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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
James Bell's advice to a young preacher


JAMES BELL, the geographer, who died about 1833, was the son of Rev. Thomas Bell, Secession minister, Glasgow. He was possessed of a vein of rich and deep sarcasm, which he sometimes exercised against the clericals. He had been much in their company in his father’s house, and had thus plenty of opportunities of observing their habits and failings. In giving a satirical advice to a young preacher how to prepare himself for making an impression on a public audience, he said:

"Noo, frien’, when you are preparing to wag your pow in a pulpit, just get in the first place a’ the leading doctrines o’ your creed firmly fixed in your memory, and three or four lang-winded introductions to discourses—the langer nebbed the words the better—it will gar the kirk ring wi’ your lair. Then you can just gi’e the doctrines a bit stir about, and quote ane here and anither there, but aye be sure to have a different text, and ye may preach the same sermon a’ the year through. Four gude lengthy introductions should sair you to work wi’ a’ your days, if ye manage richt. It disna need much sense to enable ye to tak’ a bit out o’ the ane, and a bit out o’ the ither, and to piece them weel.

"Never begin twa days following in the same strain, and if ye should happen to be at a loss, try to get up a bit greet. If you can do that, your fortune’s made. Another thing especially never forget in the pulpit, for it will, like charity, cover a multitude of sins—find fau’t wi’ the translation o’ the Scriptures; tear’t in bits, and you’ll be considered a second Solomon. If you are lecturing, spin out your discourse o’er the first verse or twa, and say at the conclusion:

"‘We could add a heap mair did our time permit, but this, and the illustration of what follows, we must leave over till another opportunity,’ and dinna tak’ up the subject again if ye can help it.

"Ye micht, wi’ advantage, find out a hidden meaning in your text; it will, maybe, be easier for you to do that than to find out the real one. I ha’e heard o’ a minister that screwed the puir Catholics out o’ every passage that he took up. Amang a’ the books in the Bible, there’s ane ta’en up by a heap o’ fools, and that is the book of Revelation; be cautious about meddling wi’ it, for ye may mak’ a fool o’ yoursel’; too mony a ane o’ our commentators on the Revelations have outlived their own prophetic expositions. If ye maun meddle wi’ it, just tak a trot up and down amang the seven kirks o’ Asia, but dinna gang ayont them."


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