South’s Sermons -- By: Leonard Withington

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 002:6 (May 1845)
Article: South’s Sermons
Author: Leonard Withington


South’s Sermons

Leonard Withington

There cannot be a greater proof of the triumph of genius over all its obstacles than the republication of these Sermons, in this country, one century and more than three quarters of another after their delivery; this bitter, this sarcastic, this snarly churchman, who never spared his foes and was dreaded even by his friends, here appears in this land of the Puritans, with all his abominations on his head. We, Dissenters, have every reason to hate him; and the heart sometimes influences the taste; and makes us slow to admire the abilities which we find it impossible to love. But Dryden has remarked, that, “if a poem have genius it will force its own reception in the world. For there’s a sweetness in good verse which tickles while it hurts; and no man can be heartily angry with him, who pleases him against his

will.”1 Dr. South has forced us to dig up the buried scourge with which he has so unmercifully lashed our fathers.

The truth is, the charm of mental raciness is eternal; independent of all times and factions, and this charm South had almost to perfection. We cannot think he made the most of himself. He seems to have been born for better things than ever he accomplished. He has been charged with approaching the buffoon; he is supposed to have introduced into the pulpit the cant phrases of a licentious court; he certainly wasted much of his strength on temporary topics; he was ill-natured, morose and severe; but with all his faults, we consider him as one of the first names in English Literature. He had one excellence of surpassing worth. He was not a formalist; not a conventional man. However bitter, however bad; he was in earnest and dipped his pen in the centre of his heart.

Of all writings, it must be confessed, (though it is a mortifying truth) sermons are the most dull—certainly the least readible. We consider it as the hardest task, in the whole compass of literature, to produce a living sermon. One reason is, that a written and a spoken style are so very different that it is hard to unite them. The animation; the pathos,—the awakened interrogation; the verbosity; the interjections, which please in extemporaneous delivery when prompted by the occasion, are apt to be inflated when they appear fixed in print and sanctioned by the press. Then the preacher is bound down by a cumbrous load of formalities. Some would bind him to a technical orthodoxy; some impose on him laws of an artificial decorum. Whatever may be his native character, or the turn of his genius, he must never make the least approach to the playful or the humorous. That would be profane. The theological student is...

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