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Christian Recorder: October 21, 1875
Mr. Editor: - A few Thursday nights since, I notified my congregation that we would have a sermon from Bishop Brown on Sabbath morning at 11 o’clock. Accordingly, a rumor went forth that Bishop Brown was coming to the city &c. but to crown that matter, rumor had it, that he arrived Saturday evening at 6 o’clock, by way of the Central Rail Road, that he was seen getting off the cars, and that he went to the residence of the writer, and would surely preach Sabbath morning. The specified time arrived, but it was raining, and the streets were very disagreeable. Nevertheless, a great house of eager expectants were out, and every eye sought the person of the distinguished Bishop. The writer finally took the stand and gave out a hymn, and a powerful prayer was offered by a brother; and other hymn was sung, and the Bishop not despaired of, was still anxiously looked for, till lo, and behold, the writer broke the spell, and contradicted the false rumor, by arising and reading a masterly sermon that the Bishop preached before the last session of the Louisiana Conference. When they were informed that the Bishop would preach through me acting as his proxy, it did not seem to set well on their moral and intellectual stomachs, consequently some sucked their teeth, others looked out the windows, and others tried to go to sleep.
But as soon as we could dispose of the Bishop’s Greek and Latin quotations, and glide through his very nice and logical exordium, and struck the grand artery of his discourse, a change was soon visible. About midway of the sermon, we fancied we were the actual Bishop Brown, and such a set of gesticulations we put on for the Bishop, has not been executed since the dawn of the nineteenth century. Had he heard our gestures and the inimitable emphasis we were giving him, he might have declined the idea of ever allowing another sermon to go to the press, or brought a charge against us for caricaturing his reverence. But at all events we strode through, without omitting a single sentence or word; and before we finished, the Amens and other approving utterances that came up from the congregations, were absolutely remarkable. The sequel was, all were well pleased and edified, and we were complimented by being asked if we didn’t think our pulpit would be more attractive if that course was followed every Sabbath.
The Louisiana Conference has done honor to itself and the literature of the entire church, by publishing a small volume of sermons, and we are at a loss for language to express our high appreciation for their leading off in this matter. The time has certainly arrived, when we should begin to make a living literature for our great connexion. Our young preachers as well as our growing youths demand it at our hands. Our rank and reputation through the civilized world also require it. This is the first volume that has come under our notice, and for literary chasteness and deep piety combined, these sermons will not be excelled in a long time. I know it is customary to crouch before power, and pay empty compliments to distinguished rank; but when we say that the sermons of this volume are an able and masterly production, we utter our most unequivocal convictions, to which all will agree who have read it. This is followed by sermons from Rev. James H. Harper, Rev. J.R.V. Thomas, Rev. James A. Handy, and Rev. M. R. Johnson A. M., all of which do credit to their distinguished authors, and make a rare contribution to the religious, moral and intellectual literature of our church. We have before us also, a sermon of great eloquence and logical force, delivered before the New Jersey Conference at its last session, by the Rev. Dr. John Stephenson. The Dr. seems to have out done himself, for the sermon would do honor to the Arch Bishop of Canterbury. Still another rare production from Rev. W.J. Gaines of the Georgia Conference, which will hand his name to posterity. Now I am not referring to these brethren and their sermons in any spirit of sycophancy, nor to seek their smiles and favorable considerations. We have no favors to seek at their hands, but the underlying privilege, the act per se is so praiseworthy and commendable, that some public recognition should go out, as a stimulus to the coming ministry of our church.
For several years we have been thinking of sending out a circular, asking the leading ministers of our church, to give us a well-prepared sermon, so that we could get fifty or seventy five, and publish them in one volume, to be known as, The Pulpit of the A.M.E. Church. But our financial embarrassments have been so grievous, that we saw no hope of getting them through the press, if we succeeded in collecting the sermons and thus the request was deferred from time to time, till the Louisiana conference broke the monotony on a small scale. Such a work we believe would find rapid sale; for if there is one thing that our southern ministers want, it is a church literature peculiarly our own, and there is no doubt about our ability to give them a book of sermons if we had the will, for whatever we may be deficient in, there is one thing sure, the ministers of the A.M.E. Church can preach. The ambition to be a big preacher permeates the whole connection. True, a large number believe that pulpit power and success consist in getting up shouts and vociferous responses, and some will say anything to ring it out of the people, yet it is an ambition and stripped of its whimsicalness is a laudable ambition. Such preaching I confess will seldom hear the test of scrutiny, but the great bulk of our people care nothing for chasteness any way , and it answers as an inventive to the ignorant, and frequently edifies those who higher culture.
In this connection, I wish to speak of another meritorious production from the pen of Rev. Benjamin W. Arnett of Cincinnati. The book is entitled, “Semi-centenary celebration at Allen Temple.” It contains about 139 pages, neatly bound, gold guilt letters, and is printed on the best of paper. It presents the contrast in two frontispieces of the A.M.E. Church in Cincinnati now, and the same fifty years ago. It gives the various pastors in chronological order, from Rev. Phillip Brodie in 1824, to 1875. But the crowning feature of the book is, the able and eloquent address of Elder Arnett himself, covering a period of fifty years. And here allow me to say, that the address embodies among other things, the most masterly defense of African Methodism that has likely over been made by any of the young men of our church. But if his life is spared, I predict this effort is a mere incipient; for I have never seen a man with a more fruitful brain than Elder Arnett. He can suggest more ideas, propose more plans, devise more schemes &c, than any man I ever had the honor of being the guest of; and what is more remarkable, he has a feasible policy to execute them all with. Should the A.M. E. Church ever create an Arch Bishop, as she certainly will at some future day, and Arnett wishes the office, he will be sure to get it, for he will be up planning, when nearly every body else in all creation will be asleep.
Now some one may say when they read this letter, O pshaw, you need not mind that fellow, he will compliment any body who don’t spit in his face. But what we have said in regard to the above named brethren, is no compliment. We are telling inexorable facts, and wish to further state, that they are the men for us to emulate, if we ever expect to raise the church to that high literature and moral standard which she demands by her rank. God has singled her out I believe, to be the chief agent in the elevation of the negro in this country, and in the ultimate redemption of Africa, for the few African opponents who now stand in the way of the agitation of her claims, will be blown like chaff before the wind in a few years, and the church will turn her attention to our father land, and plant the flag staff of the gospel on her plains, and force submission to her claims. And pick ninny men may raise objections and fight her salvation, but Africa, O Africa, thou land of Ham, thou shalt be redeemed.