PREACHING, PREACHERS AND PULPITS. — THE FIRST PREACHER. — ENOCH, NOAH, ABRAHAM, MOSES. — THE PROPHETS. — EZEKIEL, EZRA. — THE FIRST PULPIT.
"THE history of the pulpit is curious and entertaining. It has spoken all languages, and in all sorts of style. It has partaken of all the customs of the schools, the theaters and the courts of all the countries where it has been erected. It has been a seat of wisdom, and a sink of nonsense. It has been filled by the best and the worst of men. It has proved in some hands a trumpet of sedition, and in others source of peace and consolation. But on a fair balance, collected from authentic history, there would appear no proportion between the benefits and the mischiefs which mankind have derived from it, so much do the advantages of it preponderate. In a word, evangelical preaching has been, and yet continues to be, reputed foolishness — but real wisdom, a wisdom and a power by which it pleases God to save the souls of men.
"The first voice that imparted religious ideas by discourse to fallen man, was the voice of the Creator,
called, by the inspired historian, The voice of the Lord God, walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Whether he, who afterwards appeared so often in human shape, and at last actually put on a human body, descended into the garden, assumed a form and conversed with our first parents on this occasion, or whether the air was so undulated by the power of God, as to form articulate, audible sounds, certain it is, Adam and Eve literally heard a voice, and had the highest reason for accounting it the voice of God. The promise to the woman of a son, who should bruise the serpent’s head, was emphatically and properly called The word of God. It was a promise which they had no right to expect; but, when revealed, the highest reason to embrace.
"It is natural to suppose, God having once spoken to man, that mankind would retain, and repeat with great punctuality, what had been said, and listen after more. Accordingly, infallible records assure us, that when men began to associate for the purpose of worshiping the Deity, Enoch prophesied. 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 the then revealed religion, the unity of God and his natural and moral perfections, the nature of virtue and its essential difference from vice, a day of future, impartial retribution.
Conviction of sin was in his doctrine, and communion with God was exemplified in his conduct. He held communion with God by sacrifice, and St. Paul reasons from his testimony that he pleased God, that he had faithin the promise of the Mediator, for without faith it would have been impossible even for Enoch, to have pleased God.
"From the days of Enoch to the time of Moses, each patriarch worshiped God with his family; probably several assembled at new moons, and alternately instructed the whole company.
"Noah was a preacher of righteousness, and by him, as an instrument, Christ, by his Spirit, preached to the disobedient souls of men, imprisoned in ignorance and vice, and continued, with great long-suffering, to do so all the while the ark was preparing.
"Abraham commanded his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, and to do justice and judgment; 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, to that God who had answered him in the day of his distress. In all these records of matters of fact, we perceive, short as they are, the same great leading truths that were taught by Enoch, the general truths of natural religion, and along with them, the peculiar principles of revelation.
"How charming, upon a primitive mountain, beneath the shade of a venerable grove, must the voice of Melchisedeck have been, the father, the prince and the priest of his people, now publishing to his attentive audience, good tidings of salvation, peace between God and man, and the lifting up holy hands and calling upon the name of the Lord, the everlasting God! A few plain truths, proposed in simple style, addressed to the reason, and expounded by the feelings of mankind, enforced by nothing but fraternal argument and example, animated by the Holy Spirit, and productive of genuine moral excellence, accompanied with sacrifices, comprised the whole system of patriarchal religion. Such was the venerable simplicity of hoary antiquity, before statesmen stole the ordinances of religion, and hungry hirelings were paid to debase them.
"Moses, although slow of speech, is the next preacher I shall name. 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 in private by word of mouth. 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.
"Public preaching does not appear, under this economy, to have been attached to the priesthood. Priests were not officially preachers, and we have innumerable instances of discourses delivered in religious assemblies by menof other tribes besides that of Levi. The Lord gave the word, and great was the company of those that published it. Joshua was an Ephraimite, but being full of the spirit of wisdom, he gathered the tribes to Shechem, and harangued the people of God. 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.
"Before Moses, revelation was short, and might safely be deposited in the memory. But when God saw fit to bless the church with the large and necessary additions of Moses, a book became necessary. This book was the standard, and they who spoke not according to this word were justly accounted to have no light in them. Hence the distinction between scrip-rural instructors, who taught according to the law and the testimony, and were called seers, and fanciful declaimers, who uttered visions out of their own hearts, and were deemed blind, and thought to be in a dream, that is, under deception.
"The sermons of the old prophets often produced
amazing effects, both in the principles and the morals of the people. Single discourses, at some times, brought whole nations to repentance, although, at other times, the greatest of them complained, Who hath believed our report? All day long we have stretched forth our hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. In the first case, they were in ecstacies, such was their benevolence; in the last, they retired in silence, and wept in secret places. Some, in first transports of passion, execrated the day of their birth, and, when deliberation and calmness returned, committed themselves, their country and their cause to God.
"Ezekiel was a man extraordinarily appointed ˘o preach to the captives, and endowed with singular abilities for the execution of his office. He received his instructions in ecstacies, and he uttered them generally in rapturous vehemence. He had a pleasant voice, and the entire management of it; he could play on the instrument, that is, he knew how to dispose his organs of speech, so as to give energy, by giving proper tone and accent to all he spoke. The people were as much charmed with his discourses as if they had been odes set to music. He was a lovely song in their ears, and they used to say to one another, Come, and let us hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord. The elders and the people assembled at his house, and sat before him, and there, sometimes in the
morning, and at other times in the evening, he delivered those sharp and pointed sermons which are con-rained in his prophecy.
"When the seventy years of the captivity were expired, the captives were divided in their opinions about returning. Some traded and flourished in Babylon, and, having no faith in the divine promise, and too much confidence in their sordid guides, chose to live where idolatry was the established religion, and despotism the soul of civil government. 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, endeavored, 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.
The first Pulpit of which we have any account in the Scriptures.
"We have a short, but beautiful description of the manner of Ezra's first preaching. Upwards of fifty thousand people assembled in a street, or large square, near the watergate. It was easy 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, a temporary gallery, where, in a wing on the right hand of the 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 worshiping 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.
"Plato was alive at this time, teaching dull philosophy to cold academics. Bat what was he, and what was Xenophon, or Demosthenes, or any of the Pagan orators, in comparison with these men!" *
---------------------------------------- * Most of this chapter, and a part of the next, is taken from Robinson’s Dissertation on Public Preaching. It is prefixed to the second volume of Claude's Essay on the Composition of a Sermon.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 359-367. -- jrd]