Images de page

similar manner we find recommended by the example of some of the best preachers, both in French and in English.

In the controversial sermon after the oxordium, and brief explanation of the text and context where necessary; the poipt of doctrine to be either supported or refuted, ought to be as distinctly, perspicuously and briefly as possible proposed, and then the method ought to be laid down, in which you intend to manage the argument. This method on different questions will be very different.

different. When a controverted point is simple in its nature, and when there is only one opposing sentiment, which the preacher has to refute, the most common, and indeed the most natural method he can take will be, first to refute the arguments of the adversary, and secondly to support his own doctrine by proper proofs. On the first, his acquaintance with the adversary's plea must serve for a directory as to the method wherein he should proceed. Only let it be observed in general, that where one means honestly to defend truth and to detect error, he will ever find his account in employing the most plain and unequivocal expressions, and in exposing the ambigui. ties and indefinite terms, in which, it often happens, that the sophistry of the adverse party lies concealed. some of our theological disputes, and even some of those which have created the greatest ferments and most lasting animosities among christians, are merely verbal. These, as much as possible, ought to be avoided. Others, in which there is a real difference in opinion, as well as in expression, in the different sides, have nevertheless given rise to a deal of logoma. chy in the manner wherein they have been managed.

In most questions, what is of real weight in the way of argument on the opposite sides might be reduced to a very small compass. It will well become the assertor of truth, whose cause has the greater advantage, the stronger the light be, into which he brings it, to endeavour by clearing off the rubbish of mere cavils, ambiguous and indefinite words and phrases, to convey plain and determinate ideas to the hearers, and thus as much as possible to simplify the question. Then let him discuss severally, what is thought to be of most moment on the adverse side, avoiding to tire his hearers with too curious a minuteness of investigation, or to perplex himself with a needless multiplicity of topics. Another error in disputation, which is by far too common, is when one will admit nothing in the plea or arguments of an adversary to be of the smallest weight. That they have no weight may be the case sometimes, but it is not always so. And this extreme will ever, with the more judicious, savour either of blind zeal in the preacher, or of a total want of candour, which will rather create a prejudice against the speaker, in the minds of those who are intelligent and sensible, that he does not justice to the other side, than incline them to give a favourable reception to his arguments. It gives, besides, an appearance to the debate which savours much more of proceeding from a mind ambitious of the glory of victory, than concerned for the interests of truth. I have heard a disputant of this stamp, in defiance of etymology and use, maintain that the word rendered in the New Testament baptize, means more properly to sprinkle than to plunge, and, in defiance of all antiquity, that the former method was the earliest and, for many centuries, the

[ocr errors]

most general practice in baptizing. One, who argues in this manner, never fails, with persons of knowledge, to betray the cause he would defend; and though with respect to the vulgar, bold assertions generally succeed, as well as arguments, sometimes better ; yet a candid mind will disdain to take the help of a falsehood, even in support of the truth.

After discussing the adversary's plea, it will be proper in the second place to enter on the proofs. If the point under examination is knowable by the light of nature, as if it regard the being and perfections of God, or the great obligations of morality, one topic of argument may not improperly be taken from the discoveries of natural reason, and on some points, like that of a future state of retribution, even the universal consent of mankind, and the earliest traditions, that have as yet been traced in any country, may not implausibly be pleaded. Sometimes ecclesiastical history will furnish a head of argument. This happens especially when the question relates to any usages or ceremonies that have obtained, or to the manner of celebrating any of the positive institutions. But the principal foundation of argument for the preacher will always be the sacred scripture. This is true whatever be the controverted doctrine, since in order to entitle it to a discussion from the pulpit, it ought to be a doctrine in which the faith or morals of a christian are concerned. If the tenet maintained be purely a point of revelation, the scripture is in a manner the preacher's only ground, on which his reasonings can be built. From this also different topics of argument may be raised, either from different passages, or from the different lights in which

it is in holy writ exhibited, as suits the nature of the subject.

In arguing from the divine oracles, great care ought to be taken that we quote and interpret them candidly; in other words that we give always what, according to the best of our judgment, is the real sense of the sacred author. Preachers, I know, will some. times make a very plausible appearance of supporting their side of the question by a passage of scripture, which in the detached way wherein they quote it, appears very favourable, but which, taken in connection with its context, means something totally distinct. For my own part, were the doctrine meant to be de. fended ever so truly a scriptural doctrine, I could not approve an attempt to support it by such a misapplication of holy writ, and consequently by misleading the hearers in regard to the sense of particular portions of scripture. This is like bringing people to submission to magistracy, by perverting the sense of the law; and though a person may be fighting in a good cause, one, who takes this method, fights with illicit weapons. If it be safer to be under God's direction, than under any man's, it must be safer to exhibit to the people the sense of the sacred oracles purely and candidly, leaving it to them to form the conclusions and make the application. This I take to be preaching not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves the people's servants for Jesus's sake. The contrary method is indeed preaching ourselves, it is abounding in our own sense, and even wresting the word of Christ to render it subservient to our opinions. I would not by any means however be understood to pass so severe a censure on the misapplication of a passage of scripture

arising from a mistake of the sense, a thing to which the wisest and the best are liable, but only on an intended misrepresentation of the true meaning, in order to make it serve as evidence of a point we are maintaining. That I may be better understood in the aim of this remark, I shall produce an example in the way of illustration. In support of this doctrine, that whatever is done by unbelievers, even those actions which are commonly accounted most laudable and virtuous, are of the nature of sin; it has been sometimes very gravely and very confidently urged, that the apostle says expressly (Rom. xiv. 23) " Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Yet this expression (however apposite it may appear, when cut off from the passage with which it stands connected) has not the remotest relation to that famous question. When recourse is had to the apostle himself, and the occasion of the affirmation, we find it is brought in the conclusion of his reasoning, in regard to a point much disputed in that early age of the church, the observance of a distinction in meats and days. And though the apostle explicitly declares his own conviction, that no kind of meat is in a reli. gious view unclean of itself, yet he is equally clear, that to him who esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean, because he believes it to be so. Hence he justly concludes, that he who doubteth is liable to condemnation, if he eat; because he acts against the dictates of his conscience, even though a misinformed conscience, he himself not believing that he does right, “ for,” he adds,“ whatever is not of faith is sin ;” whatever action is not accompanied with a belief of its lawfulness, is so far criminal, as it shows in him, who commits it, a presumptuous disposition

« PrécédentContinuer »