Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

inherit the kingdom of heaven ?" But the preacher means your kindred ; and would it not have been better to have said so?

Dr. Griffin evidently brought in some of the objectionable features of the French pulpit. The address to the Divine Being, in the way of rhetorical flowers, in our judgment, is altogether objectionable. "My God, the eternal pit has closed upon

“ them forever !” “Good God! is not this enough ?" The dramatic strokes, we suppose, belong to the same school. “Yonder

. is a man dying in all the horrors of a guilty conscience. His quivering lips attenipt to speak, 'O, Eternity, Eternity, who can enter thee when thou art filled with fire. O, life, how hast thou been spent!' A convulsion stops his voice. Support that sinking mother, and that fainting sister.” Things of this sort are certainly more appropriate to the stage than to the pulpit. They would be gross faults in other men; indeed, if attempted by ordinary preachers, they would seem ridiculous; but in the hands of Dr. Griffin they doubtless did execution. Perhaps we ought not to call them faults, as proceeding from him, still we are constrained to do it.

It is rather remarkable, that some of these faults of figure and language, which are more appropriate to our young and quick blood, adhered to our author, as they seem to have done, in advanced years. Indeed, some of the later productions exhibit these faults to a greater degree than some of the earlier. Dr. Griffin preached two Missionary sermons; one in 1805, when a young man, at Philadelphia ; the other, before the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, as the grave and distinguished President of Williams' College. The production of the young man, we think, decidedly surpasses, in strength of thought and language, in clear logic and good taste, the production of the more advanced and nature man. Indeed, we hardly know where to look for a nobler sermon than the first named, either within or without the precincts of our author. There is a still later effort, the discourse before the Convention of Congregational Ministers of Massachusetts, a stirring and eloquent production, indeed, but, as it seems to us, still more defective on the score of maturity and taste. How this turning about of the order of nature happened, in the case of Dr. Griffin, (and the same has been noticed in Burke and Lord Bacon, we shall not stop to consider.

We have been somewhat surprised at the frequent want of neatness and skill in the order and the statement of the topics of these sermons. There is not room to go into minute criticism at this point; but a single instance will be adduced, namely, the fault as occurring in one of the author's most eloquent and powerful sermons-that on the Worth of the Soul. It seems to

have been prepared early in the author's ministry, and often preached with great admiration and effect. The text is, Matt. 16: 26, For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul ? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? The subject is, the Superior Value of the Soul. How does this appear ? From the following considerations : “I. From its essence and capacities;" "II. From the amazing respect that has been paid to it,” (God, Christ, angels, devils, have shown it their high regard ;) “III. What completes the value of the Soul, is its immortality and eternal progression." Now it appears to us, that this general arrangement is decidedly illogical." "If we look into the nature of the argument, we perceive that it is an argument a priorifrom cause to effect. The fact of the soul's superior value is asserted in the text, and in the clearest manner : so clear assertion, by so high authority, is proof enough of the fact. Still, if we wish to reinforce this point, and make, if possible, the conception of the fact still stronger, we adduce, in connection with the affirmation of Christ, what Christ has done for the soul; what God has done, what angels have done and are doing : it is here under the head of fact, that all our author's second general head belongs. What he has made one of three main arguments, does not partake of the nature of argument; in other words, does not belong to that category of argument, but wholly to the question of fact ;-goes to corroborate the assertion of fact. On other grounds there is a peculiar infelicity in the position of the second head; that which argues the soul's superior value from the amazing respect that has been paid to it; the first and third heads, comprising the essence and capacities of the soul, then its immortality and eternal progression obviously constitute, as we have said, the whole that belongs to the argument in the sense of accounting for, or of showing how appears the superior worth of the soul. The powers of the soul, its power of knowing and doing, its capacity for enjoyment,-a growing capacity, an eternal capacity,—these make out the fact or effect, as asserted by the lips, and corroborated by the doings, of Christ and others, namely, the superior worth of the soul.

It was then a gross misarrangement, to put the matter of the second head in the place it occupies; as it is a rude throwing asunder what nature, and the God of nature, had put intimately together.

Perhaps in no other part of sermons can faults be more frequently detected, than in the order and statement of the topics. Sometimes there appears great slovenliness, where, on the whole, there is great power in the discourse. The fault, in these cases, must spring from carelessness : for there is a right order, which may be rather easily perceived; some one order which is preferable to all others : an order of nature, which common sense,

a

[ocr errors]

a

nature's expositor, will point out to those who will heed so humble a voice. This faculty tells us to insert what partakes of definition before what partakes of motive; to give instruction before we attempt appeal and persuasion ; to shed some light before we get up the high heat. The observance of the true, the natural order in sermons, is a grand beauty; the neglect and violation, a serious disfigurement. We have a right to expect neatness, cleanness, and clearness, in the arranging and announcing of the heads of discourse.

Whenever a man, trained to system, through heedlessness slavers over these parts, we have a right to be offended.

But though we are sometimes surprised, in reading Dr. Griffin's sermons, at the palpable blemishes which occasionally appear in matters of taste, we more frequently admire the beauty and the power which meet our view. Power is our author's leading characteristic. His preaching, both his matter and speech, were powerful. It being so, that many of these sermons produced the greatest effects, it is an inquiry of some interest, what gave them their effectiveness? What attributes do we find in these discourses, which will account for the strong and deep impression they made on their delivery?

We might reply, in a word, that we find great and important truth, made vivid upon the minds of the hearers. We have already intimated, that these sermons are not remarkable as specimens of what is termed, in way of distinction, instructive preaching: certainly they are not such, in the peculiar and high sense in which the sermons of Dr. Emmons bear this character. We think no admirer of Dr. Griffin will claim for them the merit of extraordinary fulness, richness, and power of instruction. Some other men, who have lived and preached, and died in comparative obscurity, have exceeded our author in a pregnant and loaded richness of discourse : they have exceeded him, too, in uniformity of richness. It is very obvious that Dr. Griffin sometimes flags in strength and interest. He occasionally gives us rather tame, and almost empty paragraphs; now and then a whole discourse that borders upon the meagre; more bulk than weight. But whilst it is true, that there is this disparity; true, also, that his power does not come from a condensed richness of discourse, it must be admitted that there is substantially good and attractive matter; strong sense, great and weighty conceptions. This was the basis of his eloquence, as it is of all valid eloquence, namely, in the general, solid, and manly thinking.

Another of the potent qualities in our author's eloquence, is what we choose to call palpableness. We mean by this, that he seized the strong points of a subject ; that he took the thoughts, figures, and illustrations, which stand out, and are fitted to strike

with force and weight on the common mind. He cleaves invariably and literally to the Bible style of representation. God's wrath is kindled; the furbished and whetted sword gleams before us; the fire of the pit burns unquenchably; the smoke of the torments of the damned ascends; heaven appears with its golden streets and gates of pearl; the harps are seized; the songs are heard. All is palpable throughout; something visible, something tangible, on every page—almost in every sentence. Dr. Griffin was no mean metaphysician, and occasionally indulged in metaphysical speculations, but he allowed very little of this sort in the pulpit, because, probably, he had no belief in the fitness of truth, abstractly stated, and finely spun out, to arrest and subdue the mind. It would be well for preachers always to understand, that the Gospel, translated into philosophy, is not and never will be, the power of God to salvation. Let them know that airy speculations, intangible, unintelligible forms of matter, exquisite and towering nonsense, are not the things for the orator. There is nothing in the human mind that responds to such stuff. Not a chord in the human heart is struck by it. It has always been, from Demosthenes to the present time, another sort and style of material, that has effected the convictions and the persuasions of eloquence. It was our author's habit of dwelling upon the things of eternity, already alluded to, which contributed to give his preaching the strong and palpable character which marked it. This habit of intimacy with the unseen and eternal, is always of great service to the preacher. It gave to Paul's writings and appeals much of their fervor, and majesty, and torrent-like force ; and it will give a measure of these properties to the discourses of others. It will enable them to employ great power and solemnity of motive. They will handle the Word of Life, and put it forth upon the people with a force and weight that will give it entrance, and ensure execution. Infinite considerations are brought to bear directly upon the hearer's mind. There is authority in such messages, so linked are they with the throne and the will of the Eternal King, so prophetic are they of the decisions of the final day. They are influential, as taking right hold of the life or the death of the soul, the happiness or the misery of every hearer's immortality. The preacher of the habit in question, feels that there is no space for trifling, or for self-display; he feels that the time is short, eternity an overwhelming revelation, the soul of incomprehensible worth, its condition here a slippery uncertainty, its doom, if lost, an immense catastrophe of woe. Power, faithfulness, success, then, come often from this intimacy with eternal things. It was certainly so with our author.

The preaching of Dr. Griffin, in the days of his greatest strength, bore throughout a very strongly marked evangelical

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

character. It was not eminently so in the early part of his ministry. He says, “ The subject, (referring to Christ's priesthood), has been awfully overlooked in my preaching. It has been a just complaint, that there was not enough of Christ in my sermons. And when I have spoken of the atonement, it has been in a clumsy, systematic way, in which the most charming views of it have been passed by.” “In the early part of his Christian course," says Dr. Sprague, “his mind seems to have been occupied more with the severer truths of God's word; but in his later days, he was much more disposed to dwell upon the grace and glory of the Gospel, the fitness of its provisions, and the freeness of its offers.” Let it be observed, here, that he changed the tone of his preaching, not from the conviction of his head, but from the experience of his heart. He first felt, with new intensity, the power of the great evangelical doctrine upon his own soul, and then he employed it with skill, as the power of God, upon the souls of others. The appeal was powerful, because it was a transcript of his experience. Referring to a particular occasion, he says, "I was affected, spoke with simplicity and feeling on these points ; informed the people that I could not convey the sense I had of the holiness of God, and the glorious mystery of this High Priest; that flesh and blood, I was sure, could not reveal it to them. 'I could not bear that any should lose so much, as to lose this precious Savior, and affectionately invited and urged all to come to him. Although I took no pains to speak, and was

. only struggling in vain to get out the sense of these things, which was in my mind, the people melted under the discourse. The power here was the power of evangelical sentiment, sent forth warm from the heart, as matter of fresh experience. Dr. Griffin, in other instances, felt out, rather than thought out, his sermons. The heart, not the head, was the laboratory. His sermon on the "Prayer of Faith,” one of the most remarkable and striking the author produced, was made in this way. He says of it, “ My sermon on the 'Prayer of Faith,' which I have just sent on to the National Preacher, and a copy of which I leave in manuscript to my children, was copied, with great exactness, from my exercises at that time, mingled in with my exercises in other revivals. Except the single clause, 'because men keep not God's law,' which I drew from the experience of David, all the eight particulars were drawn from my own experience, with as much exactness as I could possibly attain.' Sermons so made are peculliarly effective, because the Holy Spirit has much to do with them; in a sense, He is the author, as He produces the feelings of which the sermon is a copy. They are true to nature and revelation. They have a graphic accuracy of description which sometimes causes the hearer to start, and wonder where the preacher got his knowledge of his own unuttered secrets. This

6

« VorigeDoorgaan »