Never write a letter to which you are ashamed to put your name; as a rule, only mean persons are guilty of such an action, though I hope my present correspondent is an exception to the rule. Be so eccentric as to be always able to speak the truth to a man face to face.
He who hopes to preach so as to please everybody must be newly come into the ministry; and he who aims at such an object would do well speedily to leave its ranks. Men must and will cavil and object: it is their nature to do so.
From such consecrated eccentricity come martyrs, reformers, and the leaders of the advance guard of freedom and progress. Breaking loose from the shackles of evil customs, such men first stand alone and defy the world; but ere long the great heart of manhood discerns their excellence, and then men are so eager to fall at their feet that the idolatry of hero-worship is scarcely escaped. To us the men seem grander in their solitary adherence to the right, and to the true, than when they become the centers of admiration: their brave eccentricity is the brightest gem in their crown.
The slavery of custom is as hard and crushing as any other form of human bondage, and blessed is he who for the truth’s sake disdains to wear the galling chain, preferring rather to be charged with singularity and held up to ridicule.
No common man understandeth or so much as dareth to attempt understanding these gentlemen of the altitudes and profundities. Their big words are by no means needful on account of the greatness of their matter, but seem to be chosen upon the principle that the less they have to say the more pompous must be their phrases.
If the center is to be up in the clouds, let a few of us who care for something practical stop down below and be regarded as eccentric.
According to common talk, the center of the circle is fixed by the dullest of all the brotherhood, for to be eccentric means with many to have anything over half a grain of common sense, or the remotest favoring of humor. Have anything like originality, anything like genius, anything like a sparkle of wit, anything like natural whole-souled action, and you will be called eccentric directly by those who are used to the gospel of Hum-drum.
The concentric thing with many is to prose away with great propriety and drone with supreme decorum. Your regular man says nothing which can by any possibility offend anybody, and nothing which is likely to do anyone good. Devoid of faults, and destitute of excellencies, the proper preacher pursues his mechanical round, and shudders at the more erratic motions of real life.
No, the bonds are relaxed, and it is just possible that they are now rather too slack than too tight. It is, however, very curious to watch the moods of the religious public and see how what is condemned to-day is admired tomorrow.
Let us, if we are ministers, do that which we believe to be most likely to be useful, and pay little heed to the judgments of our contemporaries. If we act wisely we can afford to wait; our reward is in a higher approbation than that of men; but even if it were not, we can afford to wait. The sweeping censures of hurried critics will one day be blown away like the chaff of the threshing-floor, and the great heart of the church of God will beat true to her real champions, and clear their reputations from the tarnish of prejudice and slander.
The eccentricity of one century is the heroism of another; and what is in one age cast out as folly may be in the next revered as a wisdom which lived before its time.
It is pitiful to hear comparisons made between the different servants of the same Lord. They were made by their Master, the one as well as the other, and set in different spheres to answer his own designs, and the same wisdom is displayed in each.
We admire every man in his own order, or even in his own disorder, so long as it is really his own. He has some end to serve in God’s eternal purpose, let him answer that end without carping criticism from us. Who are we, that we should even condemn what seems to us odd and singular?
We are sorrowfully compelled to concede to critics of the ministry that persons have entered it who have sadly disgraced our high calling. Men in all denominations have earned notoriety by being out of center morally and spiritually: these have deserved to be called eccentric in the worst sense.
I care not to say more; no section of the church can afford to throw stones, for no department has been free from unworthy ministers, adventurers, hypocrites, and downright fools.
Moderation is not the virtue of many. If one man casts a sprinkling of the salt of wit into his sermon straightway some half idiotic brother must set the people grinning all the sermon through. If one, to whom it is natural, is so carried away by his earnestness that his action becomes at times highly dramatic, instantly a certain crew fall to mouthing and posturing as if these things were the great power of God. If one man occasionally spiritualizes, but keeps within the bounds of discretion, they must needs indulge all sorts of fancies till one might say of them as a foreigner said of King James’s favorite preacher, “He playeth with his text, patting it to and fro, as a cat doth a mouse.” They put the wise man’s wig upon their little skulls, and fancy that they have become as great as he. These hangers-on of useful men have not even the virtue of being the genuine article, they are counterfeits in which are exaggerated all the imperfections of the original, while all the excellencies are omitted.
It is possible for a person to repeat a falsehood so many times that he at length imposes upon himself and believes that he is stating the truth.
Berridge could not have lived if he had not found a vent for his spirits in witty sayings. He would seem to have had a fine, frank soul, which acted upon its impulses without the fear of what observers might say. Yet was he ever ready to confess his fault in the direction of excessive mirth, and on one occasion he traces it to his not being in the best physical condition. This may seem very absurd, but it is not: I have known seasons when suffering from neuralgia or depression my only hope of speaking at all has been found in taking off all the brakes, and allowing my mind to have full swing. The more my head has ached the more have I indulged in humor, or I should not have been able to speak at all.
To say the least, it is remarkable that eccentricity and usefulness often go together
Where truth is thought to be eccentric, the age itself is out of gear.
I make bold to say that some men have been styled eccentric because they are really in earnest, and earnestness defies rules. I do not believe that it is possible for a man in downright earnest to be always “proper.”
It needs genius in the hearer to enjoy genius in the preacher
Doubtless there are many others who are condemned for their eccentricity by the simpletons around them, because they have wealthy creative minds, and scatter pearls with both their hands.
I say, if you knew the desire we have to bring men to Christ, you would not be so ready to catch at every little thing which violates the canons of taste.
“Every man in his own order” is a good rule. Apollos may be polished and Cephas blunt, but so far as they are honest, prayerful, and true to the Gospel, God will bless them both, and it ill becomes them to pick holes in each other’s coats. We would never say to a man, “Be eccentric”; but if he cannot help being’ so, we would not have him otherwise. The leaning tower of Pisa owes much of its celebrity to its leaning, and although it certainly is not a safe model for architects, we would by no means advise the taking of it down. Ten to one any builder who tried to erect another would create a huge ruin, and therefore it would not be a safe precedent; but there it is, and who wishes it were other than it is? Serve the Lord, brother, with your very best, and seek to do still better, and whatever your peculiarities, the grace of God will be glorified in you.
We are most of us somewhat tolerant of well-educated eccentrics; we almost reverence the oddities of genius, but we are squeamish if we see singularities combined with ignorance, and idiosyncrasies prominent in men who cannot even spell the word. What in a gentleman would be a peculiarity, is reckoned in a poor man to be an absurdity. Such slaves are most men to kid gloves and good balances at the banker’s, that they toady to aristocratic whims, and even affect to admire in my Lord Havethecash that which would disgust them in poor Tom Honesty. This partiality of judgment, in a measure, affects even Christians, who, beyond all other men, are bound to judge things by their own intrinsic value, and not according to the false glitter of position and wealth. We claim for uneducated Christian men as wide a range for their originality as would be allowed them if they were the well-instructed sons of the rich; we would not have a shrewd saying decried because it is ungrammatical; nor a fervent, spiritual utterance ridiculed because it is roughly expressed. Consider the man as he is; make allowances for educational disadvantages, for circumstances, and for companionships, and do not turn away with contempt from that which, in the sight of God, may be infinitely more precious than all the refinements and delicacies so dear to pompous imbecility.