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edness in truth to every congregation, distinct from its adaptedness to all congregations, and our duty is to search out this distinctive adaptedness. “A word spoken in due season how good is it.” An article of food to a man in sickness is not exactly the same thing, as that same article to the same man when in health ; and a doctrine presented to an audience who are not hungering for it, is not exactly the same thing as the same doctrine presented to the same audience when they are longing for it. It seems as if the same truth became two different truths, when preached to men in different states ; and as if the same man became two different men, scarcely knowing each other, when he is under the influence of different emotions. We are to preach not to the man as he was, but to the man as he is. A sermon which penetrates through the intellect to the heart, which is drank up by the heart as the thirsty earth drinketh up the rain ; a sermon which is so timely that it seems to be a counterpart to the heart itself, each being imperfect without the other, which in familiar phrase goes to the very spot, and is just the thing, this is a true sermon. If it be a consolatory discourse, it comes to a family who were bereaved the week before, with a significancy in every sentence, but appears vapid and perhaps false to a family immersed in worldliness. In making our discourses not only true but seasonable, says Dr. Owen, “consists no small part of that wisdom which is required in the dispensation of the word.” The advantage of a stated over an itinerant ministry, the advantage of preaching at home rather than on exchange is this, the pastor knows his flock, and is known of them; he can meet the exigency, can strike the very chord which will vibrate, need not preach as “one beating the air." Robert Hall in his memoir of Mr. Toller says, “It was not his practice to devote much of his time to ministerial visits. In justification of this part of his conduct, he was accustomed to quote the apostolic injunction ; “Is any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church.” * But as God has in every thing else conjoined our interest with our duty, and made one duty facilitate another, so also in this, he has not only made it the duty of a minister to visit his people, but has made this duty the great aid of rhetorical labor. Ii is by coming in direct contact with mind, that the preacher learns how to address it; by hearing
• Hall's Works, Vol. II. p. 405.
the simple statements of his people, that he learns whether his communications are understood, whether he is giving to every one the portion which is needed. New themes for the pulpit are forced upon his mind by every conversation ; new attitudes and developments of the same theme; his preaching thus becomes various, graphic, distinctive; it solves particular doubts, eases particular pains, and by thus benefiting the individuals benefits the aggregate. Says bishop Hall, “the minister must discern between his sheep and his wolves; in his sheep between the sound and the unsound; in the unsound between the weak and the tainted ; in the tainted between the nature, qualities, and degrees of the disease and infection; and to all these he must know how to administer a word in season.' In thus analyzing the character of his parishioners, he is performing a duty to them; yet he is also acquiring for himself a fresh and original system of mental science, more practical than any which can be learned from the books, fitting him better and therefore better for him, as David's sling was more useful to the shepherd boy than Saul's armor. I have heard of a minister who preached to a people with whom he was not acquainted, and his words, all well meant, were like firebrands to them; why he knew not, but they were incensed at his audacity, and when he afterwards learned, that the village which he thus stirred up to mutiny had long borne the opprobious epithet, Sodom, and that the villagers were peculiarly sensitive to this which they deemed a slanderous misnomer, he wisely concluded that he would thereafter always inquire into the peculiarities of his audience, before he read to it his unfortunate sermon from the text, “up, get you out of this place.” This is but one instance on a small scale, of the evil which results on a large scale, from inattention to the prejudices, the capabilities, the whole state of a people on whom we are to operate.
We have read perhaps of the statue chiselled according to the rules of art, but falling and breaking to pieces, as the sculptor was in the act of fixing it on its somewhat crazy pedestal, and what a poor consolation it was to the amateur, to know that his palace contained a newly bought statue, perfect in every respect, save that it was reduced to fragments while they were putting it up. But ah! how many doctrines, wrought out with great toil, and proportioned with all skill are precious above rubies while retained in the minister's mind, but when transported to a mind of different structure and attempted to be fixed
there, spoiled by the roughness of the transportation or by the weakness of the pedestal.
So essential is it for a preacher to consider not only the tendencies of the thing to be communicated, but also the peculiar fitness of the mind which is to receive the communication. Ministers, a half century since, were fond of alluding to the “ jealousy” of God, but the popular associations with the word jealousy make it expressive of an attribute far from divine. They were fond of referring to the “ vindictive justice” of God; and by this they meant his vindicative justice, that which vindicates the power of his name, and ensures the welfare of his universe; but the common associations with the word vindictive make it a most unfair appellation for the benevolent equity of Jehovah. From their own minds these preachers sent forth a pure doctrine, but into the minds of others, they put something so bruised and broken as to lose its former lineaments. We have heard of John Adams's stamp act, a very good thing in itself perhaps, but suggesting to a jealous people another stamp act, which imparted its nature to all of its name; and so when we have heard from sorne ministers that God is the author of sin, we know that this phrase, whether it were designed to express the truth or not, will be a conjurer to call up only dark and terrific suggestions, and to make the real meaning of these ministers invisible, amid the crowd of misshapen meanings which will fill the field of vision. If a preacher is determined at all events to be “faithful” and to declare the whole counsel of God, it were better to declare it in the Hebrew language so that it may not be understood, than declare it in such perverted terms, that it shall be ruinously misunderstood. True faithfulness does not consist in throwing out all doctrines at random, but in teaching so that men shall understand. 66 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake that a great multitude, both of the Jews and also of the Greeks, believed."*
We intend no more than the truth when we say, God has decreed that men shall act as they do act; but some congregations hearing this, understand us to say, God has ordered their actions just as Augustus ordered " that all the world should be taxed,” and they imagine that whatever they do is but obedience to the divine decree, like a subject's obedience to the decree of his king.
# Acts 14: 1.
So soon then as we discover their close association of statute or command with decree, we shall, if we be wise to win souls, introduce qualifying epithets, or else select our terms from a less obnoxious vocabulary, and show the same truth but not through the same refracting and discoloring medium.
We mean to exalt the government of God when we say, he permits sin ; but some men, hearing this, understand us to imply that God permits sin, just as an earthly ruler permits sabbath breaking or profaneness, that he allows and favors it. Both they and we are shocked with this idea, and when in order to justify the ways of God to man, we explain our meaning by the apology, as it appears to some, that he forbids sin in itself considered, but prefers it, all things considered ; gives his revealed will against it, and keeps his secret will for it, we excite in many minds the suspicion of divine duplicity. Not that we harbor the least of such suspicion ; not that we intend to insinuate the merest shadow of it, but we are using words which are two-edged swords;—suggesting philosophically one thing, and in popular prejudice another thing. Terms which are fit in scientific discussion may be fatal in popular address. We may walk about in a powder-magazine safely by day; but the torch which we carry into it to see by at night may conduce to other ends beside vision.
Secondly ; in order to present a doctrine in the proper manner, the preacher must secure the moral influence of it upon his own heart. As the moral tendencies of the Bible are internal evidence of its truth, so the moral tendencies of a doctrine are a forcible argument for it, and he who, in his preaching, most clearly develops these tendencies, gives, other things being equal, the most conclusive proof of the doctrine. The old adage is not strictly true, Quod procedit e corde, redit in cor; for many a fanatic gives vent to effusions no less sincere than they are inoperative upon minds less fanatical than his own, and many a philosopher expresses his elevated emotions to men who simply gaze
and wonder. When however the preacher has properly consulted the state of his hearers, then it is true that, his own heart being instinct with the spirit of his doctrine, the hearts of his hearers will answer to his, as face answereth to face in water. Then it is, that he may for a time forego attention to forins of style, and let the thought, fitly revolved and duly felt, find its own way out. Its own way will be the most natural
, and of course the best way. As the beauty of a tree may be increased by trimming its branches, but still more by enriching its root,
so a sermon may be made complete, not so much by adjusting its phrases, as by cultivating the emotion from which all its phrases should germinate and grow up. The intellectual influence of a doctrine upon the preacher's mind may make his sermon logical and weighty, but the moral influence of the doctrine upon his heart is all that can save the sermon from being abstract and inefficient. It is said of Jobn the Baptist, that “ he was a burning and a shining light ;” “ ardere prius est,” remarks an old writer, “lucere posterius, ardor mentis est, lux doctrinae.” A man, under the exciting influence of a moral truth, will have thoughts and illustrations and words which seem to drop into his mind from above. It is not he that speaks, but the truth which speaks in him. He almost seems to be inspired. It was in allusion to such bright hours that Cicero said, “ there never was a great man who did not at some time receive inspiration from the gods,” and that so many sages of old represented poets as “ losing sight of rules of art, and borne away by the divine impulse.” In allusion to the same thing, it was remarked of Paul, that “he was the companion of wisdom, but the leader of eloquence ; he followed the former, but went before the latter, not rejecting her that followed,” and his eloquence was perfect because, instead of being coldly sought after where he might by chance find it, it was the free emanation of his piety that burned, and of course heat came from the fire. His eloquence was representative of his subject. Any man who lets a doctrine lie on his heart until the influence of the doctrine is transfused through his heart, will shape all his words in the likeness of that doctrine; his soul being full of it, his mouth will speak it, and nothing foreign from it; bis transitions, his metaphors, his arguments, will all be tinctured with the one pervading and transforming truth which he designed to portray. The sermon is then symbolical of its theme; a picture of it ; of course, its manner is just what it should be.
A deservedly popular preacher, in one of our cities, gave notice from the pulpit
, that, on the succeeding Sabbath eve, he would discourse upon the theme of the final judgment. An immense concourse assembled to hear the sermon, thus publicly notified. An exquisitely solemn piece of music introduced the services. A short prayer, full of devout adoration, followed. The preacher announced his text, the impressive description of the last day given in Matt. 25:31-46. All eyes were fixed upon him. Each hearer seemed to anticipate and even to wish