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1. Hereby you will improve in your acquaintance with divine things, and the spiritual parts of religion, that you may better teach the people both truth and duty. Those who are much with God may expect and hope that he will teach them the secret of his covenant, and the ways of his mercy, by communications of divine light to their spirits. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant *." Luther used to say, That he sometimes got more knowledge in a short time by prayer, than by the study and labour of many hours.
2. Hereby you will be more fit to speak to the great God at all times, as a son with holy confidence in him as your Father; and you will be better prepared to pray with and for your people. You will have an habitual readiness for the work, and increase in the gift of prayer. You will obtain a treasure and fluency of sacred language, suited to address God on all occasions.
3. Hereby you will be kept near to the spring of all grace, to the fountain of strength and comfort in your work; you will be ever deriving fresh anointings, fresh influences, daily lights and powers, to enable you to go through all the difficulties and labours of your sacred office.
4. Hereby, when you come among men in your sacred ministrations, you will appear, and speak, and act like a man come from God; like Moses, with a lustre upon his face when he had conversed with God; like a minister of the court of Heaven employed in a divine office; like a messenger of grace who hath just been with God, and received instructions from him; and the world will take cognizance of you, as they did of the apostles, that they were men who had been with Jesus. †
5. This will better furnish you for serious converse with the souls and consciences of men, by giving you experimental acquaintance with the things of religion, as they are transacted in the heart. You will learn more of the springs of sin and holiness, the workings of nature and grace, the deceitfulness of sin, the subtility of temptation, and the holy skill of counterworking the snares of sin, and
* Psalm xxv. 14.
+ Acts iv. 18.
the devices of Satan, and all their designs to ruin the souls of men. You will speak with more divine compassion to wretched and perishing mortals; with more life and power to stupid sinners; with more sweetness and comfort to awakened consciences, and with more awful language and influence to backsliding Christians.
6. You will hereby learn to preach more powerfully in all respects for the salvation of men, and talk more feelingly on every sacred subject, when the power, and sense, and life of godliness are kept up in your own spirit. Then, on some special occasions, it may not be improper to borrow the language of David the prophet, and of St. Paul and St. John, two great apostles, though it may be best in pub, lic to speak in the plural number," We have believed, therefore we have spoken; what we have heard and learned from Christ, we have declared unto you; what we have seen and felt, we are bold to speak; attend, and we will tell you what God has done for our souls." You may then at proper seasons convince, direct, and comfort others by the same words of light and power, of precept and promise, of joy and hope, which have convinced, directed, and comforted you: a word coming from the heart will sooner reach the heart.
§ 5. (11.) Take heed to your own private studies. These private studies are of various kinds, whether you consider them, in general, as necessary to furnish the mind with knowledge for the office of the sacred ministry; or, in particular, as necessary to prepare discourses for the pulpit.
Those general studies may be just mentioned, in this place, which furnish the mind with knowledge for the work of a minister; for though it be known you have passed thro' the several stages of science in your younger years, and have made a good improvement in them, yet a review of many of them will be found needful, and an increase in some (so far as leisure permits) may be proper and useful, even through the whole course of life.
But amongst all these inquiries and studies, and these various improvements of the mind, let us take heed that none of them carry our thoughts away too far from our chief and glorious design, that is the ministry of the gospel of Christ. Let none of them intrench upon those hours which should be devoted to our study of the Bible or pre
parations for the pulpit: and whensoever we find our inclination too much attached to any particular human. science, let us set a guard upon ourselves, lest it rob us of our diviner studies and our best improvement. A minister should remember that himself, with all his studies, is consecrated to the service of the sanctuary. Let every thing be done therefore with a view to our great end; let all the rest of our knowledge be like lines drawn from the vast circumference of universal nature, pointing to that divine centre, God and Religion; and let us pursue every part of science with a design to gain better qualifications thereby for our sacred work.
§ 6. I come to speak of those particular studies which are preparatory for the public work of the pulpit; and here when you retire to compose a sermon, let your great end be ever kept in view, i. e. to say something for the honour of God, for the glory of Christ, and for the salvation of the souls of men. For this purpose, a few rules may perhaps be of some service.
One great and general rule is, Ask advice of Heaven, hy prayer, about every part of your preparatory studies; seek the direction and assistance of the Spirit of God, for inclining your thoughts to proper subjects, for guiding you to proper Scriptures, and framing your whole sermon, both as to the matter and manner, that it may attain the divine and sacred ends proposed. But I insist not largely on this here, because prayer for aids and counsels from Heaven belongs to every part of your work, both in the closet, in the pulpit, and in your daily conversation.
§ 7. The particular rules for your preparatory work may be such as these:
1. In choosing your texts or themes of discourse, seek such as are more suited to do good to souls, according to the present wants, dangers, and circumstances of the people; whether for the instruction of the ignorant; for the conviction of the stupid and senseless; for the melting and softening of the obstinate; for the conversion of the wicked; for the edification of converts; for the comfort of the timorous and mournful; for gentle admonition of backsliders, or more severe reproof. Some acquaintance with the
general case and character of your hearers is needful for this end.
§ 8. 2. In handling the text, divide, explain, illustrate, prove, convince, infer, and apply in such a manner as to do real service to men, and honour to our Lord Jesus Christ. Do not say within yourself, how much or how elegantly can I talk upon such a text, but what can I say most usefully to those who hear me, for the instruction of their minds, for the conviction of their consciences, and for the persuasion of their hearts? Be not fond of displaying your learned criticisms in clearing up terms and phrases of a text, where scholars alone can be edified by them; nor spend the precious moments of the congregation in making them hear you explain what is clear enough before, and hath no need of explaining; nor in proving that which is so obvious that it wants no proof. This is little better
than trifling with God and man.
Think not, how can I make a sermon soonest and easiest? but how can I make the most profitable sermon for my hearers? Not what fine things I can say, either in a way of criticism or philosophy, or in a way of oratory and harangue; but what powerful words can I speak to impress the consciences of them that hear with a lasting sense of moral, divine, and eternal things! Judge wisely what to leave out, as well as what to speak. Let not your chief design be to work up a sheet, or to hold out an hour, but to save a soul.
9. 3. In speaking of the great things of God and religion, remember you are a minister of Christ and the gospel, sent to publish to men what God has revealed by his prophets and apostles, and by his Son Jesus, and not a heathen philosopher, to teach the people merely what the light of reason can search out. You are not to stand up here as a professor of ancient or modern philosophy, nor as an usher in the school of Plato, or Seneca, or Locke; but as a teacher in the school of Christ, as a preacher of the New Testament. You are not a Jewish priest, to instruct men in the precise niceties of ancient Judaism, legal rites and ceremonies; but you are a Christian minister: let Christianity, therefore, run through all your compositions, and spread its glories over them.
It is granted, indeed, that reasonings from the light of Nature have a considerable use in the ministry of the gospel. It is by the principles of natural religion, and by reasoning from them on the wonderful events of prophecy and miracles, &c. that we ourselves must learn the truth of the Christian religion; and we must teach the people to build their faith of the gospel on just and rational grounds: this may perhaps, at some time or other require a few whole discourses on some of the principal themes of natural religion, in order to introduce and display the religion of Jesus; but such occasions will seldom arise in the course of your ministry.
It is granted also, that it is very useful labour sometimes, in a sermon, to shew how far the light of nature and reason will carry us on in the search of duty and happiness, and then to manifest how happily the light of Scripture supplies the deficiency of it, that the people may know how greatly they are indebted to the peculiar favour of God for the book of divine revelation.
§ 10. If you speak of the duties which men owe to God, or to one another, even those which are found out by reason and natural conscience, shew how the gospel of Christ hath advanced and refined every thing that nature and reason teach us. Enforce these duties by motives of Christianity *, as well as by philosophical arguments drawn from the nature of things: stir up to the practice of them, by the examples of Christ and his apostles, by that Heaven and that Hell which are revealed to the world by Jesus Christ our Saviour; impress them on the heart by the constraining influence of the mercy of God, and the dying love of our Lord Jesus Christ, by his glorious appearance to judge the living and the dead, and by our blessed hope of attending him at that day. These are the appointed arguments of our holy religion, and may expect more divine
When you have occasion to represent what need there is of diligence and labour in the duties of holiness, shew also what aids are promised in the gospel to humble souls, who are sensible of their own frailty, to resist temptation, or to discharge religious and moral duties; and what influ
*See Disc. 11. of this vol. particularly sect. 9-13.