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the surest expedient, that any person can devise, for preventing his explanation of his subject from being unintelligible to the hearers, is to be careful, in the first place, that he distinctly understand it himself. It was well said by a master in this valuable art, “Si rem potenter conceperis, nec animus, nec facundia in concione defutura sunt;" or in the words of Jerom,“ Quia firmiter concepimus bene loquimur.” We may safely pronounce, that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, where we find, in any writing, the thoughts to be darkly and confusedly expressed, the true reason has been the dark and confused conceptions of the author. One ought therefore, before all things, to endeavour to be master of the subject which he explains, to range his thoughts properly and naturally, to have a distinct meaning to every expression that he uses, and to employ only such as he has reason to believe will be generally intelligible.
It remains only now, that in this species of discourse we consider the conclusion. And here, if not always, it will very generally be proper, to begin with a brief recapitulation of the articles discussed. This is of importance both for the better understanding of the subject, and for fixing it more firmly in the memory, and is almost indispensable when the subject happens to be complex. But this is the smallest and the easiest part of what in such discourses should constitute the conclusion. As in religion, the ultimate end both of knowledge and faith is practice, or, in other words, the real improvement of the heart and life, so every doctrine whatever is of use, either as a direction in the performance of duty, or as a motive to it. And the knowledge and belief of hearers
are no farther salutary to them, than this great end is reached. On the contrary, where it is not reached, where the heart is not bettered and the life reformed, they prove only the means of aggravating their guilt and heightening their condemnation. The doctrines of the unity and spirituality of the Godhead serve to point out the proper object of religious worship, and the nature of that worship which must be acceptable to God. The other doctrines concerning the divine attributes serve both for our direction in regard to the adoration and homage which we owe to Him, and also as motives to the duties of reverence, trust, love and obedience. The scripture doctrine, in regard to the positive institutions of religion, serves chiefly to direct us as to the manner and disposition, in which these institutions ought to be celebrated. The other doctrines of christianity are manifestly intended to be used, and are employed by the sacred writers as motives to a pious and christian life. How strongly does the doctrine of the mediation inforce the calls given in scripture to sinners to repentance ? How powerfully does the doctrine of the influences of the Holy Spirit, rightly understood, tend both to excite us to assiduity and fervour in our devotions, and to animate our endeavours after moral perfection in the persuasion of this almighty aid ? Need I suggest the practical use to which the doctrines of the resurrection, of the future judgment, of the final retribution, of heaven, hell and eternity so manifestly point? Nor can any thing appear more proper and natural, than such a manner of ending a discourse which, as to the substance of it, was addressed purely to the understanding of the hearers; in as much as it is incontrovertible, that the revelation of these important truths delivered in the gospel was never intended to terminate in being understood and assented to, but in having a happy influence on the disposition of mind and whole behaviour. It was not given to gratify our curiosity, but to regulate our lives. Hence it is, that we find it so frequently in scripture joined with epithets and attributes expressive of this quality, a most holy faith, a doctrine according to godliness, and sound doctrine, vylaivooa dudaoxahia wholesome instruction, not (as the expression has been sometimes perverted by the bigoted retainers to a party) a precise conformity in phraseology and opinion to all the little captious particularities of the sect. It is impossible to conceive any thing more remote from the original signification of the word, sound. It is a term, which marks not the logical justness of a theory, but its beneficial tendency ; it is not the truth of any notion which can denominate it sound, but the salutary influ. ence it hath on human life, that which makes it serve as food and medicine to the soul. Whatever in divinity is void of such influence, like the far greater number of the metaphysical questions agitated among controvertists, whether true or false, is hollow and unsound, a barren insignificant speculation : whatever hath an opposite influence, (and such doctrines also have been broached) and tends to subvert the foundation of mutual love and obligations to the practice of virtue, is more properly termed poisonous. Nay the pure unadulterated tenets of the gospel have so direct and manifest a tendency to enforce sanctity of life and manners, that when any of them are treated of by the inspired writers of the New Testament, the subject is almost invariably concluded by such a practical appli
cation. Thus the apostle Peter, (2 Peter iii.) after treating of the general conflagration, very naturally concludes,“ Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness ;” and after taking notice of the new heavens and new earth, that shall succeed the present, he adds, “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace without spot and blameless.” In like manner, the apostle Paul, after treating at some length of the resurrection, concludes the whole with this earnest exhortation, (1 Cor. xv. 58.) “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” It is almost only this part, which in explanatory discourses admits of warmth, and what may be called an address to the affections. A deep sense in the preacher of the importance of this improvement of every instruction which he gives, an affectionate desire of promoting the good of the people, and a zeal for the interests of religion and virtue are the only sure methods I know of, for qualifying him to address them suitably and efficaciously.
Of Controversial Discourses....Candour and Simplicity ever to be studied in
the Defence of Truth.
I have now finished the consideration of the explanatory sermon, which is of all the kinds mentioned the simplest, and approaches nearest to what in the primi. tive church was called homily. The end of it, as was observed, is to dispel ignorance and to communicate knowledge, and for this purpose it addresses the understanding of the hearers. The next in order is the controversial, addressed also to the understanding, its end being to conquer doubt and error and to produce be. lief. In other words, by the first it is proposed to inform the hearers, by the second to convince them. It is the second kind, which I now intend to consider, and shall endeavour to despatch, what I have to offer upon it in the present lecture. There are many observations, such as those regarding the unity of the subject, the choice of a text, the topics proper for the exordium, the explication of text and context, where necessary, which hold equally in all the kinds and therefore need not be repeated in the examination of each different kind.