At the Parish Church, Feltwell, and I presume, at the Methodist Church, two Sermons or Addresses are delivered every Sunday. Sermons differ, and well they may since the object of preaching is "constantly to remind mankind of what mankind is constantly forgetting"; and to remind people Sunday after Sunday from the pulpit of duties forgotten, and yet hold their attention, is no easy matter.
Nowadays Sermons are a drug in the market but it was not always so; in former days they were a popular form of literature. Sermons delivered by prominent preachers were put into print and sold for a few pence a piece, sometimes for the benefit of the poor, and not infrequently a Sermon would run into two or more editions which is proof that they were read and appreciated. At the Coronation of Queen Anne, 23rd April, 1702, the Sermon was delivered by Dr. Sharp, Archbishop of York, and afterwards printed and sold; it is simple, not too long and makes good reading.
The length of many of those old-time Sermons was terrific. Most of us have listened to discourses from the pulpit of half an hour's duration which could profitably have been cut down to "Be good and you will go to Heaven; don't you will go elsewhere." But in times gone by, half-an-hour from the pulpit was merely a Sermonette. During the Commonwealth, preachers of the Gospel seem to have excelled far more in the length than in the composition of their Sermons. A certain Stephen Marshall during the Civil Wars once began his Sermon by dividing the text into 24 parts and a member of the congregation, so it is said, started off home for his night-cap and slippers. It has been well said that nothing can justify a long Sermon; "if it be a good one it need not be long; and if it be a bad one it ought not to be long." It might also be said that nothing can justify a high-flown Sermon.
"It should be simple, practical, and clear,
No fine-spun theory to please the ear;
No learned words to tickle letter'd pride
And leave the poor and plain unedified."
One of the ablest preachers of the Church of Enland was Bishop Latimer who was burnt at the stake in 1555; his Sermons are still published and read; they are rather lengthy but are excellent; he hits out straight from the shoulder, regardless of anyone or anything so long as it is the truth. Whether a modem congregation would sit patiently under him is another matter for at times he addresses his hearers as By-walkers, Hoddydoddies, Smell-feasts, Claw-backs, and other like names.
From the 14th to.16th Centuries Sermons were frequently interlarded with jests and jokes sometimes of an unseemly nature. Jean Raulin, who died in Paris in 1514, was a noted preacher and a man of great piety; yet following the custom of the day he would say astounding things from the pulpit. In an Easter Day Sermon he asks why the Resurrection was first announced to women and replies that they have such tongues that they would spread the news the quickest. He then asks why women are greater chatter-boxes than men, and the reason given is certainly original if nothing else. Man, he says, is made of clay, woman of bone, being a rib of Adam; if you move t bag of clay it makes no noise but merely touch a bag of bones and Rattle, Rattle, Rattle is what you hear. Very witty, no doubt, but coming from the pulpit could hardly be described as adding to the solemnity of the Service.
During the reign of King Charles II it became a habit with certain fashionable preachers to indulge in humour from the Pulpit; and even in our own time some preachers of the Gospel have not been altogether innocent of the charge; but humour from the pulpit, however smart and witty, is distinctly out of place.
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