« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
pleased. When I sit under his preaching, I fancy myself brought into the valley of Ezekiel's vision; it was full of bones, and behold, there were very many in the valley, and lo, they were very dry, Ezek. xxxvii. 1. 2..
It is the variety of enlargement upon a few proper heads that clothes the dry bones and flesh, and animates them with blood and spirits ; it is this that colours the discourse, makes it warm and strong, and renders the divine propositions bright and persuasive; it is this brings down the doctrine or the duty to the understanding and conscience of the whole auditory, and commands the natural affections into the interest of the gospel. In short, it is this that, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gives life and force, beauty and success to a sermon, and provides food for souls. A single rose-bush, or a dwarf-pear, with all their leaves, flowers, and fruit about them, have more beauty and spirit in themselves, and yield more food and pleasure to mankind, than the innumerable branches, boughs, and twigs of a long hedge of thorns. The fruit will feed the hungry, and the flower will refresh the fainting ; which is more than can be said of the thickest oak in Bashan, when it has lost its vital juice; it may spread its limbs indeed far and wide, but they are naked, withered, and sapless.
The Harangue. Is it not possible to forsake one extreme without run. ning into a worse? Is there no medium between a sermon made up of sixty dry particulars, and a long loose declamation, without any distinction of the parts of it? Must the preacher divide his works by the breaks of a minute-watch, or let it run on incessantly to the last word, like the flowing stream of the hour-glass that measures his divinity? Surely Fluvio preaches as though he knew no medium; and having taken a disgust heretofore at one of Polyramus's lectures, he resolved his own discourses should have no distinction of particulars in them. His language flows
smoothly smoothly in a long connexion of periods, and glides over the ear like a rivulet of oil over polished marble, and like that too leaves no trace behind it. The attention is de tained in a gentle pleasure, and (to say the best thing possīble of it), the hearer is soothed into something like divine delight; but he can give the inquiring friend scarcely any account what it was that pleased him. He retains a faint idea of the sweetness, but has forgotten the sense.
Tell me Fluvio, is this the most effectual way to instruct ignorant creatures in the several articles of faith, and the various duties of the Christian life? Will such a long uniform flow of language imprint all the distant parts of Christian knowledge on the mind, in their best form and order? Do you find such a gentle and gliding stream of words most powerful to call up the souls of sinners from their dangerous or fatal lethargy? Will this indolent and moveless species of oratory make a thoughtless wretch attend to matters of infinite moment? Can a long purling sound awaken a sleepy conscience, and give a perishing sinner just notices of his dreadful hazard? Can it furnish his understanding and his memory with all the awful and tremendous topics of our religion, when it scarcely ever leaves any distinet impression of one of them on his soul? Can you make the arrow wound where it will not stick? Where all the discourse vanishes from the remembrance, can you suppose the soul to be profited or enriched ? When you brush over the closed eye-lids with a feather, did you ever find it give light to the blind? Have any of your soft harangues, your continued threads of silken eloquence, ever raised the dead? I fear your whole aim is to talk over the appointed number of minutes upon the subject, or to practise a little upon the gentler passions, without any concern how to give the understanding its due improvement, or to furnish the memory with any lasting treasure, or to make a knowing and a religious Christian.
Ask old Wheatfield, the rich farmer, ask Plowdown, your neighbour, or any of his family who have sat all their lives
under your ministry, what they know of the common truths of religion, or of the special articles of Christianity ? Desire them tó tell you what the gospel is, or what is salvata tion? What are their duties toward God, or what they mean by religion? Who is Jesus Christ, or what is the meaning of his atonement; ot redemption by his blood ? Perhaps you will tell me yourself, that you have very sela dom entertained them with these subjects. Well, inquire of them what is heaven ? Which is the way to obtain it, or whať hope they have of dwelling there ? Entreat them to tell you wherein they have profited as to holiness of heart or life, or fitness for death. They will soon make it appear by their awkward answers, that they understood very little of all your fine discourses, and those of your predecessors, and have made but wretched improvement of forty years attendance at church. They have now and ther been pleased, perhaps, with the music of your voice, as with the sound of a sweet intstrument, and they mistook that for devotion : but their heads are dark still, and their hearts earthly; they are mere Heathens with a Christian niame, and know little more of God that their yokes of oxen. In short, Polyramus's anditors have some confusion in their knowledge, but Fluvio's Heaters have scarcely any knowa ledge at all.
But you will tell me, your discourses are not all made up of harangue: your design is sometimes to inform the rrind by a train of well-connected reasonings, and that all your paragraphs, in their long order, prove and support each other; and though you do not distinguish your discourse itito particulars, yet you have kept some invisible method all the way, and, by some artificial gradations, you have brought your sermon down to the concluding sentence.
It may be so sometimes, and I will acknowledge it: but believe me Fluvio, this artificial and invisible method carrie's darktiess with it instead of light ; nor is it by any means a proper way to instruct the vulgar, that is, the bulk of your atditory': their souls are not capable of so wide
a. stretch, as to take in the whole chain of your long-connected consequences : you talk reason and religion to them in vain, if you do not make the argument so short as to come within their grasp, and give a frequent rest for their thoughts : you must break the bread of life into pieces to feed children with it, and part your discourses into distinct propositions, to give the ignorant a plain scheme of any one doctrine, and enable them to comprehend or retain it.
Every day gives us experiments to confirm what I say, and to encourage ministers to divide their sermons into several distinct heads of discourse. Myrtilla, a little creature of nine years old, was at church twice yesterday: in the morning the preacher entertained his audience with a running oration, and the child could give her parents no other account of it, but that he talked smoothly and sweetly about virtue and heaven. It was Ergates's lot to fulfil the service of the afternoon; he is an excellent preacher, both fc: the wise and unwise : in the evening, Myrtilla very prettily entertained her mother with a repetition of the most considerable parts of the sermon ; for “Here,” said she, “I can fix my thoughts upon first, secondly, and thirdly, upon the doctrine, the reasons, and the inferences ; and I know what I must try to remember, and repeat it when
friends shall ask me : but as for the morning sermon, I could do nothing but hear it, for I could not tell what I should get by heart."
This manner of talking in a loose harangue has not only injured our pulpits, but it makes the several essays and treatises, that are written now a-days, less capable of improving the knowledge, or enriching the memory
of the reader.
I will easily grant, that where the whole discourse reaches not beyond a few pages, there is no necessity of the formal proposal of the several parts, before you handle each of them distinctly, nor is there need of such a set method: the unlearned and narrow understanding can take an easy view of the whole, without the author's pointing to the several parts. But where the essay is prolonged to a greater extent, confusion grows upon the reader almost at every page, without some scheme or method of successive heads in the discourse to direct the mind, and aid the memory.
If it be answered here, That neither such treatises nor sermons are a mere heap, for there is a just method observed in the composure, and the subjects are ranked in a proper order. It is easy to reply, That this method is so concealed, that a common reader or hearer can never find it ; and
you must suppose every one that peruses such a book, and much more that attends such a discourse, to have some good knowledge of the art of logic before he can distinguish the various parts and branches, the connexions and transitions of it. To an uncleared eye or ear it appears a mere heap of good things, without any method, form, or order; and if you tell your young friends, they should get it into their heads and hearts, they know not how to set about it.
If we inquire how it comes to pass that our modern ingenious writers should affect this manner ? I know no juster reason to give for it than a humorous and wanton contempt of the customs and practices of our forefathers; a sensible disgust, taken at some of their mistakes and ill conduct, at first tempted a vain generation into the contrary extreme near sixty years ago ; and now, even to this day, it continues too much in fashion, so that the wise, as well as the weak, are ashamed to oppose it, and are borne down with the current.
Our fathers formed their sermonis much upon the model of doctrine, reason, and use; and perhaps there is no one method of more universal service, and more easily applicable to most subjects, though it is not necessary or proper
every discourse : but the very names of doctrine and use are become now a-days such stale and old fashioned things, that a modish preacher is quite ashamed of them; nor can a modish hearer bear the sound of those syllables : a direct and distinct address to the consciences of saints and sinners must