« EelmineJätka »
My exact notions of the Christian ministry are sta ed in the tenth sermon in this volume, entitled the different methods of preachers. Mr. Saurin, after the apostle Paul, divides Christian ministers into three classes. The first lay another foundation different from that which is laid. The second build on the right foundation, wood, hay and stubble. The third build on the same foundation, gold, silver and precious stones. I consider Mr. Saurin as one of the last class, and I think it would be very easy to exemplify from his own discourses the five excellencies, mentioned by him as descriptive of the men.
First, there is in our author a wise choice of subjects, and no such thing as a sermon on a question of mere curiosity. There are in the twelve volumes one hundred and forty four sermons but not one on a subject unimportant. I shall always esteem it proof of a sound prudent understanding in a teacher of religion to make a proper choice of doctrine, text, arguments, and even images in style adapted to the edification of his hearers. Where a man has lying before him a hundred subjects, ninety of which are indisputable, and the remaining ten extremely con→ troverted and very obscure, what but a wayward genius can induce him nine times out of ten to choose the doubtful as the subjects of his ministry?
Saurin excels, too, in the moral turn of his discourses. They are all practical, and, set out from what point he will, you may be sure he will make his way to the heart in order to regulate the actions of life. Sometimes he attacks the body of sin, as in his sermon on the passions, and at other times he at
tacks a single part of this body, as in his sermon or the despair of Judas; one while he inculcates a particular virtue, as in the discourse on the repentance of the unchaste woman, another time piety, benevolence, practical religion in general: but in all he endavours to diminish the dominion of sin, and to extend the empire of virtue.
Again, another character of his discourses is what he calls solidity, and which he distinguishes from the fallacious glare of mere wit and ingenuity. Not that his sermons are void of invention and acuteness; but it is easy to see his design is not to display his own genius, but to elucidate his subject; and when invention is subservient to argument, and holds light to a subject it appears in character, beautiful because in the service and livery of truth. Mere essays of genius are for schools and under graduates: they ought never to appear in the christian pulpit; for sensible people do not attend sermons to have men's persons in admiration, but to receive such instruction and animation as may serve their religious improvement.
Further, our author, to use again his own language; excelled in “weighing in just balances truth against error, probability against proof, conjecture against demonstration, and despised the miserable sophisms of those who defended truth with the arms of error." We have a fine example of this in the eleventh sermon, on the deep things of God, and there fidelity and modesty are blended in a manner extremely pleasing. The doctrine of the divine decrees hath been very much agitated, and into two extremes, each under some plausible pretence, divines have gone. Some
have not only made up their own minds on the subject, in which they were right, but they have gone so far as to exact a conformity of opinion from others, and have made such conformity the price of their friendship, and, so to speak, a ticket for admittance to the Lord's supper, and church communion: in this they were wrong. Others struck with the glaring absurdity of the former, have gone into the opposite extreme, and thought it needless to form any sentiments at all on this, and on other subjects connected with it. Our author sets a fine example of a wise moderation. On the one hand, with a wisdom, that does him honour, he examines the subject, and with the fidelity of an upright soul openly declares in the face of the sun that he hath sentiments of his own, which are those of his own community, and he thinks those of the inspired writers. On the other hand, far from erecting himself, or even his synod, into a standard of orthodoxy, a tribunal to decide on the rights and privileges of other christians, he opens his benevolent arms to admit them to communion, and, with a graceful modesty, to use his own language, puts his hand on his mouth, in regard to many difficulties that belong to his own system. I think this sermon may serve for a model of treating this subject, and many others of the Christian religion. There is a certain point, to which conviction must go, because evidence goes before it to lead the way, and up to this point we believe because we understand: but beyond this we have no faith, because we have no understanding, and can have no conviction, because we have no evidence. This point differs in different men according
to the different strength of their mental powers, and as there is no such thing as a standard soul, by which all other souls ought to be estimated, so there can be no such thing as a human test in a Christian church, by which the opinions of other Christians ought to be valued. There is one insuperable difficulty, which can never be surmounted, in setting up human tests, that is, whose opinion shall the test be, yours or mine? and the only consistent church in the world on this article is the church of Rome.
Were men as much inclined to unite, and to use gentle healing measures, as they are to divide, and to gratify an arbitrary censorious spirit, they would neither be so ridiculous as to pretend to have no fixed sentiments of their own in religion, nor so unjust as to make their own opinions a standard for all other men. There are in religion some great, principal, infallible truths, and there are various fallible inferences derived by different Christians: in the first all agree, in the last all should agree to differ. I think this, I repeat it again, a chief excellence in our author. He has sentiments of his own, but he holds them in a liberal generous manner no way injurious to the rights of other men.
In the sermon above mentioned, Saurin makes a fifth class of mean superficial builders without elevation and penetration, and against these he sets such as soar aloft in the exercise of the ministry, and in this also he himself excels. His thoughts on some subjects are lofty, and his language sublime. He is not afraid of considering religion in union with our feelings, nor does he hesitate to address hope and fear,
and other passions of our minds with those great truths of the gospel, which are intended to allure, awake, arouse, and excite us to action. Terribly sometimes does he treat of future punishment, and generally under the awful images made use of in holy scripture delightfully at other times does he speak of eternal happiness in the enjoyment of God. On both these subjects, on the perfections of God, and on the exercise of piety, particularly in the closet, he stretches and soars, not out of sight beyond truth and the reason of things, but so high only as to elevate and animate his hearers. By the most exact rules of a wise and well-directed eloquence most of his sermons are composed; at first cool and gentle like a morning in May, as they proceed glowing with a pleasant warmth, and toward the close not so much inflaming as settling and incorporating the fire of the subject with the spirits of his hearers, so as to produce the brisk circulation of every virtue of which the heart of man is capable, and all which spend their force in the performance of the duties of life.
Our author always treats his hearers like rational creatures, and excels in laying a ground of argument to convince the judgment before he offers to affect the passions; but what I admire most of all in him is his conscientious attachment to the connected sense of scripture. The inspired book is that precisely, which ought to be explained in a Christian auditory, and above all that part of it the New-Testament, and the connected sense is that, which only deserves to be called the true and real sense of scripture. By