Since I received, some months ago, the invitation to deliver these lectures which I begin to-day, I have been led to ponder much upon the principles by which I have only half consciously been living and working for many years. This is part of the debt which I owe to those who have honored me with their invitation. It is interesting to one's self to examine and recognize and arrange the ideas which have been slowly taking shape within him during the busy years of work. I shall be very glad if you too are interested, as I try to recount them to you, and very thankful if you find in them any help or inspiration.
The personal character of this lectureship is very evident. It is always to be filled by preachers in active work, who are to come and speak to you of preaching. It is not a Homiletical Professorship. It is each man's own life in the ministry of which he is to tell. But certainly you do not expect from your successive lecturers a series of anecdotes of what has happened to them in their ministry, nor a mere re cital of their ways of working. It cannot be intended that this lectureship should exalt the interviewer into an organized and permanent institution. The hope must rather be that as each preacher speaks of our common work in his own way, whatever there may be of value in his personal experience may come, not directly but indirectly, into what he says, and make the privilege of preaching shine for the moment in your eyes with the same kind of light which it has won in his.
I feel as I begin something of the fear which I have often felt in commencing a new sermon. It has often seemed to me as if the vast amount of preaching which people hear must have one bad effect, in leaving on their minds a vague impression that this Christian life to which they are so continually urged must be a very difficult and complicated thing that it should take such a multitude of definitions to make it clear. And so there is some danger lest these multiplied lectures upon preaching should give to those who are preparing to preach an uncomfortable feeling that the work of preaching is a thing of many rules, hard to understand, and needing a great deal of commentary. For my part, I am startled when I think how few and simple are the things which I have to say to you, The principles which one can recognize in his ministry are very broad and plain. The applications of those principles are endless; but I should be very sorry indeed if anything that I shall say should lead any of you to confound the few plain principles with their many varied applications, and so make you think that work complicated and difficult which to him who is equipped for it, and loves it, is the easiest and simplest work in life.
Let me say one word more in introduction. He who is called upon to give these lectures cannot but remember that they are given every year, and that he has had very able and faithful predecessors. There are certainly, therefore, some things which he may venture to omit without being supposed to be either ignorant or careless of them. There are certain first principles, of primary importance, which he may take for granted in all that he says. They are so fundamental, that they must be always present and their power must pervade every treatment of the work which is built upon them. But they need not be deliberately stated anew each year. It would make these courses of lectures very monotonous; and one may venture to assume that there are some elementary principles upon whose truth all students of theology are agreed, and whose importance they all feel.
I cannot begin, then, to speak to you who are preparing for the work of preaching, without congratulating you most earnestly upon the prospect that lies before you. I cannot help bearing witness to the joy of the life which you anticipate. There is no career that can compare with it for a moment in the rich and satisfying relations into which it brings a man with his fellow-men, in the deep and interesting insight which it gives him into human nature, and in the chance of the best culture for his own character. Its delight never grows old, its interest never wanes, its stimulus is never exhausted. It is different to a man at each period of his life; but if he is the minister he ought to be, there is no age, from the earliest years when he is his people's brother to the late days when he is like a father to the children on whom he looks down from the pulpit, in which the ministry has not some fresh charm and chance of usefulness to offer to the man whose heart is in it. Let us never think of it in any other way than this. Let us rejoice with one another that in a world where there are a great many good and happy things for men to do, God has given us the best and happiest, and made us preachers of His Truth.
I propose in this introductory lecture to lay before you some thoughts which cover the whole field which we shall have to traverse; and the lectures which follow will be mainly applications and illustrations of the principles which I lay down to-day. It may make my first lecture seem a little too general, but perhaps it will help us to understand each other better as we go on.
What, then, is preaching, of which we are to speak? It is not hard to find a definition. Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men. It has in it two essential elements, truth and personality. Neither of those can it spare and still be preaching. The truest truth, the most authoritative statement of God's will, communicated in any other way than through the personality of brother man to men is not preached truth. Suppose it written on the sky, suppose it embodied in a book which has been so long held in reverence as the direct utterance of God that the vivid personality of the men who wrote its pages has well-nigh faded out of it; in neither of these cases is there any preaching. And on the other hand, if men speak to other men that which they do not claim for truth, if they use their powers of persuasion or of entertainment to make other men listen to their speculations, or do their will, or applaud their cleverness, that is not preaching either. The first lacks personality. The second lacks truth. And preaching is the bringing of truth through personality. It must have both elements. It is in the different proportion in which the two are mingled that the difference between two great classes of sermons and preaching lies. It is in the defect of one or the other element that every sermon and preacher falls short of the perfect standard. It is in the absence of one or the other element that a discourse ceases to be a sermon, and a man ceases to be a preacher altogether.
If we go back to the beginning of the Christian ministry we can see how distinctly and deliberately Jesus chose this method of extending the knowledge of Himself throughout the world. Other methods no doubt were open to Him, but He deliberately selected this. He taught His truth to a few men and then He said, "Now go and tell that truth to other men." Both elements were there, in John the Baptist who prepared the way for Him, in the seventy whom He sent out before His face, and in the little company who started from the chamber of the Pentecost to proclaim the new salvation to the world. If He gave them the power of working miracles, the miracles themselves were not the final purpose for which He gave it. The power of miracle was, as it were, a divine fire pervading the Apostle's being and opening his individuality on either side; making it more open God-wards by the sense of awful privilege, making it more open man-wards by the impressiveness and the helpfulness with which it was clothed. Everything that was peculiar in Christ's treatment of those men was merely part of the process by which the Master prepared their personality to be a fit medium for the communication of His Word. When His treatment of them was complete, they stood fused like glass, and able to take God's truth in perfectly on one side and send it out perfectly on the other side of their transparent natures.
This was the method by which Christ chose that His Gospel should be spread through the world. It was a method that might have been applied to the dissemination of any truth, but we can see why it was especially adapted to the truth of Christianity. For that truth is preeminently personal. However the Gospel may be capable of statement in dogmatic form, its truest statement we know is not in dogma but in personal life. Christianity is Christ; and we can easily understand how a truth which is of such peculiar character that a person can stand forth and say of it "I am the Truth," must always be best conveyed through, must indeed be almost incapable of being perfectly conveyed except through personality. And so some form of preaching must be essential to the prevalence and spread of the knowledge of Christ among men. There seems to be some such meaning as this in the words of Jesus when He said to His disciples, "As my Father has sent me into the world even so have I sent you into the world." It was the continuation, out to the minutest ramifications of the new system of influence, of that personal method which the Incarnation itself had involved.
If this be true, then, it establishes the first of all principles concerning the ministry and preparation for the ministry. Truth through Personality is cur description of real preaching. The truth must come really through the person, not merely over his lips, not merely into his understanding and out through his pen. It must come through his character, his affections, his whole intellectual and moral being. It must come genuinely through him. I think that, granting equal intelligence and study, here is the great difference which we feel between two preachers of the Word. The Gospel has come over one of them and reaches us tinged and flavored with his superficial characteristics, belittled with his littleness. The Gospel has come through the other, and we receive it impressed and winged with all the earnestness and strength that there is in him. In the first case the man has been but a printing machine or a trumpet. In the other case he has been a true man and a real messenger of God. We know how the views which theologians have taken of the agency of the Bible writers in their work differ just here. There have been those who would make them mere passive instruments. The thought of our own time has more and more tended to consider them the active messengers of the Word of God. This is the higher thought of inspiration. And this is the only true thought of the Christian preachership. I think that one of the most perplexing points in a man's ministry is in a certain variation of this power of transmission. Sometimes you are all open on both sides, open to God and to fellowman. At other times something clogs and clouds your transparency. You will know the differences of the sermons which you preach in those two conditions, and, however little they describe it to themselves or know its causes, your congregation will feel the difference full well.
But this, as I began to say, decrees for us in general what the preparation for the ministry is. It must be nothing less than the making of a man. It cannot be the mere training to certain tricks. It cannot be even the furnishing with abundant knowledge. It must be nothing less than the kneading and tempering of a man's whole nature till it becomes of such a consistency and quality as to be capable of transmission. This is the largeness of the preacher's culture. It is not for me, standing here or anywhere, to depreciate the work which our theological schools do. It certainly is not my place to undervalue the usefulness of lectures on preaching, or books on clerical manners. But none of these things make the preacher. You are surprised, when you read the biographies of the most successful ministers, to see how small a part of their culture came from their professional schools. It is a real part but it is a small part. Everything that opens their lives towards God and towards man makes part of their education The professional schools furnish them. The whole world is the school that makes them. This is the value of the biographies of the great preachers if we can only read them largely enough, if we can read them not in a small desire to copy their details of living, but in a large sympathetic wish to know what their life was, to see how the men became the men they were. This is the value of Baxter's story of himself, so unsuspiciously confident of the reader's interest in everything that concerns him, or of Robertson's painful but precious history, or of the strong, manly, constantly advancing life of Norman Macleod. I think that either of these books might be the ruin of a young minister who read it for the methods of his work, as either of them might be the making of him if he read it for the spirit and the spiritual history of the man of whom it told the story. In a time which abounds in biographies as ours does, especially in the biographies of preachers, it is worth while, I am sure, to remember that another man's life may be the noblest inspiration or the heaviest burden, according as we take its spirit into our spirit, or only bind its methods like a fagot of dry sticks upon our back.
One other consequence of the fundamental character of preaching which I have stated must be the perpetual function of the pulpit. Every now and then we hear some speculations about the prospects of preaching. Will men continue to preach and will other men continue to go and hear them? Books are multiplying enormously. Any man may feel reasonably sure on any Sunday morning that in a boot which he can choose from his shelf he can read something more wisely thought and more perfectly expressed than he will hear from the pulpit if he goes to church. Why should he go? One answer to the question certainly would be in the assertion that preaching is only one of the functions of the Christian Church and that, even if preaching should grow obsolete, there would still remain reason enough why Christians should meet together for worship and for brotherhood. But even if we look at preaching only, it must still be true that nothing can ever take its place because of the personal element that is in it. No multiplication of books can ever supersede the human voice. No newly opened channel of approach to man's mind and heart can ever do away with man's readiness to receive impressions through his fellowman. There is no evidence, I think, in all the absorption in books which characterizes our much reading age, of any real decline of the interest in preaching. Let a man be a true preacher, really littering the truth through his own personality, and it is strange how men will gather to listen to him. We hear that the day of the pulpit is past, and then some morning the voice of a true preacher is heard in the land and all the streets are full of men crowding to hear him, just exactly as were the streets of Constantinople when Chrysostom was going to preach at the Church of the Apostles, or the streets of London when Latimer was bravely telling his truth at St. Paul's.
The same is true of reading sermons. I think, as I shall have occasion to say more fully in some other lecture, that a sermon that has the true sermon quality in it, when it is made, preserves that quality even under the constraints of manuscript or print. And books of sermons which really bring the truth through personality to men, were never bought and read more largely than they are to-day.
No; the truth about this matter of the competition of the printed book with the preached sermon, seems to be what is true of every competition. It has led to more discrimination. There were things which people went to hear once but which they will not go to hear to-day. They can read better things of the same sort at home. But those things are not sermons. They never were sermons. The competition of print has interfered very much, is destined to interfere much more,—we may hope will not cease to interfere till it has caused it to disappear,—with the "pulpit droning of old saws," with the monotonous reiteration of commonplaces and abstractions; but the true sermon, the utterance of living truth by living men, was never more powerful than it is to-day. People never came to it with more earnestness, or carried away from it more good results.
I cannot help begging you, in the ministry which is before you, to beware of excusing your own failures by foolish talk about the obstinate aversion which the age has to the preaching of the Gospel. It is the meanest and shallowest kind of excuse. The age has no aversion to preaching as such. It may not listen to your preaching. If that prove to be the case, look for the fault first in your preaching, and not in the age. I wonder at the eagerness and patience of congregations. I think that there are two things which we ministers have to guard against in this matter: one, the tendency of which I have just spoken, to blame the impatience which men feel with false pretences of preaching, for the lack of success which our preaching brings; the other, an exactly opposite tendency, to trust so confidently to the much tried patience of the people, that we shall do our work carelessly from feeling too secure about our power. He who escapes both of these dangers, he who feels the magnitude and privilege of his work, he who both respects and trusts his people, neither assuming their indifference, go that he is paralyzed, or assuming their interest, so that he grows careless,—that man, I think, need envy no one of the preachers of the ages that are past the pulpit in which he stood, or the congregation to which he preached.
Let us look now for a few moments at these two elements of preaching—Truth and Personality; the one universal and invariable, the other special and always different. There are a few suggestions that I should like to make to you about each.
And first with regard to the Truth. It is strange how impossible it is to separate it and consider it wholly by itself. The personalness will cling to it. There are two aspects of the minister's work, which we are constantly meeting in the New Testament. They are really embodied in two words, one of which is "message," and the other is "witness." "This is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you," says St. John in his first Epistle. "We are his witnesses of these things," says St. Peter before the Council at Jerusalem. In these two words together, I think, we have the fundamental conception of the matter of all Christian preaching. It is to be a message given to us for transmission, but yet a message which we cannot transmit until it has entered into our own experience, and we can give our own testimony of its spiritual power. The minister who keeps the word "message" always written before him, as he prepares his sermon in his study, or utters it from his pulpit, is saved from the tendency to wanton and wild speculation, and from the mere passion of originality. He who never forgets that word "witness," is saved from the unreality of repeating by rote mere forms of statement which he has learned as orthodox, but never realized as true. If you and I can always carry this double consciousness, that we are messengers, and that we are witnesses, we shall have in our preaching all the authority and independence of assured truth, and yet all the appeal and convincingness of personal belief. It will not be we that speak, but the spirit of our Father that speaketh in us, and yet our sonship shall give the Father's voice its utterance and interpretation to His other children.
I think that nothing is more needed to correct the peculiar vices of preaching which belong to our time, than a new prevalence among preachers of this first conception of the truth which they have to tell as a message. I am sure that one great source of the weakness of the pulpit is the feeling among the people that these men who stand up before them every Sunday have been making up trains of thought, and thinking how they should "treat their subject," as the phrase runs. There is the first ground of the vicious habit that our congregations have of talking about the preacher more than they think about the truth. The minstrel who sings before you to show his skill, will be praised for his wit, and rhymes, and voice. But the courier who hurries in, breathless, to bring you a message, will be forgotten in the message that he brings. Among the many sermons I have heard, I always remember one, for the wonderful way in which it was pervaded by this quality. It was a sermon by Mr. George Macdonald, the English author, who was in this country a few years ago; and it had many of the good and bad characteristics of his interesting style. It had his brave and manly honesty, and his tendency to sentimentality. But over and through it all it had this quality: it was a message from God to these people by him. The man struggled with language as a child struggles with his imperfectly mastered tongue, that will not tell the errand as he received it, and has it in his mind. As I listened, I seemed to see how weak in contrast was the way in which other preachers had amused me and challenged my admiration for the working of their minds. Here was a gospel. Here were real tidings. And you listened and forgot the preacher.
Whatever else you count yourself in the ministry, never lose this fundamental idea of yourself as a messenger. As to the way in which one shall best keep that idea, it would not be hard to state; but it would involve the whole story of the Christian life. Here is the primary necessity that the Christian preacher should be a Christian first, that he should be deeply cognizant of God's authority, and of the absoluteness of Christ's truth. That was one of the first principles which I ventured to assume as I began my lecture. But without entering so wide a field, let me say one thing about this conception of preaching at the telling of a message which constantly impresses me. I think that it would give to our preaching just the quality which it appears to me to most lack now. That quality is breadth. I do not mean liberality of thought, not tolerance of opinion, nor anything of that kind. I mean largeness of movement, the great utterance of great truths, the great enforcement of great duties, as distinct from the minute, and subtle, and ingenious treatment of little topics, side issues of the soul's life, bits of anatomy, the bric-a-brac of theology. Take up, some Saturday, the list of subjects on which the ministers of a great city are to preach the next day. See how many of them seem to have searched in strange corners of the Bible for their topics, how small and fantastic is the bit of truth which their hearers are to have set before them. Then turn to Barrow, or Tillotson, or Bushnell—"Of being imitators of Christ;" "That God is the only happiness of man;" "Every man's life a plan of God." There is a painting of ivory miniatures, and there is a painting of great frescoes. One kind of art is suited to one kind of subject, and another to another. I suppose that all preachers pass through some fantastic period when a strange text fascinates them; when they like to find what can be said for an hour on some little topic on which most men could only talk two minutes; when they are eager for subtlety more than force, and for originality more than truth. But as a preacher grows more full of the conception of the sermon as a message, he gets clear of those brambles. He comes out on to open ground. His work grows freer, and bolder, and broader. He loves the simplest texts, and the great truths which run like rivers through all life. God's sovereignty, Christ's redemption, man's hope in the Spirit, the privilege of duty, the love of man in the Saviour, make the strong music which his soul tries to catch.
And then another result of this conception of preaching as the telling of a message is that it puts us into right relations with all historic Christianity. The message never can be told as if we were the first to tell it. It is the same message which the Church has told in all the ages. He who tells it to-day is backed by all the multitude who have told it in the past. He is companied by all those who are telling it now. The message is his witness; but a part of the assurance with which he has received it, comes from the fact of its being the identical message which has come down from the beginning. Men find on both sides how difficult it is to preserve the true poise and proportion between the corporate and the individual conceptions of the Christian life. But all will own to-day the need of both. The identity of the Church in all times consists in the identity of the message which she has always had to carry from her Lord to men. All outward utterances of the perpetual identity of the Church are valuable only as they assert this real identity. There is the real meaning of the perpetuation of old ceremonies, the use of ancient liturgies, and the clinging to what seem to be apostolic types of government. The heretic in all times has been not the errorist as such, but the self-willed man, whether his judgments were right or wrong. "A man may be a heretic in the truth," says Milton. He is the man who, taking his ideas not as a message from God, but as his own discoveries, has cut himself off from the message-bearing Church of all the ages. I am sure that the more fully you come to count your preaching the telling of a message, the more valuable and real the Church will become to you, the more true will seem to you your brotherhood with all messengers of that same message in all strange dresses and in all strange tongues.
I should like to mention, with reference to the Truth which the preacher has to preach, two tendencies which I am sure that you will recognize as very characteristic of our time. One is the tendency of criticism, and the other is the tendency of mechanism. Both tendencies are bad. By the tendency of criticism I mean the disposition that prevails everywhere to deal with things from outside, discussing their relations, examining their nature, and not putting ourselves into their power. Preaching in every age follows, to a certain extent, the changes which come to all literature and life. The age in which we live is strangely fond of criticism. It takes all things to pieces for the mere pleasure of examining their nature. It studies forces, not in order to obey them, but in order to understand them. It talks about things for the pure pleasure of discussion. Much of the poetry and prose about nature and her wonders, much of the investigation of the country's genius and institutions, much of the subtle analysis of human nature is of this sort. It is all good; but it is something distinct from the cordial sympathy by which one becomes a willing servant of any of these powers, a real lover of nature, or a faithful citizen, or a true friend. Now it would be strange if this critical tendency did not take possession of the preaching of the day. And it does. The disposition to watch ideas in their working, and to talk about their relations and their influence on one another, simply as problems, in which the mind may find pleasure without any real entrance of the soul into the ideas themselves, this, which is the critical tendency, invades the pulpit, and the result is an immense amount of preaching which must be called preaching about Christ as distinct from preaching Christ. There are many preachers who seem to do nothing else, always discussing Christianity as a problem instead of announcing Christianity as a message, and proclaiming Christ as a Saviour,
I do not undervalue their discussions. But I think we ought always to feel that such discussions are not the type or ideal of preaching. They may be necessities of the time, but they are not the work which the great Apostolic preachers did, or which the true preacher will always most desire. Definers and defenders of the faith are always needed, but it is bad for a church, when its ministers count it their true work to define and defend the faith rather than to preach the Gospel. Beware of the tendency to preach about Christianity, and try to preach Christ. To discuss the relations of Christianity and Science, Christianity and Society, Christianity and Politics, is good. To set Christ forth to men so that they shall know Him, and in gratitude and love become His, that is far better. It is good to be a Herschel who describes the sun; but it is better to be a Prometheus who brings the sun's fire to the earth.
I called the other tendency the tendency of mechanism. It is the disposition of the preacher to forget that the Gospel of Christ is primarily addressed to individuals, and that its ultimate purpose is the salvation of multitudes of men. Between the time when it first speaks to a man's soul, and the time when that man's soul is gathered into heaven, with the whole host of the redeemed, the Gospel uses a great many machineries which are more or less impersonal. The Church, with all its instrumentalities, comes in.
The preacher works by them. But if the preacher ever for a moment counts them the purpose of his working, if he takes his eye off the single soul as the prize he is to win, he falls from his highest function and loses his best power. All successful preaching, I more and more believe, talks to individuals. The Church is for the soul. I am not thinking of the fault or danger of any one body of Christians alone when I say this, not of my own or any other. The tendency to work for the means instead of for the end is everywhere. And, my friends, learn this at the beginning of your ministry, that just as surely as you think that any kind of fault or danger belongs wholly to another system than your own, and that you are not exposed to it, just so surely you will reproduce that fault or danger in some form in your own life. This surely is a good rule: whenever you see a fault in any other man, or any other church, look for it in yourself and in your own church. Where is the church which is not liable to value its machineries above its purposes, whose ministers are not tempted to preach for the denomination and its precious peculiarities, instead of for men and for their precious souls? Let your preaching be to individuals, and to the Church always as living for and made up of individuals.
Of the second element in preaching, namely, the preacher's personality, there will be a great deal to say, especially in the next lecture. But there are two or three fundamental things which I wish to say to-day.
The first is this, that the principle of personality once admitted involves the individuality of every preacher. The same considerations which make it good that the Gospel should not be written on the sky, or committed merely to an almost impersonal book, make it also most desirable that every preacher should utter the truth in his own way, and according to his own nature. It must come not only through man but through men. If you monotonize men you lose their human power to a large degree. If you could make all men think alike it would be very much as if no man thought at all, as when the whole earth moves together with all that is upon it, everything seems still. Now the deep sense of the solemnity of the minister's work has often a tendency to repress the free individuality of the preacher and his tolerance of other preachers' individualities. His own way of doing his work is with him a matter of conscience, not of taste, and the conscience when it is thoroughly awake is more intolerant than the taste is. Or, working just the other way, his conscience tells him that it is not for him to let his personal peculiarities intrude in such a solemn work, and so he tries to bind himself to the ways of working which the most successful preachers of the Word have followed. I have seen both these kinds of ministers: those whose consciences made them obstinate, and those whose consciences made them pliable; those whose consciences hardened them to steel or softened them to wax, However it comes about, there is an unmistakable tendency to the repression of the individuality of the preacher. It is seen in little things: in the uniform which preachers wear, and the disposition to a uniformity of language. It is seen in great things: in the disposition which all ages have witnessed to draw a line of orthodoxy inside the lines of truth. Wisely and soberly let us set ourselves against this influence. The God who sent men to preach the Gospel of His Son in their humanity, sent each man distinctively to preach it in his humanity. Be yourself by all means, but let that good result come not by cultivating merely superficial peculiarities and oddities. Let it be by winning a true self full of your own faith and your own love. The deep originality is noble, but the surface originality is miserable. It is so easy to be a John the Baptist, as far as the desert and camel's hair and locusts and wild honey go. But the devoted heart to speak from, and the fiery words to speak, are other things.
Again, we never can forget in thinking of the preacher's personality that he is one who lives in constant familiarity with thoughts and words which to other men are occasional and rare, and which preserve their sacredness mainly by their rarity. That fact must always come in when we try to estimate the influences of a preacher's life. What will the power of that fact be? I am sure that often it weakens the minister. I am sure that many men who, if they came to preach once in a great while in the midst of other occupations, would preach with reality and fire, are deadened to their sacred work by their constant intercourse with sacred things. Their constant dealing with the truth makes them less powerful to bear the truth to others, as a pipe through which the water always flows collects its sediment, and is less fit to let more water through. And besides this, it ministers to self-deception and to an exaggeration or distortion of our own history. The man who constantly talks of certain experiences, and urges other men to enter into them, must come in time, by very force of describing those experiences, to think that he has undergone them. You beg men to repent, and you grow so familiar with the whole theory of repentance that it is hard for you to know that you yourself have not repented. You exhort to patience till you have no eyes or ears for your own impatience. It is the way in which the man who starts the trains at the railroad station must come in time to feel as if he himself had been to all the towns along the road whose names he has always been shouting in the passengers' ears, and to which he has for years sold them their tickets, when perhaps he has not left his own little way-station all the time. I know that all this is so, and yet certainly the fault is in the man not in the truth. The remedy certainly is not to make the truth less familiar. There is a truer relation to preaching, in which the constancy of it shall help instead of harming the reality and earnestness with which you do it. The more that you urge other people to holiness the more intense may be the hungering and thirsting after holiness in your own heart. Familiarity does not breed contempt except of contemptible things or in contemptible people. The adage, that no man is a hero to his valet de chambre, is sufficiently answered by saying that it is only to a valet de chambre that a truly great man is unheroic. You must get the impulse, the delight, and the growing sacredness of your life out of your familiar work. You are lost as a preacher if its familiarity deadens and encrusts, instead of vitalizing and opening your powers. And it will all depend upon whether you do your work for your Master and His people or for yourself. The last kind of labor slowly kills, the first gives life more and more.
The real preparation of the preacher's personality for its transmissive work comes by the opening of his life on both sides, towards the truth of God and towards the needs of man. To apprehend in all their intensity the wants and woes of men, to see the problems and dangers of this life, then to know all through us that nothing but Christ and His Redemption can thoroughly satisfy these wants, that is what makes a man a preacher. Alas for him who is only open on the manward side, who only knows how miserable and wicked man is, but has no power of God to bring to him. He lays a kind but helpless hand upon the wound. He tries to relieve it with his sympathy and his philosophy. He is the source of all he says. There is no God behind him. He is no preacher. The preacher's instinct is that which feels instantly how Christ and human need belong together, neither thinks Christ too far off for the need, nor the need too insignificant for Christ. Never be afraid to bring the transcendent mysteries of our faith, Christ's life and death and resurrection, to the help of the humblest and commonest of human wants. There is a sort of preaching which keeps them for the great emergencies, and soothes the common sorrows and rebukes the common sins with lower considerations of economy. Such preaching fails. It neither appeals to the lower nor to the higher perceptions of mankind. It is useful neither as a law nor as a gospel. It is like a river that is frozen too hard to be navigable but not hard enough to bear. Never fear, as you preach, to bring the sublimest motive to the smallest duty, and the most infinite comfort to the smallest trouble. They will prove that they belong there if only the duty and trouble are real and you have read them thoroughly aright.
These are the elements of preaching, then,—Truth and Personality. The truth is in itself a fixed and stable element; the personality is a varying and growing element. In the union of the two we have the provision for the combination of identity with variety, of stability with growth, in the preaching of the Gospel. The truth which you are preaching is the same which your brother is preaching in the next pulpit, or in some missionary station on the other side of the globe. If it were not, you would get no strength from one another. You would not stand back to back against the enemy, sustaining one another, as you do now. But the way in which you preach the truth is different, and each of you reaches some ears that would be deaf to the most persuasive tones of the other. The Gospel you are preaching now is the same Gospel that you preached when you were first ordained, in that first sermon which it was at once such a terror and such a joy to preach; but if you have been a live man all the time, you are not preaching it now as you did then. If the truth had changed, your life would have lost its unity. The truth has not changed, but you have grown to fuller understanding of it, to larger capacity of receiving and transmitting it. There is no pleasure in the minister's life stronger than this,—the perception of identity and progress in his preaching of the truth as he grows older. It is like a man's pleasure in watching the growth of his own body or his own mind, or of a tree which he has planted Always the same it is, yet always larger. It is a common experience of ministers, I suppose, to find that sentences in their old sermons which were written years ago contain meanings and views of truth which they hold now but which they never had thought of in those early days. The truth was there, but the man had not appropriated it. The truth has not changed, but the man is more sufficient for it. Here is the power by which the truth becomes related to each special age. It is brought to it through the men of the age. If a preacher is not a man of his age, in sympathy with its spirit, his preaching fails. He wonders that the truth has grown so powerless. But it is not the truth that has failed. It is the other element, the person. That is the reason why sometimes the old preacher finds his well-known power gone, and complains that while he is still in his vigor people are looking to younger men for the work which they once delighted to demand of him. There are noble examples on the other side: old men with a personality as vitally sympathetic with the changing age as the truth which they preach is true to the Word of God. They have a power which no young man can begin to wield, and the world owns it willingly. People would rather see old men than young men in their pulpits, if only the old men bring them both elements of preaching, a faith that is eternally true, and a person that is in quick and ready sympathy with their present life. If they can have but one, they are apt to choose the latter; but what they really want is both, and the noblest ministries in the Church are those of old men who have kept the freshness of their youth.
It is in the poise and proportion of these two elements of preaching that we secure the true relation between independence and adaptation in the preacher's character. The desire to meet the needs of the people to whom we preach may easily become servility. Many a man has lost his manliness and won people's contempt in a truly earnest desire to win their hearts for his great message. Here is where the stable and unchanging element of our work comes in. There is something that you owe to the truth and to yourself as its preacher. There is a line beyond which adaptation becomes feebleness. There are some things which St. Paul will not become to any man. Nothing but this sense of the unchanging demands of the truth which we are sent to preach can keep us from giving our people what they want, instead of what they need. Keep a clear sense of what your truth requires of you. Count it unworthy of yourself as a minister of the Gospel to comfort any sorrow with less than the Gospel's whole comfortableness, or to bid any soul be perfectly happy in anything less than the highest spiritual joy. The saddest moments in every preacher's life, I think, are those in which he goes away from his pulpit conscious that he has given the people, not the highest that he knew how to give, but only the highest that they knew how to ask. He has satisfied them, and he is thoroughly discontented with himself. When a friend of Alexander the Great had asked of him ten talents, he tendered to him fifty, and when reply was made that ten were sufficient, "True," said he, "ten are sufficient for you to take, but not for me to give."
If it is the decay of the personal element that weakens the ministry of some old men, I think it is the slighting of the element of absolute truth that degrades the work of preaching in many young men's eyes, and keeps such numbers of them, who ought to be there, from its sacred duties. The prevalence of doubt about all truth, and to some extent also the general eagerness of preachers to find out and meet the people's desires and demands, these two causes together have created the impression that the ministry had no certain purposes or definite message, that the preacher was a promiscuous caterer for men's whims, wishing them well, inspired by a certain general benevolence, but in no sense a prophet uttering positive truth to them which they did not know before, uttering it whether they liked it or hated it. Is not that the impression which many young men have of the ministry? Is it not natural that with that impression they should seek some other way to help their fellow-men? And is there not very much indeed in the way in which preachers do their work to give such an impression? Everywhere, for the strengthening of the weak preacher, the enlivening of the dull preacher, the sobering of the flippant preacher, the freshening of the old preacher, the maturing of the young preacher, what we need is the just poise and proportion of these two elements of the preacher's work, the truth he has to tell and the personality through which he has to tell it.
The purpose of preaching must always be the first condition that decrees its character. The final cause is that which really shapes everything's life. And what is preaching for? The answer comes without hesitation. It is for men's salvation. But the idea of what salvation is has never been entirely uniform or certain; and all through the history of preaching we can see that the character of preaching varied continually, rose or fell, enlarged or narrowed, with the constant variation cf men's ideas as to what it was to be saved. If salvation was something here and now, preaching became a direct appeal to man's present life. If salvation was something future and far away, preaching died into remote whispers and only made itself graphic and forcible by the vivid pictures of torture addressed to the senses whose pain men most easily understand. If to be saved was to be saved from sin, preaching became spiritual. If to be saved was to be saved from punishment, preaching became forensic and economical. If salvation was the elevation of society, preaching became a lecture upon social science. The first thing for you to do is to see clearly what you are going to preach for, what you mean to try to save men from. By your conviction about that, the whole quality of your ministry will be decided. To the absence of any clear answer to that question, to the entire vagueness as to what men's danger is, we owe the vagueness with which so many of our preachers preach.
The world has not heard its best preaching yet. If there is more of God's truth for men to know, and if it is possible for the men who utter it to become more pure and godly, then, with both of its elements more complete than they have ever been before, preaching must some day be a completer power. But that better preaching will not come by any sudden leap of inspiration. As the preaching of the present came from the preaching of the past, so the preaching that is to be will come from the preaching that is now. If we preach as honestly, as intelligently, and as spiritually as we can, we shall not merely do good in our own day, but help in some real though unrecorded way the future triumphs of the work we love.
—Lectures on Preaching