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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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Is the discoursing publicly on any religious subject. It is impossible, in the compass of this work, to give a complete history of this article from the beginning down to the present day. This must be considered as a desideratum in theological learning. Mr. Robinson, in his second volume of Claude's Essay, has prefixed a brief dissertation on this subject, an abridgment of which we shall here insert, with a few occasional alterations. From the sacred records we learn, that, when men began to associate for the purpose of worshipping the Deity, Enoch prophesied, Judges 1:14-15 . We have a very short account of this prophet and his doctrine; enough, however, to convince us that he taught the principal truths of natural and revealed religion. Conviction of sin was in his doctrine, and communion with God was exemplified in his conduct, Genesis 5:24 . Hebrews 11:5-6 . From the days of Enoch to the time of Moses, each patriarch worshipped God with his family; probably several assembled at new moons, and alternately instructed the whole company.

Noah, it is said, was a preacher of righteousness, 2 Peter 2:5 . 1 Peter 3:19-20 . Abraham commanded his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, and to do justice and judgment, Genesis 18:19; and Jacob, when his house lapsed to idolatry, remonstrated against it, and exhorted them and all that were with him to put away strange gods, and to go up with him to Bethel, Genesis 25:2-3 . Melchisedek, also we may consider as the father, the prince and the priest of his people, publishing the glad tidings of peace and salvation, Genesis 18:1-33 : Hebrews 7:1-28 : Moses was a most eminent prophet and preacher, raised up by the authority of God, and by whom, it is said, came the law, John 1:17 . This great man had much at heart the promulgation of his doctrine; he directed it to be inscribed on pillars, to be transcribed in books, and to be taught both in public and private by word of mouth, Deuteronomy 28:8 . Deuteronomy 6:9 . Deuteronomy 31:19 . Deuteronomy 17:18 . Numbers 5:23; Deuteronomy 4:9 . Himself set the example of each; and how he and Aaron sermonized, we may see by several parts of his writings. The first discourse was heard with profound reverence and attention; the last was both uttered and received in raptures, Exodus 4:31 . Deuteronomy 33:7-8 .

Public preaching does not appear under the aeconomy to have been attached to the priesthood: priests were not officially preachers; and we have innumerable instances of discourses delivered in religious assemblies by men of other tribes besides that of Levi, Psalms 68:11 . Joshua was an Ephraimite; but being full of the spirit of wisdom, he gathered the tribes to Shechem, and harrangued the people of God, Deuteronomy 34:9 . Joshua 34: Solomon was a prince of the house of Judah, Amos a herdsman of Tekoa; yet both were preachers, and one at least was a prophet, 1 Kings 2:1-46 : Amos 7:14-15 . When the ignorant notions of Pagans, the vices of their practice, and the idolatry of their pretended worship, were in some sad periods incorporated into the Jewish religion by the princes of that nation, the prophets and all the seers protested against this apostacy, and they were persecuted for so doing. Shemaiah preached to Rehoboam, the princes, and all the people, at Jerusalem, 2 Chronicles 12:5 . Azariah and Hanani preached to Asa and his army, 2 Chronicles 15:1-19; 2 Chronicles 16:1-14; 2 Chronicles 17:1-19; 2 Chronicles 18:1-34; 2 Chronicles 19:1 , &c. 2 Chronicles 16:7 . Micaiah to Ahab. Some of them opened schools, or houses of instruction, and there to their disciples they taught the pure religion of Moses. At Naioth, in the suburbs of Ramah, there was one, where Samuel dwelt; there was another at Jericho, and a third at Bethel, to which Elijah and Elisha often resorted. Thither the people went on Sabbath days and at new moons, and received public lessons of piety and morality, 1 Samuel 19:18 . 2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 2:5; 2 Kings 4:2-3 .

Through all this period there was a dismal confusion of the useful ordinance of public preaching. Sometimes they had no open vision, and the word of the Lord was precious or scarce: the people heard it only now and then. At other times they were left without a teaching priest, and without law. And, at other seasons again, itinerants, both princes, priests, and Levites, were sent through all the country to carry the book of the law, and to teach in the cities. In a word, preaching flourished when pure religion grew; and when the last decayed, the first was suppressed. Moses had not appropriated preaching to any order of men: persons, places, times, and manners, were all left open and discretional. Many of the discourses were preached in camps and courts, in streets, schools, cities, and villages, sometimes with great composure and coolness, at other times with vehement action and rapturous energy; sometimes in a plain blunt style, at other times in all the magnificent pomp of Eastern allegory. On some occasions, the preachers appeared in public with visible signs, with implements of war, yokes of slavery, or something adapted to their subject. They gave lectures on these, held them up to view, girded them on, broke them in pieces, rent their garments, rolled in the dust, and endeavoured, by all the methods they could devise agreeably to the customs of their country, to impress the minds of their auditors with the nature and importance of their doctrines.

These men were highly esteemed by the pious part of the nation; and princes thought proper to keep seers and others, who were scribes, who read and expounded the law, 2 Chronicles 34:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:15 . Hence false prophets, had men who found it worth while to affect to be good, crowded the courts of princes. Jezebel, an idolatress, had four hundred prophets of Baal; and Ahab, a pretended worshipper of Jehovah, had as many pretended prophets of his own profession, 2 Chronicles 18:5 . When the Jews were carried captive into Babylon, the prophets who were with them inculcated the principles of religion, and endeavoured to possess their minds with an aversion to idolatry; and to the success of preaching we may attribute the re-conversion of the Jews to the belief and worship of one God; a conversion that remains to this day. the Jews have since fallen into horrid crimes; but they have never since this period lapsed into idolatry, Hosea 2:1-23 d and 3d chap. Ezekiel 2:1-10 d, 3d, and 34th chap. There were not wanting, however, multitudes of false prophets among them, whose characters are strikingly delineated by the true prophets, and which the reader may see in the 13th chapter of Eze 56; Isaiah 23:1-18 d Jeremiah. When the seventy years of the captivity were expired, the good prophets and preachers, Zerubbabel, Joshua, Haggai, and others, having confidence in the word of God, and aspiring after their natural, civil, and religious rights, endeavoured by all means to extricate themselves and their countrymen from that mortifying state into which the crimes of their ancestors had brought them. They wept, fasted, prayed, preached, prophesied, and at length prevailed.

The chief instruments were Nehemiah and Ezra: the first was governor, and reformed their civil state; the last was a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, and addressed himself to ecclesiastical matters, in which he rendered the noblest service to his country, and to all posterity. He collected and collated manuscripts of the sacred writings, and arranged and published the holy canon in its present form. To this he added a second work as necessary as the former: he revived and new-modelled public preaching, and exemplified his plan in his own person. The Jews had almost lost in the seventy years' captivity their original language: that was now become dead; and they spoke a jargon made up of their own language and that of the Chaldeans and other nations with whom they had been confounded. Formerly preachers had only explained subjects; now they were obliged to explain words; words which, in the sacred code, were become obsolete, equivocal, or dead. Houses were now opened, not for ceremonial worship, as sacrificing, for this was confined to the temple; but for moral obedience, as praying, preaching, reading the law, divine worship, and social duties. These houses were called synagogues; the people repaired thither morning and evening for prayer; and on sabbaths and festivals the law was read and expounded to them. We have a short but beautiful description of the manner of Ezra's first preaching, Nehemiah 8:1-18 : Upwards of fifty thousand people assembled in a street, or large square, near the Water-gate.

It was early in the morning of a sabbath day. A pulpit of wood, in the fashion of a small tower, was placed there on purpose for the preacher; and this turret was supported by a scaffold, or temporary gallery, where, in a wing on the right hand of th pulpit, sat six of the principal preachers; and in another, on the left, seven. Thirteen other principal teachers, and many Levites, were present also on scaffolds erected for the purpose, alternately to officiate. When Ezra ascended the pulpit, he produced and opened the book of the law, and the whole congregation instantly rose up from their seats, and stood. Then he offered up prayer and praise to God, the people bowing their heads, and worshipping the Lord with their faces to the ground; and, at the close of the prayer, with uplifted hands, they solemnly pronounced, Amen, Amen. Then, all standing, Ezra, assisted at times by the Levites, read the law distinctly, gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. The sermons delivered so affected the hearers, that they wept excessively; and about noon the sorrow became so exuberant and immeasurable, that it was thought necessary by the governor, the preacher, and the Levites, to restrain it. Go your way, said they; eat the fat, drink the sweet, send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared.

The wise and benevolent sentiments of these noble souls were imbibed by the whole congregation, and fifty thousand troubled hearts were calmed in a moment. Home they returned, to eat, to drink, to send portions and to make mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them. Plato was alive at this time, teaching dull philosophy to cold academics; but what was he, and what was Xenophon or Demosthenes, or any of the Pagan orators, in comparison with these men? From this period to that of the appearance of Jesus Christ, public preaching was universal: synagogues were multiplied, vast numbers attended, and elders and rulers were appointed for the purpose of order and instruction. The most celebrated preacher that arose before the appearance of Jesus Christ was John the Baptist. He was commissioned from heaven to be the harbinger of the Messiah. He took Elijah for his model; and as the times were very much like those in which that prophet lived, he chose a doctrine and a method very much resembling those of that venerable man. His subjects were few, plain, and important. His style was vehement, images bold, his deportment solemn, his actions eager, and his morals strict; but this bright morning-star gave way to the illustrious Sun of Righteousness, who now arose on a benighted world. Jesus Christ certainly was the prince of preachers. Who can but admire the simplicity and majesty of his style, the beauty of his images, the alternate softness and severity of his address, the choice of his subjects, the gracefulness of his deportment, and the indefatigableness of his zeal? Let the reader charm and solace himself in the study and contemplation of the character, excellency, and dignity of this best of preachers, as he will find them delineated by the evangelists. The apostles exactly copied their divine Master. They formed multitudes of religious societies, and were abundantly successful in their labours.

They confined their attention to religion, and left the school to dispute, and politicians to intrigue. The doctrines they preached, they supported entirely by evidence; and neither had nor required such assistance as human laws or worldly policy, the eloquoence of the schools or the terror of arms, the charm of money or the tricks of tradesmen, could afford them. The apostles being dead, every thing came to pass as they had foretold. The whole Christian system underwent a miserable change; preaching shared the fate of other institutions, and this glory of the primitive church was now generally degenerated. Those writers whom we call the Fathers, however, imitation, do not deserve that indiscriminate praise ascribed to them. Christianity, it is true, is found in their writings; but how sadly incorporated with Pagan philosophy and Jewish allegory! It must, indeed, be allowed, that, in general, the simplicity of Christianity was maintained, though under gradual decay, during the three first centuries. The next five centuries produced many pious and excellent preachers both in the Latin and Greek churches, though the doctrine continued to degenerate. The Greek pulpit was adorned with some eloquent orators. Basil, bishop of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, preacher at Antioch, and afterwards patriarch (as he was called) of Constantinople, and Gregory Nazianzen, who all flourished n the fourth century, seem to have led the fashion of preaching in the Greek church: Jerom and Augustin did the same in the Latin church.

For some time, preaching was common to bishops, elders, deacons, and private brethren in the primitive church: in process, it was restrained to the bishop, and to such as he should appoint. They called the appointment ordination; and at last attached I know not what ideas of mystery and influence to the word, and of dominion to the bishop who pronounced it. When a bishop or preacher travelled, he claimed no authority to exercise the duties of his function, unless he were invited by the churches where he attended public worship. The first preachers differed much in pulpit action; the greater part used very moderate and sober gesture. They delivered their sermons all extempore, while there were notaries who took down what they said. Sermons in those days were all in the vulgar tongue. The Greeks preached in Greek, the Latins in Latin. They did not preach by the clock (so to speak, ) but were short or long as they saw occasion, though an hour was about the usual time. Sermons were generally both preached and heard standing; but sometimes both speaker and auditors sat, especially the aged and the infirm. The fathers were fond of allegory; for Origen, that everlasting allegorizer, had set them the example. Before preaching, the preacher usually went into a vestry to pray, and afterwards to speak to such as came to salute him. He prayed with his eyes shut in the pulpit. The first word the preacher uttered to the people, when he ascended the pulpit, was "Peach be with you, " or "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with you all;" to which the assembly at first added, "Amen:" and, in after times, they answered, "And with thy spirit." Degenerate, however, as these days were in comparison with those of the apostles, yet they were golden ages in comparison with the times that followed, when metaphysical reasonings, mystical divinity, yea, Aristotelian categories, and reading the lives of saints, were substituted in the place of sermons. The pulpit became a stage, where ludicrous priests obtained the vulgar laugh by the lowest kind of wit, especially at the festivals of Christman and Easter. But the glorious reformation was the offspring of preaching, by which mankind were informed: there was a standard, and the religion of the times was put to trial by it.

The avidity of the common people to read Scripture, and to hear it expounded, was wonderful; and the Papists were so fully convinced of the benefit of frequent public instruction, that they who were justly called unpreaching prelates, and whose pulpits, to use an expression of Latimer, had been bells without clappers for many a long year, were obliged for shame to set up regular preaching again. The church of Rome has produced some great preachers since the reformation, but not equal to the reformed preachers; and a question naturally arises here, which it would be unpardonable to pass over in silence, concerning the singular effect of the preaching of the reformed, which was general, national, universal reformation. In the darkest times of popery there had arisen now and then some famous popular preachers, who had zealously inveighed against the vices of their times, and whose sermons had produced sudden and amazing effects on their auditors, but all these effects had died away with the preachers who produced them, and all things had gone back into the old state. Law, learning, commerce, society at large, had not been improved.

Here a new scene opens; preachers arise less popular, perhaps less indefatigable and exemplary; their sermons produce less striking immediate effects: and yet their auditors go away, and agree by whole nations to reform. Jerome Savonarola, Jerome Narni, Capistran, Connecte, and many others, had produced by their sermons, great immediate effects. When Connecte preached, the ladies lowered their headdresses, and committed quilled caps by hundreds to the flames. When Narni taught the populace in Lent, from the pulpits of Rome, half the city went from his sermons, crying along the streets, Lord have mercy upon us; Christ have mercy upon us; so that in only one passion week, two thousand crowns worth of ropes were sold to make scourges with; and when he preached before the pope to cardinals and bishops, and painted the crime of non-residence in its own colours, he frightened thirty or forty bishops who heard him, instantly home to their dioceses. In the pulpit of the university of Salamanca he induced eight hundred students to quit all worldly prospects of honour, riches, and pleasures, and to become penitents in divers monasteries. Some of this class were martyrs too. We know the fate of Savonarrola, and more might be added: but all lamented the momentary duration of the effects produced by their labours.

Narni himself was so disgusted with his office, that he renounced preaching, and shut himself up in his cell to mourn over his irreclaimable contemporaries; for bishops went back to court, and rope-makers lay idle again. Our reformers taught all the good doctrines which had been taught by these men, and they added two or three more, by which they laid the axe to the root of apostacy, and produced general information. Instead of appealing to popes, and canons, and founders, and fathers, they only quoted them, and referred their auditors to the Holy Scriptures for law. Pope Leo X. did not know this when he told Prierio, who complained of Luther's heresy. Friar Martin had a fine genius! They also taught the people what little they knew of Christian liberty; and so led them into a belief that they might follow their own ideas in religion, without the consent of a confessor, a diocesan, a pope, or a council. They went farther, and laid the stress of all religion on justifying faith. This obliged the people to get acquainted with Christ, the object of their faith; and thus they were led into the knowledge of a character altogether different from what they saw in their old guides; a character which it is impossible to know, and not to admire and imitate.

The old papal popular sermons had gone off like a charge of gunpowder, producing only a fright, a bustle, and a black face; but those of the nerve learninge, as the monks called them, were small hearty seeds, which, being sown in the honest hearts of the multitude, and watered with the dew of heaven, softly vegetated, and imperceptibly unfolded blossoms and fruits of inestimable value. These eminent servants of Christ excelled in various talents, both in the pulpit and in private. Knox came down like a thunder-storm; Calvin resembled a whole day's set rain; Beza was a shower of the softest dew. Old Latimer, in a coarse frieze gown, trudged afoot, his Testament hanging at one end of his leathern girdle, and his spectacles at the other, and without ceremony instructed the people in rustic style from a hollow tree; while the courtly Ridley in satin and fur taught the same principles in the cathedral of the metropolis. Crammer, though a timorous man, ventured to give king Henry the Eighth a New Testament, with the label, Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge; while Knox, who said, there was nothing in the pleasant face of a lady to affray him, assured the queen of Scots, that, "If there were any spark of the Spirit of God, yea, of honesty and wisdom in her, she would not be offended with his affirming in his sermons, that the diversions of her court were diabolical crimes evidences of impiety or insanity." These men were not all accomplished scholars; but they all gave proof enough that they were honest, hearty, and disinterested in the cause of religion. All Europe produced great and excellent preachers, and some of the more studious and sedate reduced their art of public preaching to a system, and taught rules of a good sermon. Bishop Wilkins enumerated, in 1646, upwards of sixty who had written on the subject.

Several of these are valuable treatises, full of edifying instructions; but all are on a scale too large, and, by affecting to treat of the whole office of a minister, leave that capital branch, public preaching, unfinished and vague. One of the most important articles of pulpit science, that which gives life and energy to all the rest, and without which all the rest are nothing but a vain parade, either neglected or exploded in all these treatises. It is essential to the ministration of the divine word by public preaching, that preachers be allowed to form principles of their own, and that their sermons contain their real sentiments, the fruits of their own intense thought and meditation. Preaching cannot be in a good state in those communities, where the shameful traffic of buying and selling manuscript sermons is carried on. Moreover, all the animating encouragements that arise from a free unbiased choice of the people, and from their uncontaminated, disinterested applause, should be left open to stimulate a generous youth to excel. Command a man to utter what he has no inclination to propagate, and what he does not even believe; threaten him, at the same time, with all the miseries of life, if he dare to follow his own ideas, and to promulgate his own sentiments, and you pass a sentence of death on all he says. He does declaim; but all is lanquid and cold, and he lays his system out as an undertaker does the dead. Since the reformers, we have had multitudes who have entered into their views with disinterestedness and success; and, in the present times, both in the church and among dissenters, names could be mentioned which would do honour to any nation; for though there are too many who do not fill up that important station with proportionate piety and talents, yet we have men who are conspicuous for their extent of knowledge, depth of experience, originality of thought, fervency of zeal, consistency of deportment, and great usefulness in the Christian church. May their numbers still be increased, and their exertions in the cause of truth be eminently crowned with the divine blessing!

See Robinson's Claude, vol. 2: preface; and books recommended under article MINISTER.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Preaching'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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