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and a third for Peter ; so, among some Protestant Churches, one gives the preference to the doctrine of Justification, another to Sanctification, and another to the Relative Virtues. But all these are by God joined, and that Church which gives them all their equal dignity, has attained the most vigorous and healthy constitution. When one party over-rates the importance of any doctrine, detached from others, another advances a claim for its more favourite tenet, and a third party labours to prove, that the object of its preference is entitled to a superiority over both. Thus the doctrines of Christianity are made to assume a distorted aspect, and by being separated from each other, are necessarily deprived of that compacted strength, which every joint supplies. It is in the spiritual, as it is in the natural body; a variety of parts is necessary, not only to health and vigour, but even to life. The heart, the lungs, the brain, though different, are all equally vital parts, and the destruction of any one of them is the destruction of the whole body.
ON THE MANNER OF PREACHING.
The Church of Rome requiring implicit faith in her doctrines, and suspending the belief of individuals upon the testimony of the Church, has no other use for preaching, than merely to state to her members what her sentiments are, and to prescribe conformity to that standard. For individuals to examine the doctrines of the Church by the
word of God, would, according to her tenets, be both absurd and impious ; because the authority and meaning of Scripture depends wholly upon her testimony. Ac. cording to her, it is sufficient that religion be a service in which they are devoutly engaged: but that it be a reasonable service, there is no necessity at all. Preaching, or an address to the understanding, can be of little service where the exercise of the intellect is not supposed to be wanted ; sermons in that Church are, accordingly,
The Reformers, taking the doctrines of the Scriptures as the guide of their faith, rendered the frequent explanation of these necessary, and as they admitted the necessity of addressing the heart and conscience, as well as of informing the judgment, sermons were considered as of indispensable obligation. It was by the preaching of the Gospel that Christianity was first propagated, and it is by the same means that the knowledge of its doctrines, and the practice of its duties, are to be preserved in the world. The English Reformers being sensible, that at the first establishment of the Protestant religion, preachers, well instructed themselves, and well affected to the doctrines of the Reformation, could not be found in sufficient numbers to instruct the whole nation, wisely had recourse to the following expedient. They composed and published two books of Homilies. The first book was published in the reign of Edward, and the second in that of Elizabeth.
They are short discourses, combining the great truths of the Gospel, with the practical duties that rise out of them. They are faithful, sound, and animated discourses, and excellent models of Evangelical instruction. The style, indeed, has something of the venerable rust of antiquity, and will not be thought sufficiently polished for the taste of a fastidious
critic.—The Homilies were appointed “ to be read in the Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understood by the people.” The practice of reading the Homilies fell afterwards into disuse, and it was not long before other discourses, and many of them containing sentiments at variance with the doctrine of the Homilies, succeeded in their place. To this, in a great measure, the scarcity of Evangelical instruction, which so long prevailed in the Church, may be ascribed. Whenever the Homilies were diligently read to the people, it was impossible that godly and wholesome doctrine could be forgotten.
The Homilies indeed were intended only to supply, for a season, that want of correct information and scriptural taste, in many ministers, with which a transition so great and so sudden, from popery to the original purity of Christian doctrine, would necessarily be attended. The progress of biblical knowledge, it was to be expected, would both accelerate and invigorate the means of forming a better informed, and a more Evangelical Ministry. When such a ministry was prepared, and qualified to undertake the important office of instruction, the regular reading of the Homilies was fairly superseded. It is not the intention of Providence, that the labours of one generation, either in natural or in divine science, should render unnecessary the exertions of those generations which are to succeed. The improvements, which are the spoils of time, that become the inheritance of succeeding ages, are by them to be conveyed down with usury, to those who are soon to fill their places. The public instructer, who adds nothing to the collected stock, who has neither a head to think, nor a heart to feel, but as it is set in motion by the labours of
others, and who knows no higher office than reading what others have composed, is little better than a machine, worked by an invisible hand. Should the discourses of a Minister of Christianity fall far below the stardard of those who have gone before him, it is still some praise, that they are not wholly borrowed ; that they are in some degree, his own. It is much to be lamented that the authority of names justly high in the empire of literature, (an empire from which the Kingdom of Heaven should never in this world be separated), has sometimes given a sort of consecration to habits, inimical both to the Clergy and to the Laity. Before Mr. Addison's eulogy on the practice of Clergymen reading printed sermons, in the public offices of religion, it appears that by many ministers the habit had been formed, and to a considerable extent had spread in the Church. The sanction of his name was thought to give it sufficient confirmation, and with amazing rapidity it became prevalent. Some divines were even forward to boast, that they had never composed a sermon. This disgraceful custom, by which the ministers of Christianity were converted into preaching-engines, bringing nothing but langs to the service of religion, contributed mightily to depress the healthful vigour, inspired by the doctrines of the Reformation. He who wanted energy to collect and to compose, felt the destitution of it also in thinking, and in examining what were the proper subjects, and what was the proper mode of Christian instruction. Many of the laity, from the frequent recurrence of the same discourses at stated intervals, knew they had nothing new to expect, and, as soon as the text was read, composed themselves to rest. Others thought that they could read printed sermons at
home, and either deserted the services of the Church altogether, or sought them where a more animated address was better calculated to rouse, and to enchain their attention. This vacuity of thought, and of exercise corresponding to the duties of their high calling, naturally superinduced in the Clergy habits of dissipation and the waste of time; and the pleasures of the saint were mer. ged in those of the sportsman.
If the business of a public instructer may be properly discharged by one minister of religion, by reading the compositions of another, why may not all the ministers in the kingdom discharge their duty in the same manner; and by retailing the thousands of sermons already in a state of requisition, dedicate to other purposes the hours of study and meditation ? The stock of sermons already prepared may, by proper husbandry, hold out for a thousand years, and indeed, for ever. The present enormous expense of an University education, and of a competent library is, upon this plan, only a waste of money and of time, which may be better laid out on other employments. The spending of a few months under the tuition of some experienced actor, who can impart the various melodies of accent, emphasis, and tone, the only acquisitions that will be requisite, will be sufficient; and learning and piety may be left to sink together.—If the practice of reading printed, be only exchanged for that of reading engraven sermons, “ that cheat the eyes of gallery critics by a thousand arts," matters are still on precisely the same footing. The dignitaries of the Church have seldom or never descended to such pitiful conduct.
With respect to the best mode of delivering Sermons, the opinions even of great men have been discordant. The Clergy of the Church of England have, in general,