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Estered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1833, by Joux PLASKITT and ROBERT G. ARMSTRONG, in the Clerk's office of the District Court of Maryland.
Mavt persons who maintain the worship of God in their houses, wish, occasionally at least, to blend instruction with devotion. But they are not able to deliver any thing of their own, nor can they easily avail themselves of satisfactory assistance from others.
We have commentators; but expositions are designed to be consulted rather than read, and are calculated to aid sacred criticism, and promote a general knowledge of the Scriptures, rather than to enliven the exercises of social piety. We have also paraphrases ; but these too often consist of a mere languid redundancy of words which, by pretending to illustrate, only oppress and encumber the sense, and generally serve no other purpose than to destroy the simplicity, weaken the force, and diminish the effect of the word of truth. "In the very best compositions of this kind," says a judicious writer, "the gospel may be compared to a rich wine of high flavour, diluted in such a quantity of water, as renders it extremely vapid." Paraphrase is useful only in cases of obscurity, but the word of God generally considered, is not hard to be understood. We do not apply the same censure to the reflections which are found at the end of the chapters or paragraphs, and which sum up their contents. These are often exceedingly valuable and useful: but it is easy to see that they are not very well adapted to the design before us. They are necessarily too refined in their coherence, too extensive in their review, too general in their remark, to leave a forcible impression on the minds of common readers or hearers.
Sermons have been often employed, and many discourses have been published, professedly for the use of families. But it has been remarked—That these discourses have not been distinguished from others, either in their length, their style, or their subjects. It has been asked, Is there no difference in circumstances between public worship and domestic devotion? It has been said, Let a minister place himself in a private family, and lead the morning or evening devotion, and he will soon find how unsuitable it would be to deliver in a parlour a sermon which he had prepared for the pulpit
Discourses to be used on such occasions as these should be short—not commonly surpassing ten minutes; seldom more than a quarter of an hour. As children and servants often form the greatest part of the little assembly, and should never be overlooked—these addresses should be plain and apprehensible, not argumentative, nor consisting of long paragraphs—they should be easy and natural, not elaborate or highly polished—they should be entertaining and interesting, not dry and soporific
Hence they should shun the formality of method and numerous divisions; and abound with short and significant sentences, bold images, striking incidents, lively descriptions and characters. Two classes of Scriptures would furnish perhaps the best foundations for these exercises. First, the historical, which holds forth the duties of religion in examples and instances. And secondly, the figurative, which explains divine things by resemblance. There is no better method of gaining the attention and of impressing the minds of children and common people, than teaching by comparison, or illustrating spiritual things by natural. It is needless to observe how much our Saviour's discourses abound with such allusions. Witness the prodigal son, the strayed sheep, the mustard seed, the leaven, the lilies— all this made its way directly to the heart; it was impossible ever to forget it; his followers hung upon his lips; children cried, Hosanna! and the common people heard him gladly.
In compliance both with his own conviction and the repeated solicitations of others, the Author has ventured to undertake the present work. He does not affirm, however, that what he has done comes perfectly up to his wishes, or corresponds with the plan he has suggested. He found that it was easier to censure than to amend ; to judge than to execute. But this he professes : he has attempted to be simple, without being coarse; and to be intelligible to the illiterate, without proving disgustful to the wise. He has laboured to unite perspicuity with brevity; and, in the small compass allowed him, to introduce a subject, and secure an effect Frequently unable in a few pages to do justice to the various parts of a Scripture, he has endeavoured to seize some one more prominent view of it, and to turn it into a source of consolation, a motive to holiness, a help to devotion. His aim has been to show that faith is not a notion, but a principle; and to bring down religion from airy speculations into common life, that our piety may not be periodical, but keep us in the fear of the Lord all the day long.—He wished to make Christianity to appear lovely in its spirit, reasonable in its commands, rich in its motives and resources, and beyond expression kind and tender in its promises.
The wish of the Author to engage particularly the attention of Servants and Children, will frequently appear in his manner. For such adaptations he makes no apology. Though he does not wish to indulge a bad taste, he would ever remember that a preacher ought to have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way. That which is too smooth, easily slides off the memory ; and that which is lost in the act of hearing, will do little good. It is desirable to get something that will strike and abide; something that recurring again and again, will employ the thoughts and the tongue; and if this cannot be accomplished in certain instances but by modes of address which perhaps are not so classically justifiable, should not a minister prefer utility to fame? Paul in his noble energy adds the comparative degree to the superlative, and calls himself less than the least of all saints. He invented new words, and used quaint ones He could say,'• I have made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. To the weak, became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means gain some." If a child ran away and became a profligate, a good father would be anxious to have him reclaimed; and if a person should go to him and say, " I think I could prevail upon your son to abandon his unhappy course of living"—would such a father say, " O try! but see to it that you conform perfectly to every rule of good speaking." Or should he return and announce his success, would the father deem it worth while to ask, "Did you dispose your arguments quite logically, or make use of no obsolete term or trite phrase ?"— "He that winneth souls is wise."—" If a man err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his ways shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." What a recompense!
—The circumstances of families are. perpetually varying, and what is suitable seldom fails to impress. It was not possible, however, to accommodate a lecture to every supposable case; but the Author has endeavoured to introduce a comprphensive variety, and hopes something will be found pertinent to all the more common and interesting occurrences. He has more than once noticed events of an afflictive nature. The heart is then soft and serious. He has improved the various seasons of the year. He has also provided subjects which are adapted to all the greater festivals. Members of the Established Church may read these on the appropriated days, while Dissenters can surely have no objection to read at some time or other a few reflections on the birth or ascension of Christ "One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike; let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it