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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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A discourse delivered in public for the purpose of religious instruction and improvement. In order to make a good sermon, the following things may be attended to. The exordium should correspond with the subject on which we are about to treat. For this purpose the context often forms a source of appropriate remark; and this, though called a hackneyed way, is one of the best for opening gradually to the subject; though, I confess, always to use it is not so well, as it looks formal. There are some subjects in which the context cannot be consulted: then, perhaps, it is best to begin with some passage of Scripture apposite to the subject, or some striking observation. It has been debated, indeed, whether we should begin with any thing particularly calculated to gain the attention, or whether we should rise gradually in the strength of remark and aptness of sentiment. As to this, we may observe, that, although it is acknowledged that a minister should flame most towards the end, perhaps it would be well to guard against a too low and feeble manner in the exordium. It has been frequently the practice of making apologies, by way of introduction: though this may be admitted in some singular cases, as on the sudden death of a minister, or disappointment of the preacher through unforeseen circumstances; yet I think it is often made use of where it is entirely unnecessary, and carries with it an air of affectation and pride. An apology for a man's self is often more a reflection than any thing else.

If he be not qualified, why have the effrontery to engage? and, if qualified, why tell the people an untruth? Exordiums should be short: some give ua an abridgment of their sermons in their introduction, which takes off the people's attention afterwards; others promise so much, that the expectation thereby raised is often disappointed. Both these should be avoided; and a simple, correct, modest, deliberate, easy gradation to the text attended to. As to the plan. Sometimes a text may be discussed by exposition and inference; sometimes by raising a proposition, as the general sentiment of the text, from which several truths may be deduced and insisted on; sometimes by general observations; and sometimes by division. If we discuss by exposition, then we should examine the authenticity of the reading, the accuracy of the translation, and the scope of the writer, translation, and the scope of the writer. If a proposition be raised, care should be taken that it is founded on the meaning of the text. If observations be made, they should not be too numerous, foreign, nor upon every particle in the text. If by division, the heads should be distinct and few, yet have a just dependence on and connection one with the other. It was common in the last two centuries to have such a multitude of heads, subdivisions, observations, and inferences, that hardly any one could remember them: it is the custom of the present day, among many, to run into the other extreme, and to have no division at all. This is equally as injurious.

"I have no notion, " says one, "of the great usefulness of a sermon without heads and divisions. They should be few and distinct, and not coincide. But a general harangue, or a sermon with a concealed division, is very improper for the generality of hearers, especially the comon people, as they can neither remember it, nor so well understand it." Another observes: "We should ever remember that we are speaking to the plainest capacities; and as the arranging our ideas properly is necessary to our being understood, so the giving each division of our discourse its denomination of number, has a happy effect to assist the attention and memory of our hearers." As to the amplification. After having laid a good foundation on which to build, the superstructure should be raised with care. "Let every text have its true meaning, every truth its due weight, every hearer his proper portion." The reasoning should be clear, deliberate, and strong. No flights of wit should be indulged; but a close attention to the subject, with every exertion to inform the judgment and impress the heart. It is in this part of a sermon that it will be seen whether a man understands his subject, enters into the spirit of it, or whether, after all his parade, he be a mere trifler. I have known some, who, after having giving a pleasing exordium and ingenious plan, have been very deficient in the amplification of the subject; which shows that a man may be capable of making a good plan, and not a good sermon, which, of the two, perhaps, is worse than making a good sermon without a good plan. The best of men, however, cannot always enter into the subject with that ability which at certain times they are capable of. If in our attempts, therefore, to enlarge on particulars, we find our thoughts do not run freely on any point, we should not urge them too much

this will tire and jade the faculties too soon; but pursue our plan. Better thoughts may occur afterwards, which we may occasionally insert. As to the application. It is much to be lamented that this is a part which does not belong to the sermons of some divines. They can discuss a topic in a general way, show their abilities, and give pleasing descriptions of virtue and religion; but to apply, they think will hurt the feelings of their auditors. But I believe it has been found that, among such, little good has been done; nor is it likely, when the people are never led to suppose that they are the parties interested. There are also some doctrinal preachers who reject application altogether, and who affect to discharge their office by narrating and reasoning only: but such should remember that reasoning is persuasion; and that themselves, as often as any men, slide into personal application, especially in discussing certain favourite points in divinity. Application is certainly one of the most important parts of a sermon. Here both the judgment and the passions should be powerfully addressed. Here the minister must reason, expostulate, invite, warn, and exhort; and all without harshness and an insulting air. Here pity, love, faithfulness, concern, must be all displayed. The application, however, must not be too long, unnatural, nor, I think, concluded abruptly.

We shall now subjoin a few remarks as to the style and delivery. As to style: it should be perspicuous. Singular terms, hard words, bombastic expressions, are not at all consistent. Quoting Latin and Greek sentences will be of little utility. Long argumentations, and dry metaphysical reasoning, should be avoided. A plain manly style, so clear that it cannot be misunderstood, should be pursued. The Scriptures are the best model. Mr. Flavel says, "The devil is very busy with ministers in their studies, tempting them to lofty language, and terms of art, above their hearers capacities." The style should be correct. That a man may preach, and do good, without knowing much of grammar, is not to be doubted; but certainly it cannot be pleasing to hear a man, who sets himself up as a teacher of others, continually violating all the rules of grammar, and rendering himself a laughing-stock to the more intelligent part of the congregation; "and yet, " says one, "I have heard persons, who could scarce utter three sentences without a false construction, make grammatical criticisms not only on the English language, but on Latin, Greek, and Hebrew." Care should always be taken not to use a redundancy of words, and a jingle of sentences and syllables, as they carry more an air of pedantry than of prudence. As to the use of figures. "A noble metaphor, when it is placed to advantage, casts a kind of glory round it, and darts a lustre through a whole sentence." But the present and the past age have abounded with preachers, who have murdered and distorted figures in a shameful manner. Keach's metaphors are run beyond all due bounds. Yet I know of no method so useful in preaching as by figures, when well chosen, when they are not too mean, nor draws out into too many parallels. The Scriptures abound with figures. Our Lord and his disciples constantly used them; and people understand a subject better when represented by a figure, than by learned disquisitions. As to the delivery of sermons, we refer to the articles DECLAMATION and ELOQUENCE.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Sermon'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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