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though related questions. In regard to the language of the introduction, it ought to be, in a particular manner, perspicuous and distinct. There is rarely scope in the introductory part of any kind of sermons, and much less in that of an explanatory sermon, for rhetorical tropes and figures. But as the expression should be plain and clear, the sentiments ought to be striking and almost self-evident.
The next part that requires to be considered, after the exordium, is the exposition of the text. And here it ought to be observed, that no more of the context should come under the notice of the preacher, than what may serve to corroborate or illustrate the thoughts advanced in the introduction, or what may be of use for throwing light upon the text. It is often necessary to take for texts, passages wherein the thing spoken of, or what is closely connected with it, is expressed by a relative pronoun, in which there is a reference to what immediately preceded. The text in such cases is not intelligible but as it stands in connection with the foregoing words. Such a text for example would be that in Psalm. xix. 11. “ In keeping of them there is great reward,” where it is only from the context you can learn the import of the pronoun them. The same may be said of the possessive his in the following passage, which may be used as a text, 1 John v. 3. “His commandments are not grievous.” But when the text itself is sufficiently perspicuous, and however closely connected, independently intelligible, and when the sentiments of the context do not happen to have any coincidence with those employed by the preacher for introducing his subject, it is by no means necessary to take any notice of the context at all. Nay it often
proves in fact rather a aigression from the subject, than a constituent part of the discourse. Immemorial custom, I acknowledge, hath with us given a kind of sanction to this practice, as to many other improper ones; but it belongs to judgment and taste, to distinguish those cases wherein it is useful, and those wherein it is foreign to the purpose. And that is always to be held foreign, which however just and even profitable abstractly considered, nowise contributes to promote that which is the ultimate aim of the discourse. When the text, as in the two passages last mentioned, has a reference to the context, but at the same time there is nothing in the context, which is not as to its meaning perfectly obvious to an ordinary capacity, it will suffice barely to repeat such of the preceding verses as have the most immediate connection with the text. Sometimes indeed it will do better to give an abstract of the story or of the reasoning, of which the text is a part, and that, without particularizing any of the passages. But in the election to be made out of these different methods, it behoveth us of necessity to leave the preacher to the guidance of his own judg
The choice depends on such a variety of minute circumstances as renders it insusceptible of rules. The text itself, if necessary, may be explained, either by a paraphrase or otherwise. If by a paraphrase, it should be simple and brief, and no more in effect than a mere explicit declaration of the subject of discourse. If a looser method of expounding the passage
preferred, this exposition ought to terminate in a sentence, distinctly proposing the doctrine or duty to be explained.
The next thing that comes to be considered is the partition, or as it is more commonly termed the divi. sion of the subject into its constituent branches. And here doubtless the logical rules ought to be inviolably observed. The partition ought to exhaust the subject, insomuch that no part be left uncomprehended, and it ought to extend no farther, so as to comprehend any thing else. And as far as is possible in a consistency with these, a natural simplicity ought to be studied in this part in particular. Nothing harrasses the memory of the hearers more than multiplicity of, what is called, the heads or chief topics of discourse. As where there is any partition of the subject they cannot be fewer than two, they never ought to exceed four or five. These for the most part ought in explanatory discourses, which are directed solely to the understanding, and which should preserve an appearance of accuracy and precision through out the whole, to be very explicitly laid before the hearers. As an instance of a just partition, that given by Dr. Tillotson of the nature and extent of gospel obedience, may serve for an example. The properties of such an obedience, he divides into these three, sincerity, universality and constancy. This division is taken from the essential qualities of the subject; it may sometimes be taken from the component parts. The preacher's design, I shall suppose, is to explain the duty of prayer, and from the consideration of the constituent members of his subject, he divides his discourse into three heads destined severally for the explanation of the three parts, confession, petition and thanksgiving. To these some improperly add a fourth, adoration, I say improperly, because this, so far from being a distinct member, is necessarily implied in each of the others; in so much that none of them can be explained or conceived without it. Each implies the acknowledgement of the superintendency and perfections of God, and of our own dependency and obligations. Such a distribution therefore, in which adoration were made a separate member, would be as though one should divide an animal body into these four parts, the head, the trunk, the limbs, and the blood, which last is manifestly essential to all the parts, and does not constitute a separate branch or member, as it pervades the whole and every part. This by the way may serve as a specimen of a faulty division. As to the order, in which the different branches ought to be proposed and treated, that is no doubt sometimes discretionary, but more frequently it may be determined by some. thing in the nature of the subject. That which is simplest and plainest ought generally to be begun with : and from this we ought to advance to that which is less obvious and more complex ; but of this more afterwards. So far I thought it proper to proceed in considering the general qualities, which affect the introduction, the exposition of the text and context, where an exposition of either or both is necessary, and the propounding of the subject and the method. one.
Before we proceed, it will be necessary to consider a little more particularly, in what manner the text and the subject ought to be adapted to each other. And here the first thing that necessarily demands our attention is, that the text ought to be chosen for the subject, and not the subject for the text. Nor will this observation be found, upon inquiry, of so little moment as at first sight it may appear to be. It is manifest from the
general taste and manner that has hitherto prevailed in preaching, that the text, rather indeed the words of a certain portion of scripture, hath been the primary consideration, and the subject at best but a secondary
Or if it hath happened, that the subject hath been first thought of by the speaker, he no sooner deviseth a text, than he judges it necessary to attach to his principal subject certain other subordinate ones, suggested not by the sentiment conveyed but by the expressions used in the text. The consequence is, that there is hardly one sermon in a hundred, wherein that unity of design is observed, which constitutes one great excellence in every composition.*
I mentioned in the beginning 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 declar
* In prescribing tasks for trying the abilities of the students of theology, in instructing and persuading, it is the common practice to assign them a text on which to prepare a sermon. And this method I followed for some time. The consequence I found to be, that instead of one subject in a discourse we often heard discussed in one sermon two or three distinct subjects. I have therefore resolved instead of a text to prescribe a subject, leaving to the student to find out a proper text for himself ; for examiple, 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 to be first in the intention of the composer, I have thought this method upon the whole greatly preferable.