting aside his
care of his Flock, were a madnesse to doubt of. What an
admirable Epistle is the second to the Corinthians? how full
of affections? he joyes, and he is sorry, he grieves, and he
gloryes, never was there such care of a flock expressed, save
in the great shepherd of the fold, who first shed teares over
Jerusalem, and afterwards blood. Therefore this care may
be learn'd there, and then woven into Sermons, which will
make them appear exceeding reverend, and holy. Lastly,
by an often urging of the presence, and majesty of God, by
these, or such like speeches. Oh let us all take heed what
we do, God sees us, he sees whether I speak as I ought, or
you hear as you ought, he sees hearts, as we see faces: he is
among us; for if we be here, hee must be here, since we are
here by him, and without him could not be here. Then
turning the discourse to his Majesty, And he is a great God,
and terrible, as great in mercy, so great in judgement: There
are but two devouring elements, fire, and water, he hath
both in him; His voyce is as the sound of many waters. Revelations
1 [:15]. And he himselfe is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12 [:29]. Such
discourses shew very Holy. The Parsons Method in
handling of a text consists of two parts; first, a plain and
evident declaration of the meaning of the text; and secondly,
some choyce Observations drawn out of the whole text, as it
lyes entire, and unbroken in the Scripture it self. This he
thinks naturall, and sweet, and grave. Whereas the other
way of crumbling a text into small parts, as, the Person
speaking, or spoken to, the subject, and object, and the like,
hath neither in it sweetnesse, nor gravity, nor variety, since
the words apart are not Scripture, but a dictionary, and may
be considered alike in all the Scripture. The Parson exceeds
not an hour in preaching, because all ages have thought that
a competency, and he that profits not in that time, will lesse
afterwards, the same affection which made him not profit
before, making him then weary, and so he grows from not
relishing, to loathing.

1 Hermogenes = a disciple who deserted Paul. 2 Timothy 1:15. [Return]

2 Jeremy = Jeremiah [Return]

Editor's Note: For the "crumbling of the text" see sermons of the day, including Herbert's friend, John Donne. Such sermons were given for professional, learned or otherwise educated people or for those who wanted a speaker to impress them with his knowledge and abilities. As Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, it was John Donne's office to impress. Some will point out that Herbert's advice applies particularly to simple or country people, but, also, his purpose is to retain and advance the meaning of the text.

Personal Note: Herbert is concerned with the "appearance" of Holiness in the speech, appearance and sermons of the Parson. Appearance alone may encourage conformity and harmony among people of the parish. In The Temple there is more of a personal spirituality, disregarding appearances. The Parson should exhibit Holiness to his congregation and be internally true to that appearance. See the Epistle of James which recommends that the inner faith preceed the outer works which should be true for the professionally religious. Herbert reiterates that the Parson should not disregard appearances. [J.R.] There is also the "Become what you desire to appear" philosophy/ psychology. [C.B.] Contrary to "be sincere even if you don't mean it" of Benny Hill.

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