Before coming to close quarters we may premise a question. If the carefully prepared sermon cost as little trouble as the extemporary effort, would the world ever have heard of this discussion? Oh! the fatal tendency to move on the lines of least resistance, to glide on the downward slope, and when we have reached the bottom to manufacture arguments and apologies justifying the course we selected! When the question is probed to the bottom you will find that all advocacy of extemporary preaching resolves itself into an apology for laziness.
To me the question has long since ceased to be anything more than a mere academic one, useful perhaps for a debating class, where youthful gladiators flesh their harmless swords. In practical life, the well written, the well prepared sermon was the only one I discovered able to bear the test of experience.
[Side note: Manning]
At the threshold of this discussion the authority of Cardinal Manning may be invoked against us, who, without condemning the written sermon, shows a decided preference for speaking from notes. A written sermon, such as advocated, could scarcely be before his mind when he wrote that chapter in “The Eternal Priesthood.” It is evident he had in view the post-renaissance preacher—vain, pompous, decked in borrowed ornament, anxious about the embroidery, and careless about the soul of his discourse. The species, thank God, is extinct.
At any rate, if Cardinal Manning meant to condemn the written discourse such as we understand it, is he triumphantly answered by himself. The man who advises you to preach from notes and then launches upon the world a goodly set of volumes of carefully written sermons, every line of which passed under his correcting pen, requires no refutation. His action nullifies his advice. It is to be feared, too, that in forming his judgment he relied too much on his own experience, and out of it drew conclusions for others, who could never hope to have his exceptional advantages— a fatal mistake.
Before his conversion he had completed a distinguished career at Oxford. Of the English language and its perfect use he was a past master. The copiousness of diction, elegance of phrase, the power of expressing himself in graceful strength were eminently his. His intellect was stored with abundant knowledge drawn from many sources. The thoughts of his well-ordered mind stood in line as definite and orderly as soldiers on parade. The fibres of his reasoning had waxed strong in encounters with the ablest intellects of the day and before the most distinguished audiences in the literary and debating clubs at Oxford. Add to this the fact that in a keen knowledge of the human heart, its strength and weakness, he was surpassed by no man of his age. This was the equipment with which Manning started life, and it is to be feared he pre-supposed this, or a great part of it, to be in possession of those for whom he wrote.