CHAPTER XIV. THE LEGACY OF THE EARLY CHURCH TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.
In England, the great orators have been preachers, with a very few exceptions; and these men would have been still greater in the arts of public speaking had they been trained in the church. In our day, we have seen great orators in secular life, but they yield in fascination either to those who are accustomed to speak from the sacred desk, or to those whose training has been clerical, like many of our popular lecturers. Nothing ever opened such an arena of eloquence as the preaching of the Gospel, either in the ancient, the mediaeval, or the modern world, not merely from the grandeur and importance of the themes discussed, but also from the number of the speakers. In a legislative assembly, where all are supposed to be able to address an audience, and some are expected to be eloquent, only two or three can be heard in a day. Only some twenty or thirty able speeches are delivered in Congress or Parliament in a whole session; but in England, or the United States, some thirty thousand preachers are speaking at the same time, many of whom are far more gifted, learned, and brilliant than any found in the great councils of the nation. Nor is this eloquence confined to the Protestant church; it exists also in the Roman Catholic in every land. There are no more earnest and inspiring orators than in Italy or France. Even in rude and unlettered and remote districts, we often hear specimens of eloquence which would be wonderful in capitals. What chance has the bar, in a large city, compared with the pulpit, for the display of eloquence? Probably there are more eloquent addresses delivered every Sunday from the various pulpits of Christendom than were pronounced by all the orators of Greece during the whole period of her political existence. Doubtless there are more touching and effective appeals made to the popular heart every Sunday in every Christian land, than are made during the whole year beside on subjects essentially secular. Then what an impulse has pulpit oratory given to objects of a strictly philanthropic character! The church has been the nurse and mother of all schemes of benevolence since it was organized. It is itself a great philanthropic institution, binding up the wounds of the prisoner, relieving the distressed, and stimulating great enterprises. For all of this the pulpit has been called upon, and has lent its aid; so that the world has been more indebted to the eloquence of divines than to any other source. Who can calculate the moral force of one hundred and fifty thousand to two hundred thousand Christian preachers in a world like ours, most of whom are arrayed on the side of morality and learning. It may be said that these benefits may more properly be considered to flow from Christianity as revealed in the Bible; that the Bible is the cause of all this great impulse to civilization. We do not object to such an interpretation; nevertheless, in specifying the influence of the church, even before the empire fell, the creation of pulpit eloquence should be mentioned, since this has contributed so much to the moral elevation of Christendom. Christianity would be shorn of half her triumphs were it not for the public preaching of her truths. Paganism had no public teachers who regularly taught the people and stimulated their noblest energies. It was a new institution, these Sabbath-day exercises, and has had an inconceivable influence on the progress and condition of the race. The power of the Gospel was indeed the main and primary cause; but the church must have the credit of appropriating what was most prized in the intellectual centres of antiquity, and giving to it a new direction. Christian oratory is also an interesting subject to present in merely its artistical relations. Its vast influence no one can question.