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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Advice to a Preacher

By William Ellery Channing (1780–1842)

[Charge at the Ordination of the Rev. J. S. Dwight. 1840.—From The Works of William E. Channing, D.D. 1841.]

I HAVE said, you must preach plainly. I now add, preach with zeal, fervor, earnestness. To rouse, to quicken, is the end of all preaching, and plainness which does not minister to this is of little worth. This topic is too familiar to need expansion; and I introduce it simply to guard you against construing it too narrowly. The minister is often exhorted to be earnest in the pulpit. You will be told, that fervor in delivering your discourse is the great means of impression. I would rather exhort you to be fervent in preparing it. Write with earnestness, and you will find little difficulty in preaching earnestly; and if you have not poured out your soul in writing, vehemence of delivery will be of little avail. To enunciate with voice of thunder and vehement gestures a cold discourse, is to make it colder still. The fire which is to burn in the pulpit, must be kindled in the study. Preach with zeal. But let it be a kindly zeal. Always speak in love. Let not earnestness be a cover for anger, or for a spirit of menace and dictation. Always speak as a brother. With the boldest, sternest, most scornful, most indignant reproofs of baseness and crime, let the spirit of humanity, of sorrowful concern be blended. In too much of the zeal of the pulpit, there is a hardness, unfeelingness, inhumanity, more intolerable to a good mind, than sleepy dulness or icy indifference.

I have said, preach plainly and preach earnestly; I now say, preach with moral courage. Fear no man, high or low, rich or poor, taught or untaught. Honor all men; love all men; but fear none. Speak what you account great truths frankly, strongly, boldly. Do not spoil them of life to avoid offence. Do not seek to propitiate passion and prejudice by compromise and concession. Beware of the sophistry, which reconciles the conscience to the suppression, or vague, lifeless utterance of unpopular truth. Do not wink at wrong deeds or unholy prejudices, because sheltered by custom or respected names. Let your words breathe a heroic valor. You are bound indeed to listen candidly and respectfully to whatever objections may be urged against your views of truth and duty. You must also take heed lest you baptize your rash, crude notions, your hereditary or sectarian opinions with the name of Christian doctrine. But having deliberately, conscientiously sought the truth, abide by your conviction at all hazards. Never shrink from speaking your mind, through dread of reproach. Wait not to be backed by numbers. Wait not till you are sure of an echo from a crowd. The fewer the voices on the side of truth, the more distinct and strong must be your own. Put faith in truth as mightier than error, prejudice, or passion, and be ready to take a place among its martyrs. Feel that truth is not a local, temporary influence, but immutable, everlasting, the same in all worlds, one with God and armed with his omnipotence. Courage even on the side of error is power. How must it prove on the side of truth! A minister speaking not from selfish calculation, but giving out his mind in godly sincerity, uttering his convictions in natural tones, and always faithful to the light which he has received, however he may give occasional offence, will not speak in vain; he will have an ally in the moral sense, the principle of justice, the reverence for virtue, which is never wholly extinguished in the human soul.