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difficulty, be rectified, if indeed we who judge thus be in the right.
Your sermons always have a good tendency: as such, I must give my approbation, leaving every man to his own method of attaining his object; though I may think that method is not the best of which he is capable. I am fully satisfied that you are capable of even excelling in that way which seems to me most suited to communicate solid instruction-to produce abiding conviction and so to silence objection, by "sound speech which cannot be condemned, that they who are of the contrary part may have "nothing to say against it:" for I have heard you, and others, who are no more favourable to accommodation than I am, have heard you, and have wondered that you did not understand where your forte lay.
When you take a plain text, full of matter, and from the real meaning of the text raise doctrines, draw conclusions, explain, illustrate, and apply the subject, there is great weight in your manner of preaching; which your fertility of invention and liveliness of imagination, kept in due bounds, render more interesting to the many, without giving just ground of umbrage to the few. But it appears to me and to others, that you frequently choose texts suited to give scope to the fancy, which is constituted the interpreter, instead of the judgment; and that you thus discover allusions, and deduce doctrines and instructions, true and good in themselves, but by no means contained in the text, nor, indeed,
easily made out from it even in the way of acmodation. In this case, your own vigour is principally exerted in the exercise of the imagination; and, while many hearers are surprised, amused, and delighted, their understandings, consciences, and hearts are not addressed or affected, by any means in so powerful a manner as by a plainer subject.
What St. Peter says of prophecy, that it is "not of private interpretation," is true of every part of scripture: the Holy Spirit had, in every part, one grand meaning, and conveys one leading instruction; though others may, by fair inference, be subordinately deduced. This is the real spiritual meaning, which we should first of all endeavour to discover, as the foundation of all our reasonings and persuasions. We should open, allege, argue, enforce, apply, &c. from this mind of the Spirit in scripture: nor is any passage fit for a text, properly speaking, which does not admit of such an improvement of it, in its real meaning. But that, which you seem to call the spiritual meaning,' is frequently no more than a new meaning put upon it by a lively fancy.— Typical subjects, indeed, have a spiritual meaning, and in another sense, under the literal meaning; being intended by the Holy Spirit to shadow forth spiritual blessings under external signs; and some prophetical visions are enigmatical, and the spiritual meaning is the unriddling of the enigma. Parabics, and such parts of scripture as the Canticles, are of the same nature. But in all the judgment should be the
expositor, not the fancy; and we should inquire what the Holy Spirit meant, not what we can make of it.
But there are many scriptures that have no other meaning than the literal; and which are to be improved, not by finding out a new meaning and calling it spiritual, but by trying what useful instruction we can deduce from the plain sense of the passage. To illustrate my meaning, let me bring forward your text as an instance. Nabopolazar, king of Babylon, who, in conjunction with Cyaxares, king of Media, subverted the Assyrian empire, is supposed to be meant by "the dasher "in pieces;" and your accommodation of this title to the French was fair. But the latter part of the verse is a challenge to the inhabitants of Nineveh, to do their utmost to withstand the fierce conqueror; with an intimation that it would be all to no purpose: "Keep the muni"tion; watch the way; make thy loins strong;
fortify thy power mightily:" for, as the Lord had not spared the offending Israelites, but had punished them by the Assyrians, who cruelly treated them; so he would not spare the Assyrians, but would destroy Nineveh by the Babylonians, who would fully avenge on the Assyrians their cruelties to Israel. Now I think the accommodation of this to our watching, praying, and using all means of averting the wrath of God from a guilty land, with hopes of success, must appear far-fetched to those who study the scriptures carefully; and who would say, "The instruction was good, but what right had the preacher to put such a sense on the words? At
this rate, we may make the scriptures mean what we please, by putting our own sense on any passage; and there will remain no certainty in interpreting scripture, but it will be equally easy to prove error as truth from it.' In fact, I thought I could see that you had some difficulty in making the allusion out; and were too much engaged in that pursuit, to bring it so much home with energy to the heart and conscience as you would have done, if you had said the same things from the words of Joel for instance, chap. i. v. 12-14, or 17; or those of Isaiah, i. 16-18. Nor let it be forgotten, that many hearers of the gospel love best to have evangelical truths proposed without much application, for reasons best known to themselves, or rather to the Lord.
My dear sir, I am so deeply convinced that this way of accommodation is capable of very dangerous abuses, and has been so abused to very bad purposes, by those who make divisions and deceive souls, that I grieve when any person of real piety and respectability gives countenance to it; and I have so high an opinion of your integrity, benevolence, desire of glorifying God, and of doing good; and of your talents likewise, if properly exerted; that I have long wished to discuss the subject with you.
You have a popular turn; you will be sure to have hearers; and if I could drop a hint, which should render your ministry more unexceptionable and useful, I should be glad to be a prompter when unable to be an actor. I have more need for spurs than a curb-bridle, in respect of the imagination; but I will venture to say I speak
the sense, not of two or three fastidious critics, but of all the best judges in London, that you need a strong curb, when your imagination is concerned in preaching; for I have heard many persons, who are not unfavourable to your ministry, and who greatly love you, lament it; though, like myself, they did not plainly say it to you.
It appears to me that you are too much dejected about it; and ready to despond, without any occasion. Your heart is upright; your doctrine sound; your aim and dependence simple: there needs no 'revolution' in your preaching in any respect: a few hints, duly and constantly kept in view, would remedy all, that your candid friends object to; and, as to the rest, you cannot expect to please them. I should hint to you, 1st, the propriety of commonly taking plain and full texts, which evidently contain the substance of what you mean to set before the people. For taking difficult texts has been so abused, that judicious persons are almost always ready to ascribe it to a bad motive. 2. Of first inquiring after the primary meaning and intention of the text, by examining the context accurately; and then considering what subordinate uses may be made of the general subject. 3. To aim at keeping judgment and imagination in their proper places; judgment as expositor, imagination merely to illustrate and give animation to the decisions of judgment. 4. To be upon your guard, when thoughts which strike your fancy by novelty occur to you: they are seldom so solid as brilliant; and sometimes have little but novelty to recommend them, as a sober review of them may often convince us.