Page images

such a strong and constant impression upon the minds of the congregation, as goes a great way to atone for other failings, which they see to be natural and unavoidable. But a supine, careless, and indevout way of performing divine service is utterly inexcusable, both with God and man.

When ministers have given it the utmost advantages they can, they will find it to be all little enough to keep up the attention and devotion of the people; whose minds are overwhelmed with worldly cares, and too little accustomed to spiritual exercises of any kind. However, ministers who officiate in that devout and affectionate way do a great deal towards the raising in them a spirit of devotion; and more they cannot do, unless the people will be persuaded to the practice of family devotion; which would hinder the mind from being drowned in worldly thoughts, and habituate it to the moving and approaching towards heaven; and which therefore I must entreat you to promote in your several parishes to the utmost of your power, with this view, among others, that greater degrees of attention and devotion may be seen in our public assemblies. For the same end, I will take this occasion to mention one thing more; and that is, the practice of saying grace before and after meals; which, however small it may seem, yet being a devout acknowledgment of the providence of God over us, and of our dependence upon him, it would be another good means of keeping up a spirit of piety and devotion in families, if it were brought into constant practice.

III. Besides that part in our public devotions which properly belongs to the minister, there is another, which, though it belongs to the whole body of the congregation, will hardly be performed in a decent and edifying manner, without some previous care and assistance on his part; I mean the singing of psalms. This is a divine and heavenly exercise, which the scripture recommends to us as one special means of edification; and being then in its greatest perfection, when it is performed by Christians in a joint harmony of heart and voice, it has been ever accounted a standing part of public devotion, not only in the Jewish, but in the Christian church. And in the church of England particularly, whose Sunday-service is made up of three offices, which were originally distinct, and in their natures are so, there is the greater need of the intervention of psalmody, that the transitions from one service to another may not be too sudden and abrupt. This exercise therefore, being a part of our public devotions, and very useful when it is duly and regularly performed, must not be forgotten, while we are considering of proper rules for decency and edification in the church; especially, since it is so plain in experience, that where no care is taken in this matter, the performance will be very indecent, and indeed shocking.

To prevent that, and to provide for due solemnity in this part of our public service as well as the rest, I have often wished, that every minister would take the trouble of directing the choice of proper psalms; or rather, that they would once for all fix and establish a course of psalms, to be given out and sung in their order. By which means, the congregation might be furnished with those which are most proper, and also with a due variety; and, by degrees, the most useful parts of the Book of Psalms would be implanted in the minds of the people, and become familiar to them.

With a view to those good ends, and by way of assistance to the younger clergy, I have subjoined to these directions a course of singing-psalms; which may be gone through every six months, and is so ordered, as to consist of a proper mixture, 1. of praises and thanksgivings, 2. of prayer to God and trust in him, and, 3. of precepts and motives to a godly life. But when I put this into your hands, I would not be understood to direct, but only to recommend the use of it; leaving you at full liberty to choose any other parts of the Book of Psalms which you may judge proper; provided you leave not the choice to the parish clerk, which I earnestly desire you will not.

And, to the end the psalms so chosen may be sung in a more decent manner, it is further to be wished, that the people of every parish, and especially the youth, were trained up and accustomed to an orderly way of singing some of the psalm tunes which are most plain and easy, and of most common use; since that is the proper season of forming the voice as well as the mind, and the regularity into which it is then cast with great ease will remain with them during life, and not only enable them to contribute their part to the decency of this performance, but, even for the sake of that talent, will incline them to be constant in attending the public service of the church.

But when I recommend the bringing your people, whether old or young, to a decent and orderly way of singing psalms, I do by no means recommend to you or them the inviting or encouraging those idle instructors, who of late years have gone about the several countries to teach tunes uncommon and out of the way, (which very often are as ridiculous as they are new; and the consequence of which is, that the greatest part of the congregation, being unaccustomed to them, are silenced, and do not join in this exercise at all;) but my meaning is, that you should endeavour to bring your whole congregation, men and women, old and young, or at least as many as you can, to sing five or six of the plainest and best known tunes, in a decent, regular, and uniform manner, so as to be able to bear their part in them at the public service of the church.

Which last advantage, of bringing the whole congregation to join in this exercise, will be best obtained, especially in country parishes, by directing the clerk to read the psalm, line by line, as they go on; by which means, they who cannot read will yet be able to bear a part in singing; and even they who can neither read nor sing will receive from the matter of the psalm both instruction in their duty, and improvement in their devotion.

Under this head, I must take notice of the choice of parish clerks, who are assistants to the minister in performing divine service, and are still in his nomination, by canon in all places, and by custom also in most. And upon this account, their qualifications, " of honest conversation, "and sufficiency for reading, writing, and singing," are specially provided for in the ninety-first canon of our church; which was made on purpose to guard against the indecencies that parish clerks, who are not duly qualified, always bring into the public worship. In conformity to which canon, it is to be hoped, that, as there shall be occasion, ministers (setting aside all private regards and applications) will choose such persons to be their clerks, as are known to be of sober conversation, and of ability to perform the part that belongs to them (especially in the point of psalmody) decently and laudably.

If what I have said under this head concerning psalmody, and the qualifications of parish clerks, shall be thought a descending to points too little, and unworthy of regard, let it be remembered, that nothing can be called little, which conduces in any degree to so great an end, as is the decent and orderly performance of the public worship of God.

But to return to the duties which belong to the minister alone.

IV. What has been said under the second head, concerning the advantages of reading in a distinct and affectionate manner, equally holds in the duty of preaching; the 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 earn videri posset, non prcecipuam, sed solum, 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 my 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 congregations.

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 covenant.

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

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »