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When I issued the first volume of "Lectures to my Students" it was my intention to prepare another series as soon as time permitted, and I meant to include two addresses upon Commenting in the proposed selection. It struck me, however, that a better thing was possible. The two lectures might introduce the topic of exposition, and then a catalogue of Commentaries might help the student to carry the advice into practice. The making of that catalogue would, of course, be no small labour; but, once accomplished, it might be of service to many, and effect more in the direction aimed at than the most earnest exhortations. I therefore resolved to attempt the work, and here is the result.
It would be easy to point out the deficiencies of the modern pulpit, and hold up one's own ideal of what preaching ought to be, but this has been so often attempted by others with such slender results that we decline the task. A judicious critic would probably complain that many sermons are deficient ill solid instruction, Biblical exposition, and Scriptural argument: they are flashy, rather than fleshy; clever, rather than solid; entertaining, rather than impressive. He would point to rhetorical discourses in which doctrine is barely discernible, and brilliant harangues from which no food for the soul could ever be extracted. Having done this, he would probably propose that homilies should flow out of texts, and should consist of a clear explanation, and an earnest enforcement of the truths which the texts distinctly teach. Expository preaching he would advocate as the great need of the day, its best protection against rising errors, and its surest means of spiritual edification. To such observations most of us would offer no opposition; we should confess them to be full of wisdom, and worthy of being pondered. We should not unite in any indiscriminate censuring of hortatory addresses, or topical sermons, nor should we agree with the demand that every discourse should be limited to the range of its text, nor even that it should have a text at all; but we should heartily subscribe to the declaration, that more expository preaching is greatly needed, and that all preachers would be the better if they were more able expounders of the inspired Word.
To render such a result more probable, every inducement to search the Holy Scriptures should be placed in the way of our ministers, and to the younger brethren some guidance should be proffered as to the works most likely to aid them in their studies. Many are persuaded that they should expound the Word, but being unversed in the original tongues they can only fall back upon the help of their English Concordances, and are left floundering about, when a sound comment would direct their thoughts. True, the Holy Spirit will instruct the seeker, but he works by means. The Ethiopian eunuch might have received divine illumination, and doubtless did receive it, but still, when asked whether he understood the Scripture which he read, he replied, "How can I unless some man shall guide me?" The guiding man is needed still. Divines who have studied the Scriptures have left us great stores of holy thought which we do well to use. Their expositions can never be a substitute for our own meditations, but as water poured down a dry pump often sets it to work to bring up water of its own, so suggestive reading sets the mind in motion on its own account. Here, however, is the difficulty. Students do not find it easy to choose which works to buy, and their slender stores are often wasted on books of a comparatively worthless kind. If I can save a poor man from spending his money for that which is not bread, or, by directing a brother to a good book, may enable him to dig deeper into the mines of truth, I shall be well repaid. For this purpose I have toiled, and read much, and passed under review some three or four thousand volumes. From these I have compiled my catalogue, rejecting man, yet making a very varied selection. Though I have carefully used such judgment as I possess, I have doubtless made many errors; I shall certainly find very few who will agree with all my criticisms, and some persons may be angry at my remarks. I have, however, done my best, and, with as much impartiality as I can command, I have nothing extenuated nor set down aught in malice. He who finds fault will do well to execute the work in better style; only let him remember that he will have my heifer to plough with and therefore ought in all reason to excel me.
I have used a degree of pleasantry in my remarks on the Commentaries, for a catalogue is a dry affair, and, as much for my own sake as for that of my readers, I have indulged the mirthful vein here and there. For this I hope I shall escape censure, even if I do not win commendation.
The preface to the Catalogue will be found on pages 33 and 34???, which the reader is requested to peruse before attempting to use the list.
To God I commend this labour, which has been undertaken and carried out with no motive but that of honoring his name, and edifying his Church by stimulating the study of his Word. May he, for his Son's sake, grant my heart's desire.
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