Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Harvard College


By JAMES WALKER, D. D. Boston: Tieknor & Fields. 12mo.
THE great reputation which Dr. Walker has long enjoyed, as one of the most impressive pulpit orators of the country, will suffer little diminution by the publication of these specimens of his rare powers of statement, argument, and illustration. To the general reader, they are, to be sure, deprived of the fascination of his voice and manner ; but as the peculiarities of Ins elocution have their source in the peculiarities of his mental and moral organization, it will be found that the style and structure of these printed sermons suggest the mode of their delivery, which is simply the emphatic utterance of emphatic thought. The Italicized words, with which the volume abounds, palpably mark the results of thinking, and arrest attention because they are not less emphasized by the intellect than by the type. In reflecting Dr. Walker’s mind, the work at the same time reflects his manner.
Every reader of these sermons will be struck by their thorough reasonableness,— a reasonableness which does not exclude, but includes, the deepest and warmest religious sensibility. Moral and religious feeling pervades every statement; but the feeling is still confined within a flexible framework of argument, which, while it enlarges with every access of emotion, is always an outlying boundary of thought, beyond which passion does not pass. Light continually asserts itself as more comprehensive in its reach than heat; and the noblest spiritual instincts and impulses are never allowed unchecked expression as sentiments, but have to submit to the restraints imposed by principles. Even in the remarkable sermon entitled, “ The Heart more than the Head,” it will be found that it is the head which legitimates the action of the heart. The sentiments are exalted above the intellect by a process purely intellectual, and the inferiority of the reason is shown to be a principle essentially reasonable. Thus, throughout the volume, the author’s mental insight into the complex phenomena of our spiritual nature is always accompanied by a mental oversight of its actual and possible aberrations. A sound, large, “roundabout” common sense, keen, eager, vigilant, sagacious, encompasses all the emotional elements of his thought. He has a subtile sense of mystery, but he is not a mystic. The most marvellous workings of the Divine Spirit he apprehends under the conditions of Law, and even in the raptures of devotion he never forgets the relation of cause and effect.
The style of these sermons is what might be expected from the character of the mind it expresses. If Dr. Walker were not a thinker, it is plain that he could never have been a rhetorician. He has no power at all as a writer, if writing he considered an accomplishment which can he separated from earnest thinking. Words are, with him, the mere instruments for the expression of things; and he hits on felicitous words only under that impatient stress of thought which demands exact expression for definite ideas. All his words, simple as they are, are therefore fairly earned, and he gives to them a force and significance which they do not bear in the dictionary. The mind of the writer is felt heating and burning beneath his phraseology, stamping every word with the image of a thought. Largeness of intellect, acute discrimination, clear and explicit statement, masterly arrangement of matter, an unmistakable performance of the real business of expression, — these qualities make every reader of the sermons conscious that a mind of great vigor, breadth, and pungency is brought into direct contact with Ins own. The almost ostentatious absence of “fine writing” only increases the effect of the plain and sinewy words.
If we pass from the form to the substance of Dr. Walker’s teachings, we shall find that his sermons are especially characterized by practical wisdom. A scholar, a moralist, a metaphysician, a theologian, learned in all the lore and trained in the best methods of the schools, he is distinguished from most scholars by his broad grasp of every-day life. It is this quality which has given him his wide influence as a preacher, and this is a prominent charm of his printed sermons. He brings principles to the test of facts, and connects thoughts with things. The conscience which can easily elude the threats, the monitions, and the appeals of ordinary sermonizers, finds itself mastered by his mingled fervor, logic, and practical knowledge. Every sermon in the present volume is good for use, and furnishes both inducements and aids to the formation of manly Christian character. There is much, of course, to lift the depressed and inspire the weak; but the great peculiarity of the discourses is the resolute energy with which they grapple with the worldliness and sin of the proud and the strong.