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I mentioned in the begirming 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 stating 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 consider 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 open" ed 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
ject, leaving to the student to find out a proper text for himself ; for example, 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 w be first in the intention of the composer, I have thought this method upon the whole greatly preferable,
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 manifested, 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, are any wise conducive to the il lustration of this simple proposition, God knoweth all things? And if so, 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 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 bé 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
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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 perly 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 perfectly 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 but one sermon. The form, the mould into which it was cast, was different according to the different texts, but the matter was altogether the same. You had invariably the preacher's whole system, original sin, the incarnation, the satisfaction, election, imputed righteousness, justification by faith, sanctification by the Spirit, and so forth. As to the practical part, including the duties which our religion requires, whether it was, that it appeared more obvious or of less consequence, I cannot say, but it was very rarely and very slightly touched. The discourses of such people have
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often put me in mind of the clay, with which children sometimes divert themselves. The very same mass, they at one time mould into the figure of a man, at another into that of a beast, at a third into the shape of a bird, and at a fourth, into the appearance
of a table or stool. But you are sure of one thing, that whatever be the change on its external form, its substance is unalterably the same. Yet these people argue with an apparent plausibility. Such a one explaining the character expressed in the words pure in heart, tells us that in order to understand it rightly, we must consider it in its source, the sanctifying operation of the Holy Spirit. The better to understand this, we ought to consider our previous natural corruption. This brings us directly to original sin, which makes it necessary to inquire into that original righteousness whereof it is the privation. And this being implied in the expression, image of God, leads us to the examination of the divine perfections. These again are best illustrated by the effects, the works of creation and providence, and especially the work of redemption. This method of arguing puts me in mind of a story told by Alembert in an essay on the liberty of music. “Dioptrics," said a certain profound philosophical professor to his pupils,“ is To the science which teaches us the use of specta“cles and spy glasses. Now these are of no value “ without eyes; the eyes are the organs of one of
our senses; the existence of our senses supposes “ the existence of God, since it is God who gave
us them; the existence of God is the foundation “ of the christian religion: we purpose
therefore to " evince the truth of the christian religion, as the.