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form of composition will be very different from that of the first class of sermons mentioned above. Indeed several English sermons, for instance those on the compassionate Samaritan, the prodigal son, or any other of our Lord's parables, may strictly be denominated lectures in the sense to which we just now appropriated the term. And of this sort also are several of the homilies of the ancient fathers. Nay there are some discourses, that go under the general appellation of sermons, particularly of Bishop Hoadley and Doctor Clarke, that properly belong to that class we distinguished by the name exposition, being no other than a sort of familiar commentary on some of the most difficult passages in the epistolary writings of the apostle Paul. They differ from us in Scotland, only in the manner in which the explication is introduced from the pulpit. We take the whole portion of scripture for a text, they commonly a single verse in the end of it, by means of which all the other verses as connected, are more awkwardly ushered into the discourse; for as all these share equally in the explication, so in most cases the remarks bear no more relation to the text, than to any other sentence in the context. The relation is commonly to the whole taken together, and not to a part considered separately. That it may not be necessary to return afterwards to the consideration of these two classes of discourses, which I denominate expositions and lectures, I shall now make a few observations in regard to their composition, and so dismiss this article.
And first, as to the subject to be chosen, care should be taken, that as much as possible it may be one, that is, one distinct passage of history, (if
taken from any of the historical books of scripture), one parable, one similitude, one chain of reasoning, or the illustration of one point of doctrine or of duty. When a minister purposes in a course of teaching to give the exposition of a whole book of scripture, it is of much greater moment, and unspeakably more conducive to the edification of the hearers, that in the distribution of the parts, more regard be had to the natural connection, that may subsist between the sentiments, than to the artificial division of the words into chapters and verses. For it is manifest, that in making this distribution of the sacred books, which by the way is an invention merely human and not very antient, there hath often been very little attention given to the sense. You will easily conceive, that it must be still a greater fault in expounding, to confine one's self, regularly, as some do, to the same or nearly the same number of verses. Nothing can tend more effectually to injure the sense, and to darken (instead of enlightening) the subject. Nothing would less fall under the description, which the apostle gives of the manner of the workman that hath no reason to be ashamed, “ his rightly dividing the “ word of truth.' To merit this praise, one must, like a skilful anatomist, chiefly attend, in the division, to the distinctive characters and limits, whichi nature hath assigned to the several parts; and not like a carver for the table, merely to the size and form.
The second remark I shall make, is that if the portion of scripture be, as to the sense, not so independent of the words immediately preceding, but that some attention to these will throw light upon
the sacred lesson, the preacher may very properly introduce himself to his subject by pointing out in few words the connection. There are cases in which this is necessary; there are in which we should say it were improper; and there are no doubt in which it is discretionary. Of the first kind are many passages in Paul's epistles; for though perhaps you can say of the passage with strict propriety, it is one; because it is only one topic that is treated in it, or at least the argument is considered in one particular point of view, yet it makes, as it were, a member of a train of reasoning which runs through several chapters; and of this series it may be requisite to take a cursory review, in order to obtain a more distinct apprehension of the import of the passage read. It is improper, when there is no connection at all with the words preceding, as in the relation given us of several of the miracles performed by our Lord, which have no other connection in the history than that the one in fact preceded the other; or it may be only, that the one is first related, and the other immediately after. The same may be said of several of the parables. Some of these indeed have a natural connection with a preceding passage, having been pronounced by our Lord in the illustration of some point which he had been just inculcating. In such cases, when the design of the parable is sufficiently clear of itself, to trace the connection is not absolutely necessary. As good use however may be made of it, it cannot be called improper. This therefore is an example of those cases wherein it is discretionary. There are several other instances which the intelligent hearer will easily distinguish for himself. I
shall mention only one. Were it the design of a preacher to expound to a congregation the Lord's prayer, as recorded in the sixth chapter of Matthew, he may justly consider it as a matter of mere choice, whether he shall take any notice of the words preceding or of the subsequent, because though his text be connected with both, it is so independently intelligible, and so completely one in itself, that he is under no necessity to recur to these for the illustration of his subject.
My third observation shall be, that his exposition of the portion of scripture read, may either be verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, where there is any obscurity or diffi culty in the verse, sentence, or paragraph, that seems to require it; or it may be, by a kind of paraphrase of the whole passage. I have observed already that there are two kinds of discourses, the exposition, and the lecture, into which this class may be distributed; the former of these methods, by verses or sentences, is best suited to the first, the latter, by paraphrase, to the second. In the first, there are supposed some difficulties to be removed and some darkness to be dispelled: in order to this, more minuteness and closer attention to the several parts is necessary. In the second, as the scope of the whole passage is supposed to be abundantly perspicuous, a few pertinent introductory remarks may sometimes happily enough supersede the necessity even of a paraphrase.
The fourth observation shall be in relation to the difficulties, which, in the first species of lectures mentioned, the expounder must endeavour to re
And they are these, an apparent inconsis
tency between the import of any verse or expression and the principles of right reason, or a seeming contradiction to other texts of scripture, or to any known historical fact; in like manner if the words taken literally seem to support any erroneous opinion, or to authorize any improper practice, or if the preacher is aware that it consists with the knowledge of a considerable part of his audience, that such uses are made of the words by some sect or party still subsisting amongst us. I mention these things with the greater caution, because if the difficulties are not obvious of themselves, or are such as can be reasonably thought to have come to the knowledge of very few, if any, in the auditory, it is much better they remain unnoticed by the speaker, lest he should be imagined to have more the talent of suggesting scruples and raising difficulties than of removing them. And this will especially hold, in regard to what hath at any time been pleaded in favour of the errors of ancient or distant sects, of which the congregation knows little or nothing, and by whose arts they can be in no hazard of being seduced. If the subject were, for example, the parable of the supper, in the 14th chapter of Luke, it would be very pertinent to show that the expression “ Compel them to come in," which occurs in that passage, doth not authorize persecution or force in matters of religion; because it is notorious, that this absurd use hath been and still is made of the words. But if the portion of scripture to be explained were the first chapter of the gospel by John, to what christian congregation would it answer any valuable purpose, to make them acquainted with the ravings of the