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LETTERS TO A YOUNG CLERGYMAN.

NO. IV.

ON COMPOSING SERMONS.

DEAR SIR,

I-PROCEED to comply with your request, by proposing to you some hints for rendering the composition of sermons more easy to yourself, and more beneficial to your audi

cace.

And here I earnestly recommend to your diligent perusal, the celebrated essay of Claude on the Composition of a Serman (Mr. Simeon's edition) which I advise you, not merely to read, but to impress on your mind by abridging it, and making yourself thoroughly master of its contents. I also recommend you, in order to obtain expertness in the division of your subjects, to exarcise yourself frequently in composing skeletons of sermons upon various texts, in the manner of which Mr. Simeon has given you many examples. Impose upon yourself the task of making one every day. It will not only give you a ready habit of furnishing your discourses with matter, and produce a neatness in dividing your subjects, but will also afford you a rich stock of materials ready adapted for future use. It is Hot my intention to touch upon the points on which Mr. Claude has so ably treated.

...The choice of a subject sometimes occasions considerable perplexity, and it frequently occurs, that no small part of the time requisite for composing a sermon, is lost in finding a subject. To prevent this, I would recommend that you should always have a paper book at hand, in which you may note down any useful subject for a sermon as it occurs to you, together with a sketch of the manner in which it might be advantageously treated. Some of these subjects may almost always be seJected for your discourses.

There is a degree of fastidious ness in the choice of a subject, against which it will be necessary for you to guard. Amidst a great

variety of useful topics, the mind will often hesitate, waiting to be determined by some encouraging opening, which will render it easy to write on a particular subject. This, however, is equally fallacious and detrimental:-fallacious because the most unpromising subjects often furnish, upon closer reflection, the most useful and striking, because the most original discourses: and detrimental, because the habit of chusing only easy subjects will infallibly produce a poverty of instruction, and a saineness of thought, and will leave untouched some of the most important topics in divinity. The utility, not the apparent easiness of managing a subject, ought to determine its choice. In order to avoid this fault, it would be well to fix logy, and to preach in its turn upon upon some general system of theoeach of the principal heads contained in it.

In determining upon a subject, one consideration must invariably be your guide, viz. its practical importance. Never be betrayed into so unprofitable a waste of time as to compose discourses upon cutious, speculative, critical, or trifling subjects; the direct tendency of which is not to promote Christian edification. Such subjects may amuse and interest, they may gain you reputation, and if printed might perhaps instruct in the closet; but your op portunities for preaching, and those of your congregation for hearing, are too few to allow one to be wasted *. Let it not ever be said while you are preaching,

-"The hungry sheep look up and are not fed."

*The remarks of Bishop Wilson in his Sacra Privata are excellent, v. i. p. 253. "Avoid such discourses and subjects as would divert the mind without instructing it. Never consult your own fancy in the choice of subjects, but the necessities of your flock. I would rather send away a hearer smiting his breast, than please the most learned audience with a fine sermon

times discouraged under the sense of your deficiencies; and you cannot offer to your flock arguments more forcible and impressive than those which have first been applied to your own encouragement. The same subjects, and the same views of Scripture, which have animated, instructed, and quickened your own soul, are those which will most effectually operate upon others. Your observation also of the state of your people will afford you a most useful fund of matter. Scarcely can you hold religious conversation with any individual of your flock, in which you will not discover some serious mistakes which it is important to rectify, some dangerous errors which it is necessary to correct, some gross ignorance which needs to be enlightened. Accustom yourself to note these down. They will present to you subjects for instruction and explanation, such as would not else have occurred to your mind, and which may either be introduced into proper places, or formed into distinct sermons. A man may speculate in his closet, but it is only by mixing much in real life that he learns to know and to address mankind as they are.

The grand object of a minister's preaching should ever be the salvation of his flock. Never in a single discourse should he lose sight of this great point. The wicked are to be alarmed, the penitent encouraged, the doubting confirmed, the weak strengthened, the slothful reproved, the drooping animated. For this, purpose, the true character of God in all his several attributes must be frequently set forth, the state of man by nature and by grace distinctly ex, plained, the whole system of the salvation effected by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ fully discovered, the vanity of the present life and the glory of that which is to come forcibly exhibited to the audience. And no subject should be ever admitted, which does not so directly bear upon these important points as to give an opportunity of impressing them deeply upon the hearers minds. It is not enough that a subject be true, or useful, or moral. It must be a Christian subject, and handled in a Christian manner. The discourses of Socrates generally contained truth, both moral and highly useful; but there is an essential difference between his discourses and those of a faithful minister of Jesus Christ.

The particular topics which you select for your discourses, should be principally drawn from your own experience or observation. If you are truly in earnest about the welfare of your soul, your own state and feelings will be an exact counterpart of those of the religious part of your flock. You will be someagainst any vice. With what truth can it be said, that your sheep hear your voice, when you speak of matters above their capacity, or in a language and terms which they do not understand. It is too often that preachers perplex those whom they should instruct, either by proving things which want no proof, the being of a God, &c. or by proposing useless questions and doubts, or speaking of things above the capacities of the common people. There is a great deal of difference betwixt people admiring a preacher and being edified by his sermons.”

When you have chosen your subject, I would recommend you to propose to yourself the following ques tions, which may serve both to produce a proper frame of mind, and to direct your thoughts into a proper channel.

1. What is my main object in proposing this subject? Is it that I hope to make a discourse which may be applauded? Do I think I can display my learning in it, shew the liveliness of my fancy am I merely correctness of my judgment or the performing a task, and solicitous only to gain esteem by performing it well? Or do I chiefly aim in it at the glory of God, and the real good of the souls entrusted to my care? If the state of mind in which the ser vice is begun be not right, there will be evident throughout the whole sermon a want of that solid and ‹im ̧ proving matter, and of that holy

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spirituality by which the heart of the Christian hearer will be affected. If upon examination you find your aim to be right, I would advise you, beyou begin to compose, to make use of a prayer formed for this particular occasion, entreating the aid and blessing of God, without whose grace neither can you preach nor your flock hear to advantage.

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2. What is the practical effect which I hope to produce by this particular subject? This will of course be some quality or disposition corresponding with your subject, to be formed or excited in the minds of your hearers; faith or hope, love or joy, watchfulness against sin, or dread of temptation. To accomplish this particular object effectually is the point at which you must aim; the end which you must keep in view throughout your whole discourse. The sermon itself is but subordinate to a higher end, and this end the application of your discourse principally touches. The application, therefore, whether as is usually the case, it occupies the conclusion of the sermon, or whether it is carried on in the body of the discourse, is the important part of it. Here your whole strength and force ought to be put forth, so that the body of the sermon ought to be only made the foundation for the application, and not, as is frequently the case, the application be merely a corollary to the body of the discourse. A just view of this will serve to point all your arguments, and give a right direction to the manner of discussing your subject.

3. How shall I so treat my subject as best to produce this practical effect? Here it will be necessary for you to reflect upon the particular obstacles which stand in the way of your success;what prejudices, errors, or false principles influence the minds of your audience, which it will be necessary to remove before they can be impressed by your discourse; and how you can most effectually remove them. What are the dangers against which I ought particularly CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 58.

to guard in my own representations of my subject, lest I should confirm my hearers in error? Under what form shall just principles be exhi bited, so as to ensure the most ready reception? In what way can I arrange my whole subject, so as to place it in the most interesting point of view, and to lead my hearers on, step by step, to embrace just conclusions? In the last point, PALEY may be deservedly esteemed one of the best models. He possesses, in an eminent degree, the art of inte resting his readers by the manner in which he represents and disposes his subjects.

Having thus a clear idea of the effect which you propose to produce, of the cautions which are to guard your own representations, and of the general form in which your matter may be disposed, in order to render it interesting to your audience; it remains only to commit the outlines of your discourse to paper, and to put down, under each head, the striking thoughts which may occur to you. It is of great importance, that the whole of the subject should be before you, the plan well arranged, and each head well digested, and thought over, before you begin to write out your discourse.

But as example often illustrates better than precept, allow me to give a specimen of the manner in which I wish you to consider the subject.

Suppose the subject on which you intend to treat, to be the mercy of God. Here the first consideration is the effect intended to be produced, viz. to prevent sinners from trusting improperly to it on the one hand; and on the other, to encourage those who are truly penitent and upright, to place an honourable confidence in it. Here then reflect what are the common and erroneous ideas on this subject; and to obviate the effects of these, be very clear in laying down a just idea of the divine mercy, and very guarded lest you give encouragement to false conceptions of its nature. On the one

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hand, therefore, present the highest display of it, establish it by the declarations of Scripture, illustrate it by facts and examples, describe it so as to awaken all the hopes of the penitent, and to remove their distrust; but at the same time so accurately define the persons to whom it is extended, so clearly point out the limitations which bound its sphere, so exactly mark the way in which it is granted; that the erroneous ideas of the ignorant may be fully corrected, and the vain hopes of the presumptuous checked, while the truly humble are encouraged to hope in the Lord. Having thus seen the exact line which you are to take, consider in what form to place the whole, so as most effectually to interest your audience. Having removed the false hopes of sinners, endeavour to alarm them, pathetically remonstrate with them, shew them the impolicy and the danger of their rash expectations; whilst on the other hand, by a lively exhibition of the divine mercy, you obviate all the objections, and dissipate all the fears, of those who with a true and humble faith are hoping for the salvation of God.

If you should object to what I have written, that an adherence to the rules I have laid down will produce too great a sameness of manner, and render your discourses formal; I reply, that I leave the manner entirely open to every possible variety of form and division. Whatever manner be adopted, it surely is requisite that a definite object should be set before you; that you should constantly keep in view the object which you propose to attain; and that in doing this, you should be on your guard, by a careful and extensive view of your subject, not to cherish the errors which you ought to eradicate, nor prevent your own success by not previously removing the prejudices which tend to obstruct it. I am, &c.

S. E.

To the Editor of the Christian Observer. Ir has been justly stated as one of the most prominent proofs of human corruption, that we are naturally disposed to use a different standard of right and wrong, of duty and obligation, in our reasonings and dealings, if I may so terin them, with God and with man. In the case of our fellow-creatures, we admit the claim of superior excellencies and perfections to admiration and love: we bow with reverence before superior understanding and knowledge: it would gladden our hearts to be invited to repose, our trust in any man in whose charac ter, extraordinary wisdom and goodness should be combined with unequalled power and inviolable truth. We should ardently hope for the fayour of such a man, and if he should be willing to admit us to his friendship, we should glory in such an honourable connection, Above all, it is acknowledged, that benefits and kindnesses claim a return of thankfulness; and to say of a man that he is eminently ungrateful, is to stain his character with the blackest die.

How differently we are apt, even allowedly, to reason, and think, and feel towards God, and our blessed Saviour, needs but to be stated. The contrast is too clear to require specification or proof. Even in the case of our fellow creatures, we are perhaps more indebted for the justness of our moral estimate to self interest, than to any of those higher principles, and more elevated sources, to which our pride would dispose us to trace its origin. It is intuitively obvious to every man, that he will not be allowed to have one set of principles for himself, while he im poses a different set on other men. He is therefore content to admit the authority over himself of those principles which it is his interest to see generally established; and his self love evidences its power, not in fabricating a false and partial rule in his own case, but in evading, by

unfair colouring, and fallacious distinctions, the obligations of the general and true standard. But we are not thus forced, in the case of the Almighty, into the recognition of just principles by a regard for our own immediate and palpable interest, and therefore here, our natural selfishness operates with less restraint: just as it has been found that tyrants, who have been flattered into such an extravagant idea of their own perfections, as to deem themselves elevated above the ordinary condition of man, have appeared, by losing the wholesome restraint of sympathy, to lose all sense of moral obligation.

I have often thought that the preceding considerations, and the highly important practical lesson which results from them, are suggested, and powerfully enforced on us, by the mode, universally adopted throughout the Holy Scriptures, of describing God, and the relations in which we stand to him, by names used to designate certain conditions in life. It seems as if the Almighty, in gracious condescension to our weakness and infirmities, was willing to obviate the effects of our natural selfishness, and to prevent it from rendering us insensible to his claims on us, as our Creator, Governor, and constant Benefactor. Thus God is represented continually as a king and a father; and, more or less expressly, once at least I remember in positive terms, he claims the peculiar sentiments and feelings which are acknowledged to be due to the fellow creature who stands in those relations to us. "If I then be a father, where is mine honour, and if I be a master, where is my fear, saith the Lord of Hosts unto you." In the same manner we find our Blessed Saviour calling himself the father and friend of his people; may even the husband of his Church, The foregoing remarks have often appeared to me to suggest the best method of examining ourselves respecting both the nature, and the degree, of those affections which we are re

quired to feel towards our heavenly Father, and our Almighty Redeemer; and, if I mistake not, we may also be hereby assisted in cultivating their growth, and extending their influence. Some difference indeed there ought ever to be between our feelings towards God, and towards our fellow mortals. With all our thoughts of the Supreme Being, and with all our affections towards him, a holy reverential awe should doubtless be associated; nor is there any thing more severely to be condemned, or more contrary to all which we are taught, whether directly or by inference, in the word of God, than that profane boldness which has sometimes falsely usurped the name of filial freedom. But still the passions of the mind, whether directed towards God or man, are the same in their nature; it is only requisite that they be somewhat differently combined when directed towards the Sovereign Majesty of Heaven, and when employed on any meaner object.

To explain, therefore, more particularly the process I would recommend to be pursued. Are we desirous of ascertaining whether we really love God and our blessed Saviour? Let us consider how we reason, and think, and feel, towards any one of our fellow creatures, whom we know certainly to be the object of our warm attachment, to a beloved parent or brother, or to the friend of our heart. We shall find that we are acute to discover, and forward to admire and magnify his good qualities and actions; to overlook what is faulty; to judge favourably of what is doubtful. We love to bring forward, and dilate on his merits to suppress, deny, or palliate his defects. We rejoice in his society: we regret his absence: we long for his return; we welcome his approach he is much and often in our thoughts: we are zealous for his credit: we are forward to defend his character: we rejoice in opportunities of giving him pleasure: and if, in any instances, we profit

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