Dabney’s Evangelical Eloquence is a collection of lectures given to ministerial students. For the most part it is full of tight-laced common sense rhetorical advice. He offers some helpful opinions on text selection and repeatedly reminds preachers to stay close to the text. A reminder which needs to be repeated often, especially in our subjective, opinionated culture.
The lectures touch the bases of basic rhetorical principles; Dabney strikes me as a bit fastidious, but there are some gems of wisdom and insight. It may be like drinking apple cider vinegar when you have a sore throat; it tastes terrible, but you know it will help in the long run. I’d like to revisit this book in the future, as I reckon there will be some gems I missed, and Dabney is likely to be a good coach for preaching; and like any coach must knock you around every now and again!
Here are a few of the quotes I found most poignant.
Let the great principles of gospel love be presented with a breadth and warmth which instead of dissecting, will dissipate the doubt.
[Preaching] is to unfold to the hearers the counsel of God for their salvation.
There is a profusion of preaching and public exercises; yet there is far less scriptural intelligence among our church-goers than among our ruder forefathers.
The end of every oration is to make men do.
The herald does not invent his message; he merely transmits and explains it.
Preaching should be simply representative of Bible truths, and in Bible proportions! The preacher’s business is to take what is given him in the Scriptures, as it is given to him, and to endeavor to imprint it on the souls of men. All else is God’s work.
Let him make all his human learning ancillary to the simple work of ascertaining and explaining the argument of the Holy Spirit. Let him drink into the very meaning and temper of that inspired discussion. And let him do nothing else but place it, without change or addition, in contact with the souls of his hearers. He will find with delight that he has now opened a way to their hearts. God’s sermons will tell upon them as men’s sermons never do. Your conceit and ambition may persuade you that your human arrangement is more regular, more logical, more complete than his. He knows better, for he is omniscient. Have faith and humility to trust his truth in his own biblical forms, and you will find your sermons clothed with a true power and unction. If you thus honour his word, he will honour your ministry with success.
[…] after the clearer text has prepared the way, that its light may be thrown upon [less clear texts] and thus facilitate their comprehension.
[Preaching] demands unity in discourse.
The nail is only driven home by successive blows upon the same spot.
If you would not wear out after you have ceased to be a novelty, give the minds of your people food. Young pastors not seldom yield to a timidity, lest the multitude should be repelled by the homeliness of the truth; and they imagine that they are catering better for the popular tastes, by relieving them of the labour of attention and amusing them with rhetorical pyrotechnics. I do not here remark upon the wickedness of such an expedient. Pastoral experience proves that it is not adapted to its end, low as that end is. The men who draw the multitude are (if we except those who have more successfully satisfied the depravity of our race by positive error) the instructive pastors. The crowd flocks a few times to behold the empty show. But when it feels the necessity of being fed, it resorts to the place where solid food is provided for the mind, even if it be with plainer equipage. Make your people feel that they are gaining permanent acquisitions of knowledge from you, and they will not desert you.