« PreviousContinue »
about your personal appearance. Every thing of this kind should be done before you go thither, and afterwards entirely dismissed from the mind. Let there be no abrupt, rapid motions, as if you were hurried or agitated; no tossing about of books, or turning over their leaves in a hurried manner, as if vexed or impatient. But let every movement, and your whole demeanour, be of the calm, sedate, gentle character, becoming a mind withdrawn from the world and its scenes; a mind even withdrawn from its own secular feelings, and occupied with divine contemplations; a mind softened, tranquillized, and adapted to its holy employment. There is something as beautiful as it is impressive, in seeing the whole air, countenance and manner of a man of God, who is just about to deliver the message of his Master, corresponding with his office and his work : and without either affected solemnity, or any other species of affectation, evincing a heart absorbed with the great objects which he wishes to recommend to others.
8. I have noticed in some ministers a striking want of dignity in almost every thing that they did in the pulpit. If they had occasion to give any orders to the sexton; or to announce any public notification; or to address any one in the church, at some distance from the pulpit, it was done in a manner much more adapted to promote ridicule, than impressions corresponding with the sabbath and the house of God. If they had occasion to discharge saliva from their mouths, in the midst of the public service, it was accomplished very unceremoniously, throwing it about offensively, and perhaps with noise, without the use of a handkerchief. In short, their whole manner of
performing every thing they were called to do or say, was without taste, without that quiet and gentlo dignity, which ought ever to mark what is done in the sacred desk. Carefully guard against such coarse, repulsive habits. Let nothing escape you, which may tend, either in matter or manner, to jar the feelings of the most fastidious member of the assembly who is reasonable, or to produce an emotion unfriendly to that solemn Christian composure which becomes the place.
9. Let not your commencement of the public service, either as to voice or manner, be abrupt, harsh, or loud; but studiously gentle and reverential. Offences against this obvious rule of propriety are exceedingly common. Every thing that looks like haste, or the want of due solemnity, never fails to repel correct minds. And every thing in the tones of the voice, which indicates the absence of that sacred awe which ought to fill the mind in entering on the duty of dispensing sacred things, is no less obvious and repulsive. Let your whole manner, in first rising in the pulpit, be in harmony with the occasion and the place.
10. Be not in haste to pass from one part of the service to another, before the preceding is finished. It is by no means uncommon to see the occupant of a pulpit rise for prayer, before the psalm is completed; and still more frequently, rise to commence his sermon, while the praises of God are going on. Nay, while the last verse of the psalm or hymn was singing, I have known several who always stood up; turned over the leaves of the Bible; adjusted marks for passages to which they wished to refer; and seemed to be entirely absorbed in something entirely different
from that part of the service which was then going
I must confess that this strikes me as a great impropriety. Is the conductor of the public service to consider himself as taking a part in it or not? If he do, then surely he ought not to pass from one to another, until the former be finished. While he is eagerly engaged in searching for passages of scripture, he cannot be really uniting with his fellow-worshippers in singing the praises of God from the heart, however his lips and voice may be employed. Besides, where is the need of so much expedition? Why should you be in haste to pass on to another exercise, until the preceding is completed ? If the worship of God were irksome, and you wished to bring it to a close as soon as possible; or if you believed your sermon to be much better than prayer or praise, you might be in a hurry to pass from the latter to the former. But as you would not be willing to avow either of these, let nothing that would imply either mark the progress of the public service. 11. But sometimes a still more striking indecorum
It is that of a minister who, when standing in the pulpit, while a brother is officiating in prayer, has been occupied, a number of minutes before the prayer was ended, in looking for the psalm which was to succeed, or for the chapter which was to be read; and actually rustling the leaves for that purpose, in a manner audible, as well as visible, to the greater part of the congregation. It is difficult to speak of such a practice in terms of sufficiently strong reprobation. It is indeed, an offence against decorum so flagrant that it is wonderful how any one who had the least desire
either to be, or to be thought devout, could possibly fall into it.
12. Let me advise you, in public prayer always to close your eyes. I should not mention this, were it not that some ministers of our church, and some of no inconsiderable eminence, have been in the habit of conducting public prayer with their eyes open, to the great annoyance of many who witnessed the practice; and were it not also, that the celebrated and truly excellent Dr. Doddridge, in his “Lectures on Preaching, &c.," seems to give it the sanction of his advice. I am persuaded that if you can, without great inconvenience to yourself, keep your eyes constantly shut in this exercise, it will be found much preferable to the opposite method. To many persons, the appearance of the eyes open in prayer is really painful. And when they are kept open, it is extremely difficult, especially to some individuals, to keep them from wandering to different objects, and parts of the church, and thus, in some degree, interfering with that entire abstraction of the thoughts from sensible objects, which is certainly desirable.
13. Study to administer the sacraments of the church in a manner adapted to make a distinct and solemn impression. Let there be no appearance of coarseness, haste, or carelessness in your mode of administering those peculiarly interesting ordinances. As they mean much in reality; so let them be seen to mean much in your hands. When you are about to administer the ordinance of baptism, either to adults, or infants, be careful to inform the persons concerned, unless you are perfectly sure that they are informed beforehand, of all the questions which you
intend to address to them; where and how they are to stand, &c.; as these are points with respect to which the usages of churches are not entirely uniform. In short, try to guard against their being taken by surprise, or embarrassed by any part of the service. In like manner, in the administration of the Lord's Supper, whether the communicants sit at tables or in pews, take care to have every thing so far prepared and adjusted beforehand, as that there may be nothing likely to occur to jar the feelings, to incommode, or to impair the solemnity of the scene. Let there be no undue haste; no omission of what is necessary for the comfort of the communicants and others; but every thing studiously ordered in such a manner as to render the whole occasion, as far as possible, solemn, impressive, and edifying to all classes who may witness it.
14. Guard against making your public services too long. The opposite to this advice is a fault which often occurs, and which is always unfriendly to edification. Whenever weariness begins, edification terminates. It was well said by Whitefield, that a sermon of more than an hour long, though preached by an angel, would appear tedious, unless the hearers were angels too. Where there is more than one service statedly performed, no sermon ought ever, on an ordinary occasion, to be more than forty-five minutes in length; nor ought the whole service, at any one time, to be longer than an hour and a half. And if, at any time, you are compelled, by special circumstances, to preach longer, let all the other parts of the service be, in a corresponding degree, abridged. Some ministers manifest a degree of thoughtlessness, or