Images de page

might appear equal or even stronger evidence, yet if şuch passages would require a commentary or elaborate disquisition to elucidate them, they are not so convincing to the people, and should, therefore, be let alone. It may not be improper here, however, before we dismiss this article, to examine a little what the occasions are which require reasoning from the pulpit, and what are the different topics of argument adapted to the different natures of the subject. These last are very properly divided into practical and speculative. In the former, the preacher argues to inforce the practice of a duty recommended by him; in the latter, to gain the belief of his hearers to a tenet he thinks fit to defend. In the former case, it is his aim to evince the beauty, the propriety, the equity, the pleasantness or the utility of such a conduct both for time and for eternity. His topics therefore are all drawn from common life and experience, from the common sense of mankind and the most explicit declarations of holy writ, topics in a great measure the same with those on which men of all conditions are wont to

with one another, in regard to what is right and prudent in the management of their ordinary secular affairs. Such were the topics, to which our Lord himself had recourse in his parables, always illustrating the reasons and motives which ought to influence in the things of eternity, by the reasons and motives which do commonly influence us in the things of time. Such topics are consequently, if properly conducted, level to the capacities of all. Whereas in the latter case, when the subject is of doctrinal points or points of speculation, the resources of the preacher are extremely different. His reasoning must then be drawn from the essential na


tures and differences of things, and the comparison of abstract qualities, or perhaps from abstruse and critical disquisitions on the import of some dark and controverted passages of scripture, which, it must be owned, are beyond the sphere of the illiterate. I would not by this be understood to mean, that controversy should never be admitted into the pulpit. We are exhórted by the apostle Jude" earnestly to contend for the faith, which was once delivered to the saints.” And Paul in his epistles hath given us an excellent example of this laudable zeal in support of the fundamental doctrines of our religion, against those who denied or doubted them. This he shews, as on several other occasions, so in particular in the defence of the doctrine of the resurrection, and in opposition to that false dogma of the Judaizing teachers of his time, that the observance of circumcision and of the other ceremonies of the law is necessary to salvation. And indeed from the reason of the thing it is manifest, that in a religious institution founded on certain important truths or principles, through the belief of which only it can operate on the hearts and influence the lives of men, it must be of the utmost consequence to refute the contrary errors, when they appear to be creeping in or gaining ground among the people. But before the preacher attempt a refutation of this kind, there are two things he ought impartially and carefully to inquire into. First, he ought to inquire, whether the tenet he means to support be one of the great truths of religion or not. It may be a prevalent opinion, it may have a reference to the common salvation, nay more, it may be a true opinion, and yet no article of the faith which was once delivered to the saints. These articles are neither numerous nor abstruse. We cannot say so much in regard to the comments and glosses of men. Yet it is an undoubted fact, that where the former have excited one controversy in the church, the latter have produced fifty. It must therefore be of importance to him, to be well assured that he is vindicating the great oracles of unerring wisdom, and not the precarious interpretations and glosses of fallible men; that he acts the part of the genuine disciple of Christ, and not the blind follower of a merely human guide. In the former case only, he defends the cause of christianity ; in the latter, he but supports the interest of a sect or faction. In that, he contends for the faith ; in this, “he dotes about questions and strifes of words, vain janglings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, °and involving himself in oppositions of science falsely so called.” And that under this last class, the far greater part of our theological disputes are comprehended, even such as have been too often and too hotly agitated in the pulpit, is not to be denied. Such in particular are a great many of the doctrinal controversies, which different parties of protestants have with one another. They may with great propriety be styled aoyouaxial, an emphatic term of the apostle Paul; for they are not only svars with words, but wars mere. ly about words and phrases, where there is no discernible, or at least, no material difference in the sense; and which, agreeably to the character he gives of them, ‘gender strifes, and minister idle disputes rather than godly edifying.” The second thing which the preacher ought to inquire into, before he engage in preaching controversy, is whether the false doctrine he means to refute has any number of partizans amongst his hearers; or whether there be any immediate danger of their being seduced to that opinion. If otherwise, the introduction of such questions might possibly raise doubts where formerly there were none, and at any rate, unless managed with uncommon prudence and temper, have rather a tendency that is unfavourable to the christian spirit, and in narrow minds is apt to beget a sort of bitterness and uncharitableness, which these dignify in themselves with the name of zeal, though in their adversaries they can clearly see its malignity. At the same time, that I give these caveats against the abuse, I by no means deny the occasional expediency and use of controversy.

As to the fourth and last species of thought mentioned, moral reflection, or what is sometimes peculiarly denominated sentiment; there is much less hazard that in this we should exceed. Here the preacher (if he is at all judicious in his choice) runs less risk of either growing tiresome to the more improved part of his audience, or unintelligible to those whose under. standings have not been cultivated. In the former, the rational powers are addressed ; in this, the heart and the conscience. Indeed, I am far from thinking, that these two kinds of addresses may not often be happily blended together; particularly, when the subject relates to moral conduct, an address of the latter kind, if interwoven with a plain narrative, will frequently prove the most effectual means of removing unfavourable prepossessions, engaging affection as well as satisfying reason and bringing her to be of the same party. It was a niethod often and successfully employed by our blessed Lord, when attacked by Jewish bigotry, on the extent that ought to be given to the love of our neighbour. The maxims of the Pharisees, like those of all bigots, of every age, nation and profession, were very illiberal, and measuring the goodness of the universal father, by their own contracted span, could not bear to think that those of a different nation, and still more those who differed in religious matters, could be comprehended under it. When attacked by these narrow hearted zealots, in what manner, I pray you, doth he silence contradiction, and gain every susceptible heart over to his side ? Not by subtle ratiocination on the beauty of virtue, or on the eternal and unalterable fitness of things; but by a simple story, by the parable of the compassionate Samaritan, in the conclusion of which he shows, that, even their own consciences being judges, to act agrecably to the more extensive explanation of the duty, was the more amiable part, and consequently more worthy of their esteem and imitation. Again, when he would show, that even the profligate are not to be abandoned to despair, with what an amazing superiority doth he subdue the most unrelenting pharisaic pride by the parable of the prodigal? Who ever could so quickly dissipate the thickest clouds raised by inveterate prejudices and party-spirit, and render the only unequivocal standard of moral truth, the characters of the divine law engraven on the human heart, to all who are not wilfully blind, distinctly legible ? Could any the most acute and elaborate dissertation on moral rectitude, or the essential qualities and relations of things, have produced half the effect, even in point of conviction, as well as of feeling ? How different his method from that of the ancient sophists ? But not more different than their aims. Their aim was to make men talk fiuently and plausi

« PrécédentContinuer »