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ON THE COMPOSITION OF A SERMON.
$1, On the choice of texts; as to completeness of sense and quantity of matter; as referring to certain times, or to plaees and auditories. § 2, General rules of sermons. § 3, The great importance of avoiding excess; and (§ 4.) Of abstaining from observations foreign from theology. 5, On finding the connexion between the text and context. § 6, Of division in general. In what cases the division of a discourse is proper. § 7, Of dividing the text. § 8, Of rendering a division more agreeable, and of subdivisions. § 9, Of observing well the nature of a text, and the consequent manner of composing; whether by explication or observation. § 10, (1.) Of texts to be discussed by way of explication. Of the explication of terms; and (§ 11.) Things. § 12, Two sorts of explication; that of mere proposal, and that of proof or confirmation. § 13, Of simple terms. §14. Concerning expressions peculiar to Scripture; and (§ 15.) Syncategorematica. § 16, How to explain a text, when the matter to be explained consists of a proposition. § 17. (II.) Of texts to be discussed by way of observation. Some general directions. § 18, Some sources of invention and observations. Genus and species, characters of virtue and vice, relation and
supposition. § 19, Cautions in treating supposed truths. § 20, Person and state, time and place. § 21, Persons addressed, and their particular state; principles and consequences. § 22. The end proposed, and the manner, similarity, differences, and contrast. § 23, The causes; the good and bad in expressions and actions; supposition and prevention. $ 24, Consider characters; of majesty, meanness, &c. § 25, Remarks, degrees, and different interests; distinguish, define, and divide; and compare the different parts of the text together. § 26. (III.) Of texts to be discussed by way of continued application. § 27. (IV.) Of texts to be discussed in propositions. § 28, These four ways may be sometimes mixed. § 29, Of the exordium. Its design. Partly to promote suitable affections and attention; but (§ 30.) Principally, to prepare and conduct the mind to the subject. § 31, On the qualities of an exordium. § 32, On the vices of exordiums. § 33, The best sources. § 31, Of the conclusion.
§1. WE can properly reckon only three parts of a sermon, exordium, discussion, and application; we will, however, just take notice of connexion and division, after we have spoken a little on the choice of texts *, and on a
The present custom of reading a text of Scripture, to serve for the ground of a discourse, is derived from the time of Ezra. Before that time the prophets, and before them the patriarchs, delivered in public assemblies sometimes prophecies, and sometimes moral instructions for the edification of the people. We are told that Ezra, accompauied by several Levites, in a public congregation of men and women, ascended a pulpit, opened the book of the law (the people all rising from their seats on his opening the book) addressed a prayer to God, to which the people said Amen, and "read in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading," Neh. viii. 6-8. In later times, Moses
few general rules of discussing them. We begin with the former of these:
1. Never choose such texts as have not a complete sense; and even the complete sense of the writer; for it is his language, and they are his sentiments which you explain.
2. When the complete sense of the sacred writer is taken, you may stop; for there are few texts in Scripture which do not afford matter sufficient for a sermon; and it is equally inconvenient to take too much text, or too little both extremes must be avoided.
When too little text is taken, you must digress from the subject, in order to find something to say. When too much text is taken, either many important considerations which belong to the passage must be left out, or a tedious prolixity must follow.
3. Reard must be paid to circumstances, and texts must be chosen relative to them.
1st. In regard to times: which are of two sorts, ordinary, which every year return at the same seasons; or extraordinary, which fall out by providential occasions.
Of the first kind are Lord's Supper Days; or days which are solemnized amongst us, as Christmas-day, Easter, Whitsuntide, &c. On these days particular texts should be chosen, which suit the service of the day; for it would discover great negligence to take texts on such days which have no relation to them. It is not to be questioned but
was thus read in the synagogue every Sabbath-day, Acts
To this laudable custom our Saviour conformed; and, in the synagogue at Nazareth, read a passage in Isaiah, closed the book after he had read it, returned it to the minister, sat down, and preached from the text, Luke iv. 16, &c. The Apostles followed his example, Acts xviii. 4, the primitive fathers theirs, and the custom prevails over all the Christian world at this day. Robinson.
This practice, however, was interrupted in the dark times of popery; and the Ethics of Aristotle were read in many churches on Sundays, instead of the holy Scriptures, as Melancthon and others testify.-See Bayle, in Aristot. Note U.
on these days peculiar efforts ought to be made, because then the hearers come with raised expectations, which, if not satisfied, turn into contempt and a kind of indignation against the preacher.
Of the second kind, particular days not fixed but occasional, are fast-days, ordination-days, &c. on which particular texts must be expressly chosen for the purpose; but on other extraordinary occasions, as most texts may be used to comfort, exhort, or censure, except the subject in hand be extremely important, the safest way is not to change the usual text. *
2dly. I add one word touching sermons in strange places. Do not choose a text which appears odd, or the choice of which vanity may be supposed to dictate; nor a text of censure; for a stranger has no business to censure a congregation which he does not inspect, unless he have a particular call to it. In such a case, the censure must be conducted with wisdom, and tempered with sweetness. Nor choose a text leading to curious knotty questions; then it would be said, The man meant to preach himself:
but choose a text of ordinary doctrine, in discussing which, doctrine and morality may be mixed; and rather let moral things be said by way of exhortation and consolation, than by way of censure. Not that the vicious should not be censured; for reproof is essential to preaching but it must be given soberly, and in general terms, when we are not with our own flocks. t
* Such a text, probably, our author means by the phrase texte accoutumé, as would come in course in a precomposed set of sermons. - Rub.
+ Mr. Claude does not mention funeral sermons, which, with us, are sometimes just occasion of offence; but which might be well improved to the advantage of the living, if properly managed.
It was the opinion of Vossius, that praying to saints owed its origin partly to the injudicious use of figurative language in funeral orations; to the apostrophes, and prosopopoeias of the panegyrists. These abuses have driven some good men to lay aside all funeral services whatever; but with much more reason may we retain and improve them to the benefit of the living.- Rob.
§ 2. As to general rules of sermons, although the following are well known, they are too little practised; they ought, however, to be constantly regarded.
1. A sermon should clearly explain a text, make the sense easy to be comprehended, and place things before the people's eyes, so that they may be understood without difficulty. It ought to be remembered, that the greatest part of the hearers are simple people, whose profit, however, must be aimed at in preaching; but it is impossible to edify them, unless you be very clear. As to learned hearers, it is certain they will always prefer a clear before an obscure sermon. Besides, they will consider the simple; nor will their benevolence be content, if the illiterate be not edified. *
2. A sermon must give the entire sense of the whole text in order to which it must be considered in every view. This rule condemns dry and barren explications, wherein the preacher discovers neither study nor invention, and leaves unsaid a great number of beautiful things, with which his text would have furnished him. Discourses of this kind are extremely disgusting. I do not mean that a preacher should always use his utmost efforts, nor that he should always preach alike well, for that neither can nor ought to be. There are extraordinary occasions, for which all his vigour must be reserved; but I mean, that in ordinary and usual sermons, a kind of plenitude should satisfy and content the hearers. The preacher must not always labour to carry the people beyond themselves, nor to ravish them into ecstacies; but
* Every discourse which wants an interpreter is a very bad The supreme perfection of a preacher's style should be to please the unlearned, as well as the learned, by exhibiting an abundance of beauties for the latter, and being very perspicuous to the former. Rollin's Bell. Lett.
A preacher is to fancy himself in the room of the most unlearned man in the whole parish, and must therefore put such parts of his discourses as he would have all understand, in so plain a form of words, that it may not be beyond the meanest of them. Burnet's Past. Care.
Oratio cujus summa virtus est perspicuitas, quam sit vitiosa si egeat interprete ? Quint. Instit. lib. i. cap. 4.