« הקודםהמשך »
its premises either in revelation, or in facts; adopts arguments, only of the a posteriori kind; extends its reasonings through a few steps only; derives its illustrations from familiar sources; discriminates, only where there is a real difference; and admits conclusions, only where it can see their connexion with the premises. At theoretical philosophy it laughs. Theoretical divinity it detests. To this faculty the Scriptures are almost universally addressed. The subjecis, which they contain, are, to a considerable extent, Metaphysical ; and often so abstruse, as to defy human investigation. Yet they are almost always treated in the obvious manner of Common Sense. Even St. Paul, one of the most profound of all Reasoners, never appears to choose abstruse discussion, when the subject will allow of any other; and returns with apparent pleasure to a plainer mode of discourse, as soon as the nature of the case will permit. Our Saviour treats every subject in the direct manner of Common Sense, although he often discourses concerning things of the most profound nature.
There is another evil in the Metaphysical mode of disquisition, which ought, in most instances, to discourage us from attempting it. It is this. The Preacher himself is api to be bewildered by the abstruse nature of his subject, and by the tenuous, subtile, manner of his reasoning; and is often very far from possessing clear views of either. Men, devoted to literary inquiries, are frequently ambitious of Metaphysical fame. · Abstruse reasonings, curious speculations, especially when they are their own, and, still more, discoveries, made in this profound science, hy themselves, when they are supposed to be new, are regarded by them with peculiar favouritism and fondness. Attempts of this nature are therefore made by multitudes, both Philosophers and Divines. But of all those, which have been made, few, very few, have been successful. Almost all have, at the best, been only ingenious amusements; and far the greater part have fallen short even of this character. Whatever applause, or credit, they have gained, has usually been momentary. Of utility, almost all have been totally destitute, and have, accordingly, soon vanished from the attention of mankind. Aquinas and Duns-Scotus, men scarcely inferior to any Metaphysicians, and once more celebrated than any writer of the present day, are now known, almost solely by their names. How evident is it, therefore, that men, possessed only of the common talents, such as those of almost all men, and, still more, men of moderate information, were never designed by God to be useful as Metaphysicians. Generally, therefore, Clergymen cannot be wisely employed in often uttering discussions of this nature from the Desk.
At the same time, every subject of preaching ought, so far as the purpose in view requires, to be thoroughly discussed. Subjects, indeed, which are plain, and doctrines which are acknowledged, demand often very little discussion. If they are exhibited
with clear arrangement, and with brief and distinct evidence, nothing more will usually be necessary. At times, it will be proper to mark the connexion between the subject in hand, and others intimately related to it, that their harmony may be understood. But whenever doctrines are less clear, or more disputed, greater pains will always be necessary to exhibit their evidence, and evince their truth. If the Preacher has formed clear and comprehensive views of them himself; he cannot be at a loss for useful modes of presenting them to others. That view of them, which is most satisfactory to himself, will almost always best satisfy others. Diligent study, precision of thought, and habitual clearness of arrangement, will regularly qualify him for this part of his business.
2. The Gospel ought to be preached Variously.
By this I intend, that both the manner, and especially the subjects, of preaching should be diversified.
The foundation of preaching in this manner is laid in the nature of
man, and in the nature of divine truth. The love of variety is one of the elementary principles of human nature; and seems to have been implanted in the heart, that we might be always, and irresistibly, allured to the study, and the relish, of the infinitely various works of God. These are formed with unceasing variety, that they might display the boundless diversity of his wisdom and goodness. That man may understand them, it is absolutely necessary, that he study them: and to the study of them, the love of their nature, and appearance, is indispensable. Hence this principle in the human constitution : a principle, never to be forgoiten by a preacher.
Divine truth, which is an account of the works, and character, of God, is possessed, as it necessarily must be, of a corresponding variety. All the parts, of which this truth is composed, are declared to be profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. The profit of the whole is made up of that, which is furnished by the several parts; and to be either communicated, or gained, must be derived from them all. All, therefore, should, so far as may be, find their proper place in the successive discourses of the preacher.
Besides, a great part of the beauty, excellence, and usefulness, of Evangelical doctrines and precepts, results from their mutual relations, seen only by comparing them with each other. Faith, Justification, and Holiness, for example, have an import, a beauty, a distinction, arising from their connexion with each other, which we should in vain attempt to find by a separate investigation. But unless all these, and many other, doctrines are exhibited by the preacher, this connexion can never be learned by his hearers.
Of this variety of preaching, in both respects, the Scriptures are an abundant example. In them we find an immense diversi
ty of truths, communicated in a delightful diversity of manner. Here we are furnished with profound reasonings; short, prudential, moral, and religious, maxims; plain and pithy precepts; orations in form ; poetry of every species, and every high degree of excellence; faciliar letters; private journals; history, both general and biographical; together with most other approved modes of communication. At the same time, each writer has adopted his own peculiar manner, both in prose and poetry; and thus, while furnishing a strong presumption, that the writings are genuine, has added not a little to the beauty of the sacred volume. By these various methods of communication, the understanding is addressed with the highest advantage; the imagination is powerfully allured; and the feelings of the heart are irresistibly engrossed. Hence, the Bible is more bought, and more read, than any other book. Hence, also, man is summoned with peculiar success, to the great business of repentance and reformation. The wisdom and goodness of God, manifested in this interesting structure of the Sacred Volume, can never be sufficiently admired.
By this happy method of communicating Divine truth, the Scriptures are rendered, also, the most comprehensive of all writings. They are indeed pre-eminently comprehensive by their conciseness. In addition to this, they possess that character in a far higher degree by means of their perpetually diversified manner of communication. From this source the same truths are presented to us in lights unceasingly new; and with connexions, surprising the mind on every successive page. Hence, by an examination, and comparison, of different passages, new truths, not directly declared, are unfolded with absolute clearness, and indubitable certainty. The number of these truths is incomprehensible.
This extraordinary variety of manner cannot, I acknowledge, be adopted by a preacher. Still it authorizes, and in my view, re quires, him to diversify his discourses in every mode, which is warranted by correct taste, so far as it shall be in his power. Preaching is in its nature an address to a popular assembly; and can, therefore, admit of no other varieties of manner, than those, which are applicable to such an address. But even these may be considerably numerous. Such an address, from the example of the Apostles, and succeeding Ministers, may be warrantably distributed under two great heads: Preaching, in the proper sense, and Commenting. The former of these is naturally the most interesting; the latter, perhaps, the most instructive. In the course of it, many doctrines may be illustrated, and many parts of Scripture explained, and enforced, which the preacher can never even introduce into sermons. Difficulties, also, which may perplex the common mind, may in this manner be removed; seeming discordances reconciled; connexions and other relations illustrated ; and har. mony displayed ; more advantageously than in any other manner. On all these accounts it will engage, as well as improve; and as a part of every course of preaching, will render the whole course more interesting than, perhaps, it could be otherwise.
In both modes, the Preacher will increase that variety of communication, which will be both useful and pleasant, by adopting in. variably, his own characteristical manner. Every man is formed to think, speak, and write, in a manner peculiar to himself. This, being contrived by the Divine wisdom, is naturally fitted to be both agrecable and useful; and ought always to be retained. It may, it ought to be, improved, so far as our circumstances will allow; but it cannot be safely exchanged for that of any other individual; nor, without serious disadtantage, for a general mode, established by common consent. It is the tendency of all Criticism to form rules, so narrow, as to limit the natural, proper, and pleasing excursions of the human mind. Men oftener write with vigour and success, when they forget, disregard, or are ignorant of the incumbrance of these rules, than when they are timorously governed by them. I do not deny, that as they are now adopted by enlighten ed men, they are generally just, and will serve well for the purpose of enabling us to judge of what is already written, and to avoid blemishes and absurdities in writing. But they never can teach, and very frequently, prevent, that excellence in writing, of which we are capable. To avoid this evil, and to make the most of his powers, every preacher, after possessing himself of the general manner, should, with so much conformity to it, as to save himself from just censure, adopt his own manner, improved as much as may be, but never relinquished, nor destroyed. This will enable him to differ, usefully and pleasingly only, from other preach ers; and will give to his discourses most of that novelty, of which sermons are now susceptible. At the saine time, he will always appear in it with more advantage, than in any other; and will add extensively to that diversity of communication, which I have urge ed, in both these kinds of discourse. Should any person appre. hend, that the general mode, in use, must be exactly followed ; I answer, that very different modes have been acceptable, and useful, in other ages, and other countries; and that human nature fur. nishes no satisfactory proof, that they may not be useful again.
As to variety of subjects the preacher can never be at a loss; and must be inexcusable, if he does not avail himself of this ad. vantage. The Bible is a world; and all that it contains is proffered to his use. Every thing, which it contains, is also proflable for instruction.
It will be in vain for a preacher to allege, that, in his view, some subjects are sufficiently important to claim the whole attention both of himself and his hearers. As I remarked in the preceding discourse, the comparative importance of doctrines is selded by the. Scriptures themselves. Them, he is bound to follow. Should be then determine, that it is proper for him to preach only on alarm. ing themes, that sinners may be compelled io lay hold on eterna)
life : or should he judge, that they are only to be allured by the mercy of God, the love of the Redeemer, and the benevolent offers of life, made in the Gospel; he judges erroneously. The proof is; God has thought otherwise. Should he choose to dwell only on the duties, immediately owed to God; or on those, which immediately respect men; he seriously mistakes his proper business: for God has required, and inculcated, both. If, in a word, he selects any favourite subject, or class of subjects; he does what the Scriptures no where justily, and abundanily condemn.
In the mean time, let every preacher, who frequently handles one, or customarily handles, a few subjects, in his sermons, and, as will always be the fact, handles them substantially in one manner, remember, that this monotony will soon become wearisome to his hearers, and in a great measure rob him of the power of doing them good. What he says may be true. It may be pleasing; it may be edifying. But reiteration will soon render it disgusting, and useless. For this fault nothing will atone. Common Sense is against him. Humau nature is against him. The Scriptures are against him. In vain, therefore, will he search for an excuse. 3. The Gospel ought to be preached Boldly. He, who brings a message from God, ought never to be afraid of
He ought to remember the authority, the commands, and the presence, of his Master; and his own duty, and accountable
He ought to remember, that, if he deliver his message faithfully, he will be accepted; if not, he will be condemned. Nor ought he any more to forget, that, in the former case, he will in all probability promote the salvation of his flock; and, in the la!ter, conduct them only to destruction.
To faithfulness, boldness is indispensable. The fear of man always bringeth a snare. Equally dangerous is it to love the praise of men. Independence of both is absolutely necessary to integrity. No specimens of pungent, intrepid address to the consciences of men, or of undaunted reproof for their sins, are more vivid and glowing than those of our Saviour to the Jews, and especially to the Pharisees. Of Paul it is very frequently recorded, that he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus. He also directs the Ephesians to pray always with all prayer, that he might speak boldly, as he ought to speak. Similar things are recorded of Barnabas and Apollos. The discourses of Paul, Peter, and Stephen, recorded in the Acts, are also illustrious specimens of this noble and upright independence of character. What Preacher will hesitate to obey such authority, and to follow such examples !
With his duty will ever be combined his immediate interest. In so solemn a case, as this, peace and self-approbation can never be possessed by him, who does not, without reserve or palliation, without fear or flattery, declare the truth, as it is in Jesus. At the same time, he will sink in the estimation of his flock. Every discerning man, nay, every man of common sense, will soon suspect VOL. IV.