Let your standing position be manly, erect, easy, forceful, and impressive. Avoid that which is weak, shifting, stiff, inactive, and ungainly.
There is a well-defined prejudice against the importation of anything “theatrical” into the pulpit. The art of the actor is fundamentally different from the work of the preacher. At best the actor but represents, imitates, pretends, acts. The actor seems; the preacher is.
It is to be feared, however, that this prejudice has narrowed many preachers down to a pulpit style almost devoid of warmth and action. In their endeavor to avoid the dramatic and sensational, they have refined and subdued many of their most natural and effective means of expression. The function of preaching is not only to impart, but to persuade; and persuasion demands something more than an easy conversational style, an intellectual statement of facts, or the reading of a written message. The speaker must show in face, in eye, in arm, in the whole animated man, that he, himself, is moved, before he can hope successfully to persuade and inspire others.
The modified movements of ordinary conversation do not fulfil all the requirements of the preacher. These are necessary and adequate for the groundwork of the sermon, but for the supreme heights of passionate appeal, when the soul of the preacher would, as it were, leap from its body in the endeavor to reach men, there must be intensified life and action—dramatic action.
It is difficult to conceive of a greater tribute to a public advocate than that paid to Wendell Phillips by George William Curtis:
“The divine energy of his conviction utterly possest him, and his
and eloquent blood
Spoke in his cheek, and so distinctly wrought,
That one might almost say his body thought.’”
Poise is power, and reserve and repression are parts of the dignified office of the preacher, but carried too far may degenerate into weak and unproductive effort. Perfection of English style, rhetorical floridness, and profundity of thought will never wholly make up for lack of appropriate action in the work of persuading men.
The power of action alone is vividly illustrated in the touch of the finger to the lips to invoke silence, or the pointing to the door to command one to leave the room. The preacher might often find it profitable to stand before a mirror and deliver his sermon exclusively in pantomime to test its power and efficacy.
The body must be disciplined and cultivated as assiduously as the other instruments of the speaker. There is eloquence of attitude and action no less than eloquence of voice and feeling. A preacher drawing himself up to his full height, with a significant gesture of the head, or with flashing eye pointing the finger of warning at his hearers, may rouse them from indifference when all other means fail.