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unmeaning manner. There are, especially in the
prophets, it must be acknowledged, several passages, about the sense of which the most learned and judicious interpreters are divided ; there are many more expressions, which are not intelligible at least to the common people, and even of many, that are quite perspicuous when considered as standing in connection with the context, such applications are often made, as convey either no meaning at all, or a very different meaning from that which is suggested by the same words as they are situated in scripture. This is turning the language of the Spirit itself, if not to a bad use, at least into mere cant and jargon, a practice exceedingly common in the theological writings of the last century intended for the use of the people, but not so often to be met with in the present age; except amongst a few, on whom the dregs of the fanaticism, conceited ignorance and factious spirit of the former seem entirely to have settled. The true origin of this abuse is an excessive tendency to the use of scripture phraseology, merely in the way of allusion. Let it be observed, that I do by no means condemn in the gross an allusive application of scripture phrases, when clear, when apposite, and when emphatical, as they often are, although we be sensible that the meaning, in which we employ them, does not coincide with that which they have in the sacred volume. Where they are not quoted in the way of proof, but manifestly adopted in the
way of illustration, they produce nearly the effect of similitude, containing an implicit comparison between the event to which they originally referred, and that to which they are applied by the preacher. Be. sides, this method of applying, by way of allusion, passages of the Old Testament we find also frequently adopted by the writers of the New. Such an use therefore, we must declare in general, is not only allowable but often energetic. It requires however to be managed with the utmost discretion. Corruptio optimi pessima is even grown into a proverb.
There are two dangers, in particular, which here ought to be carefully guarded against. One is, that whilst we mean only to make an allusive application, we may not express ourselves in such a manner, as might seem to fix a sense on holy writ different from that of the inspired penmen. The other is, that we do not run into the obscure and enigmatic style, as is sometimes done through an excessive inclination to hunt after scripture phrases, tropes and figures, or after figurative applications of what perhaps was sufficiently plain in the literal and original use. Nothing can be more opposite to the nature and intention of the explanatory discourse than such a method. For however emphatical a clear and apposite allusion may be, nothing can have a worse effect, when the resemblance is but faint and scarcely discernible, for then the way of applying the sacred words inevitably appears, to the more judicious hearers, affected and far fetched; and though the imaginations of the more ignorant may be pleased, and their ears as it were tickled by the use of phrases, for which through habit they have acquired a veneration, their understandings are not at all enlightened. On the contrary the subject (though they may not be sensible of it; for those of this class are very prone to mistake words for things, and mere sound for sense) is more veiled and darkened to them, than it was before. A preacher who is ever on the scent (and
such preachers I have sometimes heard) for allusive scripture phrases, can express nothing in a simple, natural and perspicuous manner.
He will exhibit to you the mental blindness of the unregenerate, by telling you, that they “ see men as trees walking ;” spiritual and temporal mercies he rarely fails to denominate, “the blessings of the upper and the nether springs;” in order to denote the assurance, which the church or christian community have of a triumph over all their enemies, he will tell us, “ The shout of a king is among them, and he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn ;” and to express I know not what (but I have myself heard the phrase adopted by preachers of this stamp) he tells us very pompously, “The king's goings are always to be seen in the sanctuary.” Nay, what is worse, (but I remark it here only by the way) sometimes dark and indefinite expressions, like these, are converted into petitions and adopted in public prayer. Such will say, shout of a king be amongst us; may his goings be seen in the sanctuary ;” and many other such indefinite and dark expressions one has sometimes occasion to hear, where they are exceedingly unsuitable, in the public devotions; for though the speaker may himself affix some meaning to them, it is impossible they should be understood or applied aright by the much greater part of the audience. With respect to them therefore, he acts much the same part, as if he prayed in an unknown tongue. So much for the manner and the style in which the doctrines and the duties of our religion ought to be explained to the people. I shall only add upon the whole of this branch of the subject, as a general position that will never fail to hold, that
“may the the surest expedient, that any person can devise, for preventing his explanation of his subject from being unintelligible to the hearers, is to be careful, in the first place, that he distinctly understand it himself. It was well said by a master in this valuable art, “Si rem potenter conceperis, nec animus, nec facundia in concione defutura sunt;” or in the words of Jerom,“ Quia firmiter concepimus bene loquimur.” We may safely pronounce, that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, where we find, in any writing, the thoughts to be darkly and confusedly expressed, the true reason has been the dark and confused conceptions of the author. One ought therefore, before all things, to endeavour to be master of the subject which he explains, to range his thoughts properly and naturally, to have a distinct meaning to every expression that he uses, and to employ only such as he has reason to believe will be generally intelligible.
It remains only now, that in this species of discourse we consider the conclusion. And here, if not always, it will very generally be proper, to begin with a brief recapitulation of the articles discussed. This is of importance both for the better understanding of the subject, and for fixing it more firmly in the memory, and is almost indispensable when the subject happens to be complex. But this is the smallest and the easiest part of what in such discourses should constitute the conclusion. As in religion, the ultimate end both of knowledge and faith is practice, or, in other words, the real improvement of the heart and life, so every doctrine whatever is of use, either as a direction in the performance of duty, or as a motive to it. And the knowledge and belief of hearers
are no farther salutary to them, than this great end is reached. On the contrary, where it is not reached, where the heart is not bettered and the life reformed, they prove only the means of aggravating their guilt and heightening their condemnation. The doctrines of the unity and spirituality of the Godhead serve to point out the proper object of religious worship, and the nature of that worship which must be acceptable to God. The other doctrines concerning the divine attributes serve both for our direction in regard to the adoration and homage which we owe to Him, and also as motives to the duties of reverence, trust, love and obedience. The scripture doctrine, in regard to the positive institutions of religion, serves chiefly to direct us as to the manner and disposition, in which these institutions ought to be celebrated. The other doctrines of christianity are manifestly intended to be used, and are employed by the sacred writers as motives to a pious and christian life. How strongly does the doctrine of the mediation inforce the calls given in scripture to sinners to repentance ? How powerfully does the doctrine of the influences of the Holy Spirit, rightly understood, tend both to excite us to assiduity and fervour in our devotions, and to animate our endeavours after moral perfection in the persuasion of this almighty aid ? Need I suggest the practical use to which the doctrines of the resurrection, of the future judgment, of the final retribution, of heaven, hell and eternity so manifestly point? Nor can any thing appear more proper and natural, than such a manner of ending a discourse which, as to the substance of it, was addressed purely to the understanding of the hearers; in as much as it is incontrovertible, that the revelation