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walls of a sanctuary where, as in the grave, “the rich and the poor meet together,” and feel that “the Lord is the maker of them all.”
In the early ages of the church, this noble art of appealing to the finest affections and faculties of the soul, upon the great concerns of its salvation, was held in due estimation. The Gregories, the Basils, and the Chrysostoms, felt the pre-eminence which it afforded them, and bowed the hearts of their audiences “ as the heart of one man,”, under their energetic denunciations, startling remonstrances, and enrapturing descriptions of the glories of eternity. Their successors have bequeathed us much that is worthy of imitation ; much may be profitably learned from their triumphs and their failures. They were generally men of deep study, who explored the philosophy of the human mind with a keen and scrutinizing research. Like the great orator of Athens, their grand object was practical effect, and it is even now scarcely possible to read without emotion, those splendid effusions in which, in later times, the vivida vis animi of a Massillon or a Bourdaloue flashed conviction on their auditors, and made the daring libertine tremble at the judgment to come.
Pulpit eloquence in England partook somewhat of our national character. It was forensic, argumentative, or didactic.. The sermons were logical disquisitions, special pleadings, or mathematical demonstrations.. Puritanism introduced an immeasurable prolixity, an infinite divisibility of matter; a harsh, sarcastic tone, which if it sometimes overawed rather than convinced the judgment, seldom affected the heart. There was, as artists say, a hardness and dryness of style in the Puritanic discourses, which savours little of the affectionate tenderness that gives a charm to those beautiful sketches of sermons preserved in the Acts of the Apostles.
The re-action produced by the dark fanaticism of the Cromwellites, gave an opposite direction to the style and matter of sermonists. Morality, professing to base itself upon the Scriptores, but really deduced, and differing only in the name, from the philosophy of Greece or Rome, was the theme on which the preachers generally descanted. Essays, elegant and rechercheès but lifeless and powerless because destitute of the spirit of the gospel, continued to amuse the popular ear, and occasionally perhaps to produce some external reformation in manners; but failed to convert the soul.
Barrow might reason with the subtlety of an Aristotle. South might jest with the pleasantry of a Montaigne, or the causticism of an Aristophanes ; and Blair might captivate by his gracefully rounded periods, just as Allison dazzles our Hyperborean neighbours with his dilettanti sermons on taste; but the true end and aim of preaching was obscured or unknown. Their effusions were like " the song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and playeth
well on an instrument.” “Their hearers showed much love, but their heart still cleaved to its covetousness."
Whatever may have been the extravagancies into which Whitfield and Wesley were seduced, or led their votaries, it is certain that they were the founders of a school which still continues to affect very materially the tone and character of pulpit eloquence. Extemporaneous preaching being peculiarly adapted to arrest the attention, and inflame the passions of the multitude, though equally calculated to win the higher classes, in its more refined and polished style, now rapidly rose in public estimation, while a revolution of taste in the matter of the sermons became decisively marked amongst all classes of hearers, as well as preachers. Doctrine, to the exclusion of precept, was the distinctive feature of the art in those days; Arminian and Calvinist spun out their tenets to an extreme of tenuity; and in the general distaste for the Essayists (those “apes of Epictetus," whom the Doctrinists now dispersed in popularity), the indispensable apparatus of learning, care or industry in the composition of a sermon, were despised as "carnal weapons," as a distrust in the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost, who (in their interpretation of the promise), would enable the preacher to speak all that was needful, provided only," he took no thought how or what he should speak”! This race of pulpit orators has been propagated far and wide-within and without the pale of the establishment. We have still many Huntingdons and Hawkers, who spurn the petty restraints of text and context, method, division, or arrangement. We have still “ many who prate, but few who preach.”.
Great, therefore, are the benefits which the example and instructions of such a teacher as Mr. Simeon have conferred, more especially upon the university of which he is a venerable member, and the Clergy of the Established Church of which he is so distinguished an ornament. His publication of “ Claude's Essay on the Composition of a Sermon,” illustrated by his own masterly application of its rules, would alone entitle him to the gratitude of every Christian pastor.
It appears to have been his great aim in the publication of his • Skeletons,'• Horze Homileticæ' and Appendix,'io give a scriptural tone and character to preaching; to make it, in fact, that which it ought to be. He wished to rescue it from the degradation into which it had sunk; to model it conformably to the holiness and majesty of Him to whose purposes of mercy it is professedly dedicated. He would discriminate between the good and the evil of extemporaneous sermons; retaining all the earnestness of impassioned and energetic delivery,
“ Warm from the heart and fresh with all its fires.” Freed from the shackles of elaborate written discourse, yet restrained within the bounds of chastened, soberized, and thoroughly
digested arrangement. He would inculcate the importance of judicious selection in texts, and faithful adherence to their subject matter; of ascertaining what are the prominent truths in the passage to be discussed, and how they are elucidated or substantiated by the context. It is, in short, his object to draw off the attention of men from the subtleties of theology to the duties and charities of religion; avoiding those trivial subjects of dispute which too often distract the Christian community. Accordingly, his work forms a body of doctrinal and practical divinity, or a sort of Homiletic Commentary on the whole Bible; less tinctured, perhaps, than any similar production with the peculiarities of partyism, which frequently deform the otherwise valuable effusions of some popular preachers.
Mr. Simeon is not over anxious to systematize the Scriptures, or submit the individual texts to the Procustes' bed of a Calvin, or an Arminius, “aut quocunque vocetur nomine.” He neither heeds the outcry of “ Legalism” from the one, nor “ Antinomianism” from the other. He will not warp the plain and obvious purport of the text, or make it speak a language the very opposite of its inspired Author's sentiments. He seems to have adopted that salutary notion, that the writers of Holy Scriptures generally meant what they said ; and that obvious system of interpretation according to which the literal import of the words will generally be found the true. The figurative, or mystic scheme, is unquestionably sanctioned by higi authority; and the names of Bishops Hurd, Lowth, and Horne, will sufficiently rescue it from the sweeping censures of the Sceptic or the mere Millenarian. But still the remark attributed, we believe, to Origen, viz. “ that he had spiritualized the prophecies before he understood them,” carries much weight, and merits the attention of Scripturists in the present day. A vastly large proportion of the Old Testament prophecies concern the destinies of the Jewish people, as a national church, divorced, indeed, froin her legitimate lord because of her gross infidelity, and for a time supplanted by the Gentile bride. But the period, as well as the certainty of her restoration, is accurately foretold ; and none but the fool will taunt the study of chronological prophecy as “ either finding a man mad, or making him so." Since the learned Joseph Mede and Bishop Newton, and the giant-minded Bishop Horsley drew attention to the literal scheme of interpretation, as respects the glories of the latter days, however men may have varied as to dates or minor points, the grand feature of the system stands out in bolder relief, as the course of events developes the solid and scriptural basis on which it is built.
Few expositors of the Bible have more ingenuously lept themselves to its guidance, than Mr. Simeon ; wherever it leads, he unhesitatingly follows; and it is very delightful to trace the workings of mind by which he seems to have been progressively led to brighter views, and like the venerable Scott, to modify, so as almost to unwrite his earlier opinions, more especially respecting
the prophecies of the Old Testament. At a time when Missions to the Heathen engrossed the almost exclusive attention of the Christian Church, it was customary to apply to the Gentiles, every scriptural promise of blessing, made to Judah or Israel, Zion or Jerusalem. Perhaps one of the most important collateral results from the labours of the “ London Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews,” has been the awakened attention to the Prophetic Scriptures, and the disabusing the minds of modern students of theology, respecting the scope and design of unfulfilled prophecy. We are aware that the literal scheme of interpretation may be unwarrantably strained ; and we can discern among the disciples of the Millenarian school, an occasional rashness boré dering upon presumption ; a dogmatizing and domineering spirit, which in other times would have dragged its opponents to the stake, because it condemns without discrimination, all of whatever grade of erudition, or standard of piety, who dissent from the ordinances of the conclave as promulgated in the “ Noctes Cænæque Deorum,” and in the records of the “ Ædes Alburiana.”* To the more ardent zealots of this stamp, we earnestly recommend the judicious remarks of Mr. Simeon, in Sermon 476, vol iv. pp. 396, 397, where speaking of the time and manner of Christ's second Advent, he observes :
• But I must enter my protest against that bold, confident obtrusion of this matter upon the Church of Christ, which we have witnessed of late, and which has tended exceedingly to draw away the minds of many pious persons from the more sober and serious contemplations of matters of far deeper interest, and of incomparably greater certainty. I object not to the consideration of any point contained in Holy Writ, but I deprecate the giving such extraordinary, and almost paramount importance to things, which to say the least, are extremely questionable, and which, if ever so fully established, would tend in no degree to quicken the soul in the service of its God. For, whether we are to enjoy the presence of our God and Saviour in heaven or on earth, it can make no difference in our present duties, nor can it add one jot or tittle to our present encouragements. And the grievous errors which have been broached by some who have been most zealous in propagating their Millenarian notions, are abundantly sufficient to keep all prudent persons from being drawn into their vortex. Of this however we are certain, that, “ all the ends of the earth are given to the Lord Jesus for his possession," and that in the appointed season, which we hope now is fast approaching, “ All flesh shall see the salvation of God." "Yes, whether by his personal appearance, or by the operations of His Holy Spirit, “He shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously.”
In this work of Mr. Simeon's, no topic of interest or importance has been left untouched, and of its author we can truly say“ Nihil
* The “ Dialogues on Prophecy," being the substance of the conversations, &c., on that subject at Albury Park, (Surrey;) the residence of Henry Drummond, Esq.
of sanctity, and some of that cous" to preach as the meretricio
non letigit non ornavit.” His good sense discards the meretricious frippery of those who are desirous “ to preach themselves;" and, alas! there are some of that description who stand high in odour of sanctity, and attract vast congregations, either by the
“Start theatric practised at the glass," or the tinsel of lachrymatory appeals, or fustian and cant phraseology and stimulating doses of mysticism. To these we would recommend the admirable hints suggested by Mr. Simeon, in Sermon 517, vol. v. p. 102:
On us, therefore, the same obligation lies, to wave the use of all rhetorical ornament, and of artificial statements that savour of human wisdom; and to look to the influences of the Holy Spirit to render our word effectual for the good of men. The same holy watchfulness should be found in us respecting the honour of God, in the work of man's salvation. Were our talents ever so great, we ought to deem the exercise of them, in dispensing the Gospel, a matter of extreme care and jealousy. I mean not that they are to be laid aside; for they may be employed to good purpose, but they are not to be employed for the purpose of display, or to exalt our own wisdom : but they must be improved only for the purpose of unfolding more clearly the great mysteries of the Gospel, and of rendering them more intelligible to the meanest capacity. The object which we should ever keep in view should be, to have our word accompanied : with a divine unction to the souls of men ; and to see faith wrought in their hearts with a divine power.' And again, in Sermon 587, vol. v. p. 479 :
There are others who preach Christ for popularity. It is found that there is nothing which so interests the feelings of mankind, as the Gospel; and wberesoever that is preached with any degree of clearness and energy, there people will flock to hear it. Now, to our fallen nature, distinction of any kind is gratifying : and if a person can see himself followed by multitudes, who hang on his lips, and express delight in his ministrations, he will feel himself repaid, quite as well as by pecuniary compensation : and that many are actuated by this kind of ambition, whilst they profess to be led on by higher motives, there is too great reason to fear. Few, indeed, would acknowledge that they were influenced by such vanity as this, but, if they would mark what inordinate satisfaction they feel in a crowded audience, and what disappointment in a thin attendance, they might see that, to say the least, their motives are very questionable. And, indeed, this very motive often gives a tone and direction to the ministrations of men ; who will gratify a particular taste, not because they judge that style of preaching to be most scriptural, but because they see it to be most accordant with the public feeling; and they dare not to enter fully into what they themselves would think most needful, lest they should give offence to their hearers, and lessen the popularity which they supremely affect. Base is this motive; which prefers the estimation of men to the real welfare of their souls.'
The solemn topics of Election and Predestination are discussed by Mr. Simeon with calm sobriety, and in inseparable connexion