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There is still another method of doctrinal preaching, which is recominended by some peculiar advantages, although, as I have intimated in another place, I should regard any preacher as exceedingly deficient in his duty, if he were to rely upon it exclusively. I allude to that class of discourses, in which controverted and offensive doctrines are brought out inferentially and unexpectedly. The hearer is led along, step by step, in a plain path, assenting to the truth of every proposition, because it agrees with his creed, or because it is so clear that he cannot help it, till the preacher draws an inference which he was not looking for, and which presents some doctrine that he had been accustomed to deny, in an entirely new light. He is startled. He cannot believe it, and yet upon a careful review of the premises, he does not see how it is possible to get rid of it. He sees it, almost in spite of himself, to be a legitimate, logical deduction. In many cases this produces conviction, where apparently nothing else could. I have no hesitation in saying, that all the hard doctrines may be inferred from premises, in which almost all sects of evangelical christians are agreed; and he who is skillful in eliciting these doctrines wields a most important weapon in defence of the truth. If you ask me, whether I would have you make
, each of the doctrines equally prominent in your preaching, or how, if you ought to dwell more upon some than others, you can ascertain the right proportion, I refer you to the Bible, for the safest and best answer that can be given. Carefully note the space which the doctrines respectively occupy, in
the scriptures. Mark the comparative stress which is laid upon them by the sacred writers, and let this be your guide. Try to make each one just as prominent as the Holy Ghost has made it, and no more so. By following this rule, you will dwell much more upon depravity, the atonement, regeneration, faith and repentance, than upon free agency and divine efficiency, or natural and moral ability ; but I hope you will carefully bear it in mind, that the latter are just as much entitled to their due proportion of regard as the former. The more you study the scriptures, with fervent prayer to God for the teaching of his Spirit, the more likely you will be “rightly to divide the word of truth, and to give to every one his portion in due season. If you should find some of the controverted doctrines made more prominent by the sacred writers, than you had once supposed, you need not give yourself a moment's anxiety about the effect of preaching them distinctly and earnestly ; for God will take care of his own truth, and make it “accomplish the thing whereto he sent it."
The only additional remark I have to make with regard to doctrinal preaching is, that it ought to be judiciously timed,and clothed in as acceptable language as is consistent with a clear exhibition of the truth. “ Words fitly spoken are like apples of gold in pictures of silver."
No person was ever convinced of the truth of a mathematical demonstration, by being knocked on the head for not seeing it. It will be perfectly clear to any preacher who “discerns the signs of the times,” and is acquainted with the state of his flock, that some seasons are more favorable than others, for the discussion of difficult or unacceptable topics ; the great thing is, to seize upon and improve the golden opportunity. In many cases, perhaps in most, the way may be gradually prepared by a judicious preacher for the presentation and acceptance of truths, which many might otherwise have wrested to their own destruction. That you, my dear son, may have all needed wisdom and grace imparted to you, to “preach the preaching which God hath bidden you," is the earnest prayer of your
MY DEAR E.
I hope you will not infer from my having dwelt so long upon doctrinal preaching in my two last letters, that I attach any the less importance to practical preaching. Indeed, when rightly understood and presented, all the doctrines of the gospel, like all the principles of natural science, are highly practical; and it is on this account, that they ought to be frequently brought into every pulpit, and thoroughly studied by every congregation. If the doctrines of the christian religion were mere barren abstractions, however interesting the study of them might be to men of philosophic minds, there could be no possible advantage in preaching them. It is because they have a direct bearing upon the immortal interests of man, that they were put into our sacred commission; and if we keep them back, it is at our peril. This is true of the most mysterious doctrines of the Bible, such as the Omnipresence of God, the Trinity in Unity, man's free agency and absolute dependence, and that great “mystery of Godliness, God manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” Should any person deny that these doctrines are practical, I would simply ask him to reflect a moment and then answer me. Is it of no practical importance whether men believe that God is every
where present, “ searching the heart and trying the reins, to render unto every one according as his work shall be ?” Is it of no practical importance to believe, that God exists in three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory ; that the Father sent the Son into the world to seek and to save that which was lost; that in him the divine and human natures were mysteriously united, so that there might be man to bleed, and Divinity to atone ? Is it of no practical importance to be taught and to believe, that we are perfectly free and accountable moral agents on the one hand, and on the other, that “we are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, but that all our sufficiency is of God.” The truth is, that in some sense every thing in the Bible is practical. From beginning to end it is a practical book ; so that whoever preaches the doctrines and applies them as its divine Author intended, is a practical preacher.
But there are classes of truths, which, though founded upon the doctrines or growing out of them, are commonly called practical, on account of their more obvious and immediate bearing upon our duties and our destiny. Such are the ten commandments; the beatitudes in our Lord's sermon on the mount, and the warnings, threatenings, invitations and promises, which abound throughout the Old Testament and the New. All these, and whatever other great practical truths you find in the Bible, I would have you preach distinctly, earnestly, faithfully. The law and the gospel comprehend all the duties which we