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silence all the presumptuous declarations of a sinful world, and expose the deformity and turpitude of its practices, which, unless pardoned through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, will eventually be followed by shame and everlasting contempt.* It may
be further observed that, under the term principle, we include things somewhat less certain than those first principles of religious truth to which we have just adverted, but which nevertheless are common property, and deserve the attention of the gospel minister, as well as that of the senator or the barrister, so far as they may afford profitable items of remark, comment, or illustration. Bishop Wilkins observes, on this subject, “Such kind of notions as are general to mankind, and not confined to any particular sect, or nation, or time, are usually styled common notions, seminal principles, and such as the Romans called lex nata.” We have an immense supply of what are called maxims or proverbs. Those of holy writ may generally be traced either to experience or to some original principle ; though some of them stand upon authority alone, which indeed is quite adequate to their support. Of those which are purely human, many were originally invented to apologize for error, or for some carnal policy, and can hardly be admitted to come under the bishop's definition, however generally they may have been received. A notion is not of course to be considered as necessarily true merely because it is commonly admitted; but truth will generally be in its favour, so far as it has reference to reason, conscience, experience, or our natural senses, and all the feelings of uncorrupted nature; as consciousness of right and
Thus a direct act of faith in Christ is the true principle of our security, and by this alone can we be justified ; not because faith is
. the root of all virtues, but because it lays hold on Christ, for whose sake alone we are accepted, whatever be the amount of our renovation, which indeed must necessarily follow, but is not the thing that gives peace to the conscience. See Bickersteth on the Doctrines of the Reformers,
wrong, recognition of a Supreme Governor of the world, and of the duty we owe to him, may be appealed to as original principles, as the apostle clearly does in Rom. i. 20, and ii. 14, 15.
It is not surprising that an arm so strong should too often be seized by the adversary, or at least that a pretence of adverting to first principles should be made by designing, deluded creatures, for the subversion of truth. Here, then, we are led to the consideration of false principles ; and I almost fear the volume of false principles would be much more bulky than that of the true. It will therefore be the preacher's business to expose and refute false principles (see Lecture on Propositions) by establishing such as are true. For an instance of false assumption it has been alleged "that the goodness and mercy of God, as a first principle, denies that he ever will punish a weak, erring, and mutable creature with everlasting misery for such errors as his very nature throws him into.” I have no doubt but that hundreds of thousands take shelter under this specious principle; but it is a false one; it subverts at once the divine authority; it contradicts the testimony which declares that he will judge every man “ according to his works ;” it takes away moral responsibility: it supposes man to be only and merely passive to evil, whereas man is an active offender against his fellow-creature, an active sinner against his Maker and against the dictates of his own conscience. In neglecting all means for his moral improvement; in despising or rejecting the method that infinite wisdom has provided for his recovery, pardon, and sanctification ; in persisting in a course of opposition to God's declared will, nay, disputing its very authority; he is not merely unfortunate, but guilty. Therefore his taking shelter under God's goodness and mercy, and urging these against his holiness and justice, is futile and vain; for the justice of God forms as properly a principle of judgment as those attributes selected for convenience and excuse. It
may be also observed that just original principles never clash one against another, but harmonise and give strength and confirmation to the humble inquirer after truth.
The practical application of our Topic will, I have no doubt, be found chiefly in what the puritan authors termed “ previous considerations.” They did not adopt the term principle, but they attended to the thing itself.* Their manner appears to us to have been exceedingly prolix and tiresome : the principle on which they acted was, that it is better to say too much than too little.t Some of our twenty or twenty-five minute preachers, however, think otherwise. Men are ever prone to extremes; but the wise will take a middle course. In general, when the principle is once made sufficiently plain, it is perhaps dangerous to proceed. The following is an example of previous considerations, from Howe on Heb. x. 36 : “ For ye have need of patience," &c. To understand the force of this expression, he proposes several previous considerations, which in fact include the principles on which the text turns. These are,
I. That the natural constitution of the human soul disposes it equally to cover and pursue a desirable good and to shun a hurtful evil.
II. That the want of such a desirable good is as afflictive and grievous as the pressure of a present evil.
III. That an ability to bear that want is as real and needful an endowment as the fortitude by which we endure a painful evil.
IV. That, therefore, it equally belongs to patience to be exercised in the one case as in the other ; and, the general nature being found in each, the name (patience) is with equal fitness common to both.
* It would of course be improper for us to be always using the term ; but we as well as they can apply to the thing itself by other forms of expression.
+ One of these good puritans stated fifty or sixty previous considerations, and then said, “ I shall now discuss the text itself.”Robinson.
From these preliminary remarks and statements, respecting the particular object of this Lecture, I think it must be apparent that the study of principles is of high importance to the Christian minister. The time necessary for acquiring this excellency may be unwillingly given up : but experience will prove that instead of time lost it is time gained; for, the more accurately we ascertain the principle of a text or subject, the more certainly we avoid subsequent darkness and embarrassment; for here we have the mirror of a subject, and that which gives elements and argument. The judicious application of our Topic to the elucidation of truth forms a broader distinction among preachers than learning and science ever can do. By the successful study of principles a preacher will therefore more surely grow in the estimation of his people, and of all judicious persons, than by increasing discoveries of other qualifications. By running back to causes (which is one of the explanatory and synonymous terms of principles) our greatest divines have acquired an imperishable name, by proving most clearly the infinite and eternal being of Jehovah independent of authority or written testimony. It is by the examination of principles that Locke, Beattie, Watts, S. Clarke, Berkeley, Butler, Abernethy, Horsley, and many others have acquired their just fame, while those who cannot or will not think must make to themselves a name of meaner materials, which will soon perish and fall from public notice.
I am fully aware that the humble though diligent student is commonly the most fearful : the very mention of such great names may be discouraging. Allow me to say that in this excellence there are many degrees; we may say, in this case, as it has been excellently said in another, that “here a lamb may wade, an elephant may swim.' The lowest degree is honourable, and not of difficult acquirement, but some degree is absolutely indispensable. It is somewhat like our common reason; it is of all
growths, but is every where the chief honour of human kind, *
As examples are generally as needful as rules and statements, I shall now proceed to give the best I can, and I hope your own reading will produce examples of equal value.
Having in my last section laid down the doctrine of principles as clearly as possible, I proceed in this to show the particular objects or points of usefulness which suggest themselves. They may perhaps be profitably arranged under the following heads :-
First: Principles in reference to a short observation.
Fourthly: In reference to exposition and study in general.
First : Apply principles to a briefly expressed observation. This was M. Claude's original design, and this use of the Topic he has satisfactorily illustrated in his remarks on John v. 14: “ Behold, thou art made whole : sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”
This was the language of Jesus Christ to the man whom he had just before healed of an infirmity of thirty-eight years' standing. Him Jesus now found in the temple. It is not imaginable that this meeting was fortuitous, and unforeseen of Jesus Christ. His providence, no doubt, conducted the man that way, directed him to the temple whither he himself went to seek him. Examine then upon what principles Jesus Christ went to seek this miserable sinner, and you will find that he went in great love to the
poor He went in that same benevolence which inclined him to do good to all who had need, in every place that
* Upon the subject of this Lecture, read most attentively the former parts of Dr. Burder's Mental Discipline. A work of very great value, though in small compass.