Shortly after the Civil War, a non-denominational Adventist preacher—and hymnist, e.g. “Shall We Meet Beyond the River”—publishes in his monthly magazine—The Christian—his advice on speaking before religious assemblies.
Stand for God, if you stand alone. Keep out of the clutches of party hacks and religious politicians. Preach a straight gospel, and live up to it.
Earnest Words to Preachers.
MAKE no apologies. If you have the Lord’s message declare it; if not, hold your peace. Have short prefaces and introductions. Say your best things first, and stop before you get prosy. Do not spoil the appetite for dinner by too much thin soup.
Leave self out of the pulpit and take Jesus in. Defend the Gospel, and let the Lord defend you and your character. If you are lied about, thank the devil for putting you on your guard, and take care that the story shall never come true.
Do not grumble about your pay. If you want more money go to work and earn it.
Let your beard grow. Throw away your cravat. If you do not want to ‘break down,’ make your shirt collar an inch larger, and give your blood a chance to flow back to the heart.
Do not get excited too soon. Do not run away from your hearers. Engine driving-wheels whirl fast on an icy track, but when they draw anything they go slower.
It takes a cold hammer to bend a hot iron. Heat up the people but keep the hammer wet and cool. Do not bawl and scream. Too much water stops mill wheels, and too much noise drowns sense. Empty vessels ring the loudest. Powder is not shot. Thunder is harmless. Lightning kills. If you have lightning you can afford to thunder.
Do not scold the people. Do not abuse the faithful souls who come to meeting rainy days, because others are too lazy to attend.
Preach the best to the smallest assemblies. Jesus preached to one woman at the well, and she got all Samaria out to hear him next time.
Ventilate your meeting room. Sleeping in church is due to bad air oftener than to bad manners.
Do not repeat sentences, saying, “As I said before,” if you said it before, say something else after. Do not end sentences, passages of Scripture or quotations with “and so forth;” say what you mean and stop. Leave out all words you cannot define.
Stop preaching and talk to folks. Come down from your stilted ways and sacred tones, and become as a ‘little child.’ Tell stories; Jesus did, and the common people heard him gladly.
Relate your experience; Paul did, and you can hardly do better than he. One fact that you have seen or felt is worth a bushel of mouldy ideas dug out of mouldier books. Change the subject if it goes hard.
Do not tire yourself and every one else out. Do not preach till the middle of your sermon buries the beginning, and is buried by the end. Beware of long prayers, except in your closet. Where weariness begins, devotion ends. Look people in the face, and live so you are not afraid of them.
Take long breaths. Fill your lungs, and keep them full. Stop to breathe before the air is exhausted. Then you will not finish off each sentenced with a terrible gasp, as if you were dying for want of air, as some good people do, and so strain their lungs, and never find it out, because their friends dare not tell them, and so leave them to make sport for the Philistines.
Inflate your lungs. It is easier to run a saw-mill with a full pond than with an empty one. Be moderate at first. Hoist the gate a little way. When you are half through, raise it more. When you are nearly done, put on the full head of water. Aim at the mark; hit it! Stop and look where the shot struck; then fire another broadside.
Pack your sermons. Make your words like bullets. A board hurts a man most when it strikes edgewise. A pound of feathers is as heavy as a pound of lead, but it will not kill a man as quickly. An ounce bullet will kill a man quicker than a sack of wool.
Do not condense too many words into a few thoughts. Make your discourse proportionate. If your talk is narrow and shallow, do make it short. If it is deep and strong, the stream may run longer. Do not think every brook is deep, because you cannot see the bottom of it, nor call a man a deep diver because he always brings up mud. Have a clear head and your words will be clear.
Know what you are talking about; then you will make others understand you. Stand for God, if you stand alone. Keep out of the clutches of party hacks and religious politicians. Preach a straight gospel, and live up to it.
Keep your distance from sin. Do not play with edge tools, nor fool with temptations. Look to stars instead of weather-cocks for guidance. Be in earnest, but not wild. Keep open ears, and a close mouth. Do not be a clown. Let the devil make his own fun, carry his own mail, settle his own quarrels, and foot his own bills.
Make few promises. Learn to say no very sweetly. Keep out of debt. Do not let any one owe you more than you are able to lose. Speak to the people like your Master, as they are able to hear. Do not feed bones to babies. Do not abuse people for believing what you once believed yourself. Respect honest convictions. Judge no man. Be patient toward all. Make friends with the children. Be cheerful with the young. Keep clear of gluttony, dyspepsia, and pious grumbling.
Remember, each sermon may be the last you shall preach, or your hearers shall listen to. Keep the judgment in view. Please God, and you will please Christians. Let others praise you. Live for Christ. Preach the word.
—Horace L. Hastings, The (Boston) Christian.