The following Discourse is printed, as it came to my Hands, without Variation.
Cambridge, Dec. 12.
'It was a very common Enquiry among the Ancients why the Number of excellent Orators, under all the Encouragements the most flourishing States could give them, fell so far short of the Number of those who excelled in all other Sciences. A Friend of mine used merrily to apply to this Case an Observation of Herodotus, who says, That the most useful Animals are the most fruitful in their Generation; whereas the Species of those Beasts that are fierce and mischievous to Mankind are but scarcely continued. The Historian instances in a Hare, which always either breeds or brings forth; and a Lioness, which brings forth but once, and then loses all Power of Conception. But, leaving my Friend to his Mirth, I am of Opinion, that in these latter Ages we have greater Cause of Complaint than the Ancients had. And since that solemn Festival is approaching, which calls for all the Power of Oratory, and which affords as noble a Subject for the Pulpit as any Revelation has taught us, the Design of this Paper shall be to show, that our Moderns have greater Advantages towards true and solid Eloquence, than any which the celebrated Speakers of Antiquity enjoy'd.
'The first great and substantial Difference is, that their Common-Places, in which almost the whole Force of Amplification consists, were drawn from the Profit or Honesty of the Action, as they regarded only this present State of Duration. But Christianity, as it exalts Morality to a greater Perfection, as it brings the Consideration of another Life into the Question, as it proposes Rewards and Punishments of a higher Nature, and a longer Continuance, is more adapted to affect the Minds of the Audience, naturally inclined to pursue what it imagines its greatest Interest and Concern. If Pericles, as Historians report, could shake the firmest Resolutions of his Hearers, and set the Passions of all Greece in a Ferment, when the present Welfare of his Country, or the Fear of hostile Invasions, was the Subject: What may be expected from that Orator, who warns his Audience against those Evils which have no Remedy, when once undergone, either from Prudence or Time? As much greater as the Evils in a future State are than these at present, so much are the Motives to Persuasion under Christianity greater than those which meer moral Considerations could supply us with. But what I now mention relates only to the Power of moving the Affections. There is another Part of Eloquence, which is indeed its Master-piece; I mean the Marvellous or Sublime. In this the Christian Orator has the Advantage beyond Contradiction. Our Ideas are so infinitely enlarged by Revelation, the Eye of Reason has so wide a Prospect into Eternity, the Notions of a Deity are so worthy and refined, and the Accounts we have of a State of Happiness or Misery so clear and evident, that the Contemplation of such Objects will give our Discourse a noble Vigour, an invincible Force, beyond the Power of any human Consideration. Tully requires in his Perfect Orator some Skill in the Nature of Heavenly Bodies, because, says he, his Mind will become more extensive and unconfined; and when he descends to treat of human Affairs, he will both think and write in a more exalted and magnificent Manner. For the same Reason that excellent Master would have recommended the Study of those great and glorious Mysteries which Revelation has discovered to us; to which the noblest Parts of this System of the World are as much inferiour, as the Creature is less excellent than its Creator. The wisest and most knowing among the Heathens had very poor and imperfect Notions of a future State. They had indeed some uncertain Hopes, either received by Tradition, or, gathered by Reason, that the Existence of virtuous Men would not be determined by the Separation of Soul and Body: But they either disbelieved a future State of Punishment and Misery, or upon the same Account that Apelles painted Antigonus with one Side only towards the Spectator, that the Loss of his Eye might not cast a Blemish upon the whole Piece; so these represented the Condition of Man in its fairest View, and endeavoured to conceal what they thought was a Deformity to human Nature. I have often observed, that whenever the abovementioned Orator in his Philosophical Discourses is led by his Argument to the Mention of Immortality, he seems like one awaked out of Sleep, rous'd and alarm'd with the Dignity of the Subject, he stretches his Imagination to conceive something uncommon, and with the greatness of his Thoughts, casts, as it were, a Glory round the Sentence; Uncertain and unsettled as he was, he seems fired with the Contemplation of it. And nothing but such a Glorious Prospect could have forced so great a Lover of Truth, as he was, to declare his Resolution never to part with his Persuasion of Immortality, though it should be proved to be an erroneous one. But had he lived to see all that Christianity has brought to Light, how would he have lavished out all the Force of Eloquence in those noblest Contemplations which humane Nature is capable of, the Resurrection and the Judgment that follows it? How had his Breast glowed with Pleasure, when the whole Compass of Futurity lay open and exposed to his View? How would his Imagination have hurried him on in the Pursuit of the Mysteries of the Incarnation? How would he have enter'd, with the Force of Lightning, into the Affections of his Hearers, and fixed their Attention, in spite of all the Opposition of corrupt Nature, upon those glorious Themes which his Eloquence hath painted in such lively and lasting Colours?
'This Advantage Christians have; and it was with no small Pleasure I lately met with a Fragment of Longinus, which is preserv'd, as a Testimony of that Critick's Judgment, at the Beginning of a Manuscript of the New Testament in the Vatican Library. After that Author has number'd up the most celebrated Orators among the Grecians, he says, Add to these Paul of Tarsus, the Patron of an Opinion not yet fully proved. As a Heathen, he condemns the Christian Religion; and, as an impartial Critick, he judges in Favour of the Promoter and Preacher of it. To me it seems, that the latter Part of his Judgment adds great Weight to his Opinion of St. Paul's Abilities, since, under all the Prejudice of Opinions directly opposite, he is constrained to acknowledge the Merit of that Apostle. And, no doubt, such as Longinus describes St. Paul, such he appeared to the Inhabitants of those Countries which he visited and blessed with those Doctrines was divinely commissioned to preach. Sacred Story gives us, in one Circumstance, a convincing Proof of his Eloquence, when the Men of Lystra called him Mercury, because he was the chief Speaker, and would have paid Divine Worship to him, as to the God who invented and presided over Eloquence. This one Account of our Apostle sets his Character, consider'd as an Orator only, above all the celebrated Relations of the Skill and Influence of Demosthenes and his Contemporaries. Their Power in Speaking was admired, but still it was thought human: Their Eloquence warmed and ravished the Hearers, but still it was thought the Voice of Man, not the Voice of God. What Advantage then had St. Paul above those of Greece, or Rome? I confess I can ascribe this Excellence to nothing but the Power of the Doctrines he delivered, which may have still the same Influence on the Hearers; which have still the Power, when preached by a skilful Orator, to make us break out in the same Expressions, as the Disciples who met our Saviour in their Way to Emmaus, made use of; Did not our Hearts burn within us, when he talked to us by the Way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures? I may be thought bold in my Judgment by some; but I must affirm, That no one Orator has left us so visible Marks and Footsteps of his Eloquence as our Apostle. It may perhaps be wondered at, that in his Reasonings upon Idolatry at Athens, where Eloquence was born and flourished, he confines himself to strict Argument only; but my Reader may remember what many Authors of the best Credit have assured us, That all Attempts upon the Affections and Strokes of Oratory were expressly forbidden, by the Laws of that Country, in Courts of Judicature. His want of Eloquence therefore here, was the Effect of his exact Conformity to the Laws. But his Discourse on the Resurrection to the Corinthians, his Harangue before Agrippa upon his own Conversion and the Necessity of that of others, are truly Great, and may serve as full Examples to those excellent Rules for the Sublime, which the best of Criticks has left us. The Sum of all this Discourse is, That our Clergy have no farther to look for an Example of the Perfection they may arrive at, than to St. Paul's Harangues; that when he, under the Want of several Advantages of Nature (as he himself tells us) was heard, admired, and made a Standard to succeeding Ages by the best Judge of a different Persuasion in Religion, I say our Clergy may learn, That, however instructive their Sermons are, they are capable of receiving a great Addition; which St. Paul has given them a noble Example of, and the Christian Religion has furnished them with certain Means of attaining to.'Translation of motto: