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being a distinct member, is necessarily implied in each of the others; in so much that none of them can be explained or conceived without it. Each implies the acknowledgement of the superintendency and perfections of God, and of our own dependency and obligations. Such a distribution therefore, in which adoration were made a separate member, would be as though one should divide an animal body into these four parts, the head, the trunk, the limbs, and the blood, which last is manifestly essential to all the parts, and does not constitute a separate branch or member, as it pervades the whole and every part. This by the way may serve as a specimen of a faulty division. As to the order, in which the different branches ought to be proposed and treated, that is no doubt sometimes discretionary, but more frequently it may be determined by some. thing in the nature of the subject. That which is simplest and plainest ought generally to be begun with: and from this we ought to advance to that which is less obvious and more complex ; but of this more afterwards. So far I thought it proper to proceed in considering the general qualities, which affect the introduction, the exposition of the text and context, where an exposition of either or both is necessary, and the propounding of the subject and the method.
Before we proceed, it will be necessary to consider a little more particularly, in what manner the text and the subject ought to be adapted to each other. And here the first thing that necessarily demands our attention is, that the text ought to be chosen for the subject, and not the subject for the text. Nor will this observation be found, upon inquiry, of so little moment as at first sight it may appear to be. It is manifest from the
general taste and manner that has hitherto prevailed in preaching, that the text, rather indeed the words of a certain portion of scripture, hath been the primary consideration, and the subject at best but a secondary one. Or if it hath happened, that the subject hath been first thought of by the speaker, he no sooner deviseth a text, than he judges it necessary to attach to his principal subject certain other subordinate ones, suggested not by the sentiment conveyed but by the expressions used in the text. The consequence is, that there is hardly one sermon in a hundred, wherein that unity of design is observed, which constitutes one great excellence in every composition. *
I mentioned in the beginning of my last prelection, that the first thing that falls under the preacher's consideration is the subject. Unity I then observed was a principal requisite in the subject; but deferred stat. ing the precise notion of it, till we should come to treat of that part of the discourse, which includes the declared design of the performance and the manner in which it is proposed to prosecute it. This will be somewhat different in the different kinds of sermons; I shall con. sider the unity of each, at least what is peculiar in each, in the explication of the kind. And as to that kind of which we are now treating, the explanatory, let us suppose one intending to compose a sermon in this way hath chosen for his subject, the doctrine of the Divine Omniscience, After searching for some time for a proper text, I suppose he determines to take Heb. iv. 13; which, though complex in the terms, is sufficiently simple in the sentiment. The words are, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” It is a thousand to one he would judge it no other than a piece of justice to his text, to discuss a number of adventitious points, which, if without any text he had been required to explain the doctrine of the omniscience, he would never have dreamt to have any connection with his subject. Such as these for instance, to consider what is implied in the manifestation of a creature, or in its being naked and opened ; in what respect these phrases may be used relatively, so that a creature may be said to be mani. fested, naked and opened to the eyes of one, which is nevertheless undiscovered, clothed and shut to the eyes of another : again, who is meant by the apostle in that expression, him with whom we have to do; and why God is so denominated. Yet will any one say, that these critical inquiries, which in a critical exercise on the passage would be very proper, I say not, necessary, but any wise conducive to the illustration of this simple proposition, God knoweth all things ? And if 50, there can be no unity in the subject, nor simplicity in the performance, in which things so diverse are jumbled together. The only connection there is among
* In prescribing tasks for trying the abilities of the students of theology, in instructing and persuading, it is the common prac. tice to assign them a text on which to prepare a sermon. And this method I followed for some time. The consequence I found to be, that instead of one subject in a discourse we often heard discussed in one sermon two or three distinct subjects. I have therefore resolved instead of a text to prescribe a subject, leaving to the student to find out a proper text for himself ; for examiple, some doctrine or precept of the gospel to be defined and illustrated in an explanatory sermon, or some duty to be inculcated or evil to be warned against in a suasory discourse. As this way of prescribing a subject gives a greater probability that unity and simplicity shall be preserved in the composition, than that of assigning a text, and as the subject ought always to be first in the intention of the composer, I have thought this method upon the whole greatly preferable.
them is not a natural, but an accidental, connection arising merely from the terms, in which the sentiment is expressed. Sometimes it is necessary to recur to such texts, because a simpler expression of the sense, though more eligible, is not to be found in the words of scripture. But then if there be any difficulty, it is sufficient to remove it by the way, in showing the import of the text, or in a brief paraphrase on the words, or even in a plain synonymous sentence. It must ever be remembered, that it is the leading sentiment conveyed in the text, which it is the preacher's business to illustrate, and not the terms or phrases by which it is conveyed. It is this difference that makes a principal distinction between every kind of sermons whatever, and that species of lecture which we called exposition, wherein the text is itself properly the subject, and not to be considered as a bare expression of the subject, Now it is this false taste in preaching which hath given rise to the censure formerly quoted from Voltaire, in as much as the speaker is not employed in the discussion of any one subject, but is, as it were, amusing himself and his hearers with a number of little independent dissertations on the different words, idioms and references which are found in a line or two of sacred writ. It will perhaps be urged, that there are few passages, which from the turn of the expression would lead the speaker into such devious tracks, as that. above quoted; but in reality, where the same notion prevails in regard to pulpit composition, there can hardly be found a text so simple, as will not afford some occasion for the same manner of treating the subject. Let us suppose that the preacher's subject is to explain this doctrine of revelation, that the grace of God is the genuine source of man's salvation, and let us suppose he chuseth for his text Eph. ii. 8. “ By grace are ye saved.” One more simple or more apposite is not even to be conceived. Yet the most general and approved way, in which, in many places, this theme at present would be managed, is the following. First, would the speaker say, I shall explain what is meant by grace; secondly, I shall show what is meant by salvation, or what it is to be saved : thirdly and lastly, the relation which one of these bears to the other, or the dependance of the latter upon the former. Methinks I hear it resound from every quarter, could there be a juster method, or one that more per. fectly exhausts the text ? No indeed if we are barely to regard the words ; in which case it may be said to be three texts more properly than one. My intended subject was only one, but here we have no less than three. Ay but, say you, are not these three so intimately connected, that the one cannot be perfectly understood without the other ? That they are indeed connected is very certain, but so also are all the doctrines and precepts of our religion. Is it therefore impossible to explain one without explaining them all ? If so, every sermon ought to be a system, both of the tenets and of the duties of christianity. And as the christian system is only one, in this way there should be no more but one sermon. And as strange as it may appear, I have known preachers and very popular preachers too, whom I have heard frequently, and yet can say with truth, I never heard from them