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 labor; 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 prior to the Catalogue, which the reader is requested to peruse before attempting to use the list.
To God I commend this labor, 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.
THE PASTORS’ COLLEGE
The preparation of the present work was suggested by the author’s connection with the Pastors’ College, and the Library of that Institution has in a high degree assisted in its execution, therefore the reader must permit the College to be noticed in these pages in the same manner as in the former volume of this series. To make it known, and to win for it willing friends is confessedly one object, of these publications, which may indeed be viewed as merely the giving forth to a wider area the instruction carried on within the College walls.
The Institution is intended to aid useful preachers in obtaining a better education. It takes no man to make him a minister, but requires that its pupils should, as a rule, have exercised their gifts for at least two years and have won souls to Jesus. These we receive, however poor or backward they may be, and our endeavors are all turned towards the one aim that they should be instructed in the things of God, furnished for their work, and practiced in the gift of utterance. Much prayer is made by the Church that this end may be accomplished, nor has the prayer been in vain, for some 330 men are now declaring the gospel of Jesus who were trained in this manner. Besides the students for the regular ministry, several hundreds of street preachers, city missionaries, teachers, and workers of all kinds have passed through our evening classes, and a band of 250 such men are now with us, pursuing their callings by day and studying in the evening. We ask for much prayer from all our brethren, that the supply of the Spirit may sanctify the teaching, and anoint every worker for the service of the Lord.
As it would be quite unwarrantable for us to interfere with the arrangements of other bodies of Christians, who have their own methods of training their ministers, and as it is obvious that we could not find spheres for men in denominations with which we have no ecclesiastical connection, we confine our college to Baptists; and in order not to be harassed with endless controversies, we invite those only who hold those views of divine truth which are popularly known as Calvinistic, — not that we care for names and phrases, but as we wish to be understood, we use a term which conveys our meaning as nearly as any descriptive word can do. Believing the grand doctrines of grace to be the natural accompaniments of the fundamental evangelical truth of redemption by the blood of Jesus, we hold and teach them not only in our ministry to the masses, but in the more select instruction of the class room. Latitudinarianism with its infidelity, and unsectarianism with its intolerance, are neither of them friends of ours: we delight in the man who believes, and therefore speaks. Our Lord has given us no permission to be liberal with what is none of ours. We are to give an account of every truth with which we are put in trust.
Our means for conducting this work are with the most High God, possessor of heaven and earth. We have no list of subscribers or roll of endowments. Our trust is in Him whom we desire to serve. He has supported the work for many years, by moving his stewards to send us help, and we are sure that he will continue to do so as long as he desires us to pursue this labor of love. We need, at least, 100 pounds every week of the year. Since our service is gratuitous in every sense, we the more freely appeal to those who agree with us in believing that to aid an earnest young minister to equip himself for his life work is a worthy effort. No money yields so large a return, no work is so important, just now none is so absolutely needful.
Nightingale Lane, Clapham, Surrey.