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observed sometimes, that the bare reading of the text hath served to compose the minds of the audience into an earnest and attentive expectation of what was to be said. I have seen an ill adapted text, on the contrary, especially when there was any thing fantastic in the choice, excite a very different emotion in the audi. ence, and dispose their minds not to be edified but amused.
Of the Explanatory Sermons.... The Introduction....Exposition of the Text...
Partition of the Subject. Unity a principal requisite in the Subject.... How this is to be preserved....Offences against Unity.
In my last discourse on the subject of christian eloquence, I entered on the consideration of that species of sermons, which we distinguished by the name of explanatory, whose principal intention is, agreeably to the name, to explain the import of any doctrine or the extent of any precept of our religion. And first, I took occasion to inquire into the origin and history of that method now so universal in Christendom, of introducing our subject to the audience, by a portion of sacred writ called a text. I inquired into the principal uses which a text is intended to answer, and from this was naturally led to deduce the rules, whereby we ought to be directed in the choice. On this topic I was the more particular, as the same observations, though introduced merely in the examination of one species of discourses, would hold equally with regard to them all. I shall now proceed to consider the other parts of the explanatory sermon.
The first thing here, that falls under review, is the exordium or introduction, the great design of which is (agreeably to the rules of rhetoricians) to awaken and
fix the attention of the audience. Nothing can be more obvious, than that if the hearers will not attend, the preacher addresses them to no purpose, his speaking is no better than beating the air. The first requisite therefore, on their part, is some expectation and consequent desire. This is absolutely necessary to render them attentive. A certain degree of curiosity is natural in an auditory, just at the moment that a speaker is ready to open his mouth. But then it will depend very much on him, either to work up this favourable inclination in people into a devout and even anxious attention, or to extinguish it altogether, and not only to extinguish it, but even to create in them the contrary dispositions of weariness and disgust. Such topics therefore as manifestly tend to conciliate a favourable hearing from the congregation, as rouse in them the hope of something momentous or interesting, are espe. cially adapted to the introductory part of the discourse. No doubt some regard must be had to this end through the whole of the performance. But it is the direct business of the exordium, to inspire a disposition, which the other parts of the sermon ought to preserve from expiring. And as to the manner, in which this purpose may be best effected, it is evident, that the preacher's topics should be drawn chiefly or solely from that which is to be the subject of discourse. The church, in this respect more delicate than either the tribunal or the senate, doth not so easily admit the urging of considerations merely personal, for winning the affection of the hearers. The venerable aged sena. tor may not ungracefully preface his harangue with topics taken from his years, experience and public services. The hearers, conscious of the truth, will
think him well entitled to avail himself of such a plea; and the mention of these particulars will serve to rouse their attention and regard. It is only in extraordinary circumstances, that this conduct would be tolerable in the preacher. I do not say it never would. We have excellent patterns in this way in the prophet Samuel, and in the apostle Paul. See 1 Sam. xii. 1, &c. Acts xx. 18, &c. The young barrister will sometimes, just in opening, plead successfully for some indulgence to his youth and inexperience. An apology of this kind, if gracefully and naturally expressed, will be ascribed, not to want of merit, but to modesty, a quality very engaging especially in youth. The same plea would be more hazardous from the pulpit, and therefore can rarely, if ever, be attempted there. Any view that seems ultimately to point to self, any thing that may be considered as either directly or indirectly courting popular applause, will be stigmatized as vanity, a disposition which will meet with no quarter in a place consecrated as it were to the purposes of humbling the pride of man, and advancing the honour of his Maker. Passing therefore some extraordinary cases, the only topics which the preacher can safely make use of in the introduction, for gaining the devout attention of the hearers, ought to be drawn from the nature of the subject to be discussed. And these are various in different subjects. But there is no subject, with which our religion presents us, that will not afford some handle by which it may be recommended to the favourable attention of the hearers. On one subject, the leading principle for rousing our attention will be its sublimity, on another its importance, on a third perhaps its pleasantness, and on a fourth its novelty. Do not mistake
me. I by no means intend to insinuate, that any tenet or precept of religion can be strictly called new. I only mean, that when the subject of discourse rarely receives a discussion from the pulpit, the examination of it may be considered as new to the congregation ; they not having the same opportunity of becoming thoroughly acquainted with it as with some other topics, which if more momentous, are at the same time more trite. Perhaps the subject is one of those, against which we are sure, from the known character of the congregation, there are certain prejudices. A case of this kind requires a peculiar delicacy. A modest attempt to remove unfavourable prepossessions is in such a case extremely proper in the entry. Butler's sermon on the Love of God affords a very suitable example in this way. It deserves also to be remarked, that a preacher ought in the exordium cautiously to shun being so particular as might anticipate what should be advanced afterwards; that he ought here to proceed on such principles as are generally, if not universally, admitted; such as approved maxims, incontestible observations; otherwise its obscurity will rather avert than attract the attention of the audience. And if in order to prevent this obscurity, one should fall into a train of reasoning, or be at particular pains to explain and illustrate the principles advanced, it is manifest this conduct would convert into a real discourse, what ought to be no more than a prelude ; it would extend the introduction to an undue length, and so far from answering the design of preparing the hearers to receive with attention the discussion of the subject, it would tend to make them lose sight of it altogether, by engaging them deeply in different,