« PreviousContinue »
HAVING been prevented, for a time, by the discharge of a laborious but highly honourable office, from performing the more immediate duties of my profession, I was yet desirous, that I might not seem to lose the clergyman in the magistrate, of still continuing to do something towards promoting the great end and purpose of life. And though the frequent returns of business gave little hopes of composing fresh discourses, its intervals, I thought, might suffice to digest and publish some which had been already composed.
This form of publication is generally supposed less advantageous, at present, than any other. But it may be questioned whether the supposition does justice to the age, when we consider only the respect which has so recently been paid to the sermons of the learned and elegant Dr. Blair and greater respect cannot be paid them than they deserve.
The multitude of old sermons affords no argument against the publication of new ones; since new ones will be read when old ones are neglected; and almost all mankind are, in this respect, Athenians.
Besides, there is a taste in moral and religious, as well as in other compositions, which varies in different ages, and may very lawfully and innocently be indulged. Thousands received instruction and consolation formerly from sermons which would not now be endured. The preachers of them served their generation, and are blessed for evermore. But because provision was made for the wants of the last cen
tury in one way, there is no reason why it should not be made for the wants of this, in another. The next will behold a set of writers of a fashion suited to it, when our discourses shall, in their turn, be antiquated and forgotten among men; though if any good be wrought by them in this their day, our hope is, with that of faithful Nehemiah, that our God will remember us concerning them!
But as the productions of every author, who adds to the number, are expected to contain something new, either in matter or manner, it will naturally be asked, what are my pretensions; I will beg leave to deliver my sentiments on the subject in the words of the excellent and amiable Fenelon, extracted from the last of his most admirable Dialogues on the Eloquence of the Pulpit.
"I would have a preacher explain the whole plan of “religion, and unfold every part of it in the most intelligi❝ble manner, by showing the origin and establishment, the "tradition and connexion, of its principles, its sacraments, "and institutions.
"For every thing in Scripture is connected; and this " connexion is, perhaps, the most extraordinary and won"derful thing to be seen in the sacred writings.
"An audience of persons who had heard the chief points "of the Mosaic history and law well explained, would be "able to receive far more benefit from an explication of the "truths of the Gospel, than the generality of Christians are
"Preachers speak every day to the people of the Scrip"tures, the church, the patriarchs, the law, the Gospel; of "sacrifice, of Moses, and Aaron, and Melchisedek; of "Christ, the prophets, and apostles: but there is not suffi"cient care taken to instruct men in the meaning of these things, and the characters of these holy persons.
"This way of having recourse to the first foundations of "religion would be so far from seeming low, that it would give most discourses that force and beauty which they generally want; since the hearers can never be instructed
" or persuaded in the mysteries of religion, if you do not "trace things back to their source.
"For example-How can you make them understand "what the church says, after St. Paul, that Jesus Christ is "our PASSOVER, if you do not explain to them the Jewish 66 passover, which was appointed to be a perpetual memo"rial of their deliverance from Egypt, and to typify a more "important redemption that was reserved for Messiah?
"Almost every thing in religion is historical. The best "way of proving its truth, is to represent it justly; for then "it carries its own evidence along with it. A coherent "view of the chief facts relative to any person or transac"tion, should be given in a concise, lively, close, pathetic "manner, accompanied with such moral reflections as arise "from the several circumstances, and may best instruct the "hearers.
"A preacher ought to affect people by strong images; "but it is from the Scripture that he should learn to make "powerful impressions. There he may clearly discover "the way to render sermons plain and popular, without "losing the force and dignity they ought always to possess.
"If the clergy applied themselves to this mode of teach❝ing, we should then have two different sorts of preachers. "They who are not endowed with a great share of vivacity, "would explain the Scripture clearly, without imitating its "lively and animated manner; and if they expounded the "word of God judiciously, and supported their doctrine by "an exemplary life, they would be very good preachers. They would employ what St. Ambrose requires, a chaste, simple, clear style, full of weight and gravity, without "affecting elegance, or despising the smoothness and graces "of language. The other sort, being of a poetical turn of "mind, would explain the holy book in its own style and "figures; and by that means become accomplished preachThe former would instruct their hearers with soli"dity and perspicuity; the latter would add to this instruc"tion the sublimity, the vehemence, and divine enthusi
"asm of the Scripture, which would be (if I may so say) "entire and living in them, as much as it can be in men "who are not miraculously inspired from above."
This, reader, is the model which I have chosen, and after which I have humbly endeavoured to work. I count not myself to have attained-Far, very far indeed from it; as you will too soon discover. I have not yet been able by any means to satisfy myself; nor can I hope to satisfy you. I have done as well as I could; and know not that it will be in my power to do better. Nobler and more extensive ideas rise before me; but planning and executing are very different things. Time hastens forward; and life, attended with its cares, perhaps its sorrows, will quickly have run its course. Accept such as I can give, and pardon errors and imperfections. I stand at the door of the temple, with my torch if you would view its glories, enter in, and there dwell for ever.