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FOR THE STUDY OF THE GOSPELS,
Read, by way of introduction, Collier's Sacred Interpreter, especially the former part of the 2d vol.: Harwood's Introduction, vol. i. : the Dissertations prefixed to Macknight's Harmony : Goodwin's Jewish Antiquities, or rather, Jennings's Lectures upon it; and Law's Life of Christ.
By way of commentators furnish yourself with Hammond, per Le Clerc : Lightfoot's work upon the respective Gospels, especially his Horæ Hebraicæ: Bowyer's Conjectures on the New Testament: Jebb’s, or any other Harmony: the Wetstein edition of the New Testament, duodecimo, 1711 : Parkhurst's Lexicon, or if Latin be familiar to you, Schoettgenii Lexicon, per Krebs : and Clarke's Paraphrase.
Your method of studying the Gospels for the first time of going over them may be this: read for instance a passage of St. Matthew in the English, with as little attention as may be to the divisions of chapter and verse, and break it with your pen as you go on into sections or paragraphs, where you observe transitions in the history or discourse. Next read over again one of these paragraphs, and mark the words, expressions, connexions, or reasonings that appear to have any difficulty, and at the same time note down the best sense or explanation you can give them, however dubious or unsatis. factory; when you have thus gone through the paragraph, then set about the clearing up these difficulties one by one in their order; and first have recourse to the original Greek, with the assistance, if you want it, of Parkhurst's Lexicon, or Schoettgenius, which will ofttimes clear up the doubt without more to do: if not, consult the parallel passages in the other Gospels, which your Harmony points out; if there be none, or they afford no light, turn to the texts which your Wetstein Greek Testament refers to; if you are still at a loss for the interpretation, apply to Lightfoot's and Le Clerc's notes, Bowyer's Conjectures, and last of all Clarke's Paraphrase. In this train of inquiry when you are once satisfied stop, and by this means furnish an interleaved Greek Testament with notes.
In the Acts of the Apostles, besides the before-mentioned books, (except the Harmony and Clarke's Paraphrase,) read as you go along Benson's History of the Christian Religion.
When you undertake the Epistles pursue the same method with them, with the addition only of writing down the argument or subject of each section. read them in the following order, and let your commentators be
Upon James, Benson.—1, 2 Timothy, Benson,— Titus, Benson.—Ephesians, Locke.-Colossians, Pierce.-Philippians, Pierce.-Galatians, Locke. -Romans, Taylor.--1, 2 Corinthians, Locke.—1, 2 Thessalonians, Ben
:-Hebrews, Pierce.— The last three chapters, Hallet.— The rest of the general Epistles, Benson.
If you should afterwards desire a more exact and critical knowledge of the New Testament, or of any particular passage, it is best attained by comparing the senses in which a dubious word or expression occurs in different places of Scripture; for which purpose Schmidius's Concordance for the New Testament, and Trommius's for the old Septuagint, are complete. The folio edition of Wetstein supplies quotations from profane authors.
The English Concordance of Cruden is wanting for a thousand purposes.
In examining any point of controversy, (which by the by may be deferred till you have completed or made a considerable progress in the above prescribed course,) I would advise, before you take a book on either side of the question, to read the New Testament from beginning to end, with a view solely to that one subject; and collect all the texts as you go along, which appear to have any the most distant relation to it. Afterwards reduce the
number of these texts by striking out such as are found, upon a second examination, to have no real connexion with the subject, and then carefully peruse the remainder with the notes, comments, and assistances I suppose you now possessed of. Thus you will be enabled either to form a judgement of the question from what you have before you, or at least to read the books that are written upon it with edification and pleasure.
As to preaching, if your situation requires a sermon every Sunday, make one and steal five; for which latter purpose I recommend Conant's Sermons, which are easily abridged by selecting the most important out of the many heads into which he divides them ;—the few of Scougal's bound up with his “ Life of God in the Soul of Man;" Ostervald on the Causes of the Corruptions of Christians : which you may readily break into discourses for the pulpit. Accustom yourself to insert additions and alterations of your own, and make it a point of conscience to reject what you disbelieve or disapprove.
In order to compose sermons, furnish yourself in the first place with Limborch de Religione Christianâ; get also Enfield's Preacher's Directory, which I would wish you to interleave, and make from time to time additions to it of your own; and unless you are possessed of copious notes of our lectures, have by you Rutherforth’s Institutes of Natural Law.
The first rule I give you in the composition of sermons is, " to confine your discourse to one single specific subject," a vice, for instance, or error which actually prevails; an excuse or evasion which is in fact made use of; or a duty which you observe to be unnoticed, mistaken, or transgressed. When your own thoughts and observation fail to furnish you with such subjects, then, but not till then, have recourse for them to Enfield's Directory, or the scheme of the work, p. 1–8, or to the index at the beginning of Limborch.
In treating such a subject, first or early in your discourse state distinctly and clearly the point or proposition you mean to discuss, and then describe with all the particularity and minuteness which decency admits of what you observe or suppose to be the thoughts and conduct of mankind, especially of those you have to deal with in respect of it. If you hit upon a train of thought which has actually passed in the minds of your audience, or a description which exactly reaches their case, you will probably be of service. Next set forth in order, and with the good old fashion of firstly, secondly, &c., what may be said upon the subject from the law and light of nature. This you must draw principally out of your own head; but you will frequently receive the most excellent hints from Limborch, and may ofttimes find a full and just account of the matter in Rutherforth. In the last place, produce and explain the several texts and declarations of Scripture, always reserving the strongest for the last. Enfield generally will supply the texts, but Limborch always, together with some useful observations upon them; and when your Greek Testament is stocked with notes, the interpretation is at hand.
When these sort of subjects are exhausted, another species of preaching is, to give abstracts of select portions of sacred history in a familiar narrative, interspersed with a few reflections. For a collection of such subjects, see Enfield, p. 6; and for suitable observations upon them, the first vol. of Collier.
Likewise paraphrases on particular portions of the New Testament, a parable for instance, a single head of Christ's sermon on the Mount, the history of some noted miracle, a speech in the Acts, or a detached section of an epistle: only take care not to improve too much upon the text, that is, do not in order to make your discourse, as you may think, more useful, put meanings into it, or make applications of it, which were never intended. In this way Doddridge's Family Expositor is very valuable.
The attributes of God, as discovered in the works of the creation, and described in Scripture, such as his power, wisdom, goodness, compassion, placability, omnipresence, particular providence, &c.,
are excellent and easy topics. The descriptions of the attributes in the 5th vol. of Search's Light of Nature are inimitable, and the texts relating to them are well connected in Enfield.
The evidences of Christianity, particularly those which arise from the morality of the Gospel, the seeming or minute differences, but real and substantial agreements of the several historians, the candour and simplicity of their narratives, the inimitable zeal, affection, and earnestness, and therefore the authenticity of St. Paul's letters, the sufferings, disinterestedness, and low stations of the apostles and first teachers of Christianity, the success of their ministry, and good effects it produced; the originality of Christ's character and pretensions, the value, end, and importance of his mission, the explicit prophecies fulfilled in him, his own predictions of the persecutions of his followers, and the destruction of Jerusalem, may all be moulded into useful and popular sermons.
For your manner of writing sermons take the following directions.
Let your text relate to your subject without doing violence to the words, and choose one if you can which requires and admits an explanation ; in which case (and not as a general rule whether it wants it or no) begin your sermon with an exposition of the text: and if you make use of the context or connexion of the words, repeat entire the whole passage to which they belong, otherwise you will not be understood.
When you produce a text of Scripture to prove any thing, repeat the chapter and verse, if it be only by way of accommodation ; that is, to express your own meaning: in Scripture words you need not.
The best way of writing upon any subject is to put down, or settle at least, your own thoughts first, and consult books upon it afterwards.
In every discourse let your first care be truth and information, your last ornament and exactness of language.
The good old way of expounding the Scriptures in the place of a sermon, or on that part of the day when you have no sermon, especially if you can persuade your congregation to follow you with their Bibles in their hands, jis the very best service you can do them, because it will be a means of making them read the Scriptures to themselves and in their families. Vide Abp. Hort's Charge.
If you have dissenters in your parish, make it your business by your behaviour, conversation, and preaching, to possess both them and your own congregation with a sense of the unimportance of those points which divide you, of the conveniency and consequently the duty of giving up such points to one another for the sake of one common public worship. Above all things abstain from ridicule or reflections upon their persons and teachers, from reproaching them with the conduct of their ancestors, or predecessors of the same sect, from idle reports of their absurdities or immoralities, from groundless suspicions of their sincerity, and particularly from charging them with opinions which they disown, or consequences they do not deduce.
When you are called upon to visit the sick, collect as many of the family or others into the sick person's room as is convenient, and make what you say a vehicle of admonition to them.
Distribute books in your parish, especially the tracts of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, or such as you may select from their catalogue. It is one of the best modes of instruction, and in every one's power.