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follow, by any means, that because two hundred heads are worse than useless in a sermon, there ought to be no distinct divisions at all. A few may be of essential advantage, where a great number would only overload and perplex the memory.
The human mind is so constituted, as to require something of this sort. In travelling along a new road, we love to find waymarks, to aid our recollections of the country through which it passes, or to assist us in retracing our steps. And our impressions are far more definite and distinct than they would have been, upon a straight, dead level, without a house, or milestone, or tree to indicate our progress, or mark off the distances. So, in the case before us, whatever may be said of the few who are trained in the schools to habits of attention and reasoning, it is extremely clear to me, that the many are greatly assisted in hearing, understanding and recollecting discourses from the pulpit, by having the important divisions announced as I, II, III, &c. Nor is this all. As a general fact, the statements are more logical, the reasoning is clearer, and the conclusions are far more obvious and satisfactory, where the divisions are marked off, than where they are not. If the great object of your preaching was to show your taste and scholarship, you might perhaps dispense with them as too stiff and mechanical ; but as you preach to do good, to enlighten the minds, and save the souls of your hearers, I hope you will be as old fashioned in this respect as your father, and a great deal more successful.
I am very affectionately, &c.
MY DEAR E.
You have now folded your paper, selected your text, and drawn out your plan, but you have not yet composed your sermon; and it is quite time to begin in earnest. This is the great point after all, to bring out a connected, well digested, instructive discourse. There are several ways in which sermons may be prepared, with more or less facility and advantage.
The first is, to write them out in full, so that the preacher may have every sentence, line and word before him, when he rises to address his audience.
Another method is, to use abbreviations, by which much of the manual labor is saved, without leaving out a single thought, or occasioning the least inconvenience in the delivery, as the abbreviations are perfectly familiar to the preacher. These two methods have always been employed, by the great body of the congregational ministers of New England.
A third is, to write in short hand, according to some approved system of stenography. This, I believe, is practised by very few however. I have never known but one preacher, who prepared his discourses in short hand, and he was a foreigner.
A fourth method is, to write out the more important parts of the sermon in full, and leave the filling up and application to the impulse of animated delivery. There are many examples of this, in all
parts of the United States, where the pen is used at all.
Still another method is, mentally to fill out a skeleton or memorandum in the study, and use the outline as a sort of general guide in the pulpit.
A sixth is, to compose the whole discourse, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph ; without ever putting pen to paper, and then delivering it, word for word, on the next sabbath. This was done by a very dear friend of my own, who early lost the use of his eyes. He was an exceedingly clear and instructive preacher, and many years ago rested from his labors.
One other method still, of preparing sermons is, to study the subject more or less thoroughly, and to depend wholly on the impulse of the moment, for the language. This is, in some parts of the country, the more common method.
Of those preachers who go into the pulpit without any preparation at all, I say nothing here—my present object being to show, how sermons are made, and not how anybody can get up and talk without either plan, aim, or study.
Perhaps each of the foregoing methods of preparation has its own peculiar advantages; and there are many preachers who adopt sometimes one, and sometimes another, as best suits their convenience. Hardly any minister writes out everything in full, and most of those who spend many years in the sacred profession, sometimes preach from very short notes.
I shall gives reasons directly, why I prefer written sermons, as the general rule; but I would not wish,
for other reasons, which I shall also give, to tie you down to any one method of preparing your discourses. . While I hope you wiil write out at least one of them carefully every week, I am willing that, for the sake of variety, and to bring into exercise all your powers for the spiritual benefit of your congregation, you should occasionally try each of the methods which I have just specified.
I come now to the question, which has of late occasioned a good deal of discussion in some parts of the land, as to the comparative advantages and disadvantages of preaching with or without notes.
The General Assembly of the Old School Presbyterian Church, as you know, at their last meeting in Philadelphia, recommended the dispensing with the use of manuscript preparations altogether, and sent down the record to all the Synods and Presbyteries of their connection. What effect this advice has had upon the large and very respectable body of ministers, to whom it was addressed, I am not informed. I presume, however, that things remain very much as they were before. It is no easy matter to change habits of long standing.. Those ministers, I dare say, who read sermons a year ago, read them still, and will continue to read them, though the same advice should be reiterated by the Assembly from year to year. So on the other hand, those who have been accustomed to preach without notes would adhere to the habit, if the Assembly at the next session should earnestly exhort every one to write out and read his sermons.
This is a subject, which any ecclesiastical body can take up and show reasons ; and if these reasons commend themselves to the judg. ment of those to whom they are addressed, a change may be gradually effected; and this, I take it, is about all that can be done by mere recommendation. As for ghostly coercion, it might be resorted to with better prospects of success in any other country than this.
But to come directly to the merits of the question, between reading sermons in the pulpit and speaking extempore, it appears to me very much like enquiring what form of government is best in the abstract, or without any reference to the condition and character of the people to be governed. The republican form is undoubtedly best for us; but would it be for China, or Japan? So here, it is supposable certainly, that preaching written sermons may be the best mode in New England, while laying aside notes altogether may be the best in Missouri, or Arkansas. Everybody will admit, that in matters of this sort some regard at least should be paid to the habits and wishes of the people. Were you, my son, to go on a mission beyond the Rocky Mountains, or to any other point of the world, where the inhabitants would not tolerate written discourses, I would by all means have you preach without them. So on the other hand, were you to come and settle in Boston, it would be in vain to think of satisfying any respectable congregation of our order, with extempore preaching. It might do for a little while, but such are the “ tions” which prevail there, that it would not last.
Nearly allied to this is another consideration, which shows the absurdity of attempting to establish a gen