Pulpit Manners

1. Go from your knees to the chapel. Get a renewal of your commission every time you go to preach, in a renewed sense of the favor of God. Carry your authority to declare the gospel of Christ, not in your hand but in your heart. When in the pulpit be always solemn, say nothing to make your congregation laugh. Remember you are speaking for eternity; and trifling is inconsistent with such awful subjects as the great God, the agony and death of Christ, the torments of hell, and the blessedness of heaven.

2. Never assume an air of importance while in the pulpit; you stand in an awful place and God hates the proud man. Never be boisterous or dogmatic. Let your demeanor prove that you feel that you are speaking before Him who tries the spirit, and to whom you are responsible for every word you utter. Self-confidence will soon lead to a forgetfulness of the presence of God, and then you speak your own words and perhaps in your own spirit, too.

3. Avoid all quaint and fantastic attitudes. I once knew a young man who, through a bad habit which he had unfortunately acquired, made so many antics, as the people termed them, in the pulpit, as to prejudice and grieve many. A very serious and sensible person who constantly heard him really thought he was afflicted with that species of paralysis termed St. Vitus’ dance, and hearing some blame him, entered seriously on his defense, on the ground of its being the visitation of God! As there are a thousand reasons why a young man should not wish the people to form such an opinion of him, so there is all the reason in the world why he should avoid queer nodding, ridiculous stoopings and erections of his body, skipping from side to side of the desk, knitting his brows, and every other theatrical or foppish air which tends to disgrace the pulpit and to render himself contemptible.

4. Never shake or flourish your handkerchief; this is abominable; nor stuff it into your bosom; this is unseemly. Do not gaze about on your congregation before you begin your work; if you take a view of them at all, let it be as transient as possible.

5. Endeavor to gain the attention of your congregation. Remind them of the presence of God. Get their spirits deeply impressed with the truth, Thou, God, seest me! and assure them, “He is in the midst, not to judge, but to bless them; and that they should wait as for eternity, for now is the day of salvation.” I have ever found that a few words of this kind spoken before the sermon have done very great good.

6. You may easily find many treatises written on the Gift of Preaching, the Eloquence of the Pulpit, the Composition of a Sermon, etc., both in your own language and in foreign tongues; and he who has a good judgment may profit by them. But I must confess, all I have ever read on the subject has never conveyed so much information to my mind as the original, and in my opinion, the only proper mode of preaching, as Nehemiah 8:8, “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense and caused them to understand the reading.”

First, They read in the book of the law of God. The words of God are the proper matter of preaching, for they obtain the wisdom of the Most High and reveal to man the things which make for his peace.

Secondly, They read distinctly; they analyzed, dilated and expounded it at large.

Thirdly, They gave the sense, i. e., showed its importance and utility.

Fourthly, They caused them to understand the reading; and they understood had a mental taste and perception of the things which were in the reading, i. e., in the letter and spirit of the text.

7. Shun all controversies about politics. It is not the bread which God has provided for His children; and from the pulpit, it is neither profitable for doctrine, for reproof, nor for instruction in righteousness. If others will bring this chaff into the house of God, copy them not.

8. A sentence or two of affectionate prayer in different parts of the discourse has a wonderful tendency to enliven it, and to make the people hear with concern and interest. On this subject, a great foreign orator gives the ministers of the gospel the following advice: “When you have proved the truth of the principles you laid down, you have done but little of the great ministerial work. It is from this point, the proof of your doctrine, that you are to set out to triumph over the passions of your auditory; to strip the sinner of every subterfuge and excuse, that conviction may lead him to repentance. To produce this effect, leave your proofs and divisions behind you; address yourself to the conscience in powerful interrogatives; repeat nothing that you have before said; you have now to produce a new effect, and must use a new language. Employ the utmost energy of your soul to show them that happiness is to be found nowhere but in God. What should I say more? Forget method, forget art itself. Lift up your soul in affectionate prayer to God; become the intercessor of your auditory, that the multitude which withstood your menaces, may be constrained to yield to the effusions of your love.”

9. While I have you in the pulpit, I will give you a concluding advice relative to this part of the business. Never ape any person, however eminent he may be for piety or ministerial abilities. Every man has a fort, as it is called, of his own; and if he keep within it, he is impregnable. The providence of God has caused many of the natural manners of men to differ as much as their persons; and it is nearly as impossible for a man to imitate the peculiar manners of another, as it is to assume his features. It is on this account that no one has ever succeeded who has endeavored to copy another, and as the aiming to do it is easily discoverable, the man who acts thus is despicable in the eyes of the people. And that man is justly despised by others, who has so far despised himself and his Maker, as to endeavor to throw off his natural self in order to act another man’s character.

— Adam Clarke  1762–1832