صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

some fact in the experience of the composer. What are the prophets, but historians by anticipation? Many of them state various, past, and cotemporary events. The book of Jonah has only one prediction in it; but it describes in a most vivid and interesting manner the actual and wonderful occurrences that befel the bearer himself. How pleasing and striking are the short and simple annals of Ruth ! What is the book of Job but the matchless dramatic story of a good man in his affluence, his adversity, and deliverance? In the book of Genesis, we are present at the creation, the destruction, and the re-peopling of the world; we live, we travel, we worship with the patriarchs: we stand round their dying beds. It is needless to add, that the remainder of the Pentateuch, with the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, are all of the narrative kind, including general and individual sketches of the most wonderful people on earth. But what is the Gospel itself, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Is it any thing like our treatises and bodies of divinity? It is the history of the Son of God: While the Acts are a portion of the history of the Apostles; and the Epistles are evermore enlivened with characters, incidents, and allusions. Is this the work of God? Does he know perfectly what is in man, and necessary to him? Has he herein abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence? Is it not then surprising that religious instructers should not think it necessary or desirable to resemble him? And can any thing be more unlike this inspired, and attractive, and irresistible, and impressive mode, than the structure of many of the discourses that are delivered in our publick assemblies? Hence, they awaken so little attention; and yield so little pleasure; and take no firm hold on the mind and feelings, especially of the young and the common people—

“And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.”

General declamations and reflections do little in a popular audience. The preacher must enter into detail, and do much by circumstances. Nothing can penetrate, but what is pointed. Every indictment must particularize and specify. The eye may take in a large prospect, but we are affected by inspection. We must not stand long with our people on the brow of the hill, showing them a wide and indistinct expansion, but take them by the hand, and lead them down to certain spots and objects. We are to be characteristic—not only with regard to persons, though this is of great importance; but also with regard to vice and virtue, faults and excellencies. To what purpose is it to admonish servants to be good? The question is, in what is their goodness to appear? Therefore says the Apostle, “Exhort servants to be obedient to their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” Does Solomon only condemn drunkenness? What is there in the wretched crime; in its excitement, progress, evil, danger, misery, that he does not strike? “Who hath wo? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause ! who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine, they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright: at the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things: yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not; when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.”

A preacher also must indulge in a certain degree of diffusiveness. He who passes rapidly from one thing to another is not likely to impress, or indeed even to inform the majority of his audience. To affect them, he must commonly dwell upon the thought a little; and sometimes more than a little; even with an enlargedness that may seem needless; and with a repetition in other words and exemplifications, that may go for tautology, with persons of quicker apprehensiveness. Hints will please the scholar, and set his own mind pleasingly in motion; and he can instantly add from his own stores. But many have nothing but what they receive. Besides, some are more struck with one species or instance of illustration and confirmation, and some with another: and he whose mind was wandering or heedless at first, may haply be seized afterward. For precept must be upon precept, line upon line; here a little, and there a little. And the preacher will often see by the look and manner of a hearer that what he failed to accomplish by a first stroke, has been done by a second.

The Author is perhaps furnishing materials with which to condemn himself. And let him be condemned, as far as he deviates from these rules; for he is fully persuaded of their goodness and truth. He can only say, it has long been his endeavour to conform to them. Upon the same principles he has acted with regard to a few other things, in which, if he has erred, he has erred from design.

Such is the large use he has made of Scripture language. If holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, we should prefer the words the Holy Ghost useth. They are surely, on their own subjects, the most definite and significant. They are also well known: and it is a great advantage in addressing hearers that we are not perplexed with terms and phrases; but have those at hand which they understand—What a difficulty'do we feelin dealing with those who are ignorant not only of the doctrine, but the letter, of the Scripture. It is probable that a very judicious critic and eloquent divine" would censure the author as in an extreme here: yet he seems to allow it to be an error on the safer side; and thinks that a great and original writer has condemned the copious use of Scripture language with too much severity. We avail ourselves of his striking remarks in his review of Mr. Foster's Essays. “To say nothing of the inimitable beauties of the Bible, considered in a literary view, which are universally acknowledged; it is the book which every devout man is accustomed to consult as the oracle of God; it is the companion of his best moments, and the vehicle of his strongest consolation. Intimately associated in his mind with every thing dear and valuable, its diction more powerfully excites devotional feelings than any other; and when temperately and soberly used, imparts an unction to a religious discourse, which nothing else can supply. Besides, is there not room to apprehend, that a studied avoidance of the Scripture phraseology, and a care to express all that it is supposed to contain in the forms of classical diction, might ultimately lead to neglect of the Scriptures themselves, and a habit of substituting flashy and superficial declamation, in the room of the saving truths of the gospel? Such an apprehension is but too much verified by the most celebrated sermons of the French; and still more by some modern compositions in our own language, which usurp that ti

[ocr errors]

tle. For devotional impression, we conceive that a very considerable tincture of the language of Scripture, or at least such a colouring as shall discover an intimate acquaintance with those inimitable models, will generally succeed best.”

If it be allowed from all these considerations, that the language of the Bible has such claims, will it not follow that the frequent use of it will tend to bring the preacher's own language into some degree of keeping with it? Surely that style is best for religious instruction which most easily and congenially incorporates the composition of the Bible with it. This is not the case with some modes of writing and speaking. But if there be unsuitableness, and difficulty, and discordancy, in the junction, which is to blame? and which requires to be altered in order to their readier coalescence ? the language of the Scripture, or our own? Knox has affirmed, that no writer or speaker will ever be so tender, and pathetic, and touching, as he whose diction is most imbued with the manner and phraseology of the sacred allthors.

It will be perceived that the Lecturer has not unfrequently made use also of the language of poetry. This is sometimes condemned: but a sentence of this kind will often relieve, and often revive the attention; while it serves to fix a sentiment more firmly in the memory. And is it not in this very way that God has addressed men? How much of the Bible is poetical ! How curiously constructed are some of its divisions! In one case a whole Psalm is divided into as many sections as there are letters in the Hebrew alphabet : every division contains an equal number of verses; and each verse begins with the same letter. “1," says inspired Wisdom, “dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.” And will a man inquire-not whether an usage accords with God's condescension, and is likely to be useful, especially to the middle and lower classes but whether, after a poetical quotation, his style will not seem to sink; or whether the thing be sanctioned by any first-rate authority—and this too this weighing of trifles; while he is doing the work of eternity, and has souls perishing in view! Paul knew the end would not sanctify sinful means; but he knew it justified the use of any lawful ones; and therefore, with a nobleness of mind that raises him infipitely above the intellectually proud and unaccommodating, he could say, “Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the Gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you."

In the following documents, some things may be found looking rather inconsistent with each other. This arises from a wish the Author felt strongly to represent and recommend whatever it was--the present subject. And he is greatly mistaken if this be not the method of the sacred writers. They never seem afraid of expressing themselves too forcibly at the time. They never stop to qualify the things they are delivering. There are qualifications to be found; but these are brought forward in other places, and where they are themselves the subjects enforced. Our Saviour makes no limitations or exceptions, when he is enjoining confidence in the care and providence of God—“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment ? Take therefore no thought for the morrow : for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." But the same authority says elsewhere Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise : which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.” “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard ? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?” “Let thine eyes look right on, and thine eyelids straight before thee.” “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand; but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.” He must be a spiritless teacher who never produces the surprise of paradox; who never alarms the timid and cautious; and whose strength of statement and urgency, does not furnish some seeming contradictions.

The Author is not sure the same thought, or expression, may not occur more than once in these Lectures; or that he may not have used them before in some of his other publications : for writers are often the least acquainted with their own works; being afraid to read them, lest they should discover faults too late

« السابقةمتابعة »