Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
To William Lord, Archbishop of Canterbury
In offering this work to your patronage, I beg permission to state what occasion there is for such a work, and what I have aimed at in the composition of it.
It is to be regretted, that, while the education we receive in our Universities is admirably adapted to lay a good foundation for us to build upon, there is no subsequent instruction given us to fit us for the employment of the ministry. Before men are called to the public exercise of the medical or legal profession, they have an appropriate line of study assigned to them: nor does any one expect to succeed in either of those professions, until he has, with much labor and study, qualified himself for the discharge of the duties pertaining to it.
But for the service of the Anglican Church no such preparatory studies are required; nor are any great facilities afforded for the acquisition of that knowledge, which ought to be possessed before we become stated and accredited teachers in the Church of Christ. Even that species of composition which is peculiarly proper for an edifying exposition of God's blessed Word, is never made a subject of specific instruction; or, at least, is never marked out with such clearness as to render the attainment of it easy to persons at their first entrance on their clerical duties. Hence considerable discouragement is felt by the Younger Clergy, and a great temptation is thrown in their way, to avail themselves of the labors of others, instead of striking out at first a path for themselves.
To remedy this defect, as far as was in my power, I have endeavored to unfold the most important and instructive parts of Holy Writ, both in the Old and New Testament, avoiding carefully all peculiarities of human systems, and all unprofitable controversies; and I have done this in such a way, as to exemplify what appeared to me the most simple and edifying mode of stating divine truth. Throughout the whole I have labored to maintain that spirit of moderation which so eminently distinguishes the Anglican Church, giving to every revealed truth, as far as I was able, its proper place, and that precise measure of consideration which it seemed to occupy in the Inspired Volume.
At the same time, everything has been brought forward with an especial view to its practical improvement, so as to lead the minds of my Younger Brethren to that which was preeminently necessary for them in their public ministrations. This has been my object invariably: and in that view I would hope the Discourses here offered to the public will prove of some little service to the Church of Christ.
To render them the more useful, I have studied conciseness, compressing into every separate Discourse all that was needful for an elucidation of the subject, and confirming every part of it with such references to Scripture, as should leave no reasonable doubt of its accordance with "the mind of the Spirit" of God.
In every one of the Discourses also I have so clearly marked the method, that the entire scope of the passage may be seen with the glance of an eye; and the young Minister may be able to prosecute his work with ease according to his own judgment.
These my best endeavors, such as they are, I lay before your Grace for your approbation, and commend to God for his divine blessing, without which they can be of no avail.
I am, Your most obliged and devoted Servant,
King's College, Cambridge, May 20, 1833
INSTRUCTION relative to the Composition of Sermons is of great importance, not only to Ministers, but, eventually, to the community at large.
And it were much to be wished that more regard were paid to this in the education of those who are intended for the ministry. It has sometimes been recommended to the younger Clergy to transcribe printed Sermons for a season, until they shall have attained an ability to compose their own. And it is to be lamented, that this advice has been too strictly followed: for, when they have once formed this habit, they find it very difficult to relinquish it: the transition from copying to composing of Sermons is so great, that they are too often discouraged in their first attempts, and induced, from the difficulty they experience in writing their own Sermons, to rest satisfied in preaching those of others. To remove, as far as possible, these difficulties from young beginners, is the intent of these Skeletons. The directions given in Mr. Claude's Essay on the Composition of a Sermon, which is annexed to these Skeletons, cannot fail of being helpful to every one who will study them with care: but there appears to be something further wanted; something of an intermediate kind, between a didactic Essay like Claude's, and a complete Sermon; something which may simplify the theory, and set it in a practical light.
The following Skeletons are not intended particularly to exemplify Mr. Claude's rules. There are indeed all his different kinds of discussion contained in the Skeletons. But instead of illustrating particular rules, they are all intended rather to illustrate one general rule; namely, to show how texts may be treated in a natural manner. The author has invariably proposed to himself three things as indispensably necessary in every discourse;
unity in the design,
perspicuity in the arrangement,
and simplicity in the diction.
It may perhaps be useful to point out the manner in which these discourses are formed. As soon as the subject is chosen, the first inquiry is, What is the principal scope and meaning of the text? I beg every young minister very especially to remember this. Let us suppose, for instance, that the text of Jeremiah 31:18-20, were the subject. Upon examination, it appears to be a soliloquy of the Deity, expressing what He had seen to be the workings of Ephraim's mind, and declaring the emotions which the sight of his penitent child had occasioned within his own bosom. Having ascertained this, nothing is to be introduced into any part of the discourse, which does not, in some way or other, reflect light upon the main subject.
The next inquiry is, Of what parts does the text consist, or into what parts may it be most easily and naturally resolved? Here an obvious division occurs: it is evident that the text contains,
1st, The reflections of a true penitent;
2dly, The reflections of God over him.
This division being made, the discussion of the two parts must be undertaken in their order. But how shall we elucidate the first head? Shall we say, that the penitent is roused from his lethargy, humbled for his transgressions, stimulated to prayer? etc. etc. Such a distribution would, doubtless, contain many useful truths; but they are truths which may be spoken from a thousand other texts as well as this; and after they had been spoken, the people would still be left without any precise knowledge of the portion of Scripture which should have been opened to them. If the text did not contain any important matter, it would then be proper, and even necessary, to enter in this general manner into the subject: but if the text itself affords ample means of elucidating the point that is under discussion, it is always best to adhere to that.
In order then to enter fully into the subject, we examine more carefully, what are the particular reflections which God noticed in the penitent before us. And here we observe a further discrimination: the penitent's experience is delineated at two different periods; one in the beginning, and the other in the progress, of his repentance. This distinction serves to open an easy method for arranging what shall be spoken.
Upon investigating still more accurately his expressions, it appears that he laments his past incorrigibleness in the ways of sin, and, with a humble expression of his hope in God, implores converting grace. Soon afterwards, reflecting with a kind of joyful surprise upon the progress he has made, he thankfully ascribes the honor to God, through whose illuminating and converting grace he has been enabled to make such attainments.
This experience being not peculiar to Ephraim, but common to all true penitents, we illustrate and confirm it by suitable passages of Holy Writ. A similar process is then pursued with respect to the second head: and when that is arranged and discussed in like manner, we proceed to the application.
The nature of the application must depend in some measure on the subject that has been discussed, and on the state of the congregation to whom it is addressed. Where there are many who make a profession of godliness, it will be necessary to pay some attention to them, and to accommodate the subject in part to their state, in a way of conviction, consolation, encouragement, etc. But where the congregation is almost entirely composed of persons who are walking in "the broad way" of worldliness and indifference, it may be proper to suit the application to them alone. In either case it may be done by inferences, or by address to distinct characters, or by a general address: but, for the most part, either of the former methods is preferable to the last.
As for the exordium, that is the last part to be composed; and Mr. Claude's directions for it cannot be improved.
Here then is an example of a discourse made on a text that affords an abundance of useful and important matter. But this is not the case in all texts: take Matthew 16:26, for instance. In that, the general scope of the text is, to declare the value of the soul; the distribution of it into its leading parts might be varied in many ways: but whatever distribution were adopted, one must of necessity supply from one's own invention matter for the illustration of it; because the text itself, though very important, does not limit one to any particular considerations.
By the adoption of such a plan as this, many good ends are attained: for not only is unity preserved, and a perspicuity diffused through the whole, but a variety of ideas suggest themselves which would not otherwise occur to the mind: a hackneyed way of treating texts will be avoided: the observations will be more appropriate: they will arise in a better order, and be introduced to more advantage: the attention of the audience will be fixed more on the word of God: their memories will be assisted: and the very reading of the text afterwards will bring to their minds much of what they have heard: besides, they will be more enabled to discern beauties in the Scripture when they peruse it in their closets.
But it may be thought, that, on this plan, it will be always necessary to use divisions. This, however, is by no means the case: every text drawn up after this manner, must of necessity have a unity of design; and wherever that is, the divisions may be either mentioned or concealed, as the writer shall choose. Let the aforementioned text in Jeremiah 31 be treated without any division at all; and the same arrangement will serve exactly as well as if the divisions were specified. It will stand thus—
"A true penitent in the beginning of his repentance reflects on his incorrigibleness in the ways of sin, and pleads with God to turn and convert his soul—
"When he has advanced a little in his repentance, he reflects with gratitude on the progress he has made, and he gives to God the glory of it—
"In such a state he is most acceptable to God—
"While he can scarcely find terms whereby to express his own vileness, God accounts no honors too great for him—
"He owns him as a pleasant child; expresses his compassionate regard for him, promises to manifest his mercy towards him, and grants him all that he himself can possibly desire."
Divest the Skeleton of Matthew 16:26 of its divisions, and it will be equally clear.
"By 'the world' we are to understand sinful pleasure, riches, and honor—
"This, if considered in itself, is vile; if, as estimated by the best judges, it is worthless—
"The soul, on the contrary, if considered in itself, is noble; and if, as estimated by the best judges, it is invaluable—
"Such being the disparity between the value of the world, and that of the soul, we cannot but see what must be the result of a comparison between them—
"We suppose, for argument sake, that a man may possess the whole world, and that after having possessed it for a while, he loses his own soul—what in the outcome would he be profited?
"Whether we enter generally or particularly into this subject, the result will be still the same."
These two Skeletons are selected in order to exemplify this idea, 1st, In a subject where the whole matter is contained in the text; and,
2ndly, In a subject where nothing but the general idea is suggested. If the Reader will give himself the trouble to examine, he will find that every one of the other Skeletons may, with equal ease, be drawn out in the same manner.
This is a point of considerable importance: for if the mind were necessarily cramped and fettered by this method of composition, it would be inexpedient to adopt it. But it is manifest that it leaves the mind at most perfect liberty: and while many advantages arise from it, there is no room at all for the principal objection, which might at first sight appear to lie against it. But though these observations are made to show that discourses might be formed from the Skeletons as easily without divisions as with them-it is not to be thought that the mention of the divisions is a matter of indifference: the minds of the generality are not capable of tracing the connection and coherence of a discourse: their attention will flag; they will lose much of what they hear; and have no clue whereby to recover it: whereas the mention of an easy and natural division will . . .
relieve their minds,
assist their memories, and
enable them to "mark, learn, and inwardly digest" the word.
If any student, who has a view to the ministry, should choose to employ a part of his Sabbath in perusing any of these compositions, he would do well first to get a clear view of the great outlines of the discourse; consulting, as he proceeds, the passages of Scripture that are quoted. After this, if he will write over the whole, interweaving those passages, or such parts of them as refer immediately to the subject, adding only a few words here and there to connect the whole—he will find that every Skeleton will make a discourse, which, if read distinctly, will occupy the space of nearly half an hour.
In this way he may attain, without any great difficulty, a considerable knowledge of the Scriptures, together with a habit of thinking clearly and connectedly on the principal doctrines contained in them. If anyone who has entered upon the sacred office, should think them worthy of his attention, a different method of using them should be adopted. He, having finished his academic studies, has his time more at his own command: he should therefore make himself perfect master of the Skeleton before him, and then write in his own language, and according to his own conceptions, and his views of the subject.
But there is one caution which requires peculiar attention. In the Skeletons many passages of the Holy Scriptures are quoted, partly for the conviction of the Reader's own mind, and partly to furnish him with the proper materials for confirming his word. These passages, if they were all formally quoted, would make the sermon a mere rhapsody, a string of texts, that could not fail to weary and disgust the audience. But if they be glanced at, if the proper parts only be selected, and interwoven with the writer's own language, they will give a richness and variety to the discourse, at the same time that they will be peculiarly grateful to those who delight in the word of God.
There is however another extreme, which would be no less pernicious: if no passages are formally adduced, many parts of the discourse will appear to want scriptural confirmation. The proper medium seems to be, to quote them expressly when there is reason to apprehend that any doubt is entertained respecting the truth that is insisted on, or where the citing of them will give peculiar weight to the point in hand: in all other places, the language of Scripture should be used rather to enrich and adorn our own.
It cannot be but that a Work of this nature should be liable to many objections. Persons will vary in their judgment with respect to it, according as they affect or disregard order; according as they relish or disapprove the use of Scripture language; according as they have been habituated to close thinking, or have been accustomed to a desultory way of communicating their ideas; and, lastly, according as they acquiesce in the unsophisticated doctrines of Scripture, or fondly attach themselves to human systems.
But the Author begs leave to observe, that the very plan of suggesting the whole substance of a Sermon in a few pages, of showing in so small a space how to introduce, divide, discuss, and apply every subject, and of referring to the most important passages of Scripture that can reflect light upon it—necessarily precludes all the ornaments of language, and induces somewhat perhaps of obscurity. But if there be found some reason for that complaint, "I strive to be brief, and I become obscure," it is hoped the candid Reader will consider it as a fault incident to the plan itself; and if he meets with any expression which appears too unqualified, he is requested to remember, that a thousand qualifying clauses might be introduced into a full discourse, which could not possibly find place in such compositions as these. If he would regard these in their proper view, he must consider them only as rough materials prepared to his hand, that out of them he may construct an edifice, modeled and adorned to his own taste.
There is another objection indeed, which has been mentioned to the Author by some of his most judicious friends: It is feared that these Skeletons may administer to sloth and idleness. But he apprehends they are so constructed, that they cannot possibly be used at all, unless a considerable degree of thought is bestowed upon them. Nor does he think that any person, who has ever found the pleasure of addressing his congregation in his own words, will be satisfied with reciting the compositions of another. On the other hand, if some, who would otherwise have preached the sermons of others, be drawn gradually to compose their own; and if others, who have been crude and incoherent, be assisted in the exercise of their judgment—it will tend to wipe off disgrace from the Anglican Church, and eventually, it is hoped, to benefit the souls of many.
It is not possible to say what is the best mode of preaching for every individual, because the talents of men are so various, and the extent of their knowledge is so different. It seems at all events, expedient that a young Minister should for some years write out his sermons, in order that he may attain a proper mode of expressing his thoughts, and accustom himself to the obtaining of clear, comprehensive, and judicious views of his subject. But that he should always continue to write every word of his discourses, seems by no means necessary. Not that it is at any time expedient for him to deliver an unpremeditated harangue: this would be very unsuitable to the holy and important office which he stands up to discharge.
But there is a medium between such extemporaneous effusions and a servile adherence to what is written: there is a method recommended by the highest authorities, which, after we have written many hundreds of sermons, it may not be improper to adopt: the method referred to is, to draw out a full plan or skeleton of the discourse, with the texts of Scripture which are proper to illustrate or enforce the several parts, and then to express the thoughts in such language as may occur at the time. This plan, if it has some disadvantage in point of accuracy or elegance, has, on the other hand, great advantages over a written sermon: it gives a Minister an opportunity of speaking with far more effect to the hearts of men, and of addressing himself to their passions, as well by his looks and gesture, as by his words.
Secker, in his last Charge, after observing, in reference to the content of our sermons, "We have, in fact, lost many of our people to sects by not preaching in a manner sufficiently evangelical;" adds, in reference to the manner of our preaching, "There is a middle way between written discourses, and unpremeditated addresses, used by our predecessors, of setting down, in short notes, the method and principal heads, and enlarging on them in such words as present themselves at the time: perhaps, duly managed, this is the best." But, after all, the great concern both of Ministers and private Christians is, to enjoy the blessing of God upon their own souls.
In whatever manner the truth may be delivered, whether from a written discourse or from a well-digested plan, they may expect that God will accompany it with a divine energy, if they are looking up to him in the exercise of faith and prayer. In this hope, these Skeletons are sent forth into the world: and if, by means of them, the excellency of the Gospel may be more clearly seen, its importance more deeply felt, and its strengthening, comforting, sanctifying efficacy more richly experienced—the Author's labors will be abundantly repaid.
In the discussion of so many subjects, it cannot fail but that every doctrine of our holy religion must be more or less covered. On every point the Author has spoken freely, and without reserve. As for names and parties in religion, he equally disclaims them all: he takes his religion from the Bible; and endeavors, as much as possible, to speak as that speaks. If in anything he grounded his sentiments upon human authority, it would not be on the dogmas of Calvin or Arminius, but on the Articles and Homilies of the Church of England. He has the happiness to say, that he does, from his inmost soul, believe the doctrines to which he has subscribed: but the reason of his believing them is not that they are made the Creed of the Anglican Church, but, that he finds them manifestly contained in the Sacred Oracles.
Hence, as in the Scriptures themselves, so also in this Work, there will be found sentiments, not really opposite, but apparently of an opposite tendency, according to the subject that is under discussion.
In writing, for instance, on John 5:40, "You will not come to me, that you might have life," he does not hesitate to lay the whole blame of men's condemnation on the obstinacy of their own depraved will: nor does he think it at all necessary to weaken the subject by precise distinctions, in order to support a system.
On the contrary, when he preaches on John 6:44, "No man can come unto me, except the Father who has sent me draw him," he does not scruple to state in the fullest manner he is able, "That we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ assisting us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will. Nor does he judge it expedient on any account to soften, and palliate, and fritter away this important truth.
While too many set these passages at variance, and espouse the one in opposition to the other, he dwells with equal pleasure on them both; and thinks it, on the whole, better to state these apparently opposite truths in the plain and unsophisticated manner of the Scriptures, than to enter into academic subtleties, that have been invented for the upholding of human systems. He is aware, that they who are warm advocates for this or that system of religion, will be ready to condemn him as inconsistent: but, if he speaks in exact conformity with the Scriptures, he shall rest the vindication of his conduct simply on the authority and example of the Inspired Writers. He has no desire to be wise above what is written, nor any conceit that he can teach the Apostles to speak with more propriety and correctness than they have spoken.
It may be asked perhaps, How do you reconcile these doctrines, which you believe to be of equal authority and equal importance? But what right has any man to impose this task on the preachers of God's word? God has not required it of them; nor is the truth or falsehood of any doctrine to be determined absolutely by this criterion. It is presumed that everyone will acknowledge both the holiness of God, and the existence of sin. But will anyone undertake to reconcile them? or does anyone consider the inability of man to reconcile them, as a sufficient ground for denying either the one or the other of these truths? If then neither of these points are doubted, notwithstanding they cannot be reconciled by us—then why should other points, equally obvious in some respects, yet equally difficult to be reconciled in others, be incompatible, merely because we, with our limited capacity, cannot perfectly discern their harmony and agreement?
But perhaps these points which have been such a fruitful source of contention in the Church, are not so opposite to each other as some imagine: and it is possible, that the truly scriptural statement will be found not in an exclusive adoption of either truth, nor yet in a confused mixture of both truths , but in the proper and seasonable application of them both; or, to use the language of Paul, "in rightly dividing the word of truth."
Here the Author desires to speak with trembling. He is aware that he is treading upon slippery ground; and that he has but little prospect of satisfying any who have decidedly ranged themselves under the standard either of Calvin or Arminius. But he wishes to be understood: he is not solicitous to bring any man to pronounce his Shibboleth; much less has he any design to maintain a controversy in support of it: he merely offers an apology for the sentiments contained in his publication, and, with much deference, submits to the public his views of scripture truth: and, whether they be perfectly approved or not, this he hopes to gain from all parties, a favorable acceptance of what they approve, and a candid forbearance in the points they disapprove.
This being premised, he will proceed to state the manner in which these apparently opposite tenets may, in his judgment, be profitably insisted on.
It is supposed by many, that the doctrines of grace are incompatible with the doctrine of man's free-will; and that therefore the one or the other must be false. But why so? Can any man doubt one moment whether he be a free agent or not? he may as well doubt his own existence. On the other hand, will any man who has the smallest spark of humility, affirm, that he has made himself to differ; and that he has something which he has not received from God? 1 Corinthians 4:7. Will anyone refuse to say with the Apostle, "By the grace of God, I am what I am! 1 Corinthians 15:10."
Again; as men differ with respect to the first beginnings of a work of grace, so do they also with respect to the manner in which it must be carried on; some affirming, that God has engaged to "perfect that which concerns us;" and others, that even Paul had reason to fear "lest he himself should become a cast-away." But why should these things be deemed incompatible? Benhadad might have recovered from his disease, though God had decreed that, by Hazael's device, he should die of it (2 Kings 8:10.)
In the same way, we may (for anything that there is in us) die in our sins, though God has decreed that he will save us from death. In both cases the decree of God stands; but the possibility of the outcome, as considered in itself, remains unaltered. Neither our liableness to perish prevents the execution of God's decree; nor does his decree alter our liableness (in ourselves) to perish.
Does not every man feel within himself a liableness—yes, a proneness to fall? Does not every man feel, that there is corruption enough within him to drive him to the commission of the greatest enormities, and eternally to destroy his soul? He can have but little knowledge of his own heart, who will deny this.
On the other hand, who that is holding on in the ways of righteousness, does not daily ascribe his steadfastness to the influence of that grace which he receives from God; and look daily to God for more grace, in order that he may be "kept by his power through faith unto salvation Zechariah 4:9."
No man can in any measure resemble the scripture saints, unless he is of this disposition. Why then must these things be put in opposition to each other, so that every advocate for one of these points must of necessity controvert and explode the other? Only let any pious person, whether Calvinist or Arminian, examine the language of his prayers after he has been devoutly pouring out his soul before God, and he will find his own words almost in perfect consonance with the foregoing statement. The Calvinist will be confessing the extreme depravity of his nature, together with his liability and proneness to fall; and the Arminian will be glorifying God for all that is good within him, and will commit his soul to God, in order that HE who has laid the foundation of his own spiritual temple, may also finish it. 1 Peter 1:5.
A circumstance within the Author's knowledge reflects so much light upon this subject, that he trusts he shall be pardoned for relating it:
A young Minister, about three or four years after he was ordained, had an opportunity of conversing familiarly with the great and venerable leader of the Arminians in England; and, wishing to improve the occasion to the uttermost, he addressed him nearly in the following words: "Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions, not from impertinent curiosity, but for real instruction." Permission being very readily and kindly granted, the young Minister proceeded to ask,
"Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved, that you would never have thought of turning unto God, if God had not first put in into your heart?"
"Yes," says the Arminian, "I do indeed."
"And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything that you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?"
"Yes, solely through Christ."
"But, Sir, supposing you were first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?"
"No; I must he saved by Christ from first to last."
"Allowing then that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?"
"What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?"
"Is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?"
"Yes; I have no hope, but in him."
"Then, Sir, with your permission, I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance. It is, in substance, all that I hold, and as I hold it: and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."
The Arminian leader was so pleased with the conversation, that he made particular mention of it in his journals; and notwithstanding there never afterwards was any connection between the parties, he retained a sincere regard for his young inquirer to the hour of his death.
Doubtless either of these points may be injudiciously stated, or improperly applied.
If the doctrines of Election and Predestination are so stated as to destroy man's free agency, and make him merely passive in the work of salvation—they are not stated as they are in the Articles and Homilies of our Church, or as they are in the Holy Scriptures.
On the other hand, if the doctrines of free-will and liableness to final apostasy are so stated as to rob God of his honor, and to deny that he is both "the Author and the Finisher of our faith," they are equally abhorrent from the sentiments of our Anglican Church, and from the plainest declarations of Holy Writ.
The Author humbly apprehends that there is a perfect agreement between these different points; and that they are equally beneficial or equally pernicious, according as they are properly or improperly implied.
If, for instance, on hearing a person excuse his own supineness by saying, "I can do nothing, unless God gives me his grace." We should reply, "This is true; it is God who alone can give you either to will or to do;"—what would be the consequence? we would confirm him in his sloth, and encourage him to cast all the blame of his condemnation upon God himself.
But if we should bring before him the apparently opposite truths, and bid him arise and call upon God; we should take the way to convince him, that the fault was utterly his own, and that his destruction would be the consequence, not of God's decrees, but of his own inveterate love of sin.
Let us suppose, on the other hand, that a person, having "tasted the good word of life," begins to boast that he has made himself to differ, and that his superiority to others is the mere result of his own free-will. If, in answer to him, we should immediately descant on our freedom to good or evil, and on the powers with which God has endued us for the preservation of our souls, we would foster the pride of his heart, and encourage him, contrary to an express command, to glory before God. 1 Corinthians 1:29; Romans 3:27. Whereas, if we would remind him, that "by the grace of God we are what we are," and that all must say, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto your name be the praise," we would lower his overweening conceit of his own goodness, and lead him to acknowledge his obligations to God.
Let us illustrate the same in reference to the two other doctrines we mentioned, namely, The perseverance of the saints—and our liableness, in ourselves, to "make shipwreck of the faith." Suppose a person say, "I need not be careful about my conduct for God has begun the good work within me, and has engaged to perform it until the day of Christ." If we were to begin extolling the covenant of grace, and setting forth the truth of God in his promises, we would countenance his error, at the very time that he was turning the grace of God into licentiousness. But if we should warn him against the danger of being given over to a reprobate mind, and of perishing under an accumulated load of guilt, we would counteract his sinful disposition, and stimulate him to flee from the wrath to come.
On the other hand, if a humble person should be drooping and desponding under a sense of his own corruptions, and we would spread before him all our difficulties and dangers—we would altogether "break the bruised reed, and quench the smoking flax." But if we should point out to him the fullness and stability of God's covenant; if we should enlarge upon the interest which Christ takes in his people, and his engagements that none shall ever pluck them out of his hand John 10:27-28; then it is obvious, that we would administer a cordial to his fainting spirit, or (as God requires of us) we should "strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees, and comfort the fearful heart."
These sentiments may perhaps receive some confirmation from the conduct of the Apostle Paul. In administering the word, he consulted the state of his hearers, and apportioned to them either "milk or strong meat," according to their ability to digest and improve it 1 Corinthians 3:1-2. In reference to this we may say that the doctrines of human liberty, and human frailty, together with the other first principles of Christianity—are as milk, which those who are yet "babes in Christ," must have set before them. But that the doctrines of grace, or "the deep things of God," are rather as strong meat, which none can digest unless they have grown to some stature in the family of Christ, and have had their spiritual senses long exercised in discerning good and evil Hebrews 5:12-14. And that, as strong meat, which would nourish an adult, would destroy the life of an infant; and milk that would nourish an infant, would be inadequate to the support of a man oppressed with hard labor. So it is with respect to the points which we have been considering.
Or, if we may be permitted a little to vary this illustration, the one sort of truths are as food proper to be administered to all; whereas the other are rather as cordials for the support and comfort of those who need them.
In a word, there seems to be a perfect correspondence between God's works of providence and grace. In the former, "he works all things according to the counsel of his own will," yet leaves men perfectly free agents in all that they do. So in the latter, he accomplishes his own eternal purpose both in calling and in keeping his elect; but yet he never puts upon them any constraint, which is not perfectly compatible with the freest operations of their own will.
The Author well knows that these doctrines may be, and alas! too often are, so stated as to be really contradictory. But that they may be so stated as to be profitable to the souls of men—he hopes is clear from the illustrations that have been just given. Many have carried their attachment to theological systems so far, that they could not endure to preach upon any passage of Scripture that seemed to oppose their favorite sentiments; or, if they did, their whole endeavor has been to make the text speak a different language from that which it appeared to do. In opposition to all such modes of procedure, it is the Author's wish in this preface to recommend a conformity to the Scriptures themselves, without any solicitude about systems of man's invention. Nor would anything under Heaven be more grateful to him than to see names and parties buried in eternal oblivion, and primitive simplicity restored to the Church.
He trusts he shall be pardoned if he go yet further, and say, that, in his judgment, there not only is no contradiction in this statement, but that there is a propriety in it, yes, moreover, a necessity for it, because there is a subserviency in these truths, the one to the other.
God elects us; but he carries his purpose into effect by the free agency of man, which is altogether influenced by rational considerations.
So also God carries on and completes his work in our souls, by causing us to feel our proneness to apostatize, and by making us cry to him daily for the more effectual influences of his grace.
Thus, while he consults his own glory, he promotes our greatest good, in that he teaches us to combine humility with earnestness, and vigilance with composure.
The Author would not have troubled the Reader with this apology, were it not that he is exceedingly desirous to counteract that spirit of animosity, which has of late so greatly prevailed against those who adhere to the principles of the Anglican Church. Not that he has himself any cause to complain: but he would wish his Work to be brought to this test—Does it uniformly tend:
To Humble the Sinner?
To Exalt the Savior?
To Promote Holiness?
If in one single instance it loses sight of any of these points, let it be condemned without mercy. But, if it invariably pursues these ends, then let not any, whatever system they embrace, quarrel with an expression that does not quite accord with their views. Let them consider the general scope and tendency of the book: and, if it is, as he trusts it is, not to strengthen a party in the Church, but to promote the good of the whole—then let smaller differences of sentiment be overlooked, and all unite in vindicating the great doctrines of Salvation by Grace through Faith in Christ.
Why these Discourses have been multiplied to such an extent, the Author will briefly explain. The Reformers of the Church of England, by the publication of Homilies on some of the fundamental topics of religion and morals, have rendered an inestimable service to all classes of society. But it is obvious, that these Homilies embrace only a few of the subjects to which it is essential to call the attention of mankind. It is also a known fact, that the Reformers themselves designed considerably to enlarge the number of these truly Scriptural addresses. The Ministers of the Church, accordingly, have never considered their private labors as superseded by the Homilies; but have, from age to age, supplied to the nation Discourses of the highest value.
It has not, however, as the Author believes, occurred to any divine, to supply a regular series of Discourses on the most important parts of the whole volume of Scripture; and to adapt those Discourses, by their general construction, their simplicity, and their brevity—to the especial service of the younger Clergy. But, perhaps, a young Minister may find it not an unprofitable exercise, to take some of the texts here treated, and to make an arrangement of them for himself in the first instance from his own mind, and then to compare that arrangement with what is here set before him.
To supply this deficiency in theological writings, is the particular object of the volumes which the Author now humbly presents to the public. This book contains short discourses on divers subjects. And he trusts this labor of love will be regarded by his Brethren in the Ministry, not as an act of presumption, but as a humble and affectionate attempt to render their entrance on their holy and honorable calling more easy, and their prosecution of it more useful. And, by embracing so many subjects which have a different aspect in systematic divinity, he hopes that he has paved the way for their rising superior to human systems of every kind.
The Author is no friend to systematizers in Theology. He has endeavored to derive from the Scriptures alone his views of bible religion; and to them it is his wish to adhere, with scrupulous fidelity; never wresting any portion of the word of God to favor a particular opinion, but giving to every part of it that sense, which it seems to him to have been designed by its great Author to convey.
He is aware that he is likely, on this account, to be considered, by the zealous advocates of human theological systems, as occasionally inconsistent: but if he should be discovered to be no more inconsistent than the Scriptures themselves, he will have reason to be satisfied. He has no doubt but that there is a system in the Holy Scriptures; (for truth cannot be inconsistent with itself:) but he is persuaded that neither Calvinists nor Arminians are in exclusive possession of that system. He is disposed to think that the Scripture system, be it what it may, is of a broader and more comprehensive character than some very exact and dogmatic Theologians are inclined to allow: and that, as wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve one common end, so may truths apparently opposite be perfectly reconcilable with each other, and equally subserve the purposes of God in the accomplishment of man's salvation.
The Author feels it impossible to repeat too often, or avow too distinctly, that it is an invariable rule with him to endeavor to give to every portion of the word of God its full and proper force, without considering one moment what scheme it favors, or whose system it is likely to advance. Of this he is sure, that there is not a decided Calvinist or Arminian in the world, who equally approves of the whole of Scripture. He apprehends, that there is not a determined votary of either system, who, if he had been in the company of Paul, while he was writing his different Epistles, would not have recommended him to alter one or other of his expressions.
But the Author would not wish one Scripture altered: he finds as much satisfaction in one class of passages as in another; and employs the one (he believes) as often, and as freely, as the other. Where the Inspired Writers speak in unqualified terms, he thinks himself at liberty to do the same; judging, that Scripture Writers needed no instruction from him how to propagate the truth. He is content to sit as a learner at the feet of the holy Apostles, and has no ambition to teach them how they ought to have written. And as both the strong Calvinists and Arminians approve of some parts of Scripture and not of others, such he expects will be the judgment of the partisans of these particular systems on his unworthy comments—the Calvinists approving of what is written on passages which have a Calvinistic aspect; and the Arminians, of what is written on passages that favor their particular views.
In like manner, he has reason, he fears, to expect a measure of condemnation from the advocates of each system, when treating of the passages which they appear to him to wrest, each for the purpose of accommodating them to his own favorite systems and opinions. He bitterly regrets that men will range themselves under human banners and leaders, and employ themselves in converting the Inspired Writers into friends and partisans of their peculiar principles. Into this fault he trusts that he has never fallen.
One thing he knows, namely, that pious men, both of the Calvinistic and Arminian persuasion, approximate very nearly when they are upon their knees before God in prayer—the devout Arminian then acknowledging his total dependence upon God, as strongly as the most confirmed Calvinist; and the Calvinist acknowledging his responsibility to God, and his obligation to exertion, in terms as decisive as the most determined Arminian. What both these individuals are upon their knees, it is the wish of the Author to become in his writings.
Hence it is that he expects to be alternately approved by both parties, and condemned by both. His only fear is, that each may be tempted to lay hold of those parts of his work only, which oppose their favorite system, and represent them as containing an entire view of his sentiments. He well knows the force of prejudice, and the bitterness of the theological disputes; and he cannot hope to be so fortunate as completely to escape either. But, even if assailed on all sides, he shall have the satisfaction of reflecting that it has been his wish simply to follow the Oracles of God.
The Scriptures and the Church of England have been claimed, by each of these two parties, as exclusively favoring their peculiar system; and if the same comprehensive and liberal character be found in his writings, he shall consider it, whatever may be the judgment of mere partisans, as no small presumption in his own favor.
There is another point also, in respect to which it has been his aim not to offend; and that is, in not so perverting the Scripture as to make it refer to Christ and his salvation, when no such object appears to have been in the contemplation of the inspired writer. He regrets to observe, in some individuals, what he knows not how to designate by any more appropriate term than that (which however he uses with much hesitation) of an ultra-Evangelical taste; which overlooks in many passages the practical lessons they were intended to convey, and detects in them only the leading doctrines of the Gospel. This error he has labored earnestly to avoid; being well assured, that lessons of morality are, in their place, as useful and important as the doctrines of grace.
In a word, it has been his endeavor faithfully to deliver, in every instance, what he truly believed to be the mind of God in the passage immediately under consideration: and in the adoption of this principle of interpretation, he trusts for the approbation of all, who prefer the plain and obvious comments of sobriety to the far-fetched suggestions of a licentious imagination. He wishes much that the practice of expounding the Scriptures, which obtained so generally, and with such beneficial effects, at the time of the Reformation, were revived. He has in his present work introduced many Discourses constructed upon this model; and he cannot but earnestly recommend it to his Younger Brethren in the Ministry, especially those who preach three times in the week, to reserve at least one of these seasons for exposition.
It is his wish, however, to guard them against a desultory manner of explaining the Scripture; and to advise, that the leading point of the whole passage be the point mainly regarded; and the subordinate parts only so far noticed, as to throw additional light upon that. If this caution is not attended to, the minds of the people are likely to be distracted with the diversity and incoherence of the matter brought before them. But if a unity of subject be preserved, the discourse will come with ten-fold weight to the minds of the audience; who will be led, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to search the Scriptures for themselves, and to read them with more profit at their own homes.
To this it may be added, that it is not necessary that the whole passage should be read for the text: let the most striking part of it alone be introduced in the first instance; and then the whole explained, with such remarks as are suited to impress on the mind the truths contained in it. This will be found to have been the course pursued in many of the following Discourses, to a greater extent perhaps than at first sight appears.
In order to render the work useful as a Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, the Author has made it his object carefully to consider the context, and, in every passage which he undertook to examine, has uniformly limited his consideration of every distinct subject to the view of it presented in the context. The Author thinks it expedient, that discourses delivered before mixed assemblies should present a complete view of a subject, without reference to any preceding or following discourse: and to this he has directed his attention throughout the whole work; so that any single Discourse will present to the Reader all that was judged necessary for the elucidation and improvement of the subject in hand.
And, if in some few instances there be an idea repeated in two consecutive Discourses, it may well be accounted for, from the circumstance, that, though standing together here, many, so placed, were preached at the distance of twenty or thirty years from each other.
The Author has also sought to render the work useful for Families. It has often been a matter of complaint, that there existed few Sermons sufficiently plain and concise for the instruction of children: he has therefore filled up the outline of many of these sketches somewhat fully, hoping that Clergymen and others may find them not altogether useless as a Family Instructor.
The texts cited in the New Testament from the Old, or occurring more than once in the volume of Scripture, are treated only once in the volume, and that generally in the place where it seems to the Author to occupy the most important station. This he particularly mentions, in order that the Reader may not be led to imagine, that a passage occurring in any one Gospel is left unnoticed, because no Discourse upon it is found in that particular place; or that a prophecy is not examined, because it is not considered in the book of the particular Prophet where it originally occurs. Some passages in the Prophets are cited in the New Testament no less than six different times, (particularly Psalm 118:22-23, and Isaiah 6:9-10); but of course such passages are investigated only once.
In order that the agreement between the Author's views, and what he conceives to be the views of the Church of England, may be ascertained—he begs leave to refer the Reader to the Four Sermons on Deuteronomy 5:28-29, in which "The Excellency of the Liturgy" is delineated; and to that on 2 Corinthians 1:13, wherein "The Churchman's Confession" is considered. And to any who may wish to become acquainted with the Author's views of what is called "Evangelical Religion," he begs to recommend the perusal of the Sermons on 1 Corinthians 2:2, and Psalm 119:128; which were written for the express purpose of exhibiting, in as clear and comprehensive a manner as he was able, his opinions upon that important subject.
More especially, with this object, he would entreat their candid consideration of what he has called an "Appeal to Men of Wisdom and Candor" (on 1 Corinthians 10:15.) All these Sermons, together with those on the Liturgy, and those on the Offices of the Holy Spirit, were delivered before the University of Cambridge. These Discourses, it may be added, comprehend all the topics which he considers as of primary and fundamental importance to mankind.
On many other points there exists, and will probably continue to exist, a diversity of opinion: and in writing upon the whole Scriptures, it would not be expected but that he should occasionally touch on such topics, as they presented themselves to him in his course. But as he has endeavored, without prejudice or partiality, to give to every text its just meaning, its natural bearing, and its legitimate use—he hopes, that those who dislike his expositions of the texts which oppose their particular views, will consult what he has written on the texts which they regard as the sheet-anchors of their system; and that, finding him, as he trusts they will, free from party spirit, they will themselves endeavor to shake off party prejudices, and co-operate with him in maintaining and extending that comprehensive, and generous, and harmonious, as well as devout spirit in the Church, which, he ventures to say, it has been one of the great objects of his life to promote.
The Author has only to add, that by compressing thus every subject into the smallest space, he has given in this work, what, if a little dilated and printed in the usual way, would have occupied one hundred volumes. And if the Reader peruse one discourse every day of his life, the whole will occupy him exactly seven years.