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denominated human virtue so very defective in myself and others, and so far below every thing which God may and must require of his rational creatures; that I cannot, and never could, see how it is possible for the sinner to be rendered worthy and certain of the Grace of God, and be brought into better relations to bim, without his help, and a divine contrivance for this particular purpose. That the guilt of sins once committed can never be diminished, much less taken away, by any subsequent reformation, is as clear as the sun. On the other hand, it will only be rendered so much the greater thereby, inasmuch as the fact, that the man acts differently now, shows that he might have done so. before, if he had earnestly desired to. And as to this reformation, however real and thorough, what is it? 0! I appeal to every one possessed of tender, susceptible moral feelings, and acquainted with the qualities of a good action, to tell me, whether it can meet with the approbation of the Supreme and Omniscient Judge. Will the best of men be able to extoll their virtue before him ? Will not all their courage fail when examined in the presence of their Maker? Will they not be obliged to confess, that the very best actions they ever performed, are not only entirely destitute of merit, but in addition thereto, so very desective and so far below every thing which God may and must require, that, instead of expecting complete justification, or, perhaps, a reward, they will have to entreat for connivance and forbearance? This humiliating feeling of personal unworthiness has not only not been diminished in me, as I have advanced in goodness, but been rendered stronger and more vivid. Indeed, the defectiveness of human virtue must necessarily become more striking, in exact proportion as the moral sensibilities are purified and quickened by the progress of reformation; for he, who has made advances in goodness, will be more pained at little faults and impurities, which the unresorined and beginners in virtue, do not even perceive, than the latter are at gross errors.
Such being the language and character of my moral feelings, it is absolutely necessary to my tranquillity for me to have a declaration from God himself, that he is able and willing to forgive sin, and also a knowledge of the means
by which this can be done in a way
every respect worihy of God, and adapted to the moral nature of man. The divine institution, agreeably to which, through Christ and his death, all sinners who assent to the conditions, can be pardoned, seems to me to unite in itself every thing that can be wished for, in this respect. With it, I cannot myself dispense; for, by means of it, though conscious of my sins and imperfections, I have confidence in God, inasmuch as it takes away the necessity of my obtaining the favor of God by my own merits, a thing impossible, and authorizes me to expect the love of God in Christ. My joy in God rests upon the assurance, that in hoping and praying, I can appeal, not to personal merit, for of this I have none, but to the merit and mediation of a person whom God has, in the most explicit terms, announced and distinguished, as the one through whom salvation can be conferred upon our race.
That a faithful adherence to this supreme and adorable Saviour, is exalting to the mind; that a close and intimate communion with him, exerts a wonderful influence in purifying the heart and leading one on diligently to make attainments in holiness; that daily occupation with him, and the inspiring contemplation of his exaltation and his example, prove a blessing to the whole internal man; and, finally, that he who can say, “ Nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, has acquired new power, and another and more exalted mode of existence ;-all this, every one who has, from his whole heart, yielded obedience to the conditions laid down by God, for acceptance in Christ, knows by experience; and others would not understand me, should I attempt to tell them ever so much about it.
But enough has been said respecting the orthodox character of my sermons. I rejoice to leave all to their own opinions, and can endure to have every one follow his own convictions, however unlike or opposed they may be, to mine. But from my heart do I wish that others would exhibit the same reasonableness and forbearance towards me, and not rise up in hostility against me, because I teach as my conscience obliges me to do. Let it be remembered, " That every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.” The Lord will judge us all, “ But other
foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble ; every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare
His mode of proceeding in the invention and choice of themes—Need of phi
losophy, &c.—Of variety —Common-place-book of subjects—Mode of examining historical texts— Must throw ourselves back into the age--Kinds of knowledge requisite-Illustrations—Aids-Didactic texts-Different kinds of them-Mode of treatment-Illustrations—Must conceive ourselves in the circumstances in which these texts were written.
MY DEAR FRIEND
I will not deny, that at the close of my last letter, I fell somewhat into a ministerial strain. Pardon this small error. It very naturally resulted from the subject upon which I was writing. I shall guard myself hereafter against every thing of the kind, and confine my whole attention to the form and construction of my sermons. Here you expect me to be particular; and agreeably to the request of your former letter, I will, in the first place, give you an account of my usual mode of proceeding in the invention and choice of subjects.
Of course, you do not here expect from me a treatise
* [It is delightful to find Christians every where breathing forth the same spirit. However remotely born and differently educated from each other, they evidently become one in Christ Jesus, while others are driven about by every wind of doctrine, and seem to have nothing or little, firm and stable. This remark is suggested by the close correspondence of Reinhard's views with those of Prof. Stuart and others, in our owr. country. See Stuart's Letters to the Rev. Wm. E. Channing, in various places, particularly, pp. 112 f. 149 f. 155 f.]
upon invention, as it was called by the ancient rhetoricians, or the working out of a text and the several themes deduced from it, as it is denominated by homiletical writers. I shall not write a book either
homiletics rhetoric. All that
you wish to know, is, how I have discovered so many themes which others never thought of, and been enabled to deduce more useful subjects from apparently barren texts, than one could have imagined them to contain. I can in a few words describe to you the method I usually pursued, in searching after and making choice of my main positions.
In the first place I must observe, that without a knowledge of philosophy in general, and an intimate acquaintance with many parts of it in particular, as psychology and ethics for instance, a man never can succeed very well in the invention of subjects. To deduce any thing useful and attractive from a text, and develop it in an appropriate manner, a man must have thought much
upon the character of human nature, its excellencies, wants, inclinations and necessities, as well as its duties and rights; -must have contemplated it in all situations and at every stage of improvement;-must, with untiring diligence, have availed himself of history and experience, and, by these means, have collected together a great treasure of valuable materials. He, who is deficient in these respects,—who does not always look upon nature with philosophical eyes and make it his constant study, should not wonder if he generally fails of obtaining good subjects for his sermons, and, in a text which has been selected for a discourse, finds it impossible to perceive, what, experienced eyes discover at a single glance.
I have to add, that the necessity I was long under, of preaching upon the same portions of the Gospels, sometimes more than once a year, contributed not a little to awaken and quicken in me the spirit of invention.* As my sermons were all printed, and my people could easily
* [The custom of the French preachers alluded to by Dr. Blair (Lecture xxix,) of taking their texts from the usual lesson of the day, prevails also among the Lutherans of Germany. American ministers being under no suche constraint, much of this letter might perhaps have been omitted. As however it throws some light upon the proper mode of handling texts, it is retained in full.]
calculate for me, I was obliged to think of something new, as often as I returned to the same text, and must admit, that this led me to the discovery of many things which otherwise would probably have escaped me.
But, in truth, you will say, every minister who has to preach constantly from the samne texts, finds himself under the same necessity, and yet every one does not succeed in discovering something new. Here, in the first place, let me tell
of a means of invention which I have often found of very excellent service. I am in the habit of writing down those thoughts which occur to me in reading, regular reflection, or incidentally, and are worthy of being treated of in detail in a sermon, just as they present themselves to my mind at the moment, without having any particular object in view. If then, at any time, I meet with difficulty in finding something appropriate in a text upon which I am called to preach, I recur to this catalogue of interesting thoughts, in order to see whether some of them cannot be made to bear upon, the text in question. This often proves to be the case; and in this way, I have been led to many happy combinations, of which I should otherwise never have thought.
I should observe, however, that I have never resorted to this method, except when I have found it difficult to obtain any thing useful by reflecting upon the text itself. In general, a text needs only to be rightly understood and properly investigated, in order to furnish more than one useful subject. Permit me to show you the method of examining both historical and didactical texts and working them out, which I have found the most advantageous.
In handling a historical text, the object of all a man's efforts as I conceive, should be to transfer himself to the historical theatre of action, and, as vividly as possible, imagine every thing to be present with all its circumstances, and passing as it were before his eyes. To do this, a man must consider every narration in its connexion with what precedes and succeeds ; must as accurately as possible, conceive of the time and place in which every thing happened ; must examine into the causes and occasions of every event; must call to mind all the contemporary circumstances and effects which either stand in connexion