Images de page
PDF
ePub

to exhibit properly any known good character, by giving a lively narrative of the person's life, or of any signal period of his life, or of any particular virtue, as illustrated through the different periods of his life. For performances of this kind the history of our Lord Jesus Christ affords the richest fund of matter. In like manner the lives of the saints recorded in scripture, the prophets, apostles, and martyrs, such at least with which from the accounts given in holy writ we have occasion to be acquainted, make very proper subjects. Add to these, what are called funeral sermons, or merited encomiums on the life and actions of deceased persons, eminent for virtue and piety, whose character is well known to the people addressed. It may not want its use, on the contrary to delineate sometimes in proper colours the conduct of the vicious. To do justice to the respectable qualities and worthy actions of a good man is to present an audience with an amiable and animated pattern of christian excellence, which by operating on their admiration and their love, raiseth in their mind a pious emulation. That we are, without attending to it, induced to imitate what we admire and love, will not admit a question. Exhibitions of this kind from the pulpit form a species of discourses which falls under the third class above mentioned. They are addressed to the imagination, and their scope is to promote virtue by insinuation; the view of excellence engages love, love awakes emulation, and that as naturally produces imitation. In order to distinguish such discourses, we shall henceforth denominate them commendatory.

Again, when an audience is about to be employed in any solemn office of religion, which, that it may prove edifying to those engaged in it, requires in them a devout, a recollected, and a benevolent disposition of soul, it will doubtless tend to promote the general end, reformation, to make it the immediate scope of the sermon, by working on the affections of the audience, to mould them into a suitable frame. Sermons of this sort fall under the fourth class above mentioned, they are addressed to the passions, and their scope is to beget virtuous and devout habits by conformation. This species of discourses we call pathetic. It deserves however to be remarked, that the pathos excited by the preacher, ought ever to be accompanied with, and chastened by piety, submission and charity, At the same time, that it conveys both light and heat to the soul, it is pure and inoffensive ; like that wherein God appeared to Moses in the bush which burned but was not consumed. It is this kind of pathos in its lowest degree, which the French devotional writers have distinguished by the name of onction, but for which we have not a proper term in English. Mr. Gibbon, a late celebrated historian, says in one place, after Jortin, that what the French call onction the Eng. lish call cant. This on some occasions may be true; but it is not the constant or even the general meaning of the word. What the English call cant in preaching, is no other than a frequent recurrence to certain common words and phrases, with which the people are delighted merely through habit, but which convey no sound instruction whatever. That termed onction by the French is such a manner in the speaker, as convinces the hearers that he is much in earnest, that he speaks from real affections to them, and thereby strongly engages their attention. That cant with ignorant

hearers may produce an effect somewhat similar, is not to be denied. But the result upon the whole cannot be the same. Onction is an excellent vehicle for instruction ; but where no instruction is conveyed, the hearer can be rendered neither wiser nor better by mere cant; he may be hereby made a greater bigot and a greater fool. The two last kinds of discourses, it must be owned, are near a-kin to each other, and very apt to be confounded. The enemies they combat are indifference and listlessness. If we thought it necessary to observe a scrupulous exactness in distinguishing, we should rather say (for the words are not synonymous) that the enemy of the former is indifference, and of the latter listlessness. And let me add, these often prove more dangerous adversaries to religion, than others of more hostile appearance and of more formidable names.

Finally, it will not be questioned, that it will frequently be proper, to make it the direct design of a discourse to persuade to a good, or to dissuade from a bad life in general, or to engage to the performance of any particular duty, or to an abstinence from any particular sin, and that either from all the arguments, or from any one class of arguments afforded by the light of nature, or by revelation, and adapted to the purpose. Discourses of this sort fall under the fifth and last class above mentioned. They are addressed to the will ; their aim is persuasion. The enemies they combat, are irreligion and vice. Such sermons we discriminate by the term persuasive.

Let us now, for further illustration of the subject, consider whether the different sorts of discourses from the pulpit above enumerated bear any analogy to the different sorts of orations treated of by ancient rhetoricians. These both Greeks and Romans, after Aristotle, have distributed into three kinds, the judiciary, the demonstrative and the deliberative. The judiciary, is the name by which the Stagyrite has thought fit to distinguish the pleadings of advocates or counsellors, whether in accusation of an adversary, or in defence of a client. As in all such pleadings, and indeed in all litigation whatever, there is something affirmed by one of the litigants, which is denied by the other, so the aim of each is to convince the bench, that his representation is agreeable to truth, and to refute the arguments of his antagonist. The point in dispute is sometimes a question of fact. Did the defendant do, or not do, the action, with which he is charged by the plaintiff? Sometimes it is a question of right. The fact may be undeniable ; and the only point in debate, Was it right, wrong, or indifferent ? lawful or criminal ? Sometimes indeed both points may be contended by the parties. But it doth not belong to us, to enter into these minutiæ, or consider the different sources of topics, whence the proof must be derived. Only from what hath been said, it is manifest that this

species, from its very nature, is perfectly analogous to - the second class of sermons, the controversial. It is

directed to the understanding; its aim is conviction; the adversaries it professeth to combat, are doubtfulness and mistake. The demonstrative, a name given to those panegyrics or funeral orations, which were sometimes by public authority pronounced in honour of departed patriots and heroes, must, from the design of insinuating the love of virtue by exhibiting such examples to their imitation, so exactly and so evidently coincide in form and composition (however different

in regard to matter or subject) to the third class of sermons above mentioned, the commendatory, that I should think it unnecessary to attempt any further illustration of it. Only it may not be amiss to observe here by the way, that to this political expedient among the ancient Greeks and Romans, of paying such public honours to their great men departed, perhaps more than to any other, that love of their country, that contempt of life, and that thirst of military glory, for which they were so remarkable, is to be ascribed. The term deliberative is applied to speeches in the senate or in the assembly of the people, whose express aim is to persuade the audience to come to a certain resolution, in regard to their conduct as a commonwealth or state, such as, to declare war, or to make peace, to enter into an alliance, or the contrary. Discourses of this sort must evidently be in many respects very similar to the fifth and last class of sermons above mentioned. They are addressed to the will, their aim is persuasion.

The enemies they combat are temerity, imprudence, and other such vices, considered particularly as political evils, as prejudicial to the interest or honour of the state. Nay there will be often found a pretty considerable coincidence in the topics, from which the arguments, in both these kinds of persuasives, are commonly drawn. The useful, the honourable, the equitable, are considerations entirely well adapted to each. To the first and fourth kinds of sermons mentioned, there is not found any thing in the institutes of rhetoricians which can be denominated analogous. The first, the explanatory, is indeed, of all kinds, the simplest, and may in respect of form be considered, as bearing a resemblance to the lessons delivered

« PrécédentContinuer »