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markable deviation from it, there is always the disagreeable appearance of affectation. The warmer and livelier manner of the orientals never fails to please us exceedingly in their writings; at the same time that it appears to sit very aukwardly on a modern European. It suggests the idea rather of mimicry, or a servile copying, than of a liberal imitation. Certain things in the manner of conveying instruction, as well as the words and phrases of the language that we employ, are in every age and nation dependant upon use, from which we cannot deviate far without becoming ridiculous. But there is sufficient scope for imitating the manner of our Lord, by a proper choice of similes and examples borrowed from things human, for assisting the apprehension of the people in things divine.
In regard to the manner of treating the different branches of the subject I shall only further add, that if there occur, on any of them, any difficulty arising either from the nature of the point to be discussed, or from misconceptions of the subject commonly entertained, or from any customary but wrong way of explaining it, such difficulties will generally be best obviated in the entry ; I say, generally, because sometimes a simple and distinct explanation will make the difficulty entirely vanish, and at most it will require only one's remarking, as it were by the way, the misrepresentation that has been given, or the misconception that has been entertained of such a part of the subject. Let it serve also as a general rule in this kind of discourses, to avoid too great subtlety and depth in your explanations. The many controversies that have arisen in the christian church, and the parties and factions into which Christendom is unhappily divided, have amongst all of them, in less or more, given rise to a scholastic manner of treating almost every question in divinity, a manner extremely unsuitable to the simplicity of the sacred idiom, and the purpose of edifying a christian congregation. The same thing has also given rise to a sort of technical language in those matters, which is somewhat different, indeed, in every different sect, and too much savouring in all of the cobweb distinctions of schoolmen and metaphysicians, but very little of the wisdom which is from above. It is this which hath made preaching in many places de generate into what the apostle terms, "doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth." I have often recommended, and can scarce sufficiently inculcate on all students in theology, to be more conversant with their Bible, than with the writings of any of the most celebrated divines, to whatever sector party they belong, and to familiarize themselves to the style and sentiments of the former much more than to those of the latter. I am far from thinking, that we ought to reject the use of the latter altogether; but am clearly of opinion that the more assiduous and unintermitted study of the former should give an ascen. dent in our minds to the sentiments, to the turn of thinking, and even to the forms of expression when we learn them, and should serve as a proper check, to prevent our imbibing and adopting too implicitly, either in tenets or in style, the peculiarities of a sect.
Before I leave this article, I would also warn you against another fault, which is sometimes to be met with, and that is, using the scripture style itself in an
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 be. tween 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 ex. planatory 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;” spi
. ritual 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