תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

plished, by its execution ; because such an explanation will obviate the doubts concerning either the divine goodness or the credibility of the narrative which may arise in the mind of a hearer--who is not instructed to regard the transaction as a method of inflicting an exemplary, just, and necessary punishment. In like manner, whilst the history of the delivery of the law from mount Sinai, or rather the recapitulation of that history by Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy, is carried on in the Sunday lessons which are read between Easter and Whitsunday, we shall be well engaged in discourses upon the commandments which stand at the head of that institution ; in showing from the history their high original and authority, and in explaining their reasonableness, application, and extent. Whilst the history of Joseph is successively presented to the congregation during the Sundays in Lent, we shall be very negligent of the opportunity, if we do not take occasion to point out to our hearers, those observations upon the benevolent but secret direction, the wise though circuitous measures, of Providence, of which this beautiful passage of Scripture supplies a train of apposite examples. There are, I doubt not, other series of subjects dictated by the service as edifying as these ; but these I propose as illustrations of the rule.

Next to the service of the church, the season of the year may be made to suggest useful and appropriate topics of meditation. The beginning of a new year has belonging to it a train of very solemn reflections. In the devotional pieces of the late Dr. Johnson, this occasion was never passed by We may learn from these writings the proper use made of it; and by the example of that excellen

[graphic]

pious mind is wont to be affected by this memorial of the lapse of life. There are also certain proprieties which correspond with the different parts of the year. For example, the wisdom of God in the work of the creation is a theme which ought to be reserved for the return of the spring, when nature renews, as it were, her activity; when every animal is cheerful and busy, and seems to feel the influence of its Maker's kindness; when our senses and spirits, the objects and enjoyments that surround us, accord and harmonize with those sentiments of delight and gratitude, which this subject, above all others, is calculated to inspire. There is no devotion so genuine as that which flows from these meditations, because it is unforced and self-excited. There is no frame of mind more desirable, and, consequently, no preaching more useful, than that which leads the thought to this exercise. It is laying a foundation for Christianity itself. If it be not to sow the seed, it is at least to prepare the soil. The evidence of revelation arrives with much greater ease at an understanding, which is already possessed by the persuasion, that an unseen intelligence framed and conducts the universe ; and which is accustomed to refer the order and operations of nature to the agency of a supreme will. The influence also of religion is almost always in proportion to the degree and strength of this conviction. It is, moreover, a species of instruction of which our hearers are more capable than we may at first sight suppose. It is not necessary to be a philosopher, or to be skilled in the names and distinctions of natural history, in order to perceive marks of contrivance and design in the creation. It is only to turn our observation to them. Now, besides that this requires neither more ability nor leisure than every man can command, there are many things in the life of a country parishioner which will dispose his thoughts to the employment. In his fields, amidst his flocks, in the progress of vegetation, the structure, faculties, and manners, of domestic animals, he has constant occasion to remark proofs of intention and of consummate wisdom. The minister of a country parish is never, therefore, better engaged, than when he is assisting this turn of contemplation. Nor will he ever do it with so much effect, as when the appearance and face of external nature conspire with the sentiments which he wishes to excite.

Again : if we would enlarge upon the various bounty of Providence, in furnishing a regular supply for animal, and especially for human subsistence, not by one, but by numerous and diversified species of food and clothing, we shall be best heard in the time and amidst the occupations of harvest, when our hearers are reaping the effects of those contrivances for their support, and of that care for their preservation, which their Father which is in heaven hath exercised for them. If the year has been favourable, we rejoice with them in the plenty which fills their granaries, covers their tables, and feeds their families. If otherwise, or less so, we have still to remark how, through all the husbandman's disappointments, through the dangers and inclemencies of precarious seasons, a competent proportion of the fruits of the earth is conducted to its destined purpose. We may observe also to the repining farmer, that the value, if not the existence, of his own occupation, depends upon the very uncertainty of which he complains. It is found to be almost uni. versally true, that the partition of the profits between the owner and the occupier of the soil is in favour of the latter in proportion to the risk which he incurs by the disadvantage of the climate. This is a very just reflection, and particularly intelligible to a rural audience. We may add, when the occasion requires it, that scarcity itself hath its use : by acting as a stimulus to new exertions and to farther improvements, it often produces, through a temporary distress, a permanent benefit.

Lastly; sudden, violent, or untimely deaths, or death accompanied by any circumstances of surprise or singularity, usually leave an impression upon a whole neighbourhood. A Christian teacher is wanting in attention to opportunities who does not avail himself of this impression. The uncertainty of life requires no proof. But the power and influence which this consideration shall obtain over the decisions of the mind will depend greatly upon the circumstances under which it is presented to the imagination. Discourses upon the subject come with tenfold force, when they are directed to a heart already touched by some near, recent, and affecting example of human mortality. I do not lament that funeral sermons are discontinued amongst us. They generally contained so much of unseasonable, and oftentimes undeserved panegyric, that the hearers came away from them, rather with remarks in their mouths upon what was said of the deceased, than with any internal reflections upon the solemnity which they had left, or how nearly it related to their own condition. But by decent allusions in the stated course of our preaching to events of this sort, or by, what is better, such a well-timed choice of our subject as may lead our audience to make the allusion for themselves, it is possible, I think, to retain much of the good effect of funeral discourses, without their adulation, and without exciting vain curiosity.

If other occurrences have arisen within our neighbourhood, which serve to exemplify the progress and fate of vice, the solid advantages and ultimate success of virtue, the providential discovery of guilt or protection of innocence, the folly of avarice, the disappointments of ambition, the vanity of worldly schemes, the fallaciousness of human foresight; in a word, which may remind us, " what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue,” and thereby induce us to collect our views and endeavours to one point, the attainment of final salvation ; such occurrences may be made to introduce topics of serious and useful meditation. I have heard popular preachers amongst the Methodists avail themselves of these occasions with very powerful effect. It must be acknowledged that they frequently transgress the limits of decorum and propriety, and that these transgressions wound the modesty of a cultivated ear. But the method itself is not to be blamed. Under the correction of a sounder judgement it might be rendered very beneficial. Perhaps, as hath been already intimated, the safest way is, not to refer to these incidents by any direct allusion, but merely to discourse at the time upon subjects which are allied to and connected with them.

The sum of what I have been recommending amounts to this : that we consider diligently the probable effects of our discourses, upon the particular characters and dispositions of those who are to hear them ; but that we apply this consideration solely to the choice of truths, by no means to the admission of falsehood or insincerity* : Secondly, that we endeavour to profit by circumstances, that is, to assist, not the reasoning, but the efficacy of our discourses, by an opportune and

* This distinction fixes the limits of exoteric doctrine, as far as any thing called by that name is allowable to a Christian teacher.

« הקודםהמשך »