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Title: Hints on Extemporaneous Preaching
Author: Ware, Henry, 1794-1843
Language: English
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                       EXTEMPORANEOUS PREACHING.

                           BY HENRY WARE, JR.

      Maximus vero studiorum fructus est, et velut præmium quoddam
        amplissimum longi laboris, ex tempore dicendi facultas.

                                                 _Quinct._ x. 7.


                 University Press--Hilliard & Metcalf.

                              THE STUDENTS
                                 IN THE
                         THIS LITTLE TREATISE,
                                WITH THE
                               THE AUTHOR.


  Advantages of Extemporaneous Preaching

  Disadvantages--Objections considered



It is the object of this little work, to draw the attention of those who
are preparing for the christian ministry, or who have just entered it,
to a mode of preaching which the writer thinks has been too much
discountenanced and despised; but which, under proper restrictions, he
is persuaded may add greatly to the opportunities of ministerial
usefulness. The subject has hardly received the attention it deserves
from writers on the pastoral office, who have usually devoted to it but
a few sentences, which offer little encouragement and afford no aid.
Burnet, in his Treatise on the Pastoral Care, and Fenelon in his
Dialogues on Eloquence, have treated it more at large, but still very
cursorily. To their arguments and their authority, which are of great
weight, I refer the more distinctly here, because I have not quoted them
so much at large as I intended when I wrote the beginning of the second
chapter. Besides these, the remarks of Quinctilian, x. 7. on the subject
of speaking extempore, which are full of his usual good sense, may be
very profitably consulted.

It has been my object to state fully and fairly the benefits which
attend this mode of address in the pulpit, and at the same time to guard
against the dangers and abuses to which it is confessedly liable. How
far I may have succeeded, it is not for me to determine. It would be
something to persuade but one to add this to his other talents for doing
good in the church. Even the attempt to do it, though unsuccessful,
would not be without its reward; since it could not be fairly made
without a most salutary moral and intellectual discipline.

It is not to be expected--nor do I mean by any thing I have said to
intimate--that every man is capable of becoming an accomplished preacher
in this mode, or that every one may succeed as well in this as in the
ordinary mode. There is a variety in the talents of men, and to some
this may be peculiarly unsuited. Yet this is no good reason why _any_
should decline the attempt, since it is only by making the attempt that
they can determine whether or not success is within their power.

There is at least one consequence likely to result from the study of
this art and the attempt to practise it, which would alone be a
sufficient reason for urging it earnestly. I mean, its probable effect
in breaking up the constrained, cold, formal, scholastic mode of
address, which follows the student from his college duties, and keeps
him from immediate contact with the hearts of his fellow men. This would
be effected by his learning to speak from his feelings, rather than from
the critical rules of a book. His address would be more natural, and
consequently better adapted to effective preaching.



It is a little remarkable that, while some classes of christians do not
tolerate the preaching of a written discourse, others have an equal
prejudice against all sermons which have not been carefully precomposed.
Among the latter are to be found those who favor an educated ministry,
and whose preachers are valued for their cultivated minds and extensive
knowledge. The former are, for the most part, those who disparage
learning as a qualification for a christian teacher, and whose ministers
are consequently not accustomed to exact mental discipline, nor familiar
with the best models of thinking and writing. It might seem at first
view, that the least cultivated would require the greatest previous
preparation in order profitably to address their fellow-men, and that
the best informed and most accustomed to study might be best trusted to
speak without the labor of written composition. That it has been thought
otherwise, is probably owing, in a great measure, to the solicitude for
literary exactness and elegance of style, which becomes a habit in the
taste of studious men, and renders all inaccuracy and carelessness
offensive. He who has been accustomed to read and admire the finest
models of composition in various languages, and to dwell on those
niceties of method and expression which form so large a part of the
charm of literary works; acquires a critical delicacy of taste, which
renders him fastidiously sensitive to those crudities and roughnesses of
speech, which almost necessarily attend an extemporaneous style. He is
apt to exaggerate their importance, and to imagine that no excellencies
of another kind can atone for them. He therefore protects himself by the
toil of previous composition, and ventures not a sentence which he has
not leisurely weighed and measured. An audience also, composed of
reading people, or accustomed to the exactness of written composition in
the pulpit, acquires something of the same taste, and is easily offended
at the occasional homeliness of diction, and looseness of method, which
occur in extemporaneous speaking. Whereas those preachers and hearers,
whose education and habits of mind have been different, know nothing of
this taste, and are insensible to these blemishes; and, if there be only
a fluent outpouring of words, accompanied by a manner which evinces
earnestness and sincerity, are pleased and satisfied.

It is further remarkable, that this prejudice of taste has been suffered
to rule in this way in no profession but that of the ministry. The most
fastidious taste never carries a written speech to the bar or into the
senate. The very man who dares not ascend the pulpit without a sermon
diligently arranged, and filled out to the smallest word, if he had gone
into the profession of the law, would, at the same age and with no
greater advantages, address the bench and the jury in language
altogether unpremeditated. Instances are not wanting in which the
minister, who imagined it impossible to put ten sentences together in
the pulpit, has found himself able, on changing his profession, to speak
fluently for an hour.

I have no doubt that to speak extempore is easier at the bar and in the
legislature, than in the pulpit. Our associations with this place are of
so sacred a character, that our faculties do not readily play there with
their accustomed freedom. There is an awe upon our feelings which
constrains us. A sense, too, of the importance and responsibility of the
station, and of the momentous consequences depending on the influence he
may there exert, has a tendency to oppress and embarrass the
conscientious man, who feels it as he ought. There is also, in the other
cases, an immediate end to be attained, which produces a powerful
immediate excitement; an excitement, increased by the presence of those
who are speaking on the opposite side of the question, and in assailing
or answering whom, the embarrassment of the place is lost in the
interest of the argument. Whereas in the pulpit, there is none to
assault, and none to refute; the preacher has the field entirely to
himself, and this of itself is sufficiently dismaying. The ardor and
self-oblivion which present debate occasions, do not exist; and the
solemn stillness and fixed gaze of a waiting multitude, serve rather to
appal and abash the solitary speaker, than to bring the subject forcibly
to his mind. Thus every external circumstance is unpropitious, and it is
not strange that relief has been sought in the use of manuscripts.

But still, these difficulties, and others which I shall have occasion to
mention in another place, are by no means such as to raise that
insuperable obstacle which many suppose. They may all be overcome by
resolution and perseverance. As regards merely the use of unpremeditated
language, it is far from being a difficult attainment. A writer, whose
opportunities of observation give weight to his opinion, says, in
speaking of the style of the younger Pitt--"This profuse and
interminable flow of words is not in itself either a rare or remarkable
endowment. It is wholly a thing of habit; and is exercised by every
village lawyer with various degrees of power and grace."[1] If there be
circumstances which render the habit more difficult to be acquired by
the preacher, they are still such as may be surmounted; and it may be
made plain, I think, that the advantages which he may thus ensure to
himself are so many and so great, as to offer the strongest inducement
to make the attempt.

    [1] Europe; &c. by a Citizen of the United States.

That these advantages are real and substantial, may be safely inferred
from the habit of public orators in other professions, and from the
effects they are known to produce. There is more nature, more warmth in
the declamation, more earnestness in the address, greater animation in
the manner, more of the lighting up of the soul in the countenance and
whole mien, more freedom and meaning in the gesture; the eye speaks, and
the fingers speak, and when the orator is so excited as to forget every
thing but the matter on which his mind and feelings are acting, the
whole body is affected, and helps to propagate his emotions to the
hearer. Amidst all the exaggerated colouring of Patrick Henry's
biographer, there is doubtless enough that is true, to prove a power in
the spontaneous energy of an excited speaker, superior in its effects to
any thing that can be produced by writing. Something of the same sort
has been witnessed by every one who is in the habit of attending in the
courts of justice, or the chambers of legislation. And this, not only in
the instances of the most highly eloquent; but inferior men are found
thus to excite attention and produce effects, which they never could
have done by their pens. In deliberative assemblies, in senates and
parliaments, the larger portion of the speaking is necessarily
unpremeditated; perhaps the most eloquent is always so; for it is
elicited by the growing heat of debate; it is the spontaneous combustion
of the mind in the conflict of opinion. Chatham's speeches were not
written, nor Sheridan's, nor that of Ames on the British treaty. They
were, so far as regards their language and ornaments, the effusions of
the moment, and derived from their freshness a power, which no study
could impart. Among the orations of Cicero, which are said to have made
the greatest impression, and to have best accomplished the orator's
design, are those delivered on unexpected emergencies, which precluded
the possibility of previous preparation. Such were his first invective
against Catiline, and the speech which stilled the disturbances at the
theatre. In all these cases, there can be no question of the advantages
which the orators enjoyed in their ability to make use of the excitement
of the occasion, unchilled by the formality of studied preparation.
Although possibly guilty of many rhetorical and logical faults, yet
these would be unobserved in the fervent and impassioned torrent, which
bore away the minds of the delighted auditors.

It is doubtless very true, that a man of study and reflection,
accustomed deliberately to weigh every expression and analyze every
sentence, and to be influenced by nothing which does not bear the test
of the severest examination, may be most impressed by the quiet,
unpretending reading of a well digested essay or dissertation. To some
men the concisest statement of a subject, with nothing to adorn the
naked skeleton of thought, is most forcible. They are even impatient of
any attempt to assist its effect by fine writing, by emphasis, tone, or
gesture. They are like the mathematician, who read the Paradise Lost
without pleasure, because he could not see that it proved any thing. But
we are not to judge from the taste of such men, of what is suitable to
affect the majority. The multitude are not mere thinkers or great
readers. From their necessary habits they are incapable of following a
long discussion except it be made inviting by the circumstances
attending it, or the manner of conducting it. Their attention must be
excited and maintained by some external application. To them,

  Action is eloquence, and the eyes of the ignorant
  More learned than their ears.

It is a great fault with intellectual men, that they do not make
sufficient allowance for the different modes of education and habits of
mind in men of other pursuits. It is one of the infelicities of a
university education, that a man is there trained in a fictitious scene,
where there are interests, associations, feelings, exceedingly diverse
from what prevail in the society of the world; and where he becomes so
far separated from the habits and sympathies of other men, as to need to
acquire a new knowledge of them, before he knows how to address them.
When a young man leaves the seclusion of a student's life to preach to
his fellow-men, he is likely to speak to them as if they were scholars.
He imagines them to be capable of appreciating the niceties of method
and style, and of being affected by the same sort of sentiment,
illustration, and cool remark, which affects those who have been
accustomed to be moved and guided by the dumb and lifeless pages of a
book. He therefore talks to them calmly, is more anxious for correctness
than impression, fears to make more noise or to have more motion than
the very letters on his manuscript; addressing himself, as he thinks, to
the intellectual part of man; forgetting that the intellectual man is
not very easy of access, that it is barred up, and must be approached
through the senses and affections and imagination.

There was a class of rhetoricians and orators at Rome in the time of
Cicero, who were famous for having made the same mistake. They would do
every thing by a fixed and almost mechanical rule, by calculation and
measurement. Their sentences were measured, their gestures were
measured, their tones were measured; and they framed canons of judgment
and taste, by which it was pronounced an affront on the intellectual
nature of man to assail him with epithets, and exclamations, and varied
tones, and emphatic gesture. They censured the free and flowing manner
of Cicero as "tumid and exuberant," nec satis pressus, supra modum
exultans et superfluens. They cultivated a more guarded and concise
style, which might indeed please the critic or the scholar, but was
wholly unfitted to instruct or move a promiscuous audience; as was said
of one of them, oratio--doctis et attente audientibus erat illustris; a
multitudine autem et a foro, cui nata eloquentia est, devorabatur. The
taste of the multitude prevailed, and Cicero was the admiration of the
people, while those who pruned themselves by a more rigid and
philosophical law, _coldly correct and critically dull_, "were
frequently deserted by the audience in the midst of their harangues."[2]

    [2] Middleton's Life of Cicero, III. 324.

We may learn something from this. There is one mode of address for books
and for classical readers, and another for the mass of men, who judge by
the eye and ear, by the fancy and feelings, and know little of rules of
art or of an educated taste. Hence it is that many of those preachers
who have become the classics of a country, have been unattractive to the
multitude, who have deserted their polished and careful composition, for
the more unrestrained and rousing declamation of another class. The
singular success of Chalmers, seems to be in a considerable measure
owing to his attention to this fact. He has abandoned the pure and
measured style, and adopted a heterogeneous mixture of the gaudy,
pompous, and colloquial, offensive indeed to the ears of literary men,
but highly acceptable to those who are less biassed by the authority of
a standard taste and established models. We need not go to the extreme
of Chalmers,--for there is no necessity for inaccuracy, bombast, or
false taste--but we should doubtless gain by adopting his principle. The
object is to address men according to their actual character, and in
that mode in which their habits of mind may render them most accessible.
As but few are thinkers or readers, a congregation is not to be
addressed as such; but, their modes of life being remembered, constant
regard must be had to their need of external attraction. This is most
easily done by the familiarity and directness of extemporaneous address;
for which reason this mode of preaching has peculiar advantages, in its
adaptation to their situation and wants.

The truth is, indeed, that it is not the weight of the thought, the
profoundness of the argument, the exactness of the arrangement, the
choiceness of the language, which interest and chain the attention of
even those educated hearers, who are able to appreciate them all. They
are as likely to sleep through the whole as others. They can find all
these qualities in much higher perfection in their libraries; they do
not seek these only at church. And as to the large mass of the people,
they are to them hidden things, of which they discern nothing. It is not
these, so much as the attraction of an earnest manner, which arrests the
attention and makes instruction welcome. Every day's observation may
show us, that he who has this manner will retain the attention of even
an intellectual man with common-place thoughts, while with a different
manner he would render tedious the most novel and ingenious
disquisitions. Let an indifferent reader take into the pulpit a sermon
of Barrow or Butler, and all its excellence of argument and eloquence
would not save it from being accounted tedious; while an empty declaimer
shall collect crowds to hang upon his lips in raptures. And this manner,
which is so attractive, is not the studied artificial enunciation of the
rhetorician's school, but the free, flowing, animated utterance, which
seems to come from the impulse of the subject; which may be full of
faults, yet masters the attention by its nature and sincerity. This is
precisely the manner of the extemporaneous speaker--in whom the
countenance reflects the emotions of the soul, and the tone of voice is
tuned to the feelings of the heart, rising and falling with the subject,
as in conversation, without the regular and harmonious modulation of the
practised reader.

In making these and similar remarks, it is true that I am thinking of
the best extemporaneous speakers, and that all cannot be such. But it
ought to be recollected at the same time, that all cannot be excellent
_readers_; that those who speak ill, would probably read still worse;
and that therefore those who can attain to no eminence as speakers, do
not on that account fail of the advantages of which I speak, since they
escape at least the unnatural monotony of bad reading; than which
nothing is more earnestly to be avoided.

Every man utters himself with greater animation and truer emphasis in
speaking, than he does, or perhaps can do, in reading. Hence it happens
that we can listen longer to a tolerable speaker, than to a good reader.
There is an indescribable something in the natural tones of him who is
expressing earnestly his present thoughts, altogether foreign from the
drowsy uniformity of the man that reads. I once heard it well observed,
that the least animated mode of communicating thoughts to others, is the
reading from a book the composition of another; the next in order is the
reading one's own composition; the next is delivering one's own
composition memoriter; and the most animated of all is the uttering
one's own thoughts as they rise fresh in his mind. Very few can give the
spirit to another's writings which they communicate to their own, or can
read their own with the spirit, with which they spontaneously express
their thoughts. We have all witnessed this in conversation; when we have
listened with interest to long harangues from persons, who tire us at
once if they begin to read. It is verified at the bar, and in the
legislature, where orators maintain the unflagging attention of hearers
for a long period, when they could not have read the same speech without
producing intolerable fatigue. It is equally verified in the history of
the pulpit; for those who are accustomed to the reading of sermons, are
for the most part impatient even of able discourses, when they extend
beyond the half hour's length; while very indifferent extemporaneous
preachers are listened to with unabated attention for a full hour. In
the former case there is a certain uniformity of tone, and a perpetual
recurrence of the same cadences, inseparable from the manner of a
reader, from which the speaker remains longer free. This difference is
perfectly well understood, and was acted upon by Cecil, whose success as
a preacher gives him a right to be heard, when he advised young
preachers to "limit a written sermon to half an hour, and one from notes
to forty minutes."[3] For the same reason, those preachers whose reading
comes nearest to speaking, are universally more interesting than others.

    [3] _Cecil's Remains_--a delightful little book.

Thus it is evident that there is an attractiveness in this mode of
preaching, which gives it peculiar advantages. He imparts greater
interest to what he says, who is governed by the impulse of the moment,
than he who speaks by rule. When he feels the subject, his voice and
gesture correspond to that feeling, and communicate it to others as it
can be done in no other way. Though he possess but indifferent talents,
yet if he utter himself with sincerity and feeling, it is far pleasanter
than to listen to his cold reading of what he wrote perhaps with little
excitement, and delivers with less.

In thus speaking of the interest which attends an extemporaneous
delivery, it is not necessary to pursue the subject into a general
comparison of the advantages of this mode with those of reading and of
reciting from memory. Each has prevailed in different places and at
different periods, and each undoubtedly has advantages and disadvantages
peculiar to itself. These are well though briefly stated in the
excellent article on Elocution in Rees' Cyclopædia, to which it will be
sufficient to refer, as worthy attentive perusal. The question at large
I cannot undertake to discuss. If I should, I could hardly hope to
satisfy either others or myself. The almost universal custom of reading
in this part of the world, where recitation from memory is scarcely
known, and extempore speaking is practised by very few except the
illiterate, forbids any thing like a fair deduction from observation. In
order to institute a just comparison, one should have had extensive
opportunities of watching the success of each mode, and of knowing the
circumstances under which each was tried. For in the inquiry, which is
to be preferred in the pulpit,--we must consider, not which has most
excellencies when it is found in perfection, but which has excellencies
attainable by the largest number of preachers; not which is first in
theory or most beautiful as an art, but which has been and is likely to
be most successful in practice. These are questions not easily answered.
Each mode has its advocates and its opponents. In the English church
there is nothing but reading, and we hear from every quarter complaints
of it. In Scotland the custom of recitation prevails, but multitudes
besides Dr. Campbell[4] condemn it. In many parts of the continent of
Europe no method is known, but that of a brief preparation and
unpremeditated language; but that it should be universally approved by
those who use it, is more than we can suppose.

    [4] See his fourth Lecture on Pulpit Eloquence.

The truth is, that either method may fail in the hands of incompetent or
indolent men, and either may be thought to succeed by those whose taste
or prejudices are obstinate in its favor. All that I contend for, in
advocating unwritten discourse, is, that this method claims a decided
superiority over the others in some of the most important particulars.
That the others have their own advantages, I do not deny, nor that this
is subject to disadvantages from which they are free. But whatever these
may be I hope to show that they are susceptible of a remedy; that they
are not greater than those which attend other modes; that they are
balanced by equal advantages, and that therefore this art deserves to be
cultivated by all who would do their utmost to render their ministry
useful. There can be no good reason why the preacher should confine
himself to either mode. It might be most beneficial to cultivate and
practise all. By this means he might impart something of the advantages
of each to each, and correct the faults of all by mingling them with the
excellencies of all. He would learn to read with more of the natural
accent of the speaker, and to speak with more of the precision of the

The remarks already made have been designed to point out some of the
general advantages attending the use of unprepared language. Some others
remain to be noticed, which have more particular reference to the
preacher individually.

It is no unimportant consideration to a minister of the gospel, that
this is a talent held in high estimation among men, and that it gives
additional influence to him who possesses it. It is thought to argue
capacity and greatness of mind. Fluency of language passes with many,
and those not always the vulgar, for affluence of thought; and never to
be at a loss for something to say, is supposed to indicate inexhaustible
knowledge. It cannot have escaped the observation of any one accustomed
to notice the judgments which are passed upon men, how much reputation
and consequent influence are acquired by the power of speaking readily
and boldly, without any other considerable talent, and with very
indifferent acquisitions; and how a man of real talents, learning, and
worth, has frequently sunk below his proper level, from a mere
awkwardness and embarrassment in speaking without preparation. So that
it is not simply superstition which leads so many to refuse the name of
preaching to any but extemporaneous harangues; it is in part owing to
the natural propensity there is to admire, as something wonderful and
extraordinary, this facility of speech. It is undoubtedly a very
erroneous standard of judgment. But a minister of the gospel, whose
success in his important calling depends so much on his personal
influence, and the estimation in which his gifts are held, can hardly be
justified in slighting the cultivation of a talent, which may so
innocently add to his means of influence.

It must be remembered also, that occasions will sometimes occur, when
the want of this power may expose him to mortification, and deprive him
of an opportunity of usefulness. For such emergencies one would choose
to be prepared. It may be of consequence that he should express his
opinion in an ecclesiastical council, and give reasons for the adoption
or rejection of important measures. Possibly he may be only required to
state facts, which have come to his knowledge. It is very desirable to
be able to do this readily, fluently, without embarrassment to himself,
and pleasantly to those who hear; and in order to this, a habit of
speaking is necessary. In the course of his ministrations also amongst
his own people, occasions will arise when an exhortation or address
would be seasonable and useful, but when there is no time for written
preparation. If then he have cultivated the art of extemporaneous
speaking, and attained to any degree of facility and confidence in it,
he may avail himself of the opportunity to do good, which he must
otherwise have passed by unimproved. Funerals and baptisms afford
suitable occasions of making good religious impressions. A sudden
providence, also, on the very day of the sabbath may suggest most
valuable topics of reflection and exhortation, lost to him who is
confined to what he may have previously written, but choice treasure to
him who can venture to speak without writing. If it were only to avail
himself of a few opportunities like these in the course of his life, or
to save himself but once the mortification of being silent when he ought
to speak, is expected to speak, and would do good by speaking, it would
be well worth all the time and pains it might cost to acquire it.

It is a further advantage, not to be forgotten here, that the excitement
of speaking in public strikes out new views of a subject, new
illustrations, and unthought of figures and arguments, which perhaps
never would have presented themselves to the mind in retirement. "The
warmth which animates him," says Fenelon, "gives birth to expressions
and figures, which he never could have prepared in his study." He who
feels himself safe in flying off from the path he has prescribed to
himself, without any fear lest he should fail to find his way back, will
readily seize upon these, and be astonished at the new light which
breaks in upon him as he goes on, and flashes all around him. This is
according to the experience of all extemporaneous speakers. "The degree
in which," says Thomas Scott,[5] who practised this method constantly,
"after the most careful preparation for the pulpit, new thoughts, new
arguments, animated addresses, often flow into my mind, while speaking
to a congregation, even on very common subjects, makes me feel as if I
was quite another man than when poring over them in my study. There will
be inaccuracies; but generally the most striking things in my sermons
were unpremeditated."

    [5] Life, p. 268.

Then again, the presence of the audience gives a greater seeming reality
to the work; it is less like doing a task, and more like speaking to
men, than when one sits coolly writing at his table. Consequently there
is likely to be greater plainness and directness in his exhortations,
more closeness in his appeals, more of the earnestness of genuine
feeling in his expostulations. He ventures, in the warmth of the moment,
to urge considerations, which perhaps in the study seemed too familiar,
and to employ modes of address, which are allowable in personal
communion with a friend, but which one hesitates to commit to writing,
lest he should infringe the dignity of deliberate composition. This
forgetfulness of self, this unconstrained following the impulse of the
affections, while he is hurried on by the presence and attention of
those whom he hopes to benefit, creates a sympathy between him and his
hearers, a direct passage from heart to heart, a mutual understanding of
each other, which does more to effect the true object of religious
discourse, than any thing else can do. The preacher will, in this way,
have the boldness to say many things which ought to be said, but about
which, in his study, he would feel reluctant and timid. And granting
that he might be led to say some things improperly, yet if his mind be
well disciplined, and well governed, and his discretion habitual, he
will do it exceedingly seldom; while no one, who estimates the object of
preaching as highly as he should, will think an occasional false step
any objection against that mode which ensures upon the whole the
greatest boldness and earnestness. He will think it a less fault than
the tameness and abstractness, which are the besetting sins of
deliberate composition. At any rate, what method is secure from
occasional false steps?

Another consideration which recommends this method to the attention of
preachers, though at the same time it indicates one of its difficulties,
is this; that all men, from various causes, constitutional or
accidental, are subject to great inequality in the operations of their
minds--sometimes laboring with felicity and sometimes failing. Perhaps
this fact is in no men so observable as in preachers, because no others
are so much compelled to labor, and exhibit their labors, at all
seasons, favorable and unfavorable. There is a certain quantity of the
severest mental toil to be performed every week; and as the mind cannot
be always in the same frame, they are constantly presenting proofs of
the variation of their powers. Now an extemporaneous speaker is of
course exposed to all this inequality of spirits, and must expect to be
sometimes mortified by ill success. When the moment of speaking arrives,
his mind may be slow and dull, his thoughts sluggish and impeded; he may
be exhausted by labor, or suffering from temporary indisposition. He
strives in vain to rally his powers, and forces his way, with thorough
discomfort and chagrin, to the end of an unprofitable talk. But then how
many men _write_ under the same embarrassments, and are equally
dissatisfied; with the additional mortification of having spent a longer
time, and of being unable to give their poor preparation the interest of
a forcible manner, which the very distress of an extemporaneous effort
would have imparted.

But on the other hand, when his mind is bright and clear, and his animal
spirits lively, he will speak much better after merely a suitable
premeditation, than he can possibly write. There will be more point and
vigor and animation, than he could ever throw into writing. "Every man,"
says Bishop Burnet, "may thus rise far above what he could ever have
attained in any other way." We see proof of this in conversation. When
engaged in unrestrained and animated conversation with familiar friends,
who is not conscious of having struck out brighter thoughts and happier
sayings, than he ever put upon paper in the deliberate composition of
the closet? It is a common remark concerning many men, that they pray
much better than they preach. The reason is, that their sermons are made
leisurely and sluggishly, without excitement; but in their public
devotions they are strongly engaged, and the mind acts with more
concentration and vivacity. The same thing has been observed in the art
of music. "There have been organists, whose abilities in unstudied
effusions on their instruments have almost amounted to inspiration, such
as Sebastian Bach, Handel, Marchand, Couperin, Kelway, Stanley, Worgan,
and Keeble; several of whom played better music extempore, than they
could write with meditation."[6]

    [6] Rees' Cyclopædia.

It is upon no different principle that we explain, what all scholars
have experienced, that they write best when they write rapidly, from a
full and excited mind. One of Pope's precepts is, "to write with fury
and correct with phlegm." The author of Waverley tells us, "that the
works and passages in which he has succeeded, have uniformly been
written with the greatest rapidity." Fenelon's Telemachus is said to
have been composed in this way, and sent to the press with one single
erasure in the manuscript. The celebrated Rockingham Memorial at the
commencement of the late war, is said to have been the hasty composition
of a single evening. And it will be found true, I believe, of many of
the best sermon writers, that they revolve the subject till their minds
are filled and warmed, and then put their discourse upon paper at a
single sitting. Now what is all this but _extemporaneous writing_? and
what does it require but a mind equally collected and at ease, equally
disciplined by practice, and interested in the subject, to ensure equal
success in _extemporaneous speaking_? Nay, we might anticipate
occasional superior success; since the thoughts sometimes flow, when at
the highest and most passionate excitement, too rapidly and profusely
for any thing slower than the tongue to afford them vent.

There is one more consideration in favor of the habit I recommend, which
I think cannot fail to have weight with all who are solicitous to make
progress in theological knowledge; namely, that it redeems time for
study. The labor of preparing and committing to paper a sermon or two
every week, is one which necessarily occupies the principal part of a
minister's time and thoughts, and withdraws him from the investigation
of many subjects, which, if his mind were more at leisure, it would be
his duty and pleasure to pursue. He who _writes_ sermons, is ready to
consider this as the chief object, or perhaps the sole business of his
life. When not actually engaged in writing, yet the necessity of doing
it presses upon his mind, and so binds him as to make him feel as if he
were wrong in being employed on any thing else. I speak of the tendency,
which certainly is to prevent a man from pursuing, very extensively, any
profitable study. But if he have acquired that ready command of thought
and language, which will enable him to speak without written
preparation, the time and toil of writing are saved, to be devoted to a
different mode of study. He may prepare his discourses at intervals of
leisure, while walking or riding; and having once arranged the outlines
of the subject, and ascertained its principle bearings and applications,
the work of preparation is over. The language remains to be suggested at
the moment.

I do not mean by this, that preparation for the pulpit should ever be
made slightly, or esteemed an object of small importance. It doubtless
demands, and should receive the best of a man's talents and labors. What
I contend for is, that a habit of mind may be acquired, which shall
enable one to make a better and more thorough preparation at less
expense of labor and time. He may acquire, by discipline, that ease and
promptitude of looking into subjects and bringing out their prominent
features, which shall enable him at a glance, as it were, to seize the
points on which he should enlarge. Some minds are so constituted as "to
look a subject into shape" much more readily than others. But the power
of doing it is in a great measure mechanical, and depends upon habit.
All may acquire it to a certain extent. When the mind works with most
concentration, it works at once most quickly and most surely. Now the
act of extempore speaking favors this concentration of the powers, more
than the slower process of leisurely writing--perhaps more than any
other operation; consequently, it increases, with practice, the facility
of dissecting subjects, and of arranging materials for preaching. In
other words, the completeness with which a subject is viewed and its
parts arranged, does not depend so much on the time spent upon it, as on
the vigor with which the attention is applied to it. That course of
study is the best, which most favors this vigor of attention; and the
habit of extemporaneous speaking is more than any thing favorable to it,
from the necessity which it imposes of applying the mind with energy,
and thinking promptly.

The great danger in this case would be, that of substituting an easy
flow of words for good sense and sober reflection, and becoming
satisfied with very superficial thoughts. But this danger is guarded
against by the habit of study, and of writing for other purposes. If a
man should neglect all mental exertion, except so far as would be
required in the meditation of a sermon, it would be ruinous. We witness
its disastrous effects in the empty wordiness of many extemporaneous
preachers. It is wrong however to argue against the practice itself,
from their example; for all other modes would be equally condemned, if
judged by the ill success of indolent and unfaithful men. The minister
must keep himself occupied,--reading, thinking, investigating; thus
having his mind always awake and active. This is a far better
preparation than the bare writing of sermons, for it exercises the
powers more, and keeps them bright. The great master of Roman eloquence
thought it essential to the true orator, that he should be familiar with
all sciences, and have his mind filled with every variety of knowledge.
He therefore, much as he studied his favorite art, yet occupied more
time in literature, philosophy, and politics, than in the composition of
his speeches. His preparation was less particular than general. So it
has been with other eminent speakers. When Sir Samuel Romilly was in
full practice in the High Court of Chancery, and at the same time
overwhelmed with the pressure of public political concerns; his custom
was to enter the court, to receive there the history of the cause he was
to plead, thus to acquaint himself with the circumstances for the first
time, and forthwith proceed to argue it. His general preparation and
long practice enabled him to do this, without failing in justice to his
cause. I do not know that in this he was singular. The same sort of
preparation would ensure success in the pulpit. He who is always
thinking, may expend upon each individual effort less time, because he
can think at once fast and well. But he who never thinks, except when
attempting to manufacture a sermon (and it is to be feared there are
such men), must devote a great deal of time to this labor exclusively;
and after all, he will not have that wide range of thought or
copiousness of illustration, which his office demands and which study
only can give.

In fact, what I have here insisted upon, is exemplified in the case of
the extemporaneous _writers_, whom I have already named. I would only
carry their practice a step further, and devote an hour to a discourse
instead of a day. Not to all discourses, for some ought to be written
for the sake of writing, and some demand a sort of investigation, to
which the use of the pen is essential. But then a very large proportion
of the topics on which a minister should preach, have been subjects of
his attention a thousand times. He is thoroughly familiar with them; and
an hour to arrange his ideas and collect illustrations, is abundantly
sufficient. The late Thomas Scott is said for years to have prepared his
discourses entirely by meditation on the Sunday, and thus gained leisure
for his extensive studies, and great and various labors. This is an
extreme on which few have a right to venture, and which should be
recommended to none. It shows, however, the power of habit, and the
ability of a mind to act promptly and effectually, which is kept upon
the alert by constant occupation. He who is always engaged in thinking
and studying, will always have thoughts enough for a sermon, and good
ones too, which will come at an hour's warning.

The objections which may be made to the practice I have sought to
recommend, I must leave to be considered in another place. I am
desirous, in concluding this chapter, to add the favorable testimony of
a writer, who expressly disapproves the practice in general, but who
allows its excellence when accompanied by that preparation which I would
every where imply.

"You are accustomed," says Dinouart,[7] "to the careful study and
imitation of nature. You have used yourself to writing and speaking with
care on different subjects, and have well stored your memory by reading.
You thus have provided resources for speaking, which are always at hand.
The best authors and the best thoughts are familiar to you; you can
readily quote the scriptures, you express yourself easily and
gracefully, you have a sound and correct judgment on which you can
depend, method and precision in the arrangement of proofs; you can
readily connect each part by natural transitions, and are able to say
all that belongs, and precisely what belongs to the subject. You may
then take only a day, or only an hour, to reflect on your subject, to
arrange your topics, to consult your memory, to choose and to prepare
your illustrations,--and then, appear in public. I am perfectly willing
that you should. The common expressions which go to make up the body of
the discourse, will present themselves spontaneously. Your periods,
perhaps, will be less harmonious, your transitions less ingenious, an
ill placed word will sometimes escape you; but all this is pardonable.
The animation of your delivery will compensate for these blemishes, and
you will be master of your own feelings, and those of your hearers.
There will, perhaps, be apparent throughout a certain disorder, but it
will not prevent your pleasing and affecting me; your action as well as
your words will appear to me the more natural."

    [7] Sur l'Eloquence du Corps, ou L'Action du Prédicateur.


Against what has been advanced in the preceding pages, many objections
will be urged, and the evils of the practice I recommend be declared
more than sufficient to counterbalance its advantages. Of these it is
necessary that I should now take notice, and obviate them as well as I

It should be first of all remarked, that the force of the objections
commonly made, lies against the exclusive use of extempore preaching,
and not against its partial and occasional use. It is of consequence
that this should be considered. There can be no doubt, that he would
preach very wretchedly, who should always be haranguing without the
corrective discipline of writing. The habit of writing is essential.
Many of the objections which are currently made to this mode of address,
fall to the ground when this statement is made.

Other objections have been founded on the idea, that by _extemporaneous_
is meant, _unpremeditated_. Whereas there is a plain and important
distinction between them, the latter word being applied to the thoughts,
and the former to the language only. To preach without premeditation, is
altogether unjustifiable; although there is no doubt that a man of
habitual readiness of mind, may express himself to the greatest
advantage on a subject with which he is familiar, after very little

Many writers on the art of preaching, as well as on eloquence in
general, have given a decided judgment unfavorable to extempore
speaking. There can be no fairer way of answering their objections, than
by examining what they have advanced, and opposing their authority by
that of equal names on the other side.

Gerard, in his Treatise on the Pastoral Charge, has the following
passage on this subject.

"He will run into trite, common-place topics; his compositions will be
loose and unconnected; his language often coarse and confused; and
diffidence, or care to recollect his subject, will destroy the
management of his voice." At the same time, however, he admits that "it
is very proper that a man should be able to preach in this way, when it
is necessary;--but no man ought always to preach in this way." To which
decision I have certainly nothing to object.

Mason, in his Student and Pastor, says to the same effect, that "the
inaccuracy of diction, the inelegance, poverty, and lowness of
expression, which is commonly observed in extempore discourses, will not
fail to offend every hearer of good taste."

Dinouart,[8] who is an advocate for recitation from memory, says that
"experience decides against extemporaneous preaching, though there are
exceptions; but these are very few; and we must not be led astray by the
success of a few first rate orators."

    [8] Sur l'Eloquence du Corps, ou l'Action du Prédicateur.

Hume, in his Essay upon Eloquence, expresses an opinion that the modern
deficiency in this art is to be attributed to "that extreme affectation
of extempore speaking, which has led to extreme carelessness of method."

The writer of an article, on the Greek Orators, in the Edinburgh
Review,[9] observes, that "among the sources of the corruption of modern
eloquence, may clearly be distinguished as the most fruitful, the habit
of extempore speaking, acquired rapidly by persons who frequent popular
assemblies, and, beginning at the wrong end, attempt to speak before
they have studied the art of oratory, or even duly stored their minds
with the treasures of thought and language, which can only be drawn from
assiduous intercourse with the ancient and modern classics."

    [9] No. LXXI. p. 82.

These are the prominent objections which have been made to the practice
in question. Without denying that they have weight, I think it may be
made to appear that they have not the unquestionable preponderance,
which is assumed for them. They will be found, on examination, to be the
objections of a cultivated taste, and to be drawn from the examples of
undisciplined men, who ought to be left entirely out of the question.

1. The objection most urged is that which relates to style. It is said,
the expression will be poor, inelegant, inaccurate, and offensive to
hearers of taste.

To those who urge this it may be replied, that the reason why style is
an important consideration in the pulpit, is, not that the taste of the
hearers may be gratified, for but a small part of any congregation is
capable of taking cognizance of this matter;--but solely for the purpose
of presenting the speaker's thoughts, reasonings, and expostulations
distinctly and forcibly to the minds of his hearers. If this be
effected, it is all which can reasonably be demanded. And I ask if it be
not notorious, that an earnest and appropriate elocution will give this
effect to a poor style, and that poor speaking will take it away from
the most exact and emphatic style? Is it not also notorious that the
peculiar earnestness of spontaneous speech, is, above all others, suited
to arrest the attention, and engage the feelings of an audience? and
that the mere reading of a piece of fine composition, under the notion
that careful thought and finished diction are the only things needful,
leaves the majority uninterested in the discourse, and free to think of
any thing they please? "It is a poor compliment," says Blair, "that one
is an accurate reasoner, if he be not a persuasive speaker also." It is
a small matter that the style is poor, so long as it answers the great
purpose of instructing and affecting men. So that, as I have more fully
shown in a former place, the objection lies on an erroneous foundation.

Besides, if it were not so, it will be found quite as strong against the
_writing_ of sermons. For how large a proportion of sermon writers have
these very same faults of style! what a great want of force, neatness,
compactness, is there in the composition of most preachers! what
weakness, inelegance, and inconclusiveness; and how small improvement do
they make, even after the practice of years! How happens this? It is
because they do not make this an object of attention and study; and some
might be unable to attain it if they did. But that watchfulness and care
which secure a correct and neat style in writing, would also secure it
in speaking. It does not naturally belong to the one, more than to the
other, and may be as certainly attained in each by the proper pains.
Indeed so far as my observation has extended, I am not certain that
there is not as large a proportion of extempore speakers, whose diction
is exact and unexceptionable, as of writers--always taking into view
their education, which equally affects the one and the other. And it is
a consideration of great weight, that the faults in question are far
less offensive in speakers than in writers.

It is apparent that objectors of this sort are guilty of a double
mistake; first, in laying too great stress upon mere defects of style,
and then in taking for granted, that these are unavoidable. They might
as well insist that defects of written style are unavoidable. Whereas
they are the consequence of the negligent mode in which the art has been
studied, and its having been given up, for the most part, to ignorant
and fanatical pretenders. Let it be diligently cultivated by educated
men, and we shall find no more cause to expel it from the pulpit than
from the forum or the parliament. "Poverty, inelegance, and poorness of
diction," will be no longer so "generally observed," and even hearers of
taste will cease to be offended.

2. A want of order, a rambling, unconnected, desultory manner, is
commonly objected; as Hume styles it, "extreme carelessness of method;"
and this is so often observed, as to be justly an object of dread. But
this is occasioned by that indolence and want of discipline to which we
have just alluded. It is not a necessary evil. If a man have never
studied the art of speaking, nor passed through a course of preparatory
discipline; if he have so rash and unjustifiable a confidence in
himself, that he will undertake to speak, without having considered what
he shall say, what object he shall aim at, or by what steps he shall
attain it; the inevitable consequence will be confusion,
inconclusiveness, and wandering. Who recommends such a course? But he
who has first trained himself to the work, and whenever he would speak,
has surveyed his ground, and become familiar with the points to be dwelt
upon, and the course of reasoning and track of thought to be followed;
will go on from one step to another, in an easy and natural order, and
give no occasion to the complaint of confusion or disarrangement.

"Some preachers," says Dinouart, "have the folly to think that they can
make sermons impromptu. And what a piece of work they make! They bolt
out every thing which comes into their head. They take for granted, what
ought to be proved, or perhaps they state half the argument, and forget
the rest. Their appearance corresponds to the state of their mind, which
is occupied in hunting after some way of finishing the sentence they
have begun. They repeat themselves; they wander off in digression. They
stand stiff without moving; or if they are of a lively temperament, they
are full of the most turbulent action; their eyes and hands are flying
about in every direction, and their words choke in their throats. They
are like men swimming, who have got frightened, and throw about their
hands and feet at random, to save themselves from drowning."

There is doubtless great truth in this humorous description. But what is
the legitimate inference? that extemporaneous speaking is altogether
ridiculous and mischievous? or only that it is an art which requires
study and diligence, and which no man should presume to practice, until
he has fitted himself for it?

3. In the same way I should dispose of the objection, that this habit
leads to barrenness in preaching, and the everlasting repetition of the
same sentiments and topics. If a man make his facility of speech an
excuse for the neglect of all study, then doubtless this will be the
result. He who cannot resist his indolent propensities, had best avoid
this occasion of temptation. He must be able to command himself to
think, and industriously prepare himself by meditation, if he would be
safe in this hazardous experiment. He who does this, and continues to
learn and reflect while he preaches, will be no more empty and
monotonous than if he carefully wrote every word.

4. But this temptation to indolence in the preparation for the desk, is
urged as in itself a decisive objection. A man finds, that after a
little practice, it is an exceedingly easy thing to fill up his
half-hour with declamation which shall pass off very well, and hence he
grows negligent in previous meditation; and insensibly degenerates into
an empty exhorter, without choice of language, or variety of ideas. This
is undoubtedly the great and alarming danger of this practice. This must
be triumphed over, or it is ruinous. We see examples of it wherever we
look among those whose preaching is exclusively extempore. In these
cases, the evil rises to its magnitude in consequence of their total
neglect of the pen. The habit of writing a certain proportion of the
time would, in some measure, counteract this dangerous tendency.

But it is still insisted, that man's natural love of ease is not to be
trusted; that he will not long continue the drudgery of writing in part;
that when he has once gained confidence to speak without study, he will
find it so flattering to his indolence, that he will involuntarily give
himself up to it, and relinquish the pen altogether; that consequently
there is no security, except in never beginning.

To this it may be replied, that they who have not principle and
self-government enough to keep them industrious, will not be kept so by
being compelled to write sermons. I think we have abundant proof, that a
man may write with as little pains and thinking, as he can speak. It by
no means follows, that because it is on paper, it is therefore the
result of study. And if it be not, it will be greatly inferior, in point
of effect, to an unpremeditated declamation; for in the latter case,
there will probably be at least a temporary excitement of feeling, and
consequent vivacity of manner, while in the former the indolence of the
writer will be made doubly intolerable by his heaviness in reading.

It cannot be doubted, however, that if any one find his facility of
extemporaneous invention, likely to prove destructive to his habits of
diligent and careful application; it were advisable that he refrain from
the practice. It could not be worth while for him to lose his habits of
study and thinking for the sake of an ability to speak, which would
avail him but little, after his ability to think has been weakened or

As for those whose indolence habitually prevails over principle, and who
make no preparation for duty excepting the mechanical one of covering
over a certain number of pages,--they have no concern in the ministry,
and should be driven to seek some other employment, where their
mechanical labor may provide them a livelihood, without injuring their
own souls, or those of other men.

If the objection in question be applied to conscientious men, whose
hearts are in their profession, and who have a sincere desire to do
good, it certainly has very little weight. The minds of such men are
kept active with reflection, and stored with knowledge, and warm with
religious feeling. They are therefore always ready to speak to the
purpose, as well as write to the purpose; and their habitual sense of
the importance of their office, and their anxiety to fulfil it in the
best manner, will forbid that indolence which is so disastrous. The
objection implies, that the consequence pointed out is one which cannot
be avoided. Experience teaches us the contrary. It is the tendency--but
a tendency which may be, for it has been, counteracted. Many have
preached in this mode for years, and yet have never relaxed their
diligence in study, nor declined in the variety, vigor, and interest of
their discourses;--sometimes dull, undoubtedly; but this may be said
with equal truth of the most faithful and laborious writers.

5. Many suppose that there is a certain natural talent, essential to
success in extempore speaking, no less than in poetry; and that it is
absurd to recommend the art to those who have not this peculiar talent,
and vain for them to attempt its practice.

In regard to that ready flow of words, which seems to be the natural
gift of some men, it is of little consequence whether it be really such,
or be owing to the education and habits of early life, and vain
self-confidence. It is certain that the want of habit, and diffidence
are great hindrances to fluency of speech; and it is equally certain,
that this natural fluency is a very questionable advantage to him who
would be an impressive speaker. It is quite observable that those who at
first talk easiest, do not always talk best. Their very facility is a
snare to them. It serves to keep them content; they make no effort to
improve, and are likely to fall into slovenly habits of elocution. So
that this unacquired fluency is so far from essential, that it is not
even a benefit, and it may be an injury. It keeps from final eminence by
the very greatness of its early promise. On the other hand, he who
possesses originally no remarkable command of language, and whom an
unfortunate bashfulness prevents from well using what he has; is obliged
to subject himself to severe discipline, to submit to rules and tasks,
to go through a tedious process of training, to acquire by much labor
the needful sway over his thoughts and words, so that they shall come at
his bidding, and not be driven away by his own diffidence, or the
presence of other men. To do all this, is a long and disheartening
labor. He is exposed to frequent mortifications, and must endure many
grievous failures, before he attain that confidence which is
indispensable to success. But then in this discipline, his powers,
mental and moral, are strained up to the highest intenseness of action;
after persevering practice, they become habitually subject to his
control, and work with a precision, exactness, and energy, which can
never be the possession of him, who has depended on his native,
undisciplined gift. Of the truth of this, examples are by no means
wanting, and I could name, if it were proper, more than one striking
instance within my own observation. It was probably this to which Newton
referred, when he said, that he never spoke well till he felt that he
could not speak at all. Let no one therefore think it an obstacle in his
way that he has no readiness of words. If he have good sense and no
deficiency of talent, and is willing to labor for this as all great
acquisitions must be labored for, he needs not fear but that in time he
will attain it.

We must be careful, however, not to mistake the object to be attained.
It is not a high rank in oratory, consummate eloquence. If it were, then
indeed a young man might pause till he had ascertained whether he
possessed all those extraordinary endowments of intellect, imagination,
sensibility, countenance, voice, and person, which belong to few men in
a century, and without which the great orator does not exist. He is one
of those splendid formations of nature, which she exhibits but rarely;
and it is not necessary to the object of his pursuit that the minister
be such. The aim and purpose of his office are less ambitious, to impart
instruction and do good; and it is by no means certain that the greatest
eloquence is best adapted to these purposes in the pulpit. But any man,
with powers which fit him for the ministry at all,--unless there be a
few extraordinary exceptions--is capable of learning to express himself
clearly, correctly, and with method; and this is precisely what is
wanted, and no more than this. I do not say eloquently; for as it is not
thought indispensable that every writer of sermons should be eloquent,
it cannot be thought essential that every speaker should be so. But the
same powers which have enabled him to write, will, with sufficient
discipline, enable him to speak; with every probability that when he
comes to speak with the same ease and collectedness, he will do it with
a nearer approach to eloquence. Without such discipline he has no right
to hope for success; let him not say that success is impossible, until
he has submitted to it.

I apprehend that these remarks will be found not only correct in theory,
but agreeable to experience. With the exceeding little systematic
cultivation of the art which there is amongst us, and no actual
instruction, we find that a great majority of the lawyers in our courts,
and not a small portion of the members of our legislatures, are able to
argue and debate. In some of the most popular and quite numerous
religious sects, we find preachers enough, who are able to communicate
their thoughts and harangue their congregations, and exert very powerful
and permanent influence over large bodies of the people. Some of these
are men of as small natural talents and as limited education, as any
that enter the sacred office. It should seem therefore that no one needs
to despair.

In the ancient republics of Greece and Rome, this accomplishment was a
necessary branch of a finished education. A much smaller proportion of
the citizens were educated than amongst us; but of these a much larger
number became orators. No man could hope for distinction or influence,
and yet slight this art.[10] The commanders of their armies were orators
as well as soldiers, and ruled as well by their rhetorical as by their
military skill. There was no trusting with them as with us, to a natural
facility, or the acquisition of an accidental fluency by actual
practice. But they served an apprenticeship to the art. They passed
through a regular course of instruction in schools. They submitted to
long and laborious discipline. They exercised themselves frequently,
both before equals and in the presence of teachers, who criticised,
reproved, rebuked, excited emulation, and left nothing undone which art
and perseverance could accomplish. The greatest orators of antiquity, so
far from being favored by natural tendencies, except indeed in their
high intellectual endowments, had to struggle against natural obstacles;
and instead of growing up spontaneously to their unrivalled eminence,
they forced themselves forward by the most discouraging artificial
process. Demosthenes combated an impediment in speech and ungainliness
of gesture, which at first drove him from the forum in disgrace. Cicero
failed at first through weakness of lungs, and an excessive vehemence of
manner, which wearied the hearers and defeated his own purpose. These
defects were conquered by study and discipline. Cicero exiled himself
from home, and during his absence in various lands passed not a day
without a rhetorical exercise; seeking the masters who were most severe
in criticism, as the surest means of leading him to the perfection at
which he aimed. Such too was the education of their other great men.
They were all, according to their ability and station, orators; orators,
not by nature or accident, but by education; formed in a strict process
of rhetorical training; admired and followed even while Demosthenes and
Cicero were living, and unknown now, only because it is not possible
that any but the first should survive the ordeal of ages.

    [10] It is often said that extemporaneous speaking is the
         distinction of modern eloquence. But the whole language of
         Cicero's rhetorical works, as well as particular terms in
         common use, and anecdotes recorded of different speakers,
         prove the contrary; not to mention Quinctilian's express
         instructions on the subject. Hume, also, tells us from
         Suidas, that the writing of speeches was unknown until the
         time of Pericles.

The inference to be drawn from these observations, is, that if so many
of those who received an accomplished education became accomplished
orators, because to become so was one purpose of their study; then it is
in the power of a much larger proportion amongst us, to form themselves
into creditable and accurate speakers. The inference should not be
denied until proved false by experiment. Let this art be made an object
of attention, and young men train themselves to it faithfully and long;
and if any of competent talents and tolerable science be found at last
incapable of expressing themselves in continued and connected discourse,
so as to answer the ends of the christian ministry; then, and not till
then, let it be said that a peculiar talent or natural aptitude is
requisite, the want of which must render effort vain; then, and not till
then, let us acquiesce in this indolent and timorous notion, which
contradicts the whole testimony of antiquity, and all the experience of
the world. Doubtless, after the most that can be done, there will be
found the greatest variety of attainment; "men will differ," as Burnet
remarks, "quite as much as in their written compositions;" and some will
do but poorly what others will do excellently. But this is likewise true
of every other art in which men engage, and not least so of writing
sermons; concerning which no one will say, that as poor are not written,
as it would be possible for any one to speak. In truth, men of small
talents and great sluggishness, of a feeble sense of duty and no zeal,
will of course make poor sermons, by whatever process they may do it,
let them write or let them speak. It is doubtful concerning some whether
they would even steal good ones.

The survey we have now taken, renders it evident, that the evils, which
are principally objected against as attending this mode of preaching,
are not necessary evils, but are owing to insufficient study and
preparation before the practice is commenced, and indolence afterward.
This is implied in the very expressions of the objectors themselves, who
attribute the evil to "beginning at the wrong end, attempting to speak
before studying the art of oratory, or even storing the mind with
treasures of thought and language." It is, also, implied in this
language, that study and preparation are capable of removing the
objections. I do not therefore advocate the art, without insisting on
the necessity of severe discipline and training. No man should be
encouraged or permitted to adopt it, who will not take the necessary
pains, and proceed with the necessary perseverance.

This should be the more earnestly insisted upon, because it is from our
loose and lazy notions on the subject, that eloquence in every
department is suffering so much, and that the pulpit especially has
become so powerless, where the most important things that receive
utterance upon earth, are read like schoolboys' tasks, without even the
poor pains to lay emphasis on the right words, and to pause in the right
places. And this, because we fancy that, if nature have not designed us
for orators, it is vain to make effort, and if she have, we shall be
such without effort. True, that the noble gifts of mind are from nature;
but not language, or knowledge, or accent, or tone, or gesture; these
are to be learned, and it is with these that the speaker is concerned.
These are all matters of acquisition, and of difficult acquisition;
possible to be attained, and well worth the exertion that must be made.

The history of the world is full of testimony to prove how much depends
upon industry; not an eminent orator has lived, but is an example of it.
Yet in contradiction to all this, the almost universal feeling appears
to be, that industry can effect nothing, that eminence is the result of
accident, and that every one must be content to remain just what he may
happen to be. Thus multitudes, who come forward as teachers and guides,
suffer themselves to be satisfied with the most indifferent attainments,
and a miserable mediocrity, without so much as inquiring how they might
rise higher, much less making any attempt to rise. For any other art
they would have served an apprenticeship, and would be ashamed to
practise it in public before they had learned it. If any one would sing,
he attends a master, and is drilled in the very elementary principles;
and only after the most laborious process dares to exercise his voice in
public. This he does, though he has scarce any thing to learn but the
mechanical execution of what lies in sensible forms before his eye. But
the extempore speaker, who is to invent as well as to utter, to carry on
an operation of the mind as well as to produce sound, enters upon the
work without preparatory discipline, and then wonders that he fails! If
he were learning to play on the flute for public exhibition, what hours
and days would he spend in giving facility to his fingers, and attaining
the power of the sweetest and most impressive execution. If he were
devoting himself to the organ, what months and years would he labor,
that he might know its compass, and be master of its keys, and be able
to draw out, at will, all its various combinations of harmonious sound,
and its full richness and delicacy of expression. And yet he will fancy
that the grandest, the most various, the most expressive of all
instruments, which the infinite Creator has fashioned by the union of an
intellectual soul with the powers of speech, may be played upon without
study or practice; he comes to it, a mere uninstructed tyro, and thinks
to manage all its stops, and command the whole compass of its varied and
comprehensive power! He finds himself a bungler in the attempt, is
mortified at his failure, and settles it in his mind forever that the
attempt is vain.

Success in every art, whatever may be the natural talent, is always the
reward of industry and pains. But the instances are many of men of the
finest natural genius, whose beginning has promised much, but who have
degenerated wretchedly as they advanced, because they trusted to their
gifts, and made no effort to improve. That there have never been other
men of equal endowments with Demosthenes and Cicero, none would venture
to suppose; but who have so devoted themselves to their art, or become
equal in excellence? If those great men had been content, like others,
to continue as they began, and had never made their persevering efforts
for improvement, what would their countries have benefited from their
genius, or the world have known of their fame? They would have been lost
in the undistinguished crowd, that sunk to oblivion around them. Of how
many more will the same remark prove true! What encouragement is thus
given to the industrious! With such encouragement, how inexcusable is
the negligence which suffers the most interesting and important truths,
to seem heavy and dull, and fall ineffectual to the ground, through mere
sluggishness in their delivery! How unworthy of one who performs the
high function of a religious instructer, upon whom depend, in a great
measure, the religious knowledge and devotional sentiment and final
character of many fellow beings,--to imagine that he can worthily
discharge this great concern by occasionally talking for an hour, he
knows not how, and in a manner which he has taken no pains to render
correct, impressive, or attractive; and which, simply through want of
that command over himself which study would give, is immethodical,
verbose, inaccurate, feeble, trifling. It has been said of the good
preacher, that "truths divine come mended from his tongue." Alas, they
come ruined and worthless from such a man as this. They lose that holy
energy by which they are to convert the soul and purify man for heaven,
and sink, in interest and efficacy, below the level of those principles
which govern the ordinary affairs of this lower world.


The observations contained in the preceding chapter make it sufficiently
evident, that the art of extemporaneous speaking, however advantageous
to the christian minister, and however possible to be acquired, is yet
attended with embarrassments and difficulties, which are to be removed
only by long and arduous labor. It is not enough, however, to insist
upon the necessity of this discipline. We must know in what it consists,
and how it is to be conducted. In completing, therefore, the plan I have
proposed to myself, I am now to give a few hints respecting the mode in
which the study is to be carried on, and obstacles to be surmounted.
These hints, gathered partly from experience and partly from observation
and books, will be necessarily incomplete; but not, it is hoped,
altogether useless to those who are asking some direction.

1. The first thing to be observed is, that the student who would acquire
facility in this art, should bear it constantly in mind, and have regard
to it in all his studies, and in his whole mode of study. The reason is
very obvious. He that would become eminent in any pursuit, must make it
the primary and almost exclusive object of his attention. It must never
be long absent from his thoughts, and he must be contriving how to
promote it, in every thing he undertakes. It is thus that the miser
accumulates, by making the most trifling occurrences the occasions of
gain; and thus the ambitious man is on the alert to forward his purposes
of advancement by little events which another would pass unobserved. So
too he, the business of whose life is preaching, should be on the watch
to render every thing subservient to this end. The inquiry should always
be, how he can turn the knowledge he is acquiring, the subject he is
studying, this mode of reasoning, this event, this conversation, and the
conduct of this or that man, to aid the purposes of religious
instruction. He may find an example in the manner in which Pope pursued
his favorite study. "From his attention to poetry," says Johnson, "he
was never diverted. If conversation offered any thing that could be
improved, he committed it to paper; if a thought, or perhaps an
expression more happy than was common, rose to his mind, he was careful
to write it; an independent distich was preserved for an opportunity of
insertion, and some little fragments have been found containing lines,
or parts of lines, to be wrought upon at some other time." By a like
habitual and vigilant attention, the preacher will find scarce any thing
but may be made to minister to his great design, by either giving rise
to some new train of thought, or suggesting an argument, or placing some
truth in a new light, or furnishing some useful illustration. Thus none
of his reading will be lost; every poem and play, every treatise on
science, and speculation in philosophy, and even every ephemeral tale
may be made to give hints toward the better management of sermons and
the more effectual proposing and communicating of truth.

He who proposes to himself the art of extemporaneous speaking should
thus have constant regard to this particular object, and make every
thing co-operate to form those habits of mind which are essential to it.
This may be done not only without any hindrance to the progress of his
other studies, but even so as to promote them. The most important
requisites are rapid thinking, and ready command of language. By rapid
thinking I mean, what has already been spoken of, the power of seizing
at once upon the most prominent points of the subject to be discussed,
and tracing out, in their proper order, the subordinate thoughts which
connect them together. This power depends very much upon habit; a habit
more easily acquired by some minds than by others, and by some with
great difficulty. But there are few who, should they have a view to the
formation of such a habit in all their studies, might not attain it in a
degree quite adequate to their purpose. This is much more indisputably
true in regard to fluency of language.

Let it, therefore, be a part of his daily care to analyze the subjects
which come before him, and to frame sketches of sermons. This will aid
him to acquire a facility in laying open, dividing, and arranging
topics, and preparing those outlines which he is to take with him into
the pulpit. Let him also investigate carefully the method of every
author he reads, marking the divisions of his arrangement, and the
connexion and train of his reasoning. Butler's preface to his Sermons
will afford him some fine hints on this way of study. Let this be his
habitual mode of reading, so that he shall as much do this, as receive
the meaning of separate sentences, and shall be always able to give a
better account of the progress of the argument and the relation of every
part to the others and to the whole, than of merely individual passages
and separate illustrations. This will infallibly beget a readiness in
finding the divisions and boundaries of a subject, which is one
important requisite to an easy and successful speaker.

In a similar manner, let him always bear in mind the value of a fluent
and correct use of language. Let him not be negligent of this in his
conversation; but be careful ever to select the best words, to avoid a
slovenly style and drawling utterance, and to aim at neatness, force,
and brevity. This may be done without formality, or stiffness, or
pedantic affectation; and when settled into a habit is invaluable.

2. In addition to this general cultivation, there should be frequent
exercise of the act of speaking. Practice is essential to perfection in
any art, and in none more so than in this. No man reads well or writes
well, except by long practice; and he cannot expect without it to speak
well, an operation which is equivalent to the other two united. He may
indeed get along, as the phrase is; but not so well as he might do and
should do. He may not always be able even to get along. He may be as
sadly discomfited as a friend of mine, who said that he had made the
attempt, and was convinced that for him to speak extempore was
impossible; he had risen from his study table, and tried to make a
speech, proving that virtue is better than vice; but was obliged to sit
down without completing it. How could one hope to do better in a first
attempt, if he had not considered beforehand what he should say? It were
as rational to think he could play on the organ without having learned,
or translate from a language he had never studied.

It would not be too much to require of the student, that he should
exercise himself every day, once at least, if not oftener; and this, on
a variety of subjects, and in various ways, that he may attain a
facility in every mode. It would be a pleasant interchange of employment
to rise from the subject which occupies his thoughts, or from the book
he is reading, and repeat to himself the substance of what he has just
perused, with such additions and variations, or criticisms, as may
suggest themselves at the moment. There could hardly be a more useful
exercise, even if there were no reference to this particular end. How
many excellent chapters of valuable authors, how many fine views of
important subjects, would be thus impressed upon his mind, and what rich
treasures of thought and language would be thus laid up in store. And
according as he should be engaged in a work of reasoning, or
description, or exhortation, or narrative, he would be attaining the
power of expressing himself readily in each of these various styles. By
pursuing this course for two or three years, "a man may render himself
such a master in this matter," says Burnet, "that he can never be
surprised;" and he adds, that he never knew a man faithfully to pursue
the plan of study he proposed, without being successful at last.

3. When by such a course of study and discipline he has attained a
tolerable fluency of thoughts and words, and a moderate confidence in
his own powers; there are several things to be observed in first
exercising the gift in public, in order to ensure comfort and success.

It is recommended by Bishop Burnet and others, that the first attempts
be made by short excursions from written discourses; like the young bird
that tries its wings by short flights, till it gradually acquires
strength and courage to sustain itself longer in the air. This advice is
undoubtedly judicious. For he may safely trust himself in a few
sentences, who would be confounded in the attempt to frame a whole
discourse. For this purpose blanks may be left in writing, where the
sentiment is familiar, or only a short illustration is to be introduced.
As success in these smaller attempts gives him confidence, he may
proceed to larger; till at length, when his mind is bright and his
feelings engaged, he may quit his manuscript altogether, and present the
substance of what he had written, with greater fervor and effect, than
if he had confined himself to his paper. It was once observed to me by
an interesting preacher of the Baptist denomination, that he had found
from experience this to be the most advisable and perfect mode; since it
combined the advantages of written and extemporaneous composition. By
preparing sermons in this way, he said, he had a shelter and security if
his mind should be dull at the time of delivery; and if it were active,
he was able to leave what he had written, and obey the ardor of his
feelings, and go forth on the impulse of the moment, wherever his spirit
might lead him. A similar remark I heard made by a distinguished scholar
of the Methodist connexion, who urged, what is universally asserted by
those who have tried this method with any success, that what has been
written is found to be tame and spiritless, in comparison with the
animated glow of that which springs from the energy of the moment.

There are some persons, however, who would be embarrassed by an effort
to change the operation of the mind from reading to inventing. Such
persons may find it best to make their beginning with a whole discourse.

4. In this case, there will be a great advantage in selecting for first
efforts expository subjects. To say nothing of the importance and
utility of this mode of preaching, which render it desirable that every
minister should devote a considerable proportion of his labors to it; it
contains great facilities and reliefs for the inexperienced speaker. The
close study of a passage of scripture which is necessary to expounding
it, renders it familiar. The exposition is inseparably connected with
the text, and necessarily suggested by it. The inferences and practical
reflections are in like manner naturally and indissolubly associated
with the passage. The train of remark is easily preserved, and
embarrassment in a great measure guarded against, by the circumstance
that the order of discourse is spread out in the open Bible, upon which
the eyes may rest and by which the thoughts may rally.

5. A similar advantage is gained to the beginner, in discourses of a
different character, by a very careful and minute division of the
subject. The division should not only be logical and clear, but into
parts as numerous as possible. The great advantage here is, that the
partitions being many, the speaker is compelled frequently to return to
his minutes. He is thus kept in the track, and prevented from wandering
far in needless digressions--that besetting infirmity of unrestrained
extemporizers. He also escapes the mortifying consequences of a
momentary confusion and cloudiness of mind, by having it in his power to
leave an unsatisfactory train at once, before the state of his mind is
perceived by the audience, and take up the next topic, where he may
recover his self-possession, and proceed without impediment. This is no
unimportant consideration. It relieves him from the horror of feeling
obliged to go on, while conscious that he is saying nothing to the
purpose; and at the same time secures the very essential requisite of
right method.

6. The next rule is, that the whole subject, with the order and
connexion of all its parts, and the entire train of thought, be made
thoroughly familiar by previous meditation. The speaker must have the
discourse in his mind as one whole, whose various parts are distinctly
perceived as other wholes, connected with each other and contributing to
a common end. There must be no uncertainty, when he rises to speak, as
to what he is going to say; no mist or darkness over the land he is
about to travel; but conscious of his acquaintance with the ground, he
must step forward confidently, not doubting that he shall find the
passes of its mountains, and thread the intricacies of its forests, by
the paths which he has already trodden. It is an imperfect and partial
preparation in this respect, which so often renders the manner awkward
and embarrassed, and the discourse obscure and perplexed.[11] But when
the preparation is faithful, the speaker feels at home; being under no
anxiety respecting the ideas or the order of their succession, he has
the more ready control of his person, his eye, and his hand, and the
more fearlessly gives up his mind to its own action and casts himself
upon the current. Uneasiness and constraint are the inevitable
attendants of unfaithful preparation, and they are fatal to success. It
is true, that no man can attain the power of self-possession so as to
feel at all times equally and entirely at ease. But he may guard against
the sorest ills which attend its loss, by always making sure of a train
of thought,--being secure that he has ideas, and that they lie in such
order as to be found and brought forward in some sort of apparel, even
when he has in some measure lost the mastery of himself. The richness or
meanness of their dress will depend on the humor of the moment. It will
vary as much as health and spirits vary, which is more in some men than
in others. But the thoughts themselves he may produce, and be certain of
saying _what_ he intended to say, even when he cannot say it _as_ he
intended. It must often have been observed, by those who are at all in
the habit of observation of this kind, that the mind operates in this
particular like a machine, which, having been wound up, runs on by its
own spontaneous action, until it has gone through its appointed course.
Many men have thus continued speaking in the midst of an embarrassment
of mind which rendered them almost unconscious of what they were saying,
and incapable of giving an account of it afterward; while yet the
unguided, self-moving intellect wrought so well, that the speech was not
esteemed unwholesome or defective by the hearers. The experience of this
fact has doubtless helped many to believe that they spoke from
inspiration. It ought to teach all, that there is no sufficient cause
for that excessive apprehension, which so often unmans them, and which,
though it may not stop their mouths, must deprive their address of all
grace and beauty, of all ease and force.

    [11] Nemo potest de eâ re, quam non novit, non turpissime
         dicere. Cic. de Or.

7. We may introduce in this place another rule, the observance of which
will aid in preventing the ill consequences resulting from the
accidental loss of self-possession. The rule is, utter yourself very
slowly and deliberately, with careful pauses. This is at all times a
great aid to a clear and perspicuous statement. It is essential to the
speaker, who would keep the command of himself and consequently of his

One is very likely, when, in the course of speaking, he has stumbled on
an unfortunate expression, or said what he would prefer not to say, or
for a moment lost sight of the precise point at which he was aiming, to
hurry on with increasing rapidity, as if to get as far as possible from
his misfortune, or cause it to be forgotten in the crowd of new words.
But instead of thus escaping the evil, he increases it; he entangles
himself more and more; and augments the difficulty of recovering his
route. The true mode of recovering himself is by increased deliberation.
He must pause, and give himself time to think;--"ut tamen deliberare non
hæsitare videatur." He need not be alarmed lest his hearers suspect the
difficulty. Most of them are likely to attribute the slowness of his
step to any cause rather than the true one. They take it for granted,
that he says and does precisely as he intended and wished. They suppose
that he is pausing to gather up his strength. It excites their
attention. The change of manner is a relief to them. And the probability
is, that the speaker not only recovers himself, but that the effort to
do it gives a spring to the action of his powers, which enables him to
proceed afterward with greater energy.

8. In regard to language, the best rule is, that no preparation be made.
There is no convenient and profitable medium between speaking from
memory and from immediate suggestion. To mix the two is no aid, but a
great hindrance, because it perplexes the mind between the very
different operations of memory and invention. To prepare sentences and
parts of sentences, which are to be introduced here and there, and the
intervals between them to be filled up in the delivery, is the surest of
all ways to produce constraint. It is like the embarrassment of framing
verses to prescribed rhymes; as vexatious, and as absurd. To be
compelled to shape the course of remark so as to suit a sentence which
is by and by to come, or to introduce certain expressions which are
waiting for their place, is a check to the natural current of thought.
The inevitable consequence is constraint and labor, the loss of every
thing like easy and flowing utterance, and perhaps that worst of
confusion which results from a jumble of ill assorted, disjointed
periods. It is unavoidable that the subject should present itself in a
little different form and complexion in speaking, from that which it
took in meditation; so that the sentences and modes of expression, which
agreed very well with the train of remark as it came up in the study,
may be wholly unsuited to that which it assumes in the pronunciation.

The extemporaneous speaker should therefore trust himself to the moment
for all his language. This is the safe way for his comfort, and the only
sure way to make all of a uniform piece. The general rule is certain,
though there may be some exceptions. It may be well for example, to
consider what synonymous terms may be employed in recurring to the chief
topic, in order to avoid the too frequent reiteration of the same word.
This will occasion no embarrassment. He may also prepare texts of
scripture to be introduced in certain parts of the discourse. These, if
perfectly committed to memory, and he be not too anxious to make a place
for them, will be no encumbrance. When a suitable juncture occurs, they
will suggest themselves, just as a suitable epithet suggests itself. But
if he be very solicitous about them, and continually on the watch for an
opportunity to introduce them, he will be likely to confuse himself. And
it is better to lose the choicest quotation, than suffer constraint and
awkwardness from the effort to bring it in. Under the same restrictions
he may have ready, pithy remarks, striking and laconic expressions,
pointed sayings and aphorisms, the force of which depends on the precise
form of the phrase. Let the same rule be observed in regard to such. If
they suggest themselves (which they will do, if there be a proper place
for them), let them be welcome. But never let him run the risk of
spoiling a whole paragraph in trying to make a place for them.

Many distinguished speakers are said to do more than this,--to write out
with care and repeat from memory their more important and persuasive
parts; like the _de bene esse's_ of Curran, and the splendid passages of
many others. This may undoubtedly be done to advantage by one who has
the command of himself which practice gives, and has learned to pass
from memory to invention without tripping. It is a different case from
that mixture of the two operations, which is condemned above, and is in
fact only an extended example of the exceptions made in the last
paragraph. With these exceptions, when he undertakes, _bonâ fide_, an
extemporaneous address, he should make no preparation of language.
Language is the last thing he should be anxious about. If he have ideas,
and be awake, it will come of itself, unbidden and unsought for. The
best language flashes upon the speaker as unexpectedly as upon the
hearer. It is the spontaneous gift of the mind, not the extorted boon of
a special search. No man who has thoughts, and is interested in them, is
at a loss for words--not the most uneducated man; and the words he uses
will be according to his education and general habits, not according to
the labour of the moment. If he truly feel, and wish to communicate his
feelings to those around him, the last thing that will fail will be
language; the less he thinks of it and cares for it, the more copiously
and richly will it flow from him; and when he has forgotten every thing
but his desire to give vent to his emotions and do good, then will the
unconscious torrent pour, as it does at no other season. This entire
surrender to the spirit which stirs within, is indeed the real secret of
all eloquence. "True eloquence," says Milton, "I find to be none but the
serious and hearty love of truth; and that whose mind soever is fully
possessed with a fervent desire to know good things, and with the
dearest charity to infuse the knowledge of them into others,--when such
a man would speak, his words, like so many nimble and airy servitors,
trip about him at command and in well ordered files, as he would wish,
fall aptly into their own places." Rerum enim copia (says the great
Roman teacher and example) verborum copiam gignit; et, si est honestas
in rebus ipsis de quibus dicitur, existit ex rei naturâ quidam splendor
in verbis. Sit modo is, qui dicet aut scribet, institutus liberaliter
educatione doctrinâque puerili, et flagret studio, et a naturâ
adjuvetur, et in universorum generum infinitis disceptationibus
exercitatus; ornatissimos scriptores oratoresque ad cognoscendum
imitandumque legerit;--næ ille haud sane, quemadmodum verba struat et
illuminet, a magistris istis requiret. Ita facile in rerum abundantiâ ad
orationis ornamenta, sine duce, naturâ ipsâ, si modo est exercitata,

    [12] De Or. iii. 31.

9. These remarks lead to another suggestion which deserves the student's
consideration. He should select for this exercise those subjects in
which he feels an interest at the time, and in regard to which he
desires to engage the interest of others. In order to the best success,
extemporaneous efforts should be made in an excited state, when the mind
is burning and glowing, and longs to find vent. There are some topics
which do not admit of this excitement. Such should be treated by the
pen. When he would speak, he should choose topics on which his own mind
is kindling with a feeling which he is earnest to communicate; and the
higher the degree to which he has elevated his feelings, the more
readily, happily, and powerfully will he pour forth whatever the
occasion may demand. There is no style suited to the pulpit, which he
will not more effectually command in this state of mind. He will reason
more directly, pointedly, and convincingly; he will describe more
vividly from the living conceptions of the moment; he will be more
earnest in persuasion, more animated in declamation, more urgent in
appeals, more terrible in denunciation. Every thing will vanish from
before him, but the subject of his attention, and upon this his powers
will be concentrated in keen and vigorous action.

If a man would do his best, it must be upon topics which are at the
moment interesting to him. We see it in conversation, where every one is
eloquent upon his favorite subjects. We see it in deliberative
assemblies; where it is those grand questions, which excite an intense
interest, and absorb and agitate the mind, that call forth those bursts
of eloquence by which men are remembered as powerful orators, and that
give a voice to men who can speak on no other occasions. Cicero tells us
of himself, that the instances in which he was most successful, were
those in which he most entirely abandoned himself to the impulses of
feeling. Every speaker's experience will bear testimony to the same
thing; and thus the saying of Goldsmith proves true, that, "to feel
one's subject thoroughly, and to speak without fear, are the only rules
of eloquence." Let him who would preach successfully, remember this. In
the choice of subjects for extemporaneous efforts, let him have regard
to it, and never encumber himself nor distress his hearers, with the
attempt to interest them in a subject, which excites at the moment only
a feeble interest in his own mind.

This rule excludes many topics, which it is necessary to introduce into
the pulpit, subjects in themselves interesting and important, but which
few men can be trusted to treat in unpremeditated language; because they
require an exactness of definition, and nice discrimination of phrase,
which may be better commanded in the cool leisure of writing, than in
the prompt and declamatory style of the speaker. The rule also forbids
the attempt to speak when ill health, or lowness of spirits, or any
accidental cause, renders him incapable of that excitement which is
requisite to success. It requires of him to watch over the state of his
body--the partial derangement of whose functions so often confuses the
mind--that, by preserving a vigorous and animated condition of the
corporeal system, he may secure vigour and vivacity of mind. It requires
of him, finally, whenever he is about entering upon the work, to use
every means, by careful meditation, by calling up the strong motives of
his office, by realizing the nature and responsibility of his
undertaking, and by earnestly invoking the blessing of God--to attain
that frame of devout engagedness, which will dispose him to speak
zealously and fearlessly.

10. Another important item in the discipline to be passed through,
consists in attaining the habit of self-command. I have already adverted
to this point, and noticed the power which the mind possesses of
carrying on the premeditated operation, even while the speaker is
considerably embarrassed. This is, however, only a reason for not being
too much distressed by the feeling when only occasional; it does not
imply that it is no evil. It is a most serious evil; of little
comparative moment, it may be, when only occasional and transitory, but
highly injurious if habitual. It renders the speaker unhappy, and his
address ineffective. If perfectly at ease, he would have every thing at
command, and be able to pour out his thoughts in lucid order, and with
every desirable variety of manner and expression. But when thrown from
his self-possession, he can do nothing better than mechanically string
together words, while there is no soul in them, because his mental
powers are spell-bound and imbecile. He stammers, hesitates, and
stumbles; or, at best, talks on without object or aim, as mechanically
and unconsciously as an automaton. He has learned little effectually,
till he has learned to be collected.

This therefore must be a leading object of attention. It will not be
attained by men of delicacy and sensibility, except by long and trying
practice. It will be the result of much rough attrition with the world,
and many mortifying failures. And after all, occasions may occur, when
the most experienced will be put off their guard. Still, however, much
may be done by the control which a vigorous mind has over itself, by
resolute and persevering determination, by refusing to shrink or give
way, and by preferring always the mortification of ill success, to the
increased weakness which would grow out of retreating.

There are many considerations, also, which if kept before the mind would
operate not a little to strengthen its confidence in itself. Let the
speaker be sensible that, if self-possessed, he is not likely to fail;
that after faithful study and preparation, there is nothing to stand in
his way, but his own want of self-command. Let him heat his mind with
his subject, endeavour to feel nothing, and care for nothing, but that.
Let him consider, that his audience takes for granted that he says
nothing but what he designed, and does not notice those slight errors
which annoy and mortify him; that in truth such errors are of no moment;
that he is not speaking for reputation and display, nor for the
gratification of others, by the exhibition of a rhetorical model, or for
the satisfaction of a cultivated taste: but that he is a teacher of
virtue, a messenger of Jesus Christ, a speaker in the name of God; whose
chosen object it is to lead men above all secondary considerations and
worldly attainments, and to create in them a fixed and lasting interest
in spiritual and religious concerns;--that he himself therefore ought to
regard other things as of comparatively little consequence while he
executes this high function; that the true way to effect the object of
his ministry, is to be filled with that object, and to be conscious of
no other desire but to promote it. Let him, in a word, be zealous to do
good, to promote religion, to save souls, and little anxious to make
what might be called a fine sermon--let him learn to sink every thing in
his subject and the purpose it should accomplish--ambitious rather to do
good, than to do well;--and he will be in a great measure secure from
the loss of self-command and its attendant distress. Not always--for
this feeble vessel of the mind seems to be sometimes tost to and fro, as
it were, upon the waves of circumstances, unmanageable by the helm and
disobedient to the wind. Sometimes God seems designedly to show us our
weakness, by taking from us the control of our powers, and causing us to
be drifted along whither we would not. But under all ordinary
occurrences, habitual piety and ministerial zeal will be an ample
security. From the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak. The most
diffident man in the society of men is known to converse freely and
fearlessly when his heart is full, and his passions engaged; and no man
is at a loss for words, or confounded by another's presence, who thinks
neither of the language, nor the company, but only of the matter which
fills him. Let the preacher consider this, and be persuaded of it,--and
it will do much to relieve him from the distress which attends the loss
of self-possession, which distorts every feature with agony, and distils
in sweat from his forehead. It will do much to destroy that incubus,
which sits upon every faculty of the soul, and palsies every power, and
fastens down the helpless sufferer to the very evil from which he
strives to flee.

After all, therefore, which can be said, the great essential requisite
to effective preaching in this method (or indeed in any method) is a
devoted heart. A strong religious sentiment, leading to a fervent zeal
for the good of other men, is better than all rules of art; it will give
him courage, which no science or practice could impart, and open his
lips boldly, when the fear of man would keep them closed. Art may fail
him, and all his treasures of knowledge desert him; but if his heart be
warm with love, he will "speak right on," aiming at the heart, and
reaching the heart, and satisfied to accomplish the great purpose,
whether he be thought to do it tastefully or not.

This is the true spirit of his office, to be cherished and cultivated
above all things else, and capable of rendering all its labors
comparatively easy. It reminds him that his purpose is not to make
profound discussions of theological doctrines, or disquisitions on moral
and metaphysical science; but to present such views of the great and
acknowledged truths of revelation, with such applications of them to the
understanding and conscience, as may affect and reform his hearers. Now
it is not study only, in divinity or in rhetoric, which will enable him
to do this. He may reason ingeniously, but not convincingly; he may
declaim eloquently, but not persuasively. There is an immense, though
indescribable difference between the same arguments and truths, as
presented by him who earnestly feels and desires to persuade, and by him
who designs only a display of intellectual strength, or an exercise of
rhetorical skill. In the latter case, the declamation may be splendid,
but it will be cold and without expression; lulling the ear, and
diverting the fancy, but leaving the feelings untouched. In the other,
there is an air of reality and sincerity, which words cannot describe,
but which the heart feels, that finds its way to the recesses of the
soul, and overcomes it by a powerful sympathy. This is a difference
which all perceive and all can account for. The truths of religion are
not matters of philosophical speculation, but of experience. The heart
and all the spiritual man, and all the interests and feelings of the
immortal being, have an intimate concern in them. It is perceived at
once whether they are stated by one who has felt them himself, is
personally acquainted with their power, is subject to their influence,
and speaks from actual experience; or whether they come from one who
knows them only in speculation, has gathered them from books, and
thought them out by his own reason, but without any sense of their
spiritual operation.

But who does not know how much easier it is to declare what has come to
our knowledge from our own experience, than what we have gathered coldly
at second hand from that of others;--how much easier it is to describe
feelings we have ourselves had, and pleasures we have ourselves enjoyed,
than to fashion a description of what others have told us;--how much
more freely and convincingly we can speak of happiness we have known,
than of that to which we are strangers. We see, then, how much is lost
to the speaker by coldness or ignorance in the exercises of personal
religion. How can he effectually represent the joys of a religious mind,
who has never known what it is to feel them? How can he effectually aid
the contrite, the desponding, the distrustful, the tempted, who has
never himself passed through the same fears and sorrows? or how can he
paint, in the warm colors of truth, religious exercises and spiritual
desires, who is personally a stranger to them? Alas, he cannot at all
come in contact with those souls, which stand most in need of his
sympathy and aid. But if he have cherished in himself, fondly and
habitually, the affections he would excite in others, if he have
combated temptation, and practised self-denial, and been instant in
prayer, and tasted the joy and peace of a tried faith and hope;--then he
may communicate directly with the hearts of his fellow men, and win them
over to that which he so feelingly describes. If his spirit be always
warm and stirring with these pure and kind emotions, and anxious to
impart the means of his own felicity to others--how easily and freely
will he pour himself forth! and how little will he think of the
embarrassments of the presence of mortal man, while he is conscious only
of laboring for the glory of the ever present God.

This then is the one thing essential to be attained and cherished by the
Christian preacher. With this he must begin, and with this he must go on
to the end. Then he never can greatly fail; for he will FEEL HIS SUBJECT

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hints on Extemporaneous Preaching" ***

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