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It ranks with the high and powerful things in eloquence. We give the following from the sermon on The Better Resur
" rection” as a specimen :
“With the grandeur of a God, he (the King) leaves the heavens and places his throne in the region above the earth. The saints and angels gather around with great expectations, to see the wonders which are about to unfold. The trumpet sounds again. The blast shakes the universe. The earth is affrighted to its centre. The planets are torn from their orbits. Worlds dash against worlds. The disjointed universe is in flames. The general shock has broken off the covering of hell, and the awful glories of the day break in upon the damned with unknown terrors. They are forced to ascend. The horrid forms come swarming forth. The saints shudder and crowd nearer their Prince. The universal convulsion has opened all the graves. The dead bodies begin to move .... Columns of rising dead now fill all the air, some with shrieks and some with hallelujahs on their tongues. When they approach the tribunal they divide, these going to the right and those to the left. An awful pause
The books—all the secrets of men are brought forth to light.”
Our author's strength and earnestness of application, led him to a frequent use of the interrogation, and he succeeds often in making it significant and silencing. By it, he changes the movement, so as to relieve the ear and keep up the attention. By it, he quickens the progress, and drives home the truth with a smarter impulse. Skilfully used, this is an effective form of address; but when inaptly employed and to excess, it is by no means powerful. Our author has too much of it from the very urgency of his hortation. It is very easy for preachers to overuse this figure, because it is very easy to ask questions somehow. Occasionally it is carried so far, that it is perfectly peurile. It loads, it oppresses the hearer; he really begs you to desist—to spare him, and not absolutely bury him up with that sort of rubbish.
There is a good degree of simplicity in the sermons, not however in the sense of severe abstinence from figure, or of rapid and delicate touches of the pencil, but in the sense of perfect intelligibleness and singleness of aim and depth of impression. They have simplicity, as not being loaded with foreign matter; matter lugged in where it does not belong, and where it stands in the way and prevents the full effect of the fitting and powerful.
By his excluding and excinding process, our author brought his sermons within a reasonable compass. They could not be forced into a much less space without injuring them. Brevity is a quality in preaching which is greatly praised in our time; it
is loudly and very generally demanded, and there is a growling sullenness with many if the demand is not heeded. Cotton Mather's device over his study door, they would transfer, if they could, to every minister's pulpit; “Be short." No matter what
- " else, if the preacher will only be short. They will forgive a savage severity and a bloekhead barrenness; anything, if he will but be short. It is certainly well, that preachers so far regard this feeling as to avoid a needless prolixity. The sermons before us are good models as to length. Whoever would find fault with the dimensions our author allowed, deserves to be set down as a flagrant grumbler. No matter though there be an unusual length now and then; if the thoughts are all rich, and to the point, let the speaker be thanked rather than cursed for the bountiful repast. But when the wearying length comes from inappropriate discussion and foolish episodes-whole paragraphs and pages, which might and ought to have been shook out, then let the speaker not be cursed, but, from some quarter, taught better.
Dr. Griffin seems to have preached with a strong feeling of his dependence upon God. He says in the sermon which was taken from his own experience: "I knew a preacher, who, under such a sense (of dependence) scarcely looked at his audience during a whole service, and cared not whether they were asleep or awake, feeling that the question of a revival did not lie between him and them, but was to be settled in heaven; and glorious effects followed that day." Our author might have trusted in his remarkable endowments; there was a temptation to do so; but had he done so, the result would have been different. There would have been power, and many would have admired it; but not a power unto salvation; this comes from God only, and it comes upon those who feel that they have it not inherently; but who in weakness pray that God will clothe them with it.
Thus far we have been looking for some things which went to make out the great power of our author as a preacher of the gospel; and we find a gigantic body occupied by a gigantic mind; a clear and strong head, a great and warm heart; we find everywhere God's holy truth, and valid thoughts and reasonings upon it, stated in a way to strike-couched in a style manly, clear, often of great strength and admirable simplicity, pervaded throughout with a glowing earnestness, breaking out often in the most impassioned figures,-a bold, rough, vivid, compound. The effect must have been specifically something like this : 1. The hearers' sensibilities must have been stirred : a concussion so heavy could not fail to rouse him; a body so near and glowing could not fail to warm him. 2. Another effect was to excite the imagination. The living, burning pictures presented before it, unquestionably operated with strange power upon this faculty. 3. A third effect was to carry truth into the understanding, and so fix it there that it would abide. Few preachers have equalled our author in this respect, in causing himself to be remembered. Says Dr. Noah Porter, of Farmington, Connecticut : “I was twelve years old when he preached in this town, and I remember his person, attitude, dress, modulations of voice, and some of his texts and illustrations, as though they were presented but yesterday.” Hundreds of others can give a similar testimony. The last and best effect was upon the conscience and the heart. At these he arrived with singular constancy: upon and into these he hurled masses of truth, so pointed and heavy, that they could not fail to be felt; and in frequent instances did the work for which Griffin prayed, and for which truth was given.
How great, how blessed the influence of the talented and faithful minister of the gospel from that once place of his labors—the pulpit. Who can estimate the amount of good done, the number of souls saved, by the fervid preaching of Griffin ? Already has he met many such in heaven; and many more are yet to go up, and take their places as gems in the crown of his rejoicing.
Before closing these remarks, it occurs to us to say, that it is a question of some considerable importance, and one difficult to settle; what constitutes the truly effective sermon-the sermon which does great execution upon its delivery, quickening the friends and subduing the enemies of God? We hear such a sermon; we witness its effects; we ask what produces those effects? It is not because it was a learned sermon; or because it had a great amount of original investigation and new thought, or because it was remarkable as a specimen of dense and profound matter. It is notorious that the men who have achieved these popular results, have not been the great thinkers of their day. Far from it; they have been reproached, in some instances, as shallow men; as dealing in noisy declamation, in common-place even; saying their common things over and over again. Now it was in part because they did the things they were blamed for doing, that they produced the effects they did. The orator is not necessarily a philosopher, nor a discoverer, nor a great and deep thinker. He does his works, when he takes the discovered, admitted things, the common, every-day ideas, and plants them, as convicting, persuading truth, in the minds of those who hear him. In doing this, he does a great work, and he is a benefactor who will be remembered in eternity.
As it is true, that the effectiveness lies not in the deep and new thought, so it is true, that it does not lie in the smooth and finished rhetoric. Indeed, there is nothing clearer, than that a discourse may be rhetorically defective, and yet spiritually powerful. It may convict numbers of sin, while itself transgresses
the acknowledged and wholesome laws of taste. For example, the sermon of our author, entitled, “ The Tokens of Perdition,” which, in our judgment, is more than usually faulty, as brought to the standard of a fastidious rhetoric, is said to have been one of the most rousing, when poured upon the conscience of the slumbering sinner. Still it will hardly do to say, that it was more powerful than others, for being more out of taste than others. Nor is it the whole truth to say, that the spiritually powerful part did its execution, in despite of the rhetorically faulty part. There was really something in the latter which contributed to seize and impress the common mind. The common, uncultivated mind, is not like the finely cultivated mind. What will strike and sink into the former, will sometimes offend and bound from the latter. There is no morbid, squeamish niceness about the common mind. It is sound, and hale, and whole. To meet it the most effectively, we are not to approach it with soft and mincing step, with everything very precise, squared and filed according to rule. It prefers something more obtrusive; something bolder and heavier. It heeds not the clumsiness of that sentence, or the awkwardness of that figure; he feels the thrusting truth, and deems it a noble sermon. The point to be aimed at is, to get the right medium and balance in this respect,—to be sufficiently palpable, without being offensively coarse. Still we adventure the remark, that it is better to stand on the side of a raking coarseness, than at the opposite extreme of carefulness and finery. We see men standing on that side vastly powerful and useful. There are barbarisms, and solecisms, and jumbled imagery, and yet a mighty cogency. We wish they would do differently, and so far learn and heed the rules of grammar and style, as not to shock fastidious ears. These things might be abated, without any abatement of power.
. But these men seem not able to bring about a change. They must do things in their own way, or they can do nothing. Any attempt to bend themselves very much aside from their accustomed mode embarrasses them, and shears them of their strength. Facts compel us to admit, that grammar, nor rhetoric, is the instrument which converts men, but the truth of God; this, palpably, vividly brought out, will prove mighty in the work of God.
It is appropriate to remark in this connection, that the heated and glowing men, the men of remarkable imagination, and who are, therefore, men of great power, are liable to great offences. The imagination, excited and stimulated by the strength of feeling, is allowed to work very freely, and in these circumstances it is very sure to overdo. There is an excess of painting; and the pictures are excessively wrought. Things are made extravagant and startling, in order to start the feelings. It is a misjudg
ment. Dr. Griffin says truly, in one of his discourses: "If there is ever need of simplicity, it is when we attempt the pathetic." The sacred writers always observed this law, and how they touch the place of tears. The evangelists give us some of the most perfect historical sketches in the world, -perfect for simplicity, and powerful as perfect. The pencil does just enough. Still, men of the dashing temperament are not satisfied: they come along and put their coarse daubings right on top of these exquisite touches of the inspired penman. They want something more highly wrought and harrowing. The result is, we are shocked, when we are expected to weep. The simple thought or image would have reached us; but the heavy trappings of it, keep it off. All attempts at "the plastering of marble or painting of gold” are gratuitous: it is labor thrown away.
It is very easy to overdo, and make a thing which should be good, seem very bad; for the very good and the very bad in oratory, are separated by a narrow line; they dwell in juxta position. How often is it, in falling upon some bold and powerful strain, that the writer stops and considers :-Will it do? He himself is startled-is in doubt, and he finds that it will not do, without some modifying, or hauling in. In the original conception, it was just over the line; he brings it just within the line. There everything lies of the higher sort in eloquence. Hence it is that some, who say many fine and striking things, say also some very offensive things. Hence it is, that persons are prone to commit
, their grossest rhetorical sins in their most excited moments, when in the highest exertion of their impassioned powers. It would be well if all would look sharply to themselves, when they have adventured, or have been borne to, these outer limits of propriety.
A severer restraint is demanded, upon what is intended to be printed than upon what is intended to be spoken; for manner, of the skilful sort, may be made to do much in abating what is offensive in matter. Indeed, what appears bad in unhumoring and inflexible type, may have been not only tolerable, but even forcible and taking, as changed and swayed by tone, and look, and gesture. It is said, by those who were in the habit of hearing Dr. Griffin, that some of the passages in his sermons,
which appear decidedly objectionable as we read them, were warmly received, and made a deep impression, as he delivered them.
Dr. Griffin is an illustration of the power and value of manner, in other respects. We apprehend, that no small part of the effect he produced, and the good he accomplished, were the result of manner. By this, he made the people see him; he made them hear him, understand him, and feel him, and the truth he threw at them. Why then do so many, in the presence of such