THE REVEREND HENRY CHRISTMAS'S PREACHERS AND PREACHING.
Ix strictness the subject of this volume is sermons ; that is, how to plan, compose, and preach them with the greatest effect. The formal way in which Mr. Christmas presents the subject to his readers is rather more complicated. After discussing the end of preaching, the qualifications necessary to the preacher, and ac- knowledging the indisputable fact that the sermonizing of the Church of England at all events is not now so good and profitable as it might be, Mr. Christmas takes a review of "preachers and preaching" from the close of the Apostolic age to the present time, and arrives at a really comfortable result. Our living divines are not so eloquent as critical theory might require ; but practically and comparatively we are not so badly off after all. A sketch is given of the pulpit characteristics of seven Fathers, including Saint Augustine and Chrysostom, and they are pronounced to be no such wonderful orators ; and truly the curt extracts from their works rather support this conclusion. The preachers of the middle ages and of the Reformation fare" little better ; Hooker's personal appearance was mean, his eye fixed and inexpressive, his action not bad, because he had none. The great popular preacher of the Tudor age, and the great painter of old English life and manners, Hugh Latimer, is merely noted in passing for his rather broad peculiarities, and relegated to the class of eccentric preach- ers. "He appears to have formed his style very much upon that of the travelling friars of the age immediately pre- ceding. Merry stories—jests, often not of the most delicate order, enlivened the Sunday discourse of the favourite friar, and such we find engrafted without scruple into the sermons of the venerable Bishop of Worcester ; in fact so much do they characterize his style, that we shall defer any remarks upon Latimer till we come to treat of eccentric preaching " ; under which head, by the by, we have the estimate of Mr. Blunt, not of Mr. Christmas ; both critics seeming more clearly to perceive the errors which the martyr-bishop had in common with his age, than the graphic power and vigorous genius that were for all time. The great divines and preachers of the seventeenth me* tury—Taylor, Donne, South, Barrow, and others,—receive fuller praise. The preachers of the last century are truly described as writing moral essays rather than spirit-stirring sermons, but we think that, as in most of the previous eras, sufficient allowance is not made for the influence of the preachers' age, while enough of praise is not given to their real merits. After dismissing the present century, or more truly the present generation, with the notice of a crop of ecclesiastical orators of whose existence, or at least of whose merits, many persons were not aware, the anther proceeds to classes of preaching. He compares extempore with written sermons, touches upon open-air preaching, and discusses the various kinds of sermons in which preaching the gospel is not the primary object—as historical, literary, scientific, controver- sial, and occasional discourses. He also notices styles of preach- ing, as the poetical, the picturesque, the eccentric. Under this head, Mr. Spurgeon has a whole chapter to himself, one main ob- ject of which is to account for his success. As far as mere popu- lar interest is concerned this is likely to be the most attractive in the book, from the current nature of the subject. Here are the congregation and the preacher at the Music Hall on Sunday morn- ing.
"Every available seat is taken long before the service commences. The attendants on Mr. Spurgeon's regular ministry may be discovered without much trouble. They look devout, but not intellectual; bring with them books, (Bibles and hymn-books,) and usually occupy a large proportion of the front seats, in the body of the hall. Many fashionable visitors are to be seen in the reserved stalls on the right hand side of the first gallery, and a mixed multitude' eagerly take every place where standing room is to be obtained. During the period occupied in waiting for the commencement of service—and this is a long one, for it is necessary to go very early—the whole congregation, save the regular hearers, conduct themselves as though they considered the whole arrangements as got up for their amusement; there is none of that serious, reserved, and devout air which we expect to see, and generally do see, at church ; some have books evidently neither Bibles, prayer-books, nor hymn-books. Newspapers are not unknown ; conversation goes on freely, and by no means in a subdued tone ; and, in short, every mode of filling up the intervening time between being comfort- ably settled in a stall and the commencement of the service seems law- ful and expedient, provided it be not too noisy. "At a few minutes beyond half-past ten Mr. Spurgeon takes his place in a large and wide pulpit, and the wholq assembly is hushed into silence. Rather short in stature, and too much inclined to obesity to be grac the preacher is a man pleasant to look upon. His complexion is clear an healthy ; his hair black, and lying in fine, massy flakes over a well-formed head ; and it is at once easy to see that the best portraits of him are far from doing him justice, and that the great majority are mere caricatures. His voice is peculiarly fine, at once sweet and powerful, enabling him, without any apparent exertion, to fill every part of the vast hall in which he preaches. It is susceptible of mush modulation, and is managed with con- summate skill. It is probable that in this endowment lies no small part of Mr. Spurgeon's means of success. The only objection to be made is an oc- casional provinciality of accent, but by no means sufficiently marked to be
offensive. • •
"The sermon is usually about three-quarters of an hour in duration, and its composition can be judged of as well by the printed copy as by hearing it delivered. There is no great amount of action ; the preacher seems per- fectly self-possessed, does not shout, nor whine, nor strain his voice, but speaks like one thoroughly in earnest, and far too much occupied by the matter to be thinking much about the manner of his discourse."
• Preachers and Preaching. By Henry Christmas, M.A., F.R.S., Thurso day Morning Lecturer at St. Petees, Cornhill. &c. Published by Lay.
The remainder of the topics are directly didactic ; the choice of texts ; how the preacher should begin—" exordia"; how he should conclude—" perorations "; by what means he should manage his voice, the manner he should adopt in the pulpit, and the nature of his action. The precepts are enforced by instances, as the merits of different preachers are illustrated by quotations from their sermons. This is a story from extempore preaching in Connexion with the difficulties and risks that attend the practice, with diffident or slow-minded divines.
"It is worse still when they break down altogether. A popular preacher at Cambridge, about thirty years ago, finding himself in this defaulting predicament, is said to have relieved himself by the singular expedient of shouting Hallelujah !' and asking his congregation, Can ye not respond to the joyful sound" During thew hallelujahs, the perplexed gentleman recovered himself. Another resorted to the expedient of reciting the Lord's Prayert at which it is customary for the congregation to rise ; during the rising, repetition, and sitting down, time was gamed for the scat- tered thoughts to be collected, or fresh ones to be acquired."
As a history of preachers and preaching, the space to which Mr. Christmas has confined himself is much too limited. Any one of the broad divisions of his subject—Fathers, schoolmen, the me- diteval preachers, or those of the Reformation, or the great Angli- can divines of the seventeenth ecntury, would each require a small volume to be properly exhibited. Considered as notices, we think they might have been done with more of thorough grasp, and more striking specimens selected. We will not un- dertake that better examples of vital religion could not have been gotten from the Fathers ; but better passages certainly might ; and the same remark applies more or less to all the div' Ines up to this century. Of contemporary preachers and speci- mens, there is no lack. The quotations from _Irving are nearly as long as those from all the Fathers put together. Maurice and Kingsley are but slightly noticed. The late Mr. Robertson of Brighton, whom we consider to have been one of the most ef- fective preachers that ever entered a pulpit, is only passingly men- tioned, while Mr. Willmott, a pleasant critic and an agreeable describer of country life, and Dr. Croly, a kind of " Dizzy " in divinity, so far as regards rhetoric, and /dr. Bellew, are exhibited as the lights of the church. The last especially figures as one of the greatest pulpit orators in the picturesque style that ever lived.
"He never throws away a word, never introduces a coarse or inelegant expression, never dwells sufficiently on minute details so as to mar the effect of the whole. He paints with the hand of a master, sometimes with all the ethereal beauty of a Raffaelle, sometimes with the luxurious splendour of a Titian, sometimes with the wild and savage grawleur of a Salvator, and sometimes with all the picturesque gloom of a Rembrandt. His matter gains by his manner, for no preacher of our time has greater oratorical gifts by nature ; and no man has taken more pains to improve and cultivate them."