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This would be true of criticisms upon language, or of metaphysical discussions. But it is not true of the history of the times, in which the events recorded in the scriptures occurred; of the character, manners and customs of the nations of which we read in the scriptures ; of the prevailing sentiments and practices alluded to by the sacred writers. This is knowledge, without which the scriptures cannot be well understood; which clergymen should possess, and should impart also to their hearers, and which they will be interested to receive. But this knowledge can be but partially communicated in sermons. In expositions, it may be given with that frequency and fulness, which will not fail, even in very common minds, of exciting attention, and of enlarging their comprehension of the scriptures. Every christian minister of any activity of mind, of any earnestness in seeking for professional improvement, is greatly interested in every circumstance he learns, which illustrates one expression of our Lord, or of his apostles. Should he not endeavour to excite this interest in others? And should he not, where it is felt, do what he can for its gratification?
Another advantage resulting from a course of expositions of scripture is, that bearers, having previous knowledge of the part of the divine word which is to engage their attention, have an opportunity of examining it; and of bringing to the church some preparation of mind, to receive the instructions to be given by the preacher.
Almost every lecturer in any of the branches of philosophy, at the close of each discourse, intimates, or states explicitly, the subject of his next lecture. His pupils, or hearers, have thus an opportunity of reading, or at least, of thinking upon the subject; and if they have availed themselves of it, we cannot doubt that they will hear him with greatly increased advantage, and proportionably greater interest. I do not believe that the ignorance of our congregations, with respect to the subjects to be treated on the next sabbath, in any measure makes the day more welcome, or excites any greater desire of attendance on its public services. On the contrary, I am persua ded, that, if at the close of each sabbath, the subjects for the next Lord's day should be distinctly stated, they would be often in the thoughts of the greatest part of the hearers, and by many would be carefully studied. They would form links of association with the coming sabbath, which would greatly increase the interest of its anticipation, and the enjoyment of its public exercises. They would do often more for securing the piety and virtue of the week, than is perhaps effected even by discourses, which for a time have made a strong and salutary impression. But the subjects of sermons can seldom be so
announced. The common discourses of the pulpit, and perhaps the most useful, grow out of the intercourse of each week. But in a regular course of expositions, notice may be given of the passages of scripture to be considered. And will this fail of leading many to a more careful and frequent examination of the scriptures?
This suggests another advantage of expository preaching.
It must certainly be desirable to every clergyman, to excite in his hearers the strongest disposition to study the scriptures. Very earnest appeals are made in sermons, on the importance of this duty; on the interest and worth of the knowledge to be thus obtained; on the comparative worthlessness of all other' knowledge; and on the awful condition of a soul appearing before God, ignorant of that word by which he is to be judged, and by which he might have been sanctified, and prepared for heaven. And very excellent rules are given in sermons to assist us in understanding the scriptures, and imbibing as we read them, the holy spirit which they inculcate. But clergymen have to lament the inefficiency of their best sermons on these subjects. Few can distinctly retain in their memories a set of rules thus given for reading the bible; and still fewer will long retain a deep impression of one or two sermons, designed to fix their attention on the word of God. But in giving expositions of scripture, these rules may frequently be repeated, and as often illustrated by examples. They will thus be applied in circumstances most favorable to their impression on the memory. Hearers too, when they come from church, instead of resorting to their bibles to examine a verse, the text of a sermon, will examine a passage of several verses, and perhaps a chapter. And this is not all. They will perceive, perhaps as they did not before, the import of a whole conversation, or discourse of our Lord; or of a whole subject in an epistle of the New Testament. Besides, being taught in this way to read the scriptures with careful attention to the circumstances in which any precept, or warning, or promise is given, the bible will become to very many a new book; a book, not only now and then to engage attention for a few moments, but to be studied; not to be read only on the sabbath, from an imperious and perhaps painful sense of duty, and remembered only in single and detached verses, but as the chosen employment of leisure hours; and chosen because loved.
It is to be lamented that the bible should be read only by chapters, and with such considerable intervals even between the reading of chapters. Very many know not how modern is the division of the bible into chapters and verses, and probably regard this division with some of the reverence which they feel
for the sacred books themselves. But every attentive reader of the scriptures has felt how injudiciously, in some instances, this division has been made; and every christian minister now knows, or should know, how much more advantageously for the understanding of the bible, it might be separated into sections. In expository preaching, such sections might be formed. And it would often be greatly useful to hearers, to be taught the connexion of parts, which have been disjoined by our present division into chapters and verses.
It is a question demanding the serious attention of ministers, how far the practice which prevails of preaching only sermons from single texts, has a tendency to make men satisfied with single texts, in their views of divine truth; and how far it has a tendency to repress, rather than to encourage, the careful reading of the scriptures.
I am aware that many ministers, by their great care in the selection, and the attention they bestow on the connexions, of their texts; and by the minuteness with which they exhibit these connexions; do in fact make many of their sermons, to a considerable extent, expository. And I would ask those who have been accustomed to this manner of treating their texts, if any part of their sermons has been heard with more attention, or with more interest than this, in which they have endeavoured to give the true import of the divine word? The last appeal is always to the word of God; and if the doctrine or duty, which is the subject of discourse, be clearly taught in the scriptures, it will generally be received with confidence and submission. The attention with which these expositions are heard, indicates the interest and advantage, with which the portion of scripture so explained will be afterwards read by hearers; and the great benefits they might derive from a regular course of them.
I have heard of a clergyman who, when dying, recurred to it as one of the happiest circumstances of his ministry, that in his sermons he had never used any part of scripture to prove or to enforce any thing, for which he did not believe that it was designed by its author;-that he had never given a meaning to any part of scripture, which he did not at the time think was the meaning intended to be conveyed by it. This may appear to some to be a peculiar circumstance of self-congratulation. But let him who is without offence in his citations from the word of God, cast the first stone !
Sometimes texts are nothing more than mottos. There is no direct reference to them throughout the sermon. The discourse is written upon a subject, without reference to a text; and a text is afterwards added in compliance with custom. Admit that sermons of this sort should be preached; that they New Series-vol. I.
give scope to observation and to appeal, to which merely expository discourses are far less favourable. But this surely is not the only way in which ministers should preach. It is not the kind of preaching best suited to lead men to the study of the scriptures. It fixes attention on no particular part of the bible; and few hearers, to satisfy themselves of the propriety, or incorrectness of any views which have been so presented, will search the word of God, that they may learn whether or not these things are so.
It is the corner stone of Protestantism, that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice. How then can ministers so strengthen the cause of protestantism, as by leading men to the study of the bible? Different sects of christians lecture upon the creeds received in their churches; and by this means, essentially, have human creeds retained their authority; and in many places have been better understood, and more readily applied as a test of truth, than the bible. Fas est ab ullis doceri. If ministers would have the scriptures to be the last resort on all questions of christian doctrines and duties, let them lecture upon the scriptures.
Dr. Lathrop of West Springfield has been, and is, one of the most popular and useful of the ministers of our country, who have published their sermons; and I believe that no one of his volumes has been so generally read, and with so much inter. est, as his Discourses on the Epistle to the Ephesians.
I will mention one other advantage of expository preaching. It gives to ministers a great advantage in the exhibition of characters, which they would present to their hearers, either for imitation, or for warning; and opportunities for attacking vices, without incurring the imputation of personality.
In the regular course of expository exercises, the vices of particular individuals, as well as those which are more common, may be brought to view, and all their guilt and danger exposed, without giving room for the charge, that the minister has gone out of his way, in becoming so directly the censor of public manners, or the guardian of individual virtue. Truth is indeed expected from the lips of a faithful minister; and truth which, not unfrequently, must wound the feelings,-bapру if it be the heart-of the hearer. But surely, it becomes the preacher to be most cautious, that it be obvious even to him who most acutely feels the rebuke, that he who inflicted the wound intended good alone, and not evil; that he had no passion of his own to gratify in giving pain to another. Happy the minister, who so administers reproof, both public and private, that it shall be felt to be, not his admonition or censure, but God's. If the heart must be penetrated till it bleeds, let it not
be with the rough hand of the assassin. Let it rather be with the skill of an able physician; with the tenderness of a sincerely affectionate friend. Let not a minister conceal one truth which he ought to preach; or pass over one vice, against which he ought to raise his voice, and exert his influence. But it becomes him very seriously to consider, by what manner of preaching he may best accomplish the great objects of his ministry; and if expository preaching will enable him to become a more successful reprover, it is a consideration of no small importance to enforce the duty.
One of the most venerable clergymen in this section of our country said, that in expository preaching he had fourd his best opportunities of successfully attacking vice. In preaching in course from the New Testament, he could not but frequently. preach to individuals. But every individual perceived that it was Christ or his apostle, who was admonishing him. The preacher must have gone out of his way, and obviously have failed of his duty, if he had failed of applying the instruction, which was keenly felt; but which came to the heart as an arrow from the quiver of the Almighty. Even the most jealous could not suspect the preacher of an improper design; nor the most querulous complain, where he had been guilty if he had been silent.
The manner in which expository preaching should be conducted, is a subject of too much importance for a paragraph or two, at the close of this long communication. I shall be happy, if, in stating some of its advantages, I may attract attention to the subject, which I can hardly doubt will be a means of extending the practice; and with it, the interest and usefulness of the public exercises of the Lord's day.
ON SYSTEMS OF THEOLOGY.
OUR minds are so formed, that when the subject, on which we employ them, is at all intricate and complex, we always find ourselves unable to view it at once in all its relations and dependencies. We can consider only one point of it at a time. We are therefore obliged to examine its parts separately and in succession; and after having done this, we may then proceed to combine the knowledge, we have acquired, and form a judgment of the whole.
This is the way by which we arrive at a knowledge of the character of God. We do not discover the divine attributes, as they exist combined and blended in the divine person ; but