Extempore Preaching

The following is part of the account by Dr.Hanna, his biographer, of the attempt to get Chalmers to preach without his usual copious notes.

It was only in one respect that Mr. Fuller's desires and anticipations were to remain unfulfilled. Under the very strong conviction that his use of the manuscript in the pulpit impaired the power of his Sabbath addresses, Mr. Fuller (Andrew Fuller) strenuously urged upon his friend the practice of extempore preaching, or preaching from notes. "If that man," said be to his cornpanion, Mr. Anderson, after they had taken leave of Kilrnany manse - " if that man would but throw away his papers in the pulpit, he might be king of Scotland."

Mr. Chalmers was perfectly willing to make the experiment, and he gave full time and all diligence to the attempt; but it failed. He read, reflected, jotted down the outlines of a discourse, and then went to the pulpit trusting to the suggestion of the moment for the phraseology he should employ; but he found that the ampler his materials were, the more difficult was the utterance, his experience in this respect he used to compare to the familiar phenomenon of a bottle with water in it turned suddenly upside down: the nearly empty bottle discharges itself fluently and at once; ths nearly full one labours in the effort, and lets out its contents with jerks and large explosions and sudden stops, as if choked by its own fulness. So it was with Mr.. Chalmers in his first efforts at extempore preaching. A twofold impediment lay in the way of his success. It was not easy to light at once upon words or phrases which could give anything like adequate conveyance to convictions so intense as his were; and he could not be satisfied, and with no comfort could he proceed, while an interval so wide remained between the truth as it was felt and the truth as his words had represented it.

Over and over again was the effort made to find powerful enough and expressive enough phraseology. But even had this difficulty not existed - even though he had been content with the first suggested words, he never could be satisfied till he had exhausted every possible way of setting forth tile truth, so as to force or to win for it an entrance into the minds of his hearers. So very eager was he at this period of his ministry to communicate the impressions which glowed so fervidly within his own heart, that even when he had a written sermon to deliver, he often, as if dissatisfied with all that he had said, would try at the close to put the matter in simpler words, or present it in other lights, or urge it in more direct and affectionate address. But when the restraints of a written composition were thrown away, when not at the close only, but from the very beginning of his address, this powerful impulse operated, he often found that, instead of getting over the ground marked down in his study to be traversed, the whole allotted time was consumed while yet he was labouring away with the first or second preliminary idea. After a succession of efforts, the attempt at extempore preaching was relinquished; but he carried into the study that insatiable desire to effect a secure an effective lodgement of the truth in the minds of others, which had so much to do with the origin of all that amplification and reiteration with which his writings abound. In preparing for the pulpit, he scarcely ever sat down to write without the idea of other minds, whom it was his object to impress being either more distinctly or more latently present to his thoughts; and he seldom rose from writing without the feeing that still other modes of influential representation remained untried.

"Sunday, .August 8th. - Began to extemporize this day, and carried it to the extent of my two lectures and part of my sermon; "Sunday, August l5th. - Threw off a sketch of a sermon this morning, and seldom addressed a more cultivated audience, - a number of gentry, and Professor Hill and his wife. Felt discouraged, and did not acquit myself to my satisfaction. This want of freedom prevented even a complete and edifying view of the subject. - O God, save me from all vanity. Was it right to apologize to Mr. Hill for my exhibition? No. Let me henceforth carry a prepared sermon with me, but let me persevere a little more in my extempore efforts. At all events, let me extemporize my lectures. There is a rapidity and impatience in all my processes which prevents that complete and connected view of my subject which is favourable to extemporizing. - O God, give me to be more calm and judicious."
Memoirs Vol.1

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