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The Proprietors of the British Pulpit, after an interval of six months, present themselves again at the bar of the public with a Third Volume of original and cotemporary Sermons; and they do it in idee well-grounded hope and confidence that what they now offer will be found, upon
examination, not only to maintain the respectable character which the two former Volumes had merited, but also to advance its reputation in the religious world, and procure it additional friends and patronage.
In the Preface to the Second Volume, it may be recollected, that sont suggestions were offered on the importance of Public Preaching, and also on the style of Sermonizing ; with an intimation that, should the hints then tendered meet with a favourable acceptance, the subject might be resumed on a future occasion, and discussed in a more ample manner; and to this object we now address ourselves.
The ministration of the Divine Word by Public Preaching, aims at nothing less than the moral regeneration of a lost and fallen world; and it was on contemplating this grand end that an Apostle was led to exclaim, “ Who is sufficient for these things ?" It is by what men are pleased to call “the foolishness of preaching," that God hath chosen to save them that believe. He hath, in his infinite wisdom, been pleased to employ not angels, but men, in the work of regenerating the world. Men have written, printed, and published the Gospel for nearly two thousand years. They have perpetuated it from generation to generation. They have translated it from language to language, and carried it from country to country. They have preached it in word and in deed, and thus it has come down to our days.
In offering a few observations on the present style of preaching in this country, we begin with that class which may not improperly be designated the declaimers; by which is intended, not those only who restrict themselves to eulogize virtue and reprobave vice, but that large and respectable class who address themselves to the passions, to the hopes and fears of men. They are those who are so rhetorical upon the joys of heaven and the terrors of hell, who terrify and allure by the vividness of their descriptions, the flexions of their voices, the violence of their gestures, and their touching anecdotes. These gentlemen descant fluently about the religion of the heart, and according to their theory, if a man's heart were extracted, all his religion would be extracted with it. The religion of their corverts has been said to flow in their blood, and to have its foundation in their passions. Talk to them about the obedience which the Gospel requires as a test of discipleship, or “observing all things whatsoever Christ has commanded,” and they turn a deaf ear to all you say. Thus they are so taught.
Those who may be truly designated Preachers of the Gospel, first address themselves to the understanding by a declaration or narrative of the wonderful works of God. They state, illustrate, and prove the great facts of the Gospel; they lay the whole of the divine record before their hearers; and when they have testified what God has done, what he has promised and threatened, they exhort their hearers on these premises, and persuade them to obey the Gospel, to surrender themselves to the guidance and direction of the Son of God. They address themselves to the whole man, his understanding, his will, and his affections, and approach the heart by taking the citadel of the understanding.
The well-instructed Preacher and proclaimer of the Gospel of peace, will find it always expedient to address his audience in their proper cha racter; to approach them through their prejudices, and never to find fault with those prepossessions which are not directly opposed to the import and design of the ministry of reconciliation. He will set before them the models found in the sacred history, which shew that the same Discourse is not to be preached in every place and to every assembly, even when it is necessary to proclaim the same Gospel. Paul's address to the Athenians, Lycaonians, Antiochians, to the Governor Felix, the Philippian Jailer, and King Agrippa, are full of instruction on this topic.
St. Augustine wrote a treatise on Preaching, which Luther proposed to himself as a model ; but it is said that Augustine fell as far short of his own precepts as did any of his cotemporaries. We all know how much easier it is to give precepts to others than to exemplify them in our own conduct. In Augustine's treatise, which in some respects influenced and formed the style and plan of Luther, and through him all the Protestants,
there is much said on the best rhetorical mode of exhibiting the truth to others; but it savours more of the art of the schoolmen than of the wisdom of the Apostles. The good Father labours more on the best style and method of expressing oneself than on the things to be said.
Our best precepts in this matter are derived rather from the books of Deuteronomy and Nehemiah, than from any other source out of the New Testament. The book of Deuteronomy may be regarded as a series of Sermons or Discourses, delivered to the Jews by their great teacher, Moses, rather than as a part of the Jewish history. Two things in this book merit particular attention. The first is, the simplicity, the fulness, and the particularity of his narratives of the incidents on the journey through the wilderness-God's doings and their's, during the period of forty years, are faithfully and intelligibly laid before them. The next is, the use made of these facts; the conclusions deduced, the arguments drawn, and the exhortations which the Jewish law-giver addressed to them founded on these facts. For a fair and beautiful specimen of this, let the curious reader take up and carefully examine the first four chapters of the book of Deuteronomy. The fact and the application, the argument and the exhortation, after the manner of Moses, cannot fail to instruct him.
Next to the subject matter of address, the manner of delivering it is most important. The weightiest arguments, the most solemn appeals, the most pathetic expostulations, if not sustained by the gravity, sincerity, and piety of the speaker, will be like water spilled upon the ground. A little levity, a few witticisms, a sarcastic air, a conceited attitude, or a harsh expression, will often neutralize all the excellences of the most scriptural and edifying discourse. The great work of regenerating men is too solemn, too awfully grave and divine, to allow any thing of the sort. Humility, sincerity, devotion, and all benevolence in aspect, as well as in language, are essential to a successful proclamation of the everlasting Gospel. He that can smile in his discourse at the follies, need not weep over the mis. fortunes of the ignorant and superstitious. He that can, while preaching the Gospel, deride and ridicule the errors of his fellow-professors. is, for the time being, disqualified to persuade them to accept of truth, or gladly to receive the message of salvation.
Those Preachers have been wofully mistaken who have sought nonu. larity by their eccentricities, and courted smiles rather than souls; who oy their anecdotes and foolish jests, told with the Bible before them, have
thought to make themselves useful by making themselves ridiculousmand tu regenerate men by teaching them how to violate the precepts of ine Gospel, and to disdain the examples of the Great Teacher and his Apostles. It will not do! These are carnal weapons, adapted to this world, and no part of the armour of light. Christ and his Apostles never sanctioned, either by precept or example, such a course; and it is condemned by all sensible men, whether Jews or Gentiles, professors or profane. If it be the Preacher's object to regenerate men, he must place before them the new man, not the old, in the Preacher as well as in the Discourse; and while he seeks out arguments to convince and allure, he must shew them in his own speech and behaviour, that he believes what he preaches. So did all the Apostles and Evangelists; it was by manifestation of the truth that they commended themselves to every man's conscience, in the sight of God.
Error must be attacked-it must be opposed by the Truth. But it may be asked, whether the darkness may not be more easily dissipated by the introduction of light, than by elaborate discourses upon its nature and attributes ? So with moral darkness or error. To dissipate it most effectually, the easiest and readiest way is to introduce the light of truth. No Preacher is obliged to learn all the errors of all ages, that he may be able to oppose them ; nor is a congregation enlightened in the knowledge of God by such expositions of error. The prevailing errors of the present day may require attention ; but to attack these most successfully it is only necessary to enforce the opposing truths.
This is a very grave subject, and demands the Preacher's gravest attention. Much depends upon a rational and scriptural decision of the question, “Which is the most effectual way to oppose and destroy error ?'' To aid us in such an inquiry, it is necessary to examine how the Prophets and Apostles opposed the errors of their times. The world was as full of error in those days as it has ever since been. The idolatries of the Pagan world, and the various doctrines of the sects of philosophers in, and out of, the land of Israel, threw as much labour into their hands as the various heresies of apostate Christendom have thrown into our's. Their general rule was to turn the artillery of light; and to gather into a focus the arrows of day, upon the dark shades of any particular error.
Their philosophy was—the splendours of light most clearly display the blackness of darkness, and scatter it from its presence. Thus they opposed idolatry,