Images de page

to comprehend the whole under the three following heads, a proper sense and conviction of sin, pious and suitable resolutions from an apprehension of divine mercy through the mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord, and a real conversion or change to the obedience of God. The order, in which these topics have just now been mentioned, is the only order in which the subject could properly be discussed. The right understanding of every previous member is preparatory to the right understanding of that which follows. This arrangement will perhaps be considered also as fixed by the order of nature and of time. I shall for another instance recur to that mentioned in a former lecture. Suppose then the preacher's subject is to illustrate this important evangelical truth, that grace or the unmerited favour of God is the genuine source of man's sal. vation ; suppose further, that one chooses for the illustration of it the two topics also above mentioned ; the plan of our redemption by Jesus Christ is purely the result of grace or unmerited favour, the completion of this plan in us by the operation of the Spirit is also the result of grace. It is evident, that the order in which these two topics are now laid down, is the only natural order in which they could be treated. The plan is ever conceived as previous to the execution. But in another example of distribution taken from Tillotson, of the characters of gospel obedience into sincerity, universality and constancy, it is not perhaps material in what order you explain these particulars. As there are few cases however, in which even this circumstance, when attentively considered, will appear perfectly indifferent, I should like best the order where. in I have just now named them, though I could not deny, that in any order they might be treated with sufficient perspicuity. Indeed in the other instance also above mentioned of prayer, as divided into its constituent parts, petition, confession and thanksgiving, the order is perhaps as much discretionary, as in any example that could be produced. Again, as in the explication of the principal heads or topics, there may be scope for a subdivision, the same remarks will hold with regard to the arrangement of the constituent mem. bers of that subdivision. But as it is impossible, that one who himself understands the subject that he treats, should not perceive the dependance of the parts and consequently the natural order, where the subject gives scope for it, I should think it losing time to enter more minutely into the discussion of this point. I shall only further remark on the article of arrangement, that as a multiplicity of divisions and subdivisions is not only cumbersome to the memory, but savours too much of artifice and a kind of minute and finical precision, a speaker ought carefully to avoid it. Do not imagine, that by this I mean to recommend a rambling and desultory manner of treating a subject. Nothing can be farther from my intention. I know well the power of method for assisting both the understanding and the memory, and with how much justice Horace hath styled it lucidus ordo, as being that, which, of all qualities, tends most to throw light upon a subject. But though a just and natural order ought ever to be preserved in the disposition of the sentiments in a sermon, the formality of always proposing or laying down that order, especially in the subordinate parts or inferior branches of a dis


course, is rarely the most eligible method for recom. mending what you say to the attention of the hearers.

Need I add, that in general in this kind of dis. courses the style should be remarkably simple and perspicuous. The immediate end is distinct appre- . herision. It therefore admits but few ornaments, some. times indeed it will receive very properly a sort of painting or imagery, which seems more immediately intended to delight the fancy, but which seasonably enough relieves the minds of the hearers from too intense an application of thought, to what in itself may be called a sort of abstract truth, an application, of which the generality of hearers are very little capable; ; at the same time that it fixes their attention, and even conveys to them more distinct conceptions by a happy illustration of things less known by things familiar to them. Thus the great truths in relation to the kingdom of heaven were ever illustrated to the people by Him, whom we ought to regard as our pattern in teaching as well as in life and practice, by the common incidents and affairs of this world, with which they had occasion to be well acquainted. I would not however by this be understood to recommend so close an imitation of our Lord's manner, as to endeavour to con. vey every thing in parables and allegories. I am afraid, this might give scope for too close a comparison, which would redound greatly to the disadvantage of any

modern speaker ; besides, I must acknowledge that though in what concerns the matter, the great truths of religion remain invariably the same, yet in what regards the general manner of communicating them, the mode or custom of the country where we live, ought not altogether to be overlooked. In a re

markable deviation from it, there is always the disagreeable appearance of affectation. The warmer and livelier manner of the orientals never fails to please us exceedingly in their writings; at the same time that it appears to sit very aukwardly on a modern European. It suggests the idea rather of mimicry, or a servile copying, than of a liberal imitation. Certain things in the manner of conveying instruction, as well as the words and phrases of the language that we employ, are in every age and nation dependant upon use, from which we cannot deviate far without becoming ridiculous. But there is sufficient scope for imitating the manner of our Lord, by a proper choice of similes and examples borrowed from things human, for assisting the apprehension of the people in things divine.

In regard to the manner of treating the different branches of the subject I shall only further add, that if there occur, on any of them, any difficulty arising either from the nature of the point to be discussed, or from misconceptions of the subject commonly entertained, or from any customary but wrong way of explaining it, such difficulties will generally be best obviated in the entry; I say, generally, because sometimes a simple and distinct explanation will make the difficulty entirely vanish, and at most it will require only one's remarking, as it were by the way, the misrepresentation that has been given, or the misconception that has been entertained of such a part of the subject. Let it serve also as a general rule in this kind of discourses, to avoid too great subtlety and depth in your explanations. The many controversies that have arisen in the christian church, and the parties and factions into which Christendom is unhappily divided, have amongst all of them, in less or more, given rise to a scholastic manner of treating almost every question in divinity, a manner extremely unsuitable to the simplicity of the sacred idiom, and the purpose of edifying a christian congregation. The same thing has also given rise to a sort of technical language in those matters, which is somewhat different, indeed, in every different sect, and too much savouring in all of the cobweb distinctions of schoolmen and metaphysicians, but very little of the wisdom which is from above. It is this which hath made preaching in many places degenerate into what the apostle terms,“ doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth.” I have often recommended, and can scarce sufficiently inculcate on all students in theology, to be more conversant with their Bible, than with the writings of any of the most celebrated divines, to whatever sect or party they belong, and to familiarize themselves to the style and sentiments of the former much more than to those of the latter. · I am far from thinking, that we ought to reject the use of the latter altogether; but am clearly of opinion that the more assiduous and unintermitted study of the former should give an ascendent in our minds to the sentiments, to the turn of thinking, and even to the forms of expression when we learn them, and should serve as a proper check, to prevent our imbibing and adopting too implicitly, either in tenets or in style, the peculiarities of a sect.

Before I leave this article, I would also warn you against another fault, which is sometimes to be met with, and that is, using the scripture style itself in an

« PrécédentContinuer »