Images de page
PDF
ePub

ness, an instructer of the foolish, and a teacher of babes. Therefore, besides the ordinary rules of perspicuity in respect of diction, which in common with every other public speaker he ought to attend to, he must advert to this in particular, that the terms and phrases he employs in his discourse be not beyond the reach of the inferior ranks of people. Otherwise his preaching is, to the bulk of his audience, but beating the air ; whatever the discourse may be in itself, the speaker is to them no better than a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. It is reported of Archbishop Tillotson, that he was wont, before preaching his sermons to read them privately to an illiterate old woman of plain sense, who lived in the house with him, and wherever he found he had employed any word or expression, that she did not understand, he instantly erased it, and substituted a plainer in its place, till he brought the style down to her level. The story is much to the prelate's honour; for however incompetent such judges might be, of the composition, the doctrine or the argument, they are certainly the most competent judges of what terms and phrases fall within the apprehension of the vulgar, the class to which they belong. But though such an expedient would not answer in every situation, we ought at least to supply the want of it, by making it more an object of attention than is commonly done, to discover what in point of language falls within and what without the sphere of the common people.

Before I dismiss this article of perspicuity, I shall mention briefly a few of those faults, by which it is most commonly transgressed.

The first is pedantry, or ån ostentation of learning, by frequent recourse to those words and phrases which

are called technical, and which are in use only among the learned. This may justly be denominated the worst kind of obscurity, because it is always an intentional obscurity. In other cases a man may speak obscurely, without knowing it; he may on some subjects speak obscurely, and though he suspects it, may not have it in his power to remedy it; but the pedant affects obscurity. He is dark of purpose, that you may think him deep. The character of a profound scholar is his primary object. Commonly indeed he overshoots the mark, and with all persons of discernment loses this character by his excessive solicitude to acquire it. The pedant in literature is perfectly analogous to the hypocrite in religion. As appearance and not reality is the great study of each, both in mere exteriors far outdo the truly learned and the pious, with whom the reputation of learning and piety is but a secondary object at the most. The shallowness however of such pretenders rarely escapes the discovery of the judicious. But if falsehood and vanity are justly accounted mean and despicable, wherever they are found; when they dare to show themselves in the pul. pit, a place consecrated to truth and purity, they must appear to every ingenuous mind perfectly detestable. It must be owned however, that the pedantic style is not now so prevalent in preaching, as it hath been in former times, and therefore needs not to be further enlarged on. There is indeed a sort of literary diction, which sometimes the inexperienced are ready to falı into insensibly, from their having been much more accustomed to the school and to the closet, to the works of some particular schemer in philosophy, than to the scenes of real life and conversation. This fault, though akin to the former, is not so bad, as it may be without affectation, and when there is no special design of catching applause. It is indeed most commonly the consequence of an immoderate attachment to some one or other of the various systems of ethics or theology that have in modern times been published, and obtained a vogue among their respective partisans. Thus the zealous disciple of Shaftesbury, Akenside and Hutcheson is no sooner licensed to preach the gospel, than with the best intentions in the world, he harangues the people from the pulpit on the moral sense and universal benevolence, he sets them to inquire whether there be a perfect conformity in their affections to the supreme symmetry established in the universe, he is full of the sublime and beautiful in things, the moral objects of right and wrong, and the proportionable affection of a rationable creature towards them. He speaks much of the inward music of the mind, the harmony and the dissonance of the passions, and seems, by his way of talking, to imagine, that if a man have this same moral sense, which he considers as the mental ear, in due perfection, he may tune his soul with as much ease, as a musician tunes a musical instrument. The disciple of Doctor Clarke, on the contrary, talks to us in somewhat of a soberer strain, and less pompous phrase, but not a jot more edifying, about unalterable reason and the eternal fitness of things, about the conformity of our actions to their immutable relations and essential differences. All the various sects or parties in religion have been often accused of using a peculiar dialect of their own, when speaking on religious subjects, which though familiar to the votaries of the party, appears extremely uncouth to others.

The charge, I am sensible, is not without foundation, though all parties are not in this respect equally guilty. We see however that the different systems of philosophy, especially that branch which comes under the denomination of pneumatology, are equally liable to this imputation with systems of theology. I would not be understood, from any thing I have said, to condemn in the gross either the books or systems alluded to. They have their excellences as well as their blemishes; and as to many of the points in which they seem to differ from one another, I am satisfied that the difference is, like some of our theological disputes, more verbal than real. Let us read even on opposite sides, but still so as to preserve the freedom of our judgment in comparing, weighing and deciding, so that we can with justice apply to ourselves, in regard to all human teachers, the declaration of the poet,

Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri.

And even in some cases, wherein we approve the thought in

any of those authors, it may not be proper to adopt the language. The adage, which enjoins us to think with the learned, but speak with the vulgar, is not to be understood as enjoining us to dissemble; but not to make a useless parade of learning, particularly to avoid every thing in point of language which would put the sentiments we mean to convey beyond the reach of those with whom we converse. It was but just now admitted, that the different sects or denominations of christians had their several and peculiar dialects. I would advise the young divine, in forming his style in sacred matters, to avoid as much as possible the peculiarities of each. The language of holy scripture and of common sense afford him a sufficient standard. And with regard to the distinguishing phrases, which our factions in religion have introduced, though these sometimes may appear to superficial people and half thinkers sufficiently perspicuous, the appearance is a mere illusion. The generality of men, little accustomed to reflection, are so constituted, that what their ears have been long familiarized to, however obscure in itself or unmeaning it be, seems perfectly plain to them. They are well acquainted with the terms, expressions and customary application, and they look no farther. A great deal of the learning in divinity of such of our common people as think themselves, and are sometimes thought by others, wonderful scholars, is of this sort. It is generally the fruit of much application, strong memory and weak judgment, and consisting mostly of mere words and phrases, is of that kind of knowledge which puffeth up, gendereth selfconceit, that species of it in particular known by the name of spiritual pride, captiousness, censoriousness, jealousy, malignity, but by no means ministreth to the edifying of the hearers in love. This sort of knowledge I denominate learned ignorance, of all sorts of ignorance the most difficult to be surmounted, agreeably to the observation of Solomon, “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit, there is more hope of a fool than of him.” Would you avoid then feeding the vanity of your hearers, supplying them with words instead of sense, amusing them with curious questions and verbal controversies, instead of furnishing them with useful and practical instruction, detach yourselves from the artificial, ostentatious phraseology of every scholastic, or system-builder in theology, and keep as

« PrécédentContinuer »