Images de page

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 ex- . ample 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,

though related questions. In regard to the language of the introduction, it ought to be, in a particular man. ner, perspicuous and distinct. There is rarely scope in the introductory part of any kind of sermons, and much less in that of an explanatory sermon, for rheto. rical tropes and figures. But as the expression should be plain and clear, the sentiments ought to be striking and almost self-evident.

The next part that requires to be considered, after the exordium, is the exposition of the text. And here it ought to be observed, that no more of the context should come under the notice of the preacher, than what may serve to corroborate or illustrate the thoughts advanced in the introduction, or what may be of use for throwing light upon the text. It is often necessary to take for texts, passages wherein the thing spoken of, or what is closely connected with it, is expressed by a relative pronoun, in which there is a reference to what immediately preceded. The text in such cases is not intelligible but as it stands in connection with the foregoing words. Such a text for example would be that in Psalm. xix. 11. “ In keeping of them there is great reward,” where it is only from the context you can learn the import of the pronoun them. The same may be said of the possessive his in the following passage, which may be used as a text, 1 John v. 3. “His commandments are not grievous.” But when the text itself is sufficiently perspicuous, and however closely connected, independently intelligible, and when the sentiments of the context do not happen to have any coincidence with those employed by the preacher for introducing his subject, it is by no means necessary to take any notice of the context at all. Nay it often

proves in fact rather a digression from the subject, than a constituent part of the discourse. Immemorial custom, I acknowledge, hath with us given a kind of sanction to this practice, as to many other improper ones; but it belongs to judgment and taste, to distinguish those cases wherein it is useful, and those wherein it is foreign to the purpose. And that is always to be held foreign, which however just and even profitable abstractly considered, nowise contributes to promote that which is the ultimate aim of the discourse. When the text, as in the two passages last mentioned, has a reference to the context, but at the same time there is nothing in the context, which is not as to its meaning perfectly obvious to an ordinary capacity, it will suffice barely to repeat such of the preceding verses as have the most immediate connection with the text. Sometimes indeed it will do better to give an abstract of the story or of the reasoning, of which the text is a part, and that, without particularizing any of the passages. But in the election to be made out of these different methods, it behoveth us of necessity to leave the preacher to the guidance of his own judgment. The choice depends on such a variety of minute circumstances as renders it insusceptible of rules. The text itself, if necessary, may be explained, either by a paraphrase or otherwise. If by a paraphrase, it should be simple and brief, and no more in effect than a mere explicit declaration of the subject of discourse. If a looser method of expounding the passage is preferred, this exposition ought to terminate in a sentence, distinctly proposing the doctrine or duty to be explained.

The next thing that comes to be considered is the partition, or as it is more commonly termed the divi. sion of the subject into its constituent branches. And here doubtless the logical rules ought to be inviolably observed. The partition ought to exhaust the subject, insomuch that no part be left uncomprehended, and it ought to extend no farther, so as to comprehend any thing else. And as far as is possible in a consistency with these, a natural simplicity ought to be studied in this part in particular. Nothing harrasses the memory of the hearers more than a multiplicity of, what is called, the heads or chief topics of discourse. As where there is any partition of the subject they cannot be fewer than two, they never ought to exceed four or five. These for the most part ought in explanatory discourses, which are directed solely to the understanding, and which should preserve an appearance of accuracy and precision throughout the whole, to be very explicitly laid before the hearers. As an instance of a just partition, that given by Dr. Tillotson of the nature and extent of gospel obedience, may serve for an example. The properties of such an obedience, he divides into these three, sincerity, 'universality and constancy. This division is taken from the essential qualities of the subject; it may sometimes be taken from the component parts. The preacher's design, I shall suppose, is to explain the duty of

prayer, and from the consideration of the constituent members of his subject, he divides his discourse into three heads destined severally for the explanation of the three parts, confession, petition and thanksgiving. To these some improperly add a fourth, adoration, I say improperly, because this, so far from

« PrécédentContinuer »