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effects and impressions whereof, with the several degrees of them, do not more depend upon any one thing, than the manner of delivering. When Demosthenes was asked, What was the first qualification of a good orator? his answer was, Pronunciation; and being further asked, what was the second? and, after that, what was the third? he still went on to answer, Pronunciation; ut eam videri posset, non præcipuam, sed solam, judicasse, as Quintilian adds, who relates the passage. Thus it always has been, and always will be, in mixed and popular assemblies. And the proper inference from thence is not to fall into complaints that empty sounds should in so many instances obtain greater praise and a more favourable acceptance, than good sense expressed in proper language; but let the inference be, an endeavour to recommend good sense by the advantage of good elocution. For it is in vain to contend against experience; and in experience nothing is more plain and certain, than the great importance of a distinct and graceful elocution, both to the honour of the preacher, and the edification of the hearers; and therefore an endeavour after it is a justice that is owing as well to your own compositions, as to the souls which are committed to your care.
But although, the church having composed a public service to our hands, all that is required on our part is the reading it in a distinct, serious, and affectionate manner; yet the work of preaching, being now left by the church entirely to incumbents, requires an additional care as to matter, method, and other circumstances. In speaking to which heads I would not have it understood, as if design were to enter into the general rules of preaching: this has been often done already by much abler hands: and my only aim is, to give a check to some particular irregularities in this way, which young men are apt to fall into, and which, in my opinion, tend to defeat the main ends of public preaching, especially in mixed and popular congrega
To prevent this, it must be always remembered, in the first place, that we are Christian preachers, and not barely preachers of morality. For though it is true, that one end of Christ's coming was to correct the false glosses and interpretations of the moral law, and, in consequence thereof, one end of his instituting a ministry must be, to prevent the return of those abuses, by keeping up in the minds of men a true notion of natural religion, and a just sense of their obligations to the performance of moral duties; yet it
is also true, that the main end of his coming was to establish a new covenant with mankind, founded upon new terms and new promises; to shew us a new way of obtaining forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation to God, and eternal happiness; and to prescribe rules of greater purity and holiness, by way of preparation for greater degrees of happiness and glory. These (that is, the several branches of what we may call the mediatorial scheme, with the several duties annexed to and resulting from each branch) are, without doubt, the main ingredients of the gospel state; those, by which Christianity stands distinguished from all other religions, and Christians are raised to far higher hopes, and far greater degrees of purity and perfection. In which views it would seem strange, if a Christian preacher were to dwell only upon such duties as are common to Jews, Heathens, and Christians; and were not more especially obliged to dwell on and inculcate those principles and doctrines which are the distinguishing excellencies of the Christian religion, and by the knowledge and practice of which, more especially, every Christian is entitled to the blessings and privileges of the gospel
But yet so it is, that these subjects are too much forgotten among young preachers; who, being better acquainted with morality than divinity, fall naturally into the choice of moral rather than divine subjects, and will of course do so, till the two subjects are equally considered and understood. And this partiality (if I may so call it) to one above the other seems to have had its rise from the ill times, when, the pulpits being much taken up with some favourite points of divinity, discourses upon moral heads were less common; and after those times were over, their successors, upon the Restoration, desirous to correct that error, and to be upon the whole as little like their predecessors as might be, seem to have fallen into the contrary extreme; so that probably in many places the heads of divinity began to be as rarely treated of, as the heads of morality had been before.
The thing therefore, which I would recommend to young preachers, is, to avoid both the extremes, by ordering the choice of their subjects in such a manner, that each of those heads may have its proper share, and their hearers be duly instructed upon both. Only, with these cautions in relation to moral subjects; that, upon all such occasions, justice be done at the same time to Christianity, by taking special notice of the improvements which it has
made in each branch of the moral scheme, and warning their hearers not to rest in the righteousness of a moral heathen, but to aspire to Christian perfection; and, in the next place, that all moral discourses be enriched by examples and illustrations from scripture; which, besides its being more familiar to the people than any other writings, has in it such a noble plainness and simplicity, as far surpasses all the beauties and elegancies that are so much admired in heathen authors. To which give me leave to add a third observation, with regard to the doctrines and duties peculiarly belonging to the Christian scheme, or the new covenant; that the true way to secure to these their proper share, is the setting apart some certain seasons of the year for catechetical discourses, whether in the way of expounding, or preaching; which being carried on regularly, though at different times, according to the order and method of the Church Catechism, will lead the minister, as by a thread, to the great and fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith; and not only to explain them to the people, but to lay out the particular duties which more immediately flow from each head, together with the encouragements to the performance of them; that so principle and practice may go hand in hand, as they do throughout the whole Christian scheme, and as they certainly ought to do throughout the preaching of every Christian minister. This was the foundation of that standing rule among our ancestors, to proceed upon every head, expressly, by way of doctrine and use; and however the terms may be discontinued, the things never must, if we resolve to preach to the true edification of our hearers. And, with the same view, it seems necessary to add one rule more, which is, that in our sermons the doctrinal part be comprised in as narrow a compass as the nature of the subject will fairly bear, that so sufficient room may be left for a distinct and particular enforcement of the practical duties resulting from it, and not barely for a brief and superficial mention of them, which is too often the case, and must unavoidably be so, where too large a scope is given to the doctrinal part.
This is an error, into which young men are naturally led by the practice in the universities; where sermons being required rather as an exercise of the preacher, than for the instruction and edification of the hearers, greater allowances may be made for theory and speculation: but this is a mischievous indulgence in other congregations, over which ministers are professedly appointed as public
teachers, to instruct and edify their people, and not to make proof of their own abilities.
The same is to be said of the choice of uncommon subjects, and the treating of those that are common in an uncommon and refined way; which gains great applause in our universities, as a testimony of good parts, or great reading but in popular congregations it answers not any one of those wise ends, for which public preaching was instituted.
- In like manner, close argument, and a long chain of reasonings and consequences from the mere nature of things, are very useful and laudable before a learned audience, who have capacities to comprehend and follow them; but in other audiences, the reasonings may easily be so close, as to be unintelligible; and therefore, in condescension to meaner understandings, they must be loosened and disentangled by proper divisions, and rendered plain and obvious by such examples and allusions as are most familiar to the people.
If the submitting to these things shall be thought a diminution to preachers who are capable of the more close and refined way, it must be remembered, that the being able to make things plain to the meanest capacities is no ordinary talent; that in all cases he must be allowed to speak best, who speaks things that arise most naturally from the subject in hand; and that, particularly in the work of preaching, the faculty of discoursing pertinently upon all subjects, in a distinct method and proper language, with as close reasoning as the audience can bear, and no closer, is a very great perfection, not to be attained but by a clear understanding and a solid judgment, improved by long exercise, and an intimate acquaintance with the best and most judicious authors.
Against these and all other errors, into which young preachers are apt to fall, I know no better general remedies than these two: the first, that when they have pitched upon their subject, and considered what the heads are which it naturally suggests, they weigh each head separately, and fill every one of them with hints of proper matter, before they begin to compose. By this means, the discourse will be more solid, and the several parts of it duly connected; and when they have before their eyes, and in one view, all the heads to be treated of, they will take care that the whole be uniform, and that no greater share be allowed to any one head, than is consistent with their doing justice to the rest. The second is, that, before
they go on to compose, they make references, under each head, to such proofs and examples of scripture, as tend to confirm or explain the several doctrines to be treated of; by which means, the text and phrases of scriptures (the best embellishments of all religious discourses) will spread themselves into every branch, and be sure to be taken in where the application of them is most easy and pertinent; as they will also suggest many proper and useful thoughts in the whole course of the composition; there being no doubt but the Spirit of God is best able to acquaint us with the motives and arguments which are most effectual for the propagating religion, and the reforming of mankind.
The holy scriptures are our great rule both of faith and practice; but the precepts and examples contained in them are not ranged into one view under the several heads of duty, but are mixed and dispersed throughout the sacred books. And though those books are in the hands of the people, and will not fail to give great light and good impressions, when they are seriously and frequently read by them; yet it must be owned, that the weight and conviction which they carry in them are much increased, when the several places of the same import and tendency are laid together and compared, and are applied to the mind in their united strength. A work, which cannot in reason be expected from the generality of the people, unless they had more leisure, and greater abilities; and a work, therefore, that certainly belongs to the ministers of God's word, who have both leisure and abilities, and who cannot lay a better foundation of sound and useful preaching, than in this way of digesting the precepts and examples of scripture, and making them mutual explications and enforcements of
Every minister declares at the time of his ordination, that he is determined to instruct the people committed to his charge out of the holy scriptures, and that he will diligent in reading and studying them. And I am fully persuaded, that this method of comparing scripture with scripture, which is so very beneficial to the people in plain and practical points, will also be found upon trial to be the best method that a minister can take, in order to form a just notion of the spirit of religion in general, and of the meaning of such particular passages as are less plain, and need explication. Whether the difficulty arise from the phrase and language of scripture, or from some peculiar offices and usages of those ancient times, or from any seeming incoherence in the reasoning and argument: in