The Diaries of Charles Collins

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    Collins, Charles, 22 March 1857. “The Diaries of Charles Collins.” <>.
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    Leah Suhrstedt
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    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print.  Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    March 22/57 Preaching.
    Preaching may be classified according to its effects upon the feeling of the hearer; & that is undoubtedly the best preaching that excites the best feeling, or rather that excites the best class of feelings & excited them the most deeply.
    Some sermons excite feelings which are hard to describe. We call them dull. They lack appropriateness in subject or they are trite- bring no instruction- the manner & delivery are uninteresting & tame- without unction or earnestness- we cannot follow the preacher & the mind wanders off into reverie, or we become impatient for the close. Where there is no instruction for the head & the speaker has no power to touch the heart, the sermon instead of refreshing the spirits or supplying fuel to devotion becomes a discipline of patience & we wish the preacher done our power of endurance is taxed & we go away not only no better but oftentimes with a sense of time wasted & gone forever. If we determine to profit by the occasion, the profit come not so much from the fitness or the merit of the sermon, unfolding & applying to our hearts the great doctrines of religion as from the fertility & activity of our own minds in finding out & presuming profitable topics of reflection. And how many sermons are of this class! Hence no doubt the apathy to a great extent of our congregations. Lord save us these soporific sermons. Save the people from the inflection of these soporific preachers.
    I sometimes hear preachers whose sermons produce in my mind a feeling of admiration towards them personally, & yes I cannot say that such preachers do me good. With their elegance of manner- their elegant & well turned periods- their fluent speech- precision of language & c. I am quite delighted. I cannot help thinking what an admirable sermon that was. What an elegant preacher! How beautiful this or that passage. How direct the elocution &c. & yet when I come to notice its effect upon my heart & conscience, I am just where I was before. The beautiful & transient emotion is gone & the great deep of feeling has which been stirred to the extent of forming one new pious resolve, nor can I see that my principles have been fortified or my religious character strengthened. Things of beauty have passed before me. My taste has been gratified. The emotions excited & gratified have been aesthetic & this only. In the Gospel glass my image is the same. For the preacher my admiration is enhanced, but his message is forgotten- my conscience sleeps- the hammer of Gospel truth has not smitten the rock. If I go away from the house of God with increased admiration for religion it is for it as a thing of sentiment- a theory of truth- a system of Philosophy rather than a thing of practice to be incorporated with my own conscience & to become the life of my daily life.
    And what shall I say of those sermons- we sometimes hear them- whose good points (if they have any) are utterly lost in the excessive sound & fury with which they are delivered? Experience painfully shows that good thoughts & feelings may be put to flight by undue noise. The ears ring with the commingling of confused noises- syllables & echoes crossing & mixing in inextricable maze- until you can no more follow or appreciate the thread of discourse than you can pursue a train of consecutive thought in the midst of those overpowering waves of sound which roll over you when a heavy bell is ringing near you. How improbable this is those only know who have been suddenly surprised in some Church belfry by the unexpected ringing of the bell. The first feeling is to flee for life. All other feelings are absorbed by a consciousness of danger & the necessity of seeking safety. So far therefore from a boisterous delivery adding force to discourse, my opinion is that in most cases it destroys it. It acts like the ringing of a bell. Ding-dong-ding-dong- but the head is not instructed & the language is such that the heart does not recognize it. That impression upon both head & heart which serious & sensible thought cannot fail to make is lost by the feeling that the lungs have more to do with the preaching than the brains. Attention is unavoidably withdrawn from the sense to the sound. When assailed in this way the mind is at once put on guard. We become suspicious, watchful & critical.
    A just proportion should undoubtedly be studied between the sound & sense. Every sentiment & thought has its exact quantity, modulation & account. And this harmony cannot be disturbed or disregarded without harm. It is the preacher’s act to study & find out this proportion & observe it. Alas how many of us are the sheerest ignoramuses here. The power of preaching depends not so much upon animal labor- a physical excitement in speaking. To have too much voice is as great an error as too little & will dissipate attention & put an audience to sleep as quick.
    But what is the true kind of Preaching? This is a question hard to answer. It is perhaps safe to say that all preaching is worthless unless it moves either the head or heart. And there is a great deal of preaching that does both, which would not come up to the standard of the critics. Many sermons meet these conditions which require the veil of a genial charity to be thrown over defects of language, style, action & manner of delivery. But after all, I consider that the best preaching which most successfully meets the ends of preaching. Is the understanding enlightened by proper instruction in the great doctrines of religion? Is the conscience properly aroused by the application of the truth? Is the heart melted under the exhibitions of God’s love? Are sinners awakened & converted from the error of their ways? Is the name & cause of God honored under the preachers administration & does he carry about him an atmosphere of heavenly influence which makes all who come near him feel that he is a man of God? He who does these things is not only a good but a great preacher- he is a man of God- a man of power & all his defects of manner, voice, style action, or whatever else ought to be thrown in to the back ground in presence of these other more stirling qualities. A good sermon should never make the hearer say what a great preacher our minister is. It should rather make him think himself & startle him with concern for his own preparation to see & meet God.

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