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Gnostics, and their wild extravagancies about the Eons?
I shall add, that particular care ought to be taken in expounding the scriptures to the people, not to appear over-learned and over-critical in one's explications. 'There is no occasion to obtrude on an audience, as some do, all the jarring interpretations given by different commentators, of which it is much better that the people should remain ignorant, than that they should be apprized. For this knowledge can serve no other purpose, than to distract their thoughts and perplex their judgment. Before you begin to build, it is necessary to remove such impediments as lie directly in your way; but
could not account him other than a very foolish builder, who should first collect a deal of rubbish, which was not in his way, and consequently could not have obstructed his work, that he might have the pleasure and merit of removing it. And do the fantastic, absurd, and contradictory glosses of commentators deserve a better name than rubbish ? No, surely. But if such absurd glosses are unknown to your congregation, they are rubbish which lies not in your way. No interpretation therefore or gloss should ever be mentioned in order to be refuted, unless it be such as the words themselves on a superficial view, might seem to countenance, or such as is generally known to the people to be put upon them by some interpreters, or sects of christians. Where a false gloss cannot be reasonably supposed to be either known or thought of by the audience, it is in the preacher worse than being idly ostentatious of his learning, to introduce such
erroneous gloss or comment. And as to an excess of criticism in this exercise, it ought also doubtless carefully to be avoided. We must always remember the difference between a church and a college. In most christian congregations there are very few, if any, linguists. I do not say that in our lectures we ought never to mention the original or recur to it. Justice to the passage we explain may sometimes require it. Nor is it necessary, that our translators should be deemed infallible even by the multitude. It is enough, that we consider as the pure dictates of the Spirit those intimations, with which the prophets and apostles were inspired, But then, on the other hand, it is neither modest nor prudent in the preacher, especially if a young man, to be at every turn censuring the translators, and pretending to mend their version. It is not modest, as they, over whom the corrector assumes a superiority, are allowed on all hands to have been men of eminent talents and erudition. And it is not prudent, as this practice never fails to produce in the minds of the people a want of confidence in their Bible, which tends greatly to lessen its authority. Therefore, though I am by no means for ascribing infallibility to any human expositors, propriety requires, that we should neither too often, nor too abruptly tax with blundering, before such a promiscuous audience as our congregations commonly are, men of so respectable memory.
Manly freedom of inquiry, becoming a protestant, becoming a Briton, tempered with that decent reserve which suits the humble christian, will guard the judicious against both extremes, an
overweening conceit of his own abilities, and an implicit faith in those of others. And indeed in regard to every thing, which may be introduced either in the way of criticism or comment, it ought ever to be remembered, that it is not enough, that such an observation is just, that such an interpretation hath actually been given, or that such an opinion hath been maintained ; the previous inquiry, which the preacher ought to make by himself is, whether it be of any consequence to the people to be informed of the observation, comment, or opinion. This inquiry impartially made will prove a check against the immoderate indulgence of what is perhaps the natural bent of his own genius, whether it be to critical or controversial disquisition, and which it is not always easy for youth, commonly impetuous and opinionative, duly to restrain. If on other occasions, more especially on this, the apostolical admonition ought to be sacredly observed, that “nothing “ proceed out of the speaker's mouth, but that “ which is good to the use of edifying, that it
may minister grace to the hearers." But for our direction in this kind of discernment, no precepts, it must be acknowledged, will suffice. A fund of good sense is absolutely necessary, enlightened by a knowledge of mankind. In this, as in every other kind of composition, the maxim of the poet invariably holds,
Scribendi recte sapere est principium et fons. I shall just add the fifth and last observation in relation to the remarks or inferences. These, as was hinted already in the exposition, whase chief
aim is to throw light on the sacred text and remove the difficulties, are to be considered as only a subordinate part of the discourse ; in the lecture, they are to be considered as the principal. In the former therefore they do not require to be so fully treated, as in the latter. It is enough, that the remarks are just in themselves, pertinent in regard to the subject of discourse, and exprest with sufficient perspicuity and energy. But in the lecture, properly so called, where the observations are the primary object of the speaker, and that for which the passage of scripture was chosen as a text, it is not enough that they be just, pertinent and perspicuous, they require besides, to be more copiously treated; and such of them as are of practical nature, to be more warmly enforced. Nay, they admit all that variety in respect of illustration, proof, and recommendation, which are to be found in discourses explanatory, controversial, or persuasive. Only for the sake of unity, it may
proper to add, that all the remarks compared among themselves should be congenial, and tend to illustrate one another, that is, all doctrinal, or all practical ; and whether the one, or the other, that they be points nearly and mutually related, that thus the discourse may, if I may so express myself, be of one colour and tenour throughout. Quick transitions om the warmth of pathos, to the coldness of criticism, from the moral and persuasive to the abstract and argumentative, or inversely, from the critical to the pathetic, and from the abstract to the persuasive, are neither natural nor easy. Now the transitions here, if there be any, must be quick, even immediate, since they
result from the different natures of the remarks that immediately succeed one another. In the first kind, which we distinguished by the name exposition, there is no occasion for so much delicacy in regard to the inferences deduced ; because in it, they being only of a secondary nature in respect to the scope of the performance, particular discussions would neither be proper nor expected. All that is requisite is that they be true, fairly deduced and properly expressed. Now thus much, whatever be the nature of the truths remarked, can make no alteration in the character of the performance. In this species, the observations are properly no more than inferences, whose evidence, illustration, or enforcement should always be found in the exposition that preceded them; whereas in the lecture properly so called, though the connection of the remarks with the portion of scripture previously and briefly explained, ought to be very clear, they are introduced with the express view of being supported, illustrated, or enforced in the body of the discourse, to which the explication of the text serves only as an introduction. So much shall serve for what we call expositions or lectures, I shall next proceed to the different sorts of sermons above defined.