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could not be discovered ; just, exact, and upright, without a witness to its proceedings ; uniform amidst the caprices of fashion, unchanged by the vicissitudes of popular opinion ; often applauded, not seldom misunderstood, it holds on its straight and equal course, through 'good report and evil report, through encouragement and neglect, approbation and disgrace. If the philosopher or the politician can point out to us any influence but that of Christianity which has these properties, I had almost said which does not want them all, we will listen with reverence to his instruction. But until this be done, we may be permitted to resist every plan which would place virtue upon any other foundation, or seek final happiness through any other medium, than faith in Jesus Christ. At least whilst an inclination to these rival systems remains, no good end, I am apt to think, is attained by decrying faith under any form ; by stating the competition between faith and good works, or by pointing out, with too much anxiety, even the abuses and extravagances into which the doctrine of salvation by faith alone has sometimes been carried. The truth is, that, in the two subjects which I have considered, we are in such baste lo iy from enthusiasm and superstition, that we are approaching towards an insensibility to all religious influence. I certainly do not mean to advise you to endeavour to bring men back to enthusiasm and superstition, but to retard, if you can, their progress towards an opposite and a worse extreme; and both in these, and in all other instances, to regulate the choice of your subjects, by the particular bias and tendency of opinion which you perceive already to prevail amongst your hearers, and by a consideration, not of the truth only of what you deliver, which, however, must always be an indispensable condition, but of its effects; and those not the effects which it would produce upon sound, enlightened, and impartial judgments, but what are likely to take place in the weak and preoccupied understandings with which we have to do.
Having thus considered the rule as it applies to the argument of our discourses, in which its principal importance consists, I proceed to illustrate its use as it relates to another object, the means of exciting attention. The transition from local to occasional sermons is so easy, and the reason for both is so much the same, that what I have further to add will include the one as well as the other. And though nothing more be proposed in the few directions which I am about to offer than to move and awaken the attention of our audience, yet is this a purpose of no inconsiderable magnitude. We have great reason to complain of listlessness in our congregations. Whether this be their fault or ours, the fault of neither or of both, it is much to be desired that it could by any means be removed. Our sermons are in general more informing, as well as more correct and chastised, both in matter and composition, than those of any denomination of dissenting teachers. I wish it were in our power to render them as impressive as some of theirs seem to be. Now I think we may observe that we are heard with somewhat more than ordinary advertency, whenever our discourses are recommended by any occasional propriety. The more, therefore, of these proprieties we contrive to weave into our preaching, the better. One which is very obvious, and which should never be neglected, is that of making our sermons as suitable as we can to the service of the day. On the principal fasts and festivals of the church, the subjects which they are designed to commemorate ought invariably to be made the subjects of our discourses. Indeed, the best sermon, is it do not treat of the argument which the congregation come prepared to hear, is received with coldness, and with a sense of disappointment. This respect to the order of public worship almost every one pays. But the adaptation, I apprehend, may be carried much farther. Whenever any thing like a unity of subject is pursued throughout the collect, epistle, and gospel of the day, that subject is with great advantage revived in the pulpit. It is perhaps to be wished that this unity had been more consulted in the compilation of this part of the liturgy than it has been. When from the want of it a subject is not distinctly presented to us, there may, however, be some portion of the service more striking than the rest, some instructive parable, some interesting narration, some concise but forcible precept, some pregnant sentence, which may be recalled to the hearer's attention with peculiar effect. I think it no contemptible advantage if we even draw our text from the epistle or gospel, or the psalms or lessons. Our congregation will be more likely to retain what they hear from us, when it, in any manner, falls in with what they have been reading in their prayer books, or when they are afterwards reminded of it by reading the psalms and lessons at home.
But there is another species of accommodation of more inportance, and that is the choice of such disquisitions, as may either meet the difficulties or assist the reflections which are suggested by the portions of scripture that are delivered from the reading desk. Thus, whilst the wars of Joshua and the Judges, are related in the course of the lessons which
occupy some of the first Sundays after trinity, it will be very seasonable to explain the reasons upon which that dispensation was founded, the moral and beneficial purposes which are declared to have been designed, and which were probably accomplished, by its execution ; because such an explanation will obviate the doubts concerning either the divine goodness or the credibility of the narrative, which may arise in the mind of a hearer, who is not instructed to regard the transaction as a method of inflicting an exemplary, just, and necessary punishment. In like manner, whilst the history of the delivery of the law from mount Sinai, or rather the recapitulation of that history by Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy, is carried on in the Sunday lessons which are read between easter and whitsunday, we shall be well engaged in discourses upon the commandments which stand at the head of that institution; in showing from the history their high original and authority, and in explaining their reasonableness, application, and extent. Whilst the history of Joseph is successively presented to the congregation during the Sundays in lent, we shall be very negligent of the opportunity, if we do not take occasion to point out to our hearers, those observations upon the benevolent but secret direction, the wise though circuitous measures, of Providence, of which this beautiful passage of scripture supplies a train of apposite examples. There are, I doubt not, other series of subjects dictated by the service as edifying as these; but these I propose as illustrations of the rule.
Next to the service of the church, the season of the year may be made to suggest useful and appropriate topics of meditation. The beginning of a new year has belonging to it a train of very solemn reflections. In the devotional pieces of the late Dr Johnson, this occasion was never passed by. We may learn from these writings the proper use to be made of it, and by the example of that excellent person, how much a pious mind is wont to be affected by this memorial of the lapse of life. There are also certain proprieties which correspond with the different parts of the year. For example, the wisdom of God in the work of the creation is a theme which ought to be reserved for the return of the spring, when nature renews, as it were, her activity ; when every animal is cheerful and busy, and seems to feel the influence of its Maker's kindness; when our senses and spirits, the objects and enjoyments that surround us, accord and harmonize with those sentiments of delight and gratitude, which this subject, above all others, is calculated to inspire. There is no devotion so genuine as that which flows
from these meditations, because it is unforced and selfexcited. There is no frame of mind more desirable, and, consequently, no preaching more useful, than that which leads the thought to this exercise. It is laying a foundation for Christianity itself. If it be not to sow the seed, it is at least to prepare the soil.
The evidence of revelation arrives with much greater ease at an understanding, which is already possessed by the persuasion, that an unseen intelligence framed and conducts the universe, and which is accustomed to refer the order and operations of nature to the agency of a supreme will. The influence also of religion is almost always in proportion to the degree and strength of this conviction. It is, moreover, a species of instruction of which our hearers are more capable than we may at first sight suppose. It is not necessary to be a philosopher, or to be skilled in the names and distinctions of natural history, in order to perceive marks of contrivance and design in the creation. It is only to turn our observation to them. Now, besides that this requires neither more ability nor leisure than every man can command, there are many things in the life of a country parishioner which will dispose his thoughts to the employment. In his fields, amidst his flocks, in the progress of vegetation, the structure, faculties, and manners, of domestic animals, he has constant occasion to remark proofs of intention and consummate wisdom. The minister of a country parish is never, therefore, better engaged, than when he is assisting this turn of contemplation. Nor will he ever do it with so much effect, as when the appearance and face of external nature conspire with the sentiments which he wishes to excite.
Again ; if we would enlarge upon the various bounty of Providence, in furnishing a regular supply for animal, and especially for human subsistence, not by one, but by numerous and diversified species of food and clothing, we shall be best heard in the time and amidst the occupations of harvest, when our hearers are reaping the effects of those contrivances for their support, and of that care for their preservation, which their Father which is in heaven hath exercised for them. If the year has been favorable, we rejoice with them in the plenty which fills their granaries, covers their tables, and feeds their families. If otherwise, or less so, we have still to remark how, through all the husbandman's disappointments, through the dangers and inclemencies of precarious seasons, a competent proportion of the fruits of the earth is conducted to its destined purpose. We may observe also to the repining farmer, that the value, if not the existence, of his own occupation, depends upon the very uncertainty of which he complains. It is found to be almost universally true, that the partition of the profits between the owner and the occupier of the soil, is in favor of the latter in proportion to the risk which he incurs by the disadvantage of the climate. This is a very just reflection, and particularly intelligible to a rural audience. We may add, when the occasion requires it, that scarcity itself hath its use; by acting as a stimulus to new exertions and to farther improvements, it often produces, through a temporary distress, a permanent benefit.
Lastly; sudden, violent, or untimely deaths, or death accompanied by any circumstances of surprise or singularity, usually leave an impression upon a whole neighbourhood. A christian teacher is wanting in attention to opportunities who does not avail himself of this impression. The uncertainty of life requires no proof. But the power and influence which this consideration shall obtain over the decisions of the mind, will depend greatly upon the circumstances under which it is presented to the imagination. Discourses upon the subject come with tenfold force, when they are directed to a heart already touched by some near, recent, and affecting example of human mortality. I do not lament that funeral sermons are discontinued amongst us. They generally contained so much of unseasonable, and oftentimes undeserved panegyric, that the hearers came away from them, rather with remarks in their mouths upon what was said of the deceased, than with any internal reflections upon the solemnity which they had left, or how nearly it related to their own condition. But by decent allusions in the stated course of our preaching to events of this sort, or by, what is better, such a welltimed choice of our subject as may lead our audience to make the allusion for themselves, it is possible, I think, to retain much of the good effect of funeral discourses, without their adulation, and without exciting vain curiosity.
If other occurrences have arisen within our neighbourhood, which serve to exemplify the progress and fate of vice, the solid advantages and ultimate success of virtue, the providential discovery of guilt or protection of innocence, the folly of avarice, the disappointments of ambition, the vanity of worldly schemes, the fallaciousness of human foresight ; in a word, which may remind us, what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue,' and thereby induce us to collect our views and endeavours to one point, the attainment of final salvation ; such occurrences may be made to introduce topics of