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First, there is in our author a wise choice of subjects, and no such thing as a sermon on a question of mere curiosity. There are in the twelve volumes one hundred and forty four sermons: but not one on a subject unimportant. I shall always esteem it a proof of a sound prudent understanding in a teacher of religion to make a proper choice of doctrine, text, arguments, and even images and style adapted to the edification of his hearers. Where a man has lying before him a hundred subjects, ninety of which are indisputable, and the remaining ten extremely controverted and very obscure, what but a wayward genius can induce him nine times out of ten to choose the doubtful as the subjects of his ministry?
Saurin excels, too, in the moral turn of his discourses. They are all practical, and, set out from what point he will, you may be sure he will make his way to the heart in order to regulate the actions of life. Sometimes he attacks the body of sin, as in his sermon on the passions, and at other times he attacks a single part of this body, as in his sermon on the despair of Judas; one while he inculcates a particular virtue, as in the discourse on the repentance of the unchaste woman, another time piety, benevolence, practical religion in general: but in all he endeavours to diminish the dominion of sin and to extend the empire of virtue.
Again, another character of his discourses is what he calls solidity, and which he distinguishes from the falacious glare of mere wit and ingenuity. Not that his sermons are void of invention and acuteness: but it is easy to see his design is not to display his own genius, but to elucidate his subject: and when invention is subservient to argument, and holds light to a subject it appears in character, beautiful because in the service and livery of truth. Mere essays of genius are for schools and under graduates; they ought never to appear in the christian pulpit; for sensible people do not attend sermons to have men's persons in admiration, but to receive such instruction and animation as may serve their religious improvement.
Further, our author, to use again his own language, excelled in "weighing in just balances truth against error, probability against proof, conjecture against demonstration, and despised the miserable sophisms of those, who defended truth with the arms of error." We have a fine example of this in the eleventh sermon, on the deep things of God, and there fidelity and modesty are blended in a manner extremely pleasing. The doctrine of the divine decrees hath been
very much agitated, and into two extremes, each under some plausible pretence, divines have gone. Some have not only made up their own minds on the subject, in which they were right, but they have gone so far as to exact a conformity of opinion from others, and have made such conformity the price of their friendship, and, so to speak, a ticket for admittance to the Lord's supper, and church communion: in this they were wrong. Others struck with the glaring absurdity of the former, have gone into the opposite extreme, and thought it needless to form any sentiments at all on this, and on other subjects connected with it. Our author sets a fine example of a wise moderation. On the one hand, with a wisdom that does him honour, he examines the subject, and with the fidelity of an upright soul openly declares in the face of the sun that he hath sentiments of his own, which are those of his own community, and he thinks those of the inspired writers. On the other hand, far from erecting himself, or even his synod, into a standard of orthodoxy, a tribunal to decide on the rights and privileges of other christians, he opens his benevolent arms to admit them to communion, and, with a graceful modesty, to use his own language, puts his hands on his mouth, in regard to many difficulties that belong to his own system. I think this sermon may serve for a model of treating this subject, and many others of the christian religion. There is a certain point, to which conviction must go because evidence goes before it to lead the way, and up to this point we believe because we understand:but beyond this we have no faith because we have no understanding, and can have do conviction because we have no evidence. This point differs in different men according to the different strength of their mental powers, and as there is no such thing as a standard soul, by which all other souls ought to be estimated, so there can be no such thing as a human test in a christian church, by which the opinions of other christians ought to be valued. There is one insuperable difficulty, which can never be surmounted, in setting up human tests, that is, whose opinion shall be the test, yours or mine? and the only consistent church in the world this article, is the church of Rome.
Were men as much inclined to unite, and to use gentle healing measures, as they are to divide, and to gratify an arbitrary censorious spirit, they would neither be so ridiculous as to pretend to have no fixed sentiments of their own in religion, nor so unjust as to make their own opinions a standard
standard for all other men. There are in religion some great, principal, infallible truths, and there are various fallible inferences derived by different christians in the first all agree, in the last all should agree to differ. I think this, I repeat it again, a chief excellence in our author. He has sentiments of his own, but he holds them in a liberal generous manner, no way injurious to the rights of other
In the sermon above-mentioned Saurin makes a fifth class, of mean, superficial builders without elevation and penetration, and against these he sets such as soar aloft in the exercise of the ministry, and in this also he himself excels. His thoughts on some subjects are lofty, and his language sublime. He is not afraid of considering religion in union with our feelings, nor does he hesitate to address hope and fear, and other passions of our minds with those great truths of the gospel, which are intended to allure, awake, arouse, and excite us to action. Terribly sometimes does he treat of future punishment, and generally under the awful images made use of in holy scripture: delightfully at other times does he speak of eternal happiness in the enjoyment of God. On both these subjects, on the perfections of God, and on the exercise of piety, particularly in the closet, he stretches and soars, not out of sight beyond truth and the reason of things, but so high only as to elevate and animate his hearers. By the most exact rules of a wise and well-directed eloquence most of his sermons are composed: at first cool and gentle like a morning in May, as they proceed glowing with a pleasant warmth and toward the close not so much inflaming as settling and incorporating the fire of the subject with the spirits of his hearers as so to produce the brisk circulation of every virtue of which the heart of man is capable, and all which spend their force in the performance of the duties of life.
Our author always treats his hearers like rational creatures, and excels in laying a ground of argument to convince the judgment before he offers to affect the passions: but what I admire most of all in him is conscientious attachment to the connected sense of scripture. The inspired book is that precisely, which ought to be explained in a christian auditory, and above all that part of it the new testament, and the connected sense is that, which only deserves to be called the true and real sense of scripture. By detached passages, as Saurin observes, any thing may be proved froin scripture,
even that there is no God; and I question whether any one of our wretched customs hath so much contributed to produce and cherish error, as that of taking detached passages of scripture for the whole doctrine of scripture on any particular subject. An adept in this art will cull one verse from Obadiah, another from Jude, a third from Leviticus, and a fourth from Solomon's song, and compile a fundamental doctrine to be received as the mind of God by all good christians under the pain of his displeasure. Were this a common man, and not a sublime genius under the influence of the holy Spirit, and so beyond advice, I would'presume to counsel him always to cap his medley of a sermon with a text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah.
Do we then propose Saurin as a model for all preachers? By no means. But as propose there are diversities of gifts for the edification of the church, each excellent in its kind, so we suppose Saurin a model in his own class. There is in the writings of the apostle Paul one of the finest allegories in the world to illustrate this subject. The christian. church is considered under the image of an human body, and of this body God is considered as the spirit or soul; and the most refined morality is drawn from the fact. The eye cannot say unto the hand I have no need of thee: again, the head to the feet, I have no need of you. If one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it; for it is the same God, which worketh all diversities of gifts in all good men. It is highly probable, that what is affirmed of individuals may be true of collective bodies of men. One church may excel in literature, another in purity of doctrine, a third in simplicity of worship, a fourth in administration of ordinances, a fifth in sweetness of temper and disposition, and so on. It is not for us to invesigate this subject now: let it suffice to observe that the French reformed church hath excelled in a clear, convincing and animating way of composing and delivering christian sermons. Never so warm as to forget reasoning, never so accurate as to omit energy, not always placid, not always rapid, never so moral as to be dry and insipid, never so evangelical and savoury as to spiritualize the scriptures till the fat of a kindey is as good a body of divinity as the whole sermon of Jesus Christ on the mount: Different as my ideas of some subjects are from those of Mr. Saurin, yet I wish we had a Saurin in every parish: yea so intirely would I go into the doctrine of the apostle's allegory just now mentioned, that I would encourage even a builder of VOL V. wood,
wood, hay and stubble, suppose he erected his absurdities on the foundation laid in scripture, to destroy the works of the devil in any place where those works are practised. In a village made up of a stupid thing called a squire, a mercenary priest, a set of intoxicated farmers, and a train of idle profligate and miserable poor, and where the barbarous rhymes in their church yard inform us that they are all either gone or going to heaven (and we have too many such parishes in remote parts of the kingdom) would it not be infinitely better for society if an honest enthusiast could convert these people to piety and morality, though it were effected by spiritualizing all the flanks and kidnies, and bullocks and red cows mentioned in scripture? Any thing of religion is better than debauchery and blasphemy.
Such a set of converts would grow in time up to majority, and when of age would look back on their first religious nourishment as men do on the amusements of their childhood and among other reformations would cleanse public instruction from Jewish allegory, pagan philosophy, and the gaudy tinsel of the schools. From a state of gross ignorance and vice up to a state of the highest perfection of christian knowledge and virtue lie infinite degrees of improvement, one above another in a scale of excellence up to the first born of every creature, the perfect teacher sent from God. In this scale our author occupies a high place in my eye, and if the reader chooses to place him a few degrees lower, I shall not contend about that; for on my principles if he contribute in any, even in the least degree to the cause of truth and virtue, he is a foreigner worth our acquaintance, and the gallic in his appearance will not disgust a friend to the best interests of mankind. I say nothing of the translation: it does not become me. Let those who are able do better. Envy of this kind I have