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manner, in which these subjects are respectively exhibited in the Scriptures, furnishes ample proof, that these observations are just.
The Scriptures themselves are a perfect pattern of the time, care and pains, which the preacher is to bestow on the respective subjects of his discourses in all ordinary circumstances. That on which they lay the greatest stress, is most to engross his attention, and his sermons. That, on which they lay the least stress, is least to be dwelt upon by him.
I say this is to be done in ordinary circumstances. But there are peculiar occasions, frequently occurring, which demand his peculiar attention. His hearers may be especially addicted to some particular sins, or in especial danger from particular errors ; or may peculiarly need to be taught certain truths, or urged to certain acts of duty. These will then require his peculiar efforts : and for such efforts, in such cases, he will find an ample warrant in the Scriptures. Timothy, and Titus, were expressly commanded to inculcate particular things in a peculiar degree, because they were peculiarly necessary. Ministers are directed to contend earnestly for the faith, once delivered to the saints; and are said to be set for the defence of the Gospel. They are, therefore, required to defend those parts of it most frequently, as well as most strenuously, which are most questioned, and to oppose with the great
; est vigour those errors, from which their hearers are in the greatest danger. In this manner Christ preached : in this manner preached the Prophets, and the Apostles: steadily directing their discourses to the occasions, which gave them birth. This is, indeed, the plain dictate of common sense; and, with these warrants, will be certainly, as well as safely, followed by every wise and faithful Minister.
The Bible is written in a manner, perfectly fitted to produce the best effects on the moral state of man. The preacher, who follows closely this divine example, may therefore rationally hope to produce the best moral effects on his hearers. On the contrary, he, who wanders from it, ought, while he censures himself deeply for his disrespect to this perfect pattern, to believe, that he shall find little consolation in the fruits of his preaching. In vain will he plead, that, in his view, some other mode will be better suited to the wants of his hearers. In vain will he think himself wise above that which is written. In vain will he plead the nature and influence of any doctrines, or precepts, as viewed by his own judgment. God, who knew the nature of all precepts, and doctrines, has written such of them in the Scriptures, and in such a manner, as his own wisdom determined to be best for man. Unless the preacher, therefore, thinks himself wiser than God, he must perceive his opinion to be wholly out of place, unfounded, and unhappy
To the Law, and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. This sentence is equally applicable, to the parts, as to the whole of this word; and precisely just with respect to their importance, and influence, as well as to their truth. In both respects the Scriptural exhibition is perfect. He who copies it, and he only, will do the most good
in his power.
THE EXTRAORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE. THE MANNER OF
MATTHEW xxviii, 19.-Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations.
FROM these words I proposed in the preceding discourse to examine,
1. The End;
The three first of these heads i discussed at that time; and shall now go on to consider the
IV. Viz. The Manner of Preaching.
It is not enough, that Sermons contain the truth; important and indispensable as this is. A Sermon may contain Evangelical truth, and that only; and yet may exhibit it in such a Manner, as to prevent a great part of its proper efficacy. Nor does the evil always stop here. Instances have existed in the world, and that not very unfrequently, in which preachers have uttered nothing but what was strictly Evangelical, and yet have only amused, wearied, or disgusted sober, patient, and candid hearers. The Manner, therefore, in which truth is preached, may possess an importance, which it would be difficult to estimate.
The views which I have formed of this subject, may be exhibited under the following heads.
1. The Gospel ought ever to be preached Plainly; so as to be clearly, and easily, understood by those who hear.
St. Paul, in 1 Cor. xiv. 19, says, I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that with my voice I might teach others, also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
From the conclusion of this passage, and the general tenour of his reasoning in this chapter, it is evident, that to speak with the understanding denotes to speak that which would be understood, not by himself only, but by those who heard him. This, he informs us, was of more value in his estimation than the supernatural power of speaking with tongues, however coveted, and however splendid an endowment.
With St. Paul's opinion, Common sense exactly harmonizes. To teach is to communicate knowledge. But the teacher, who is not understood, communicates nothing.
Plainness of preaching involves Perspicuity, and Precision, of language ; and, indeed, Purity, and Propriety, also. Our words ought to be English, and to be used as they are customarily used. They ought, also, to express that, and that only, which we intend, and to express it clearly. All this, as you know, is necessary to writing and speaking well, generally. Peculiarly is it necessary, when we address popular assemblies; a great part of whom are accustomed to plain language only; and supremely, when we utter the doctrines and precepts of the Gospel, infinitely important as the means of Eternal life.
Our phraseology ought carefully to be cleared of all ambiguities; the effect of which is only to perplex those who hear. If these are admitted into sermons through carelessness, the preacher is inexcusable : if through doubt in his mind, he is bound to say nothing concerning the subjects of his doubts, unless when compelled to acknowledge them to his audience.
Technical, or scientifical, language is, also, to be excluded from popular sermons. This may sometimes serve to show the learning of the preacher : but will prevent his sermons from being useful to his audience.
A still greater trespass against plainness of speech, and much more common in the desk, is committed in what is called Metaphysical Preaching. The science of Metaphysics, as you well know, is that which is employed about the nature of things. As this subject is peculiarly abstruse, and demands nice and difficult disquisition; all discussions which are nice and difficult, are familiarly termed Metaphysical. Most young preachers are fond of Metaphysical subjects; and, be the subject almost what it may, of the Metaphysical mode of discussion. Nor are young preachers alone in these respects.
All preaching, of this nature, is, however, chiefly useless, and commonly mischievous. No ordinary congregation ever understood, to any valuable purpose, Metaphysical subjects: and no congregation, it is believed, was ever much edified by a metaphysical manner of discussion. Whenever distinctions become subtile and nice; they cease to be made by the common mind; and, however clear the preacher's views may be, they will never, in this case, become the views of his audience. After attempting for a while to follow him in his ingenious career, and finding themselves unable, they will give up the attempt in despair and disgust.
Happily, the duty of the preacher, and the interest of his congregation, do not demand this mode of preaching. Few Theological subjects ordinarily require discussions of this nature: and none of them, unless on rare and peculiar occasions, require them in the desk. The obvious investigations of common sense are incomparably better fitted to popular audiences. Common Sense, the most valuable faculty (if I may call it such) of man, finds all
its premises either in revelation, or in facts; adopts arguments, only of the a posteriori kind; extends its reasonings through a few steps only; derives its illustrations from familiar sources ; discriminates, only where there is a real difference; and admits conclusions, only where it can see their connexion with the premises. At theoretical philosophy it laughs. Theoretical divinity it detests. To this faculty the Scriptures are almost universally addressed. The subjects, which they contain, are, to a considerable extent, Metaphysical ; and often so abstruse, as to defy human investigation. Yet they are almost always treated in the obvious manner of Common Sense. Even St. Paul, one of the most profound of all Reasoners, never appears to choose abstruse discussion, when the subject will allow of any other; and returns with apparent pleasure to a plainer mode of discourse, as soon as the nature of the case will permit. Our Saviour treats every subject in the direct manner of Common Sense, although he often discourses concerning things of the most profound nature.
There is another evil in the Metaphysical mode of disquisition, which ought, in most instances, to discourage us from attempting it.
It is this. The Preacher himself is apt to be bewildered by the abstruse nature of his subject, and by the tenuous, subtile, manner of his reasoning; and is often very far from possessing clear views of either. Men, devoted to literary inquiries, are frequently ambitious of Metaphysical fame. Abstruse reasonings, curious speculations, especially when they are their own, and, still more, discoveries, made in this profound science, by themselves, when they are supposed to be new, are regarded by them with peculiar favouritism and fondness. Attempts of this nature are therefore made by multitudes, both Philosophers and Divines. But of all those, which have been made, few, very few, have been successful. Almost all have, at the best, been only ingenious amusements; and far the greater part have fallen short even of this character. Whatever applause, or credit, they have gained, has usually been momentary. Of utility, almost all have been totally destitute, and have, accordingly, soon vanished from the attention of mankind. Aquinas and Duns-Scotus, men scarcely inferior to any Metaphysicians, and once more celebrated than any writer of the present day, are now known, almost solely by their names. How evident is it
, therefore, that men, possessed only of the common talents, such as those of almost all men, and, still more, men of moderate information, were never designed by God to be useful as Metaphysicians. Generally, therefore, Clergymen cannot be wisely employed in often uttering discussions of this nature from the Desk.
At the same time, every subject of preaching ought, so far as the purpose in view requires, to be thoroughly discussed. Subjects, indeed, which are plain, and doctrines which are acknowl. edged, demand often very little discussion. If they are exhibited