Images de page

explication of another point, which is to show, in what respect the instrument of our salvation is faith. Let it be observed here to prevent mistakes, that a sentence may be grammatically complex, which is nevertheless simple in regard to the sentiment conveyed by it, and therefore sufficiently proper for a text. Such a one is that in Prov. iii. 17.“ Wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” And even that last quoted from the Hebrews, though consisting of two long verses, is perfectly simple in regard to the sense.

I shall make two other observations on the subject of texts, and so conclude this article. One is, that as a great part of holy writ is historical, wherein things are simply related as spoken, without any mark of approbation or blame from the sacred historian; we ought when we can be otherwise well supplied, to avoid such places, since passages taken thence, though recorded in scripture, have not the stamp of revelation, and therefore are not fitted for answering the second purpose of a text above mentioned. I acknowledge however, that when the sentiment in itself is manifestly agreeable to the dictates of natural or the general tenour of revealed religion, it would be an excess of scrupulousness to reject it. Should every thing (for example) said by Job's three friends be avoided, because we have the best authority to affirm, that in some things they did not speak right? or should even all that Job himself said be set aside, because he acknowledged that he had uttered what he understood not, things too wonderful for him which he knew not? In all such dubious cases, great regard is to be had to the character of the speaker, the occasion, the import and

the design of the speech. On all these accounts, it was a most absurd choice which one made of a text for a sermon on the future glory of the saints in heaven. This sublime doctrine he chose to treat from these words of the serpent to our first mother Eve, Gen. iii. 5. “ Ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil.” For though the words taken abstractly might be apposite enough, we know that as they stand in scripture, they have no relation to the heavenly happiness; but what renders them still more exceptionable, as a text, is, they are the words of the father of lies, and in the sense in which he used them, contain a lie, and were employed but too successfully for the purpose of seduction. The only other observation I mean to make is, as scripture does not consist of a number of aphorisms, it will sometimes be difficult, if not impossible, to find texts for some very suitable subjects, conformable to all the rules above laid down. It must be owned, that in such cases, it is far better to deviate from these rules, than to avoid discussing an edifying and pertinent subject. All that can be said in that case is, that if the rules be reasonable, the deviation ought to be as little as possible. Nor let any one think this point a matter of little or no moment. As a good choice may contribute previously to rouse attention, and even to put the hearers in a proper frame for the subject to be discoursed on, as well as to keep their minds in the time of preaching from wandering from the subject;

; so on the contrary, an improper choice will often serve to dissipate the thoughts, and put the mind in a frame nowise suitable. I can say for myself that I have been witness to instances of both effects. I have


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.


my last discourse on the subject of christian elo. quence, 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 especially 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 senator may not ungracefully preface his harangue with topics taken from his years, experience and public services. The hearers, conscious of the truth, will

« PrécédentContinuer »