This is how the case stands. You have to spend as much time in gathering and arranging the matter for the extemporary as for the written one. Next year you may have to preach on the same gospel or feast; of what use will your notes be then? The ideas, arguments, and illustrations that now spring to your mind with a glance at this cipher or note will then have vanished. The cipher remains, but its inspiring power has passed. The oracle is dumb. You may summon spirits from the vasty deep—but will they come? You have again to face your old task; year after year the same drudgery awaits you with less hope of success. The brain, at first stimulated by novelty, poured forth the hot tide of thought; now it will answer only to the lash. At the end of five years what hoarded reserve have you laid by? Your hands are as empty as the day you started, with this disadvantage, that you have lost the habit of labour you acquired at college—a serious loss. When a man permits the fine edge of college industry to become blunted, the best day of his usefulness is passed. This treadmill of ineffectual toil fills with disgust, till finally all efforts are abandoned, and the people are treated to Hamlet’s reading: “Words, words, words.” This is the usual series of evolutions through which an extemporary preacher passes. He begins with good intentions and bad theories. The system breaks down, but his habits are now too set to try another, and so he runs to seed. Here you have explained the fruitlessness, indeed the paralysis, of many a pulpit.
In the written sermon, on the other hand, you have a treasure for life; years pass, but your sermon remains, an instrument becoming more flexible and telling every time you use it. You are independent of your mood, on which the extemporary preacher has to lean so much. You can also defy chance that may call you to the pulpit at a day’s notice. Your motto is: Semper paratus. Your brain may be barren and your feelings frigid, but here are thoughts already made and shaped. They are your own; and the mind instinctively responds to the children of its own birth. It rises, clasps, and embraces them. The passion glow enkindles afresh; and heart and words are aflame with the ancient fires. When for the first five years you lay aside a well-written sermon a month, what a handsome stock-in-trade is at your disposal for life—your fortune is made.
[Side note: Incitements to toil]
The world is in no humour to stand half-hearted work; it will bow its proud head only to the man who pours out sweat; and Bourdaloue’s standard of excellence will hold for all time. His answer to the question “What was your best sermon?” is: “The one I took the most pains with.” His labour at the desk was the precise measure of his success in the pulpit. The French have a proverb, “Tout vaut ce qu’il coute.” ("Everything is worth what it costs.”)