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It cannot be but that a Work of this nature should be liable to many objections. Persons will vary in their judgment with respect to it, according as they affect or disregard order ; according as they relish or disapprove the use of Scripture language; according as they have been habituated to close thinking, or have been accustomed to a desultory way
of communicating their ideas; and, lastly, according as they acquiesce in the unsophisticated doctrines of Scripture, or fondly attach themselves to human systems.
But the Author begs leave to observe, that the very plan of suggesting the whole substance of a Sermon in a few pages, of shewing in so small a space how to introduce, divide, discuss, and apply every subject, and of referring to the most important passages of Scripture that can reflect light upon it, necessarily precludes all the ornaments of language, and induces somewhat perhaps of obscurity. But if there be found some reason for that complaint, “brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio,” it is hoped the candid Reader will consider it as a fault incident to the plan itself; and if he meet with any expression which appears too unqualified, he is requested to remember, that a thousand qualifying clauses might be introduced into a full discourse, which could not possibly find place in such compositions as these: if he would regard these in their proper view, he must consider them only as rough materials prepared to his hand, that out of them he may construct an edifice, modelled and adorned to his own taste.
There is another objection indeed, which has been mentioned to the Author by some of his most judicious friends. It is feared that these Skeletons may administer to sloth and idleness. But he apprehends they are so constructed, that they cannot possibly be used at all, unless a considerable degree of thought be bestowed upon them. Nor does he think that any person, who has ever found the pleasure of addressing his congregation in his own words, will be satisfied with reciting the compositions of another. On the other hand, if some, who would otherwise have preached the sermons of others, be drawn gradually to compose their own, and if others, who have been rude and incoherent, be assisted in the exercise of their judgment, it will tend to wipe off disgrace from the Established Church, and eventually, it is hoped, to benefit the souls of many. It is not possible to say what is the best mode of preaching for every individual, because the talents of men are so various, and the extent of their knowledge so different. It seems at all events expedient that a young Minister should for some years pen his sermons, in order that he may attain a proper mode of expressing his thoughts, and accustom himself to the obtaining of clear, comprehensive, and judicious views of his subject : but that he should always continue to write every word of his discourses, seems by no means necessary. Not that it is at any time expedient for him to deliver an unpremeditated harangue: this would be very unsuitable to the holy and important office which he stands up to discharge. But there is a medium between such extemporaneous effusions and a servile adherence to what is written: there is a method recommended by the highest authorities, which, after we have written many hundred sermons, it may not be improper to adopt: the method referred to is, to draw out a full plan or skeleton of the discourse, with the texts of Scripture which are proper to illustrate or enforce the several parts, and then to express the thoughts in such language as may occur at the time. This plan, if it have some disadvantage in point of accuracy or elegance, has, on the other hand, great advantages over a written sermon: it gives a Minister an opportunity of speaking with far more effect to the hearts of men, and of addressing himself to their passions, as well by his looks and gesture, as by his words.
Archbishop Secker, in his last Charge, after observing, in reference to the matter of our sermons, “ We have, in fact, lost many of our people to sectaries by not preaching in a manner sufficiently evangelical,” (p. 299,) adds, in reference to the manner of our preaching, “ There is a middle way', used by our predecessors, of setting down, in short notes, the method and principal heads, and enlarging on them in such words as present themselves at the time: perhaps, duly managed, this is the best.” (p. 315.) He then proceeds to express his disapprobation of what is called Mandating of Sermons, or repeating them from memory. This custom obtains much among foreign Divines, and throughout the whole Church of
c i.e. Between written discourses, and unpremeditated addresses. Scotland; and in the Statute Book of our University there is an order from King Charles II., that this should be practised by all the Clergy, as well when preaching before the University and at Court, as before any common audienced. This shews at least, that if a Minister had thoroughly studied his discourse, it was deemed no objection against him that he delivered it without book. But the way proposed by Archbishop Secker seems far preferable, on account of the unnecessary increase of labour to the Minister, and because the repeating of a sermon will most generally appear, as the Archbishop justly expresses it, like “the saying of a lesson." Many other authorities of the greatest note might be adduced (as those of Bishop Wilkin, Bishop Burnet, Archbishop of Cambray, &c.) if it were the Author's wish to vindicate this mode of preaching: but he is far from thinking it proper for all persons, or in all places. He considers it however as extremely useful, where a Minister's talents will admit of it. But, after all, the great concern both of Ministers and private Christians is, to enjoy the blessing of God upon their own souls. In whatever manner the truth may be delivered, whether from a written discourse or memoriter, or from a welldigested plan, they may expect that God will accompany it with a divine energy, if they be looking up to him in the
d “Mr. Vice-Chancellor, and Gentlemen, “Whereas his Majesty is informed, that the practice of reading Sermons is generally taken up by the Preachers before the University, and therefore continued even before himself, his Majesty hath commanded me to signify to you his pleasure that the said practice, which took beginning with the disorders of the late times, be wholly laid aside, and that the aforesaid Preachers deliver their Sermons, both in Latin and English, by memory or without book, as being a way of preaching which his Majesty judgeth most agreeable to the use of all foreign Churches, to the custom of the University heretofore, and the nature and intendment of that holy exercise.
“And that his Majesty's commands in the premises may be duly regarded and observed, his farther pleasure is, that the names of all such ecclesiastical persons, as shall continue the present supine and slothful way of preaching, be from time to time signified unto me by the Vice-Chancellor for the time being, upon pain of his Majesty's displeasure.
MONMOUTH." “ October 8, 1674.” (Page 300 of the Statute Book.)
exercise of faith and prayer. In this hope, the Sermon, on Mark xvi. 15, 16, and the four Skeletons annexed to it, are sent forth into the world : and if, by means of them, the excellency of the Gospel may be more clearly seen, its importance more deeply felt, and its strengthening, comforting, sanctifying efficacy more richly experienced, the Author's labours will be abundantly repaid. They are annexed to Claude's Essay; and the Author recommends those who could thoroughly understand Claude, to consult them.
In the discussion of so many subjects, it cannot fail but that every doctrine of our holy religion must be more or less canvassed. On every point the Author has spoken freely, and without reserve. As for names and parties in religion, he equally disclaims them all : he takes his religion from the Bible; and endeavours, as much as possible, to speak as that speaks. Hence, as in the Scriptures themselves, so also in this Work, there will be found sentiments, not really opposite, but apparently of an opposite tendency, according to the subject that is under discussion. In writing, for instance, on John v. 40, “ Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life," he does not hesitate to lay the whole blame of men's condemnation on the obstinacy of their own depraved will: nor does he think it at all necessary to weaken the subject by nice distinctions, in order to support a system. On the contrary, when he preaches on John vi. 44, “ No man can come unto me, except the Father who hath sent me draw him," he does not scruple to state in the fullest manner he is able, “ That we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good wills:" nor does he judge it expedient on any account to soften, and palliate, and fritter away this important truth. While too many set these passages at variance, and espouse the one in opposition to the other, he dwells with equal pleasure on them both; and thinks it, on the whole, better to state these apparently opposite truths in the plain and unsophisticated manner of the Scriptures, than to enter into scholastic subtleties, that have been invented for the upholding of human systems. He is aware, that they who are warm advocates for this or that system of religion, will be ready to condemn him as inconsistent: but, if he speak in exact conformity with the Scriptures, he shall rest the vindication of his conduct simply on the authority and example of the Inspired Writers. He has no desire to be wise above what is written, nor any conceit that he can teach the Apostles to speak with more propriety and correctness than they have spoken.
e If in any thing he grounded his sentiments upon human authority, it would not be on the dogmas of Calvin or Arminius, but on the Articles and Homilies of the Church of England. He has the happiness to say, that he does ex animo, from his inmost soul, believe the doctrines to which he has subscribed : but the reason of his believing them is not, that they are made the Creed of the Established Church, but, that he finds them manifestly contained in the Sacred Oracles.
f The Tenth Article.
It may be asked perhaps, How do you reconcile these doctrines, which you believe to be of equal authority and equal importance ? But what right has any man to impose this task on the preachers of God's word? God has not required it of them; nor is the truth or falsehood of any doctrine to be determined absolutely by this criterion. It is presumed, that every one will acknowledge the holiness of God, and the existence of sin: but will any one undertake to reconcile them? or does any one consider the inability of man to reconcile them, as a sufficient ground for denying either the one or the other of these truths? If then neither of these points are doubted, notwithstanding they cannot be reconciled by us, why should other points, equally obvious in some respects, yet equally difficult to be reconciled in others, be incompatible, merely because we, with our limited capacity, cannot perfectly discern their harmony and agreement?
But perhaps these points, which have been such a fruitful source of contention in the Church, are not so opposite to each other as some imagine: and it is possible, that the truly scriptural statement will be found not in an exclusive adoption of either, nor yet in a confused mixture of both, but in the proper and seasonable application of them both; or, to use the language of St. Paul, “ in rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Here the Author desires to speak with trembling. He is aware that he is treading upon slippery ground; and that he