« PrécédentContinuer »
On the Composition of Lectures.
In my last lecture on the subject of pulpit eloquence I told you, that every discourse was addressed either to the understanding of the hearers, to their imaginaition, to their passions, or to their will. As those ad. dressed to the understanding, may be intended either for explaining something unknown to them, or for proving something disbelieved or doubted by them, sermons in the largest acceptation of the word may be distributed into five classes, the explanatory, the argumentative or controversial, the demonstrative or commendatory, the pathetic, and the persuasive. It will not be amiss here, in order to prevent mistakes, to take notice of the particular import which I mean to give to some terms, as often as I employ them on this subject. The first I shall mention is the term demonstrative, which in the application usual with rhetoricians, hath no relation to the sense of the word as used by mathematicians. Here it hath no concern with proof or argument of any kind, but relates solely to the strength and distinctness with which an object is ex. hibited, so as to render the conceptions of the imagination almost equal in vivacity and vigour with the perceptions of sense. This is entirely agreeable to the
use, both of the Latin word demonstrativus, and of the Greek anodelXTIXos among critics, orators and poets. Another difference I beg you will remark, is between conviction and persuasion, which, in common language, are frequently confounded. To speculative truth, the term, conviction, only with its conjugates, ought to be applied. Thus we say properly, I am convinced of the being of a God. In popular language, we should some. times in this case say persuaded, but this application of the term is evidently inaccurate. He hath proved the truth of revelation to my full conviction. I attempted to convince him of his error. And even in regard to moral truth, when no more is denoted but the assent of the understanding, the proper term is to convince. I am convinced it is my duty, yet I cannot prevail on myself to do it. This is well illustrated by that of the poet,
Video meliora proboque,
Deteriora sequor. I am convinced, but not persuaded ; My understand. ing is subdued but not my will: the first term always and solely relates to opinion, the second to practice. The operation of conviction is merely on the understanding, that of persuasion, is on the will and resolution. Indeed the Latin word persuadeo, is susceptible of precisely the same ambiguity with the English. It is this double meaning, which gave occasion to that play upon the word used by Augustine, when he said, “Non persuadebis, etiamsi persuaseris.” The import of which in plain English manifestly is, Though your arguments may convince my reason, they shall not determine my resolution : Or, you may convince, but shall not persuade me.
The first of the distinctions.
now mentioned will serve to discriminate the argumentative or controversial, from the demonstrative or commendatory, the other distinguishes the controversial from the persuasive.
I would further observe, that though any one discourse admits only one of the ends above enumerated as the principal, nevertheless in the progress of a discourse, many things may be advanced, which are more immediately and apparently directed to some of the other ends of speaking. But then it ought always to appear, that such ends are introduced as means, and rendered conducive to that which is the primary intention. Accordingly the propriety of these secondary ends, will always be inferred from their subserviency to the principal design. For example, a sermon of the first or second kinds, the explanatory or the controversial, addressed to the understanding and calculated to illustrate or evince some point of doctrine, may borrow aid from the imagination, and admit metaphor and comparison. But not the bolder and more striking figures, as that called phantasia, prosopopeia and the like, which are not so much intended to throw light on a subject as to excite'admiration ; much less will it admit an address to the passions, which never fails to disturb the operation of the intellectual faculty. Either of these, it is obvious, far from being subservient to the main design, simple explanation or proof, would distract the attention from it. Such arts, however, I cannot call them legitimate, have sometimes been successfully used, but in such cases, if impartially examined, the scope of the speaker will be found to have been more to cloud than to enlighten the understandings of his hearers, and to deceive rather than to edify. They
are of those unlucky arts, which are naturally fitted more for serving a bad cause, than a good one, and by consequence, when used in a good cause, rather hurt it with the judicious, by rendering it suspected.
Now before I proceed to consider the rules which ought to be observed in these different sorts of composition resulting from their respective natures, I shall make a few remarks on a kind of discourses very common in this country, which come not under the general name of sermons, and follow rules peculiar to themselves. As the Bible is with us protestants acknowledged to be the repository, and indeed the only original, full, and untainted repository of christian knowledge ; and as the study of it is maintained to be a duty incumbent on every disciple of Christ, that kind of discourses with us commonly called lectures, have been devised as means of facilitating to the people the profitable reading of holy writ. We acknowledge indeed, that in all things essential to salvation, scripture is sufficiently perspicuous even to the vulgar; and that, in such important matters, if any man err, it will be found more the fault of the heart than of the head. But this acknowledgment is nowise inconsistent with the avowal, that there are in this repository many things highly useful and instructive, which do not immediately appear upon the surface, which require more time and application to enable us to discover, and in which in particular it is the province of the pastor to lend his assistance to the illiterate and the weak. That people may be put in a capacity of reading with judgment and without difficulty, those parts of scripture which are most closely connected with the christian faith and practice, lecturing, or as it is called in some places, expounding, hath been first prescribed by our church rulers. The end or design of a lecture therefore, is to explain the train of reasoning contained, or the series of events related, in a certain portion of the sacred text, and to make suitable observations from it, in regard either to the doctrines, or to the duties of our religion. As all discourses of this kind consist of two principal parts, the explication, and the remarks or inferences, so they may be distributed into two clas, ses, according as the one or the other constitutes the principal object of the expounder. In discourses of the first class, it is the chief design of the speaker to explain the import of a portion of scripture, which may not be perfectly clear to christians of all denominations. In the second, it is his great scope to deduce from a passage, whose general or literal meaning is sufficiently perspicuous, useful reflections concerning providence,
grace, or the conduct of human life. Were we nicely to distinguish the two kinds, I should say that the ultimate end of the former is to teach the people to read the scriptures with understanding, and of the latter to accustom them to read them with reflection. The former therefore may more properly (according to the current import of the words) be termed an exposition, and the latter a lecture. And in this manner we shall afterwards distinguish them. Both are properly of the explanatory kind, though from the complex nature of the subject, the form of composition will be very different from that of the first class of sermons mentioned above. Indeed several English sermons, for instance those on the compassionate Samaritan, the prodigal son, or any other of our Lord's parables, may strictly be denominated