The Contents

In today’s post on Discourse I will be writing about Sherlock’s reasons for the publication of Discourse, an overview of the chapters, and rather than finally setting about my ultimate task by presenting an updated introduction to the work I will instead save this for next week (as I dearly wanted to include some interesting side notes this week).

Discourse was first published in 1689.  While actually on a suspension from the Church at the time of writing Discourse, Sherlock still occupied the position of ‘Master of the Temple’, which he was appointed to in 1683.

The ‘Temple Church’ is a late-12th-century church located in London, between Fleet Street and the River Thames.  It was built for and by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters and is famous for its effigy tombs (and for being a round church – ooh). It was heavily damaged during the Second World War but has been largely restored and is still in use today by the Church of England.  The area around the Temple Church is known as the Temple and nearby is Temple Bar and Temple tube station.

Effigies of the Temple Church

An illustration of effigy burials at the Temple Church, London.

The church always has two clergy, called the “Master of the Temple” and the “Reader of the Temple” respectively.  The title of the Master of the Temple is a reference to the title of the head of the former order of the Knights Templar.  The official title of the Master of the Temple is actually the “Reverend and Valiant Master of the Temple”, however this is not often used (but really, it should be, because let’s be honest – it’s awesome).  The current Master of the Temple is Rev. Robin Griffith-Jones, in case you were wondering.

And now back to Discourse.  It opens with a letter from Sherlock to “the Worshipful, the Masters of the Bench, and the rest of the Members of the Two Honourable Societies of the Temple.”  In the letter he states his reasons for publishing this ‘plain’ discourse.  The first and foremost (and actually the only one he really discusses) is that being unable, as he is, to preach any longer (remember: suspended) he would write and publish, in order to express and share his thoughts.  He admits that many of them will already have heard a part of it, but they have not heard the rest as they should have, because of his current… predicament.  And they will not, until such a time when he is restored to a position that allows him to ‘discharge his duty’, if that ever happens (<spoiler>  it does </spoiler>).

Following on from this, he states the only reason for his writing this letter (as a dedication in the book) is to make this situation public – and to acknowledge and thank all of those addressed for their respect and support (before he is forced from their presence, which he admits would be an unhappy occurrence).   Sherlock makes his appreciation clear for the generous favours given, without his ever needing to ask – or even being able to ask – for them, as he says they were all so kind and insistent on helping.  Yet, he says that what he values most, above all of the favours (e.g. a warm welcome, pleasant accommodation, and creature comforts), are the frequent opportunities to have conversations with them all.

The letter ends with an admission that he is not able to do anything better in return for all of this, other than to truly thank them.  But he hopes that they will be blessed temporally and spiritually and that he will always have a sincere and hearty prayer for them.  He signs this letter, as their most obliged and humble servant.

The book now opens on to ‘The Contents’, which I will list below so you have an idea of what I will cover throughout the posts in this Discourse series.

The Contents

The Introduction,

Chapter I.  The several Notions of Death; and the Improvement of them,

  • Section I. The first Notion of Death, That it is our leaving this World; with the Improvement of it,
  • Section II. The Second Notion of Death, That it is our putting off these Bodies,
  • Section III. Death considered as our Entrance upon a new and unknown State of Life,

Chapter II.  Concerning the Certainty of our Death,

  • Section I. A Vindication of the Justice and Goodness of God, in appointing Death for all Men,
  • Section II. How to improve this Consideration, That we must certainly die,

Chapter III.  Concerning the Time of our Death, and the proper Improvement of it,

  • Section I. That the general Period of human Life is fixed and determined by God, and that it is but very short,
  • Section II. What little Reason we have to complain of the Shortness of human life,
  • Section III. What Use to make of the fixed Term of human Life,
  • Section IV. What Use to make of the Shortness of human Life,
  • Section V. The Time, and manner, and Circumstances of every particular Man’s Death, are not determine by an absolute and unconditional Decree
  • Section VI. The particular Time when we are to die is unknown and uncertain to us,
  • Section VII. That we must die but once, or that Death translates us to an unchangeable State; with the Improvement of it,

Chapter IV. Concerning the Fear of Death and the Remedies against it,

The Conclusion

I hope this gives you a sense of what is to come (it seems there will be a lot of advice on the ‘Improvement of it’ – it apparently being almost everything related to both living and dying.



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