Jesus was a gentleman. He was of course much more than a gentleman, but along with all His goodness and His power, He was filled with grace. Those who were associated intimately with Him became noted for their culture of speech and of bearing. The fishmonger, from screaming obscenities, became a model in purity of speech; the publican, from jostling the indigent mob, became the minister of mercy and grace; the harlot's wanton eyes were filled with spiritual light; the demoniac's wild harangue became the measured eloquence of love.
And surely it is a due evidence of the indwelling Christ that any spokesman for Him today shall bear in his person and in his speech the marks of refinement and reflective study. In him preeminently the Word will be made flesh, dwelling in him, full of grace and truth. There will be, not a mantle of pompous piety, but an inner spirit of love, simplicity, purity, and power.
This transformation of character and conduct comes not by idle loitering around the edges of the crowd that surround the Master. "Sir, we would see Jesus," besought the Greek proselytes, and pressed their way to the center of the throng. "If I may but touch His garment," whispered the stricken woman; and she alone of all the crowd that pressed upon Jesus received His virtue. We shall not absorb the culture of Jesus by careless handling of His truths or mouthings of His name. It is due our profession of His cause that we study to show ourselves approved by His pure eyes, workmen that need not to be ashamed. Communion with Him will lead one to scrutinize thoroughly his own language and behavior, and seek to make them conform to the highest standards. The truths of Christ cannot be rightly represented by solecisms and barbarisms and improprieties of speech. The nature of Christ is not mirrored in slovenly attire, uncouth postures, and melodramatic gestures. The character of Christ is not portrayed in hot retorts and ungenerous criticism and sudden flares of passion. Imperfect as we all are, it may be our aim—and if we are Christ's, it will be our aim—to reach a goal of perfection in speech and appearance and manner. What our minds feed upon will in great part determine what we become.
A sense of humor is a valuable asset; but that humor should be of the cosmic rather than the barber shop variety. Any mind that can find pleasure in the puerilities of the "funny page," is incapable of appreciating the beautiful mysteries of life or of setting forth the profound truths of the gospel. A pleasantry, a joke, a humorous anecdote, fitted to proper time and place, may not be amiss; but to intrude jest and funny story into the presentation of divine mysteries is to reveal a moronic mind.
Among the worst of bad manners is the habit of ministers' conversing together upon the platform after presenting themselves there to open a meeting. Some carry the practice through the entire meeting—which is no worse, it may be remarked, except that it upsets the speaker. Some who feel restraint in the pulpit from exercising to extremes their conversational powers, show no compunction in continuing conversation into the beginning of public worship—and so, presumably, at family worship. A religious meeting, we may assume, is held in the presence of God; and to act as if it were a social gathering is no recommendation of any person's social sense.
One's pulpit manner is of course one's own. It should be. Anyone who can successfully impersonate another belongs, not in the pulpit, but on the stage. But even so, a man should seek, not for individuality, but for sincerity. Mannerisms suggest egoism, and overemphasis of the ego invites melodrama. Sincerity of mind and heart, absorption in the profound science of the love of God, will create its own artistry of expression, in great part unconsciously to the speaker and therefore the more convincing. Extreme gesticulation, senseless shrillings and thunderings of voice, are but the cheap art of the mountebank to attract attention.
In speech there should be both propriety and aptness. This requires a constant study of the language and the wide and thoughtful reading of the best masters. Some popular evangelists intimate by their style that they are greater students of the sporting page than of the Bible; and in private conversation there are all too many who reveal their greater intimacy with "Amos 'n' Andy" than with Tennyson.
A people saturated with the inanities of the cheapest radio broadcasts,—most of all a ministry tainted with the same virus,—how can they rise to the least conception of the glories of Isaiah, Ezekiel,. Paul, and John? It is no wonder that minds fed upon the garbage of silly jokes find elegance in such dialecticisms as "arousement" and such barbarisms as "happenstance;" that they make their sermons tinkle with what their kind call "wise-cracks;" and that they climax their description of the crucifixion with the pathos, "It—it was just awful!"
To be oneself is the second requisite of a minister of Jesus Christ; but the first requisite is through close and studious communion with the Master to become, in speech, in manner, and in address, a person whom one need not be ashamed of being.