A pastoral charge by John Angell James, delivered to his brother Thomas James, at his ordination over the Independent Church assembling in City Chapel, London.
(Editor's note. With regard to the sermon, the editor cannot refrain from remarking that the author himself lived up to all which he here enjoins, and that he owed all his success as a minister and an author to his observance of the rules which he here lays down. And the editor does not recollect hearing from him any important maxim as to a minister's duty or conduct—which he has not met with in this sermon. The author here tells the secrets of his own success, which exceeded that of most ministers. When this charge was given he was a young unknown man, but all his subsequent experience confirmed the opinions which it contained. In the author's peculiar manner, he goes into particulars not often treated on similar occasions, yet not the less important; and these counsels, enforced by his own practice and its results, during more than forty years after they were first uttered, will, the editor trusts, by this re-publication of them, long benefit the denomination which his father so loved and labored for.)
My Dear Brother,
"In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God." 2 Cor. 6:4.
The commencement of this chapter should have been rendered in the form of a solemn address to those who were employed in the Christian ministry at Corinth. "Now then, fellow workers, we beseech you that you receive not the grace of God in vain." The whole passage is a charge to those whom the apostle in the preceding chapter had represented as entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation, and whom he here admonishes not to "receive this distinguished favor in vain; to give no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed; but in all things to approve themselves as the ministers of God." These words present us with a description,
I. Of the NATURE of our office.We are "the ministers of God." This implies,
1. That we are sent by God.The concerns of the Christian church are administered by him "who is over all, God blessed forever." And of course an affair of so much importance as the appointment of its principal officers, must be his inalienable prerogative. Everyone who is truly a minister of God must be called by him to the work. To prove your commission, you have no need to resort to apostolic succession; you have derived it immediately from God, and no power on earth can add to it the least validity whatever.
It cannot be necessary for me on the present occasion to enter particularly into the nature of a scriptural call to the work of the ministry. To express this matter summarily, it appears to me, that an ardent desire to be employed in the work of the ministry, with a view to the glory of God in the salvation of sinners, endowment with all those qualifications which the Word of God requires, together with the election of a church of Christ—are indications of the mind of God, sufficiently obvious to warrant the conclusion that we are called to this honorable but arduous office. If the account you have just read of your views and feelings as a Christian, your motives, desires, and aims as a minister—are a faithful representation of your mind, it may be regarded by you in the light of a copy of letters patent, issued from the chancery of heaven, signed by the Great Head of the church, and authorizing you, although it bear no impress of crown or mitre, to preach the gospel to the perishing children of men. And when the pride of ecclesiastical domination would at any time demand by what authority you do these things, you have only to reply, the appointment of him "who gives pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."
2. This expression implies that you are to labor for God.If for God, then not surely for the preacher's fame. SELF is an idol which has been worshiped by far greater multitudes than any other deity of either ancient or modern heathenism. A minister is the last man in the world who should be seen at the altar of this vile abomination--self. And yet
without great care he is likely to be the first one there, to linger there the longest, to bow the lowest, and to express his devotion by the costliest sacrifices. This, my brother, and "not the form of creeping things or women weeping for Tammuz," is the abomination which Ezekiel would witness in many a Christian temple; this is "the image of jealousy which provokes to jealousy," before which the glory of Jehovah so often, in modern times, retires from between the cherubim to the threshold, from the threshold to the exterior, until at length the lingering symbol totally removes, and the fearful word 'Ichabod' is inscribed alike upon the pulpit and the pews!
Many serve themselves instead of God, even by the work of the ministry. Some by entering upon it merely with a view to temporal support. Ashamed to beg, unwilling to work, they crouch for a piece of silver, and say, "Put me into the priest's office, that I may eat a morsel of bread." "They teach for hire, and divine for money;" and on this account are stigmatized in Scripture as "greedy dogs that can never have enough," as "shepherds that do not understand, looking everyone for his gain from his quarter." This prevails to a most dreadful extent in every established church in Christendom, and necessarily must do so, as long as human nature remains what it is, and so many pulpits are at the disposal of secular patronage. Nor is it altogether unknown among the body of dissenters. A man whom indolence has led to this office, and who has converted the pulpit into the hiding place of the sloth, is one of the basest, as he certainly is one of the guiltiest, of mankind. Sometimes his punishment comes in this world, and he is driven out by an indignant people, who determine no longer to starve their souls in order to support his body; or if, like a wolf, he continues to feed and fatten upon the flock, it is only for the hour of approaching destruction. "But I am persuaded better things of you, although I thus speak."
Others serve themselves in the ministry by entering it chiefly with a view to literary leisure and scientific pursuits. You know my sentiments on the importance of learning to the ministerial character too well, to suppose that I am now placing it under the ban of the pulpit. The pastoral office is neither the offspring nor the advocate of vandalism; it does not say to barbarism you are my sister, nor to ignorance you are my mother. You may draw the waters of the Castalian fountain, and cull the flowers of Parnassus. You may explore the world of mind with Locke, or the laws of matter with Newton—but not as the end of your entering the ministerial office. The pulpit, and not the study, is the summit on which your eye is to be fixed, and all the intense application of the latter is but to prepare you for a more commanding eminence upon the former. A thirst for literary pursuits, if this is your highest object, might lift you farther above the contempt of your fellow creatures, than an indolent regard to temporal support; but will not elevate you one step nearer to the approbation of your God. It might place you upon earth's pinnacle, but only to be smitten after all, by heaven's lightnings. It might procure for you the brightest and the purest crown of worldly glory, but only to be quenched amidst the blackness of darkness forever.
Many become ministers merely to acquire popular applause. 'Fame' is their motive and their aim. To commend themselves, is the secret but powerful spring of all they do. SELF is with them in the study directing their reading, selecting their texts, arranging their thoughts, forming their illustrations—and all with a view to shine in public. Thus prepared, they ascend the pulpit with the same object which conducts the actor to the stage—to secure the applause of approving spectators. Every tone is modulated, every emphasis laid, every attitude regulated—to please the audience, rather than to profit their souls; to commend themselves and not Jesus Christ. The service ended, this bosom idol returns with them to their own abode, renders them restless and uneasy to know how they have succeeded, and puts them upon the basest acts to draw forth the opinion of their hearers. If admired, they receive their reward; if not, the first prize is lost. It is nothing in abatement of the sin, that all this while evangelical sentiments are uttered. Orthodoxy is the most direct road to popularity. Christ may be the text—when SELF is the sermon! And dreadful as it seems, it is to be feared that many have elevated the cross only to suspend upon the sacred tree their own honors, and have employed all the glories of redemption merely to emblazon their own name!
My dear brother, when carried to this height, it is the direst, deepest tragedy, that was ever performed by man, since it ends in the actual and eternal death of the performer, who forgets, as he snuffs the gale of popular applause, that it bears the vapors of damnation!
But you are a minister, that is, a servant, of God; and as such are to sum up all your life and labors in that one sublime and comprehensive direction, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." From this hour until your tongue ceases to articulate, and your heart is cold, your business, your pleasure, your aim must be to serve God in the ministry of the gospel, by seeking his glory in the salvation of immortal souls. Whatever other men do, and are permitted to do, this is your duty. Without retiring to the gloom and indolence of monastic seclusion, you have in the best sense of the term, surrendered yourself to God. Before that altar on which the Son of God offered up himself a sacrifice for sin, you have taken the vow of separation to the world. You profess to have relinquished the career of commerce, fame, wealth, and every other road through which the human spirit marches to the gratification of an earthly ambition, and to be so filled with a desire to glorify God in the salvation of souls, that you could stand upon the mount which the Savior occupied when under satanic temptation, and refuse all the kingdoms of the world, rather than give up the object which now fills your heart and occupies your hands. To the accomplishment of this you are to bring all the talents you possess, all the solicitude you can feel, all the influence you can command, and all the time you are destined to live—for you are not your own, but the minister of God.
3. This expression implies also that you are RESPONSIBLE to God.Your rule over the church is neither sovereign nor legislative, but administrative only. And therefore you are accountable for its exercise to him from whom it is derived. "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ." No man has more to account for at that day, and with no man will the Judge be more strict in his requirements, than a minister of the gospel. In that day of terrors, disclosures will be made that will amaze all worlds; but when the veil of secrecy, which now conceals so many unthought of matters, shall be rent asunder, nothing so fearful shall be discovered as a faithless minister of God! At sight of him, as he goes trembling to the throne, the countenance of the Judge glows with more terrible indignation; the thunder rolls with seven-fold terrors; a shriek of horror involuntarily escapes from the multitudes of the redeemed; while a fiend-like shout is uttered by all other monsters of iniquity—over an instance of depravity whose aggravations swell above the heinousness of theirs. What will the miserable creature say to such sounds as these. "You wicked and slothful servant, why have you lived for yourself? Where are the souls I entrusted to your care? What have you done with your time and your talents? How have you lived, and how preached?"
But I forbear, the scene is too dreadful even to be
imagined. At that day, and before that tribunal you and I must meet again.
Then all our motives and our conduct will be known. I shall witness your
degradation or honor, and you will witness mine. Oh that we could make the
judgment-seat of Christ the polar star of all our conduct, and preach and
live as with the scenery of that day ever present to our imagination.
II. The text instructs us in what way the duties of our office should be discharged, so as to APPROVE ourselves the ministers of God."In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God." We should approve ourselves to God, to the church, to the world. This expression implies that we not only assume the pastoral character, but that we commend ourselves to all who have an opportunity of observing our conduct, as faithfully and fully discharging its duties. In a parallel passage to this we are exhorted "to make full proof of our ministry." 2 Tim. 4:6. According to M'Knight, the original word signifies "to be carried with full sail." This allusion is as instructive as it is beautiful. While some men who have nothing of the minister but the name, ignorant, indolent, and useless, are like empty and dismantled hulks moored in some narrow creek; do you find your emblem in the richly freighted vessel gliding with every sail set before the breeze of heaven, and traversing the ocean to enrich her employers with her precious cargo. The apostle has particularly specified in the verses which follow the text, in what way this may be effected, "In much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in strifes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by a holy spirit, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report." Leaving this beautiful directory to find its own weight, I shall class your duties in the following order—
1. Approve yourself the minister of God, by faithfully PREACHING his word.This is to be a great part of the business of your future life. I trust you will ever keep the pulpit sacred to the purpose for which it is erected. Preach there the word of God. The pulpit is not the place for philosophy or literature, and therefore whatever illustrations you may at any time borrow from the sciences, or to whatever use you may apply the aids of learning in the way of legitimate study, never act the 'learned academic' in the pulpit. The pulpit is not the platform for political declamation, and should never be enveloped in the mists of politics. It is not the arena of controversy where the preacher is to display his adroitness in attack and defense, and therefore however necessary you may sometimes find it to guard the truth from the assaults of its adversaries, or to direct the whole artillery of just reasoning upon the strongholds of error, I trust the character of your public ministrations will not, in the strict sense of the term, be theological debate.
The pulpit is not intended to be a platform, where the petty manufacturer of tinsel eloquence and rhetorical flowers shall display to a gaping crowd his gaudy wares; and therefore whenever you employ "thoughts that breathe and words that burn," I hope it will not be with a view to play the orator, but more deeply to impress the heart, and more powerfully to alarm the conscience. Nor is the pulpit merely the seat of the moralist, where Epictetus and Seneca deliver their cold and heartless ethics—but it is the oracle of heaven, appointed to deliver in full and faithful response the will and purposes of God concerning the salvation and the duty of the human race.
In pursuance of this idea, I shall remind you, of the MATTER of your preaching. Take care that it is truly and faithfully the word of God. May you be guarded from delivering error instead of truth. Oh! how tremblingly afraid should we be of substituting the 'inventions of human ignorance' for the 'doctrines of divine inspiration'! How earnestly should we pray to be led into all truth. How cautiously should we search the Word of God. Should we err, in all probability we shall not have the privilege of erring alone. A 'preacher of error' stands as a sort of volcano in the spiritual world—his mind is the dreadful laboratory where the mischief is prepared; his lips the crater whence it is disgorged upon the world; and every sermon that he preaches is an eruption of lava upon the spiritual interests of mankind. No man has so much cause to tremble at those fearful words as a minister, "I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." Guided by the Spirit of God, may you steer in safety through every hazard.
Preach the whole counsel of God. Elucidate its histories; explain its prophecies; develop its doctrines; inculcate its precepts; denounce its threatenings; unfold its promises; repeat its invitations; enforce its institutions. What a sublimity, what a variety, what a harmony, of subjects is before you! If you are restricted it must be in yourself—not in your themes. As a steward of the mysteries of the kingdom you have access to infinite and exhaustless storehouses. If your people are starved by the poverty, or wearied by the sameness of your preaching, it cannot be for lack of variety or opulence in the treasures of revelation, but for lack of industry and fidelity in yourself. Do not then confine yourself and your people in some little nook or corner of revealed truth, and write upon all the rest, 'mystery'. Explore for them and with them the whole world of inspiration. Such is the boundless extent of this sacred territory, that without wishing or waiting for farther revelations, we shall never reach the end of those already given. By the aid of Biblical study, diligent reading, accurate comparisons, deep penetration—the Christian student will be continually disclosing to his people new regions and fresh treasures in God's most precious Word. Mines of wealth will open at his feet, and prospects of ineffable beauty will expand before his eye.
If you follow this advice, you will not be known, like some, by one favorite topic. The ministers of the gospel have no more right to divide between them the different parts of divine revelation, each taking only his favorite doctrine, than they have to share between them, or attempt to do so, the moral qualifications of the ministerial character, each selecting some one favorite grace, and neglecting all the rest. Our preaching and our conduct should be a spiritual microcosm, the former in relation to truth, the latter to holiness.
Still, after all, and in perfect consistency with what I have already advanced, I remind you that, as a minister of the New Testament, you are to be "a sweet savor of Christ." In this respect you cannot have a better model than the great apostle of the Gentiles. "I determined," says he, "to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified; whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
No phrase has been less understood than 'preaching Christ'. By some it has been confined to the eternal repetition of a few common-place thoughts upon the same first principles of divine truth. The epistles of Paul are the best exposition of this phrase, for as he determined to know nothing, that is, to make known nothing, but Christ—of course he intends that everything he did make known, should be considered as an accomplishment of this purpose. Now what a vast variety, what a mighty range of topic do we find in his epistles. There we find the whole compass of doctrinal theology, the whole body of practical divinity, positive institutions, church government, social duties, sketches of Old Testament history, a complete exposition of the ceremonial law—and yet all this was making known Christ. His cross is the center of the whole system, around which, in nearer or more remote circles, all the doctrines and the duties of revelation perpetually revolve; from which the doctrines borrow their light, and the duties borrow their energy.
Let all your preaching be directed to exhibit Christ in the dignity of his person, the design of his mediation, the variety of his offices, the freeness of his grace, the nature of his kingdom, and the perfect beauty of his example. And thus, while you cause your people to scent the fragrance of every flower, and taste the sweetness of every fruit in the garden of the Lord, you will more statedly collect them round the tree of life in the midst of the garden, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
Much may be said of the MANNER of your preaching. An air of deep seriousness should characterize our whole deportment while delivering the Word of God. The pulpit is the most solemn situation upon earth; and preaching is the most solemn employment upon earth—to which we should ever bring "that awe which warns us how we touch a holy thing." Not only should all merriment and jocularity be excluded, but all that flippancy of manner, that light and frivolous air, that careless and irreverent expression, that "start and stare theatric" which are but too common in the present age. Every look, every tone, every gesture, should indicate a mind awed by the presence of God, impressed with the solemnity of eternity; should bespeak a heart filled with the magnitude of its own salvation, and oppressed with solicitude for the souls of others. In short, our whole manner should manifest a consciousness of our being "in a temple resounding with solemn voices, and filled with holy inspirations."
In the pulpit, we seem placed between the three worlds of heaven, earth, and hell, to unfold, as they lie expanded before our imagination, the glories of the first, the vanity of the second, and the torments of the third. Can we really be in earnest, or will our hearers think us so, or be likely to become so themselves, unless we discover a deep and impressive seriousness in some measure adapted to our situation?
All our preaching should have a holy and moral tendency. Great pains have been taken by two opposite classes of preachers and writers to introduce a schism between the Son of God and Moses—the legislator of the Jews. The tables of the Law and the Cross have been opposed, like hostile forts upon Mount Sinai and Mount Calvary, to demolish each other. Impious effort! Have nothing to do with it, my brother, but let your preaching be a sublime response to the song of Moses and the Lamb. The truth as it is in Jesus is "according to godliness." No doctrine is given merely for the purpose of intellectual speculation. Even those doctrines which transcend the comprehension of reason, are designed to produce a moral effect, by humbling our pride and increasing our submission. The truths of Scripture are revealed, not simply on their own account; nor is the knowledge of them the last and highest end for which they are communicated. "Sanctify them," said the Savior, in his sublime prayer, "by your truth; your word is truth." Hence we gather that sanctification, or moral benefit, is the ultimate end, so far as man is concerned, of revealed truth. No preaching, therefore, can be scriptural, how ever apparently true its abstract sentiments may be, which does not represent those sentiments in such a manner as to have a practical tendency.
Many, without intending to be antinomian preachers, certainly make antinomian hearers, not by telling them to be unholy, but by leaving them to be so. That can never be true in sentiment, which is not holy in tendency. Let your sermons be like sunbeams, quickening and cherishing the virtues of the heart, at the same time that they convey the light of doctrine to the understanding.
Let your discourses be replete with instruction. It is greatly to be regretted that many professors of religion seem to regard judicious and instructive preaching as lying within the frigid zone of Christianity, and as eagerly migrate from the regions of intellect as birds of passage to a warmer climate at the approach of winter. Their religion is all feeling, with which the understanding has nothing to do, either in the way of exciting or controlling it. Their conversation is made up of terms which they but imperfectly understand, and of crude conceptions which they could with difficulty explain. The fault in this case lies, to a great extent, in the pulpit. They have heard but few ideas there, and never venture beyond the track which their spiritual guides have marked out for them. I trust you will avoid a loose, empty, and declamatory style of preaching, and fill your sermons with theological truths clearly conceived, and perspicuously expressed. It is a painful circumstance, that in the march of improvement mankind seldom gain an advantage without an attendant inconvenience. The present method of delivering sermons, unshackled by notes, is incalculably more adapted to impression than the motionless, unimpassioned, scholastic reading of the last age. But is there no danger of losing in instruction what we gain in impression? The preaching of some men forcibly reminds us of the breaking open of the cave of Aeolus, and letting loose the winds. To a thinking mind, nothing is more ridiculous than to see a man blustering about in a total vacuum of ideas; the hearer finds himself in the situation of a traveler who is suddenly overtaken by a storm in a wilderness, from which he feels happy to escape as speedily as possible. You will not conclude from anything I have said, that you are to undervalue an easy, graceful, energetic enunciation; on the contrary, this is of so much importance, that without it the most admirable sermon is stripped of more than half its power to please or to profit. As a Christian speaker, you should never forget the opinion of Demosthenes, that the first, and the second, and the third grace of an orator is delivery. It is perfectly obvious that the most useful preachers owe much of their success, under God, to an easy and pleasant method of delivery.
Let your preaching be characterized by plainness. Be sincere in the avowal of your religious sentiments. Let not the "trumpet give an uncertain sound." As an honest man, speak honestly. I do not enjoin a dogmatic tone and temper; still, I admonish you to use no concealment. Let not your sermons be mere pulpit riddles, or ambiguous as the responses of the Delphic oracle. Do not compel your hearers to throw your discourses into a critical alembic, to see if, by the application of a sort of chemical process, a few drops of orthodoxy may be extracted.
Let your perspicuity extend to your language. "Use great plainness of speech." I do not mean vulgarity or buffoonery; these are disgusting everywhere, but in the pulpit they are actually profane. In the house of God, the view of the worshipers ought ever to terminate in heaven or hell, neither of which is a fit subject for laughter. Some preachers seem to have no idea that they can handle a subject plainly, until they have dragged it through all the mire in which their own coarse and groveling nature loves to wallow. Provided other and higher properties be found in it, that is the best sermon which conforms most accurately to the rules of correct taste. Now perspicuity is the first grace of good composition. Attentive and enlightened observers have marked in many of the dissenting ministers of the present age a strong tendency to a glaring and bombastic style, by which the truths that should affect the conscience lose all their effect, by a mode of representation which bewilders the imagination. For what the bulk of their congregations understand, some men may just as well preach Latin or Greek, as the technical, highflown, far-fetched language which they have adopted in violation of every rule of good taste, as well as in neglect of a still more solemn responsibility.
What would we say of the messenger who was sent to a
condemned malefactor with instructions to inform him how to gain a reprieve,
but who, instead of explaining to him the means of life in the plainest and
speediest manner, dressed up his commission in such high-wrought terms that
the poor criminal did not comprehend them, and so lost his life, because
this vain and cruel wretch chose to display his skill in elaborate and
technical speech. And what shall be said of that man who, being charged with
the offer of divine mercy to guilty rebels, allows them to perish for lack
of knowledge, because he chooses to announce the means of reconciliation in
hard words and fine flowers? Has language any terms of reprobation
sufficiently severe for such a minister?
2. Approve yourself the minister of God—by the manner in which you preside over his church.
I speak from ten years' experience when I assure you that preaching is the easiest part of a pastor's duty. You are now "to take heed to the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseer." You are to take the direction of its spiritual concerns, and by the right application of all the principles of church government, to promote "the increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." You are not to "lord it over God's heritage," for this would be to minister for yourself, and not for him whose right alone it is to reign. Not that I imagine you are without authority; for an office without authority seems to me an absurdity. The prerogative of a minister, if it be less than some spiritual despots claim, is unquestionably more than many ecclesiastical democrats are willing to concede. By too many he is considered only in the light of a speaking brother, the mere appendage of a pulpit. Such people are actuated by a very short-sighted policy in relation to their spiritual interests, since it is impossible to degrade the office without lowering the officer; and when they cease to look up with respect to a minister, they will certainly cease to profit by his instructions. Whatever authority you possess here, you should ever maintain with the meekness of one who remembers that it is for another, and not for himself.
Let a ruling principle of regard for the interests of the church, and the authority of Christ in his house, be visible in all you do, so as to establish in the hearts of your people a full conviction that you are never seeking merely to gratify yourself. Never appear fond of your own plans, simply as yours, nor obstinately adhere to them, in opposition to the wishes of the church. A pastor must not be self-willed. What we gain by the force of obstinacy, we lose in respect, and there is a way even of conceding, that will increase our superiority. In affairs of importance, and in measures that are likely to startle by their novelty, never be above imparting your views and intentions to the officers and experienced members of the church. Some men, who have had more jealousy for their authority than ability to support it, have done themselves irreparable mischief by appearing to despise the advice of those to whose wisdom they might have listened with incalculable advantage.
It belongs to you, my brother, to keep up with vigor the spiritual policing of this city of the Lord. Maintain, therefore, the scriptural discipline of the church. The pastor who neglects this, is planting thorns, either for himself or his successor to tread upon. Remember that troublesome members are much more easily kept out—than put out. Never sacrifice the purity of the church at the shrine of Mammon. A man who is brought into the church for the sake of his wealth, will generally prove like the Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold which Achan concealed—the trouble of the camp. Such an individual has often lived to be the controller of the minister, and the wolf of the flock.
Study characters. Know the disposition of every member of
your church, not with a design to flatter them, or to cringe before them—but
"to rule well." Give no encouragement to the bold and forward. The
discussions of an open assembly are more easily excited than controlled. The
principles of the Independent form of church government must not be pushed
too far. Like some of the doctrines of revelation, they require great wisdom
in those who state them, to prevent their being abused. I heartily subscribe
to the opinion of the late venerable Booth, "Notwithstanding the fickleness
and caprice of many private professors with regard to their ministers, it
has long appeared probable to me, that a majority of those uneasinesses,
animosities, and separations, which, to the disgrace of religion, take place
between pastors and their several churches, may be traced up either to the
unchristian tempers, to the gross imprudence, or to the laziness and
neglects of the pastors themselves." ("Pastoral Cautions," a charge which
every minister of the gospel might read with profit once a month.)
3. Approve yourself as a minister of God, by the character of your visits to the houses of your flock.
As an under shepherd of the Lord Jesus Christ, you will labor to say, in imitation of him, "I know my sheep, and am known by them." Endeavor to conduct all your private fellowship with your friends in such a manner as that their esteem may be conciliated by all they see of you. Happy would it be for some ministers, and happy for their people too, if they could always be seen at the distance of the pulpit, their failings would then be lost, like the spots of the sun, amidst the blaze of public splendor with which they are invested—but upon a nearer inspection are too broad and dark to be unnoticed. Like the works of nature, in opposition to those of art, our character should appear the fairer, in proportion as it is microscopically inspected.
Let all your visits be appropriate. Go as the minister of God, and go to approve yourself such. It is in private that you can make full proof of your ministry, by an affectionate solicitude for the spiritual welfare of your flock; by devoting your personal fellowship to some valuable purpose; by retracing and retouching the impressions produced in the public service of God. There, nothing can be set down to a thirst for popularity, but all will be traced up to a heart devoted to your work. Never do we seem so dear to the hearts of our people, as when in their own houses we manifest an affectionate concern for their eternal salvation. How much better, how much more elevated and characteristic is this, than that low jocoseness and familiarity in which some indulge. I do not wish you to be a mere ministerial specter, haunting the abodes of your flock shrouded in sullen gloom, terrifying everybody from your presence, and creating a fear wherever you come. But even this is almost better than the constant levity of a buffoon! Maintain a dignity of behavior, especially in the season of innocent cheerfulness, but never degenerate into frivolity. Weight of character is of immense importance to you, it will give an additional momentum to every sermon you preach; and this is gained or lost in private visits. It should be perpetually remembered by you when in company, that the same people who see you there, will on the approaching sabbath, be sitting at your feet to receive instruction.
I trust, my dear brother, you will not, by any part of your conduct, lead your people to conclude that they cannot please you better than by asking you to a fine meal. Do not appear fond of celebrating the private feast. This is one of the many roads that lead to contempt. Jesus, your great master, should in this respect be your model; not only as a preacher upon the Mount, but as a visitor in the house of Mary.
Your visits should not be long. You have no time for this, and indeed it is not necessary. Half an hour, or an hour well improved, would give you an opportunity of saying very much that is useful. Avoid the character of a lounger and a gossip. You are to teach the value of time, and will do this best, practically.
Your visits should be impartial. Many pastors by confining their attention to a few families, have alienated a large portion of their flock from themselves, and sown the seeds of lasting jealousy between the different members of the church. It cannot be supposed, in the common course of things, that you will have no private friendships; but what I mean is, that these are not to be allowed to interfere with your official and universal obligations. As the common center of the society, you are to unite all hearts to each other, by uniting them all to yourself. Especially remember the sick and the poor.
Let your visits be seasonable; and if they are
seasonable, I am sure they will not be late in the evening. Always eat at
home. Late visiting is an enemy to family religion, domestic order, private
devotion, early rising, diligent study, and by a last undulation, the
mischief reaches the pulpit itself.
4. Approve yourself a minister of God—by your general conduct, spirit, and habits.
A. By the unsullied PURITY of your outward conduct. If every private Christian should be a fair copy of His example, who was holy, harmless, and undefiled, think what your deportment should be, who are to be "a pattern to believers in word, in life, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." Read Paul's Epistles to Timothy, and there learn the vast importance to be attached to the most scrupulous regard to all the branches of true holiness. "Oh! I could shed tears of blood, and drown my Bible with my tears," to think of the misconduct of those who have filled the pastoral office. The sins of teachers are the teachers of sins, and have done more to hinder the cause of truth than all the ravings of infidelity. Indeed it is in the pulpit of an unholy ministry that infidelity builds her nest; it is there the vulture brood is hatched which prey upon the carrion of corrupt profession, and by the righteous retribution of Jehovah seize first upon the character of a wicked priesthood. An unholy minister is the most dreadfully guilty, and the most fatally mischievous person in existence—he is a living curse, a walking pestilence, diffusing a savor of death around him wherever he goes; from whom, as to any voluntary association, every godly person should flee with greater horror than from a person infected with the plague. His name is Apollyon—his work destruction. It is dreadful to reflect what multitudes are now in the bottomless pit, who were conducted there by the damnable heresies of such men's lives; from whose imprecations, envenomed by despair, the guilty authors of their ruin will find neither escape nor shelter through everlasting ages, but feel the guilt of blood forever upon their wretched souls!
It is not enough for us to be without criminality. Our character, like that of a chaste female, must, to be reputable—be without suspicion. There must be no cloud of mystery hanging about us. We must keep at the farthest remove from everything wrong, and avoid the very appearance of evil. "If a minister be not overcome by vice, may he not fall by error, by vanity, by indolence, by dulness? If he escapes from gross immorality, may not his excellencies be tarnished; his talents be injured, his usefulness defeated, by small imprudences? May there not be indulgences at the table where there is no gluttony? May there not be tippling where there is no intoxication? May there not be levities and liberties where there is no violation of virtue? May there not be, especially in the young minister, an assumption of importance, a creation of unnecessary trouble, an inattention to order and regularity, which, while he supposes that it indicates genius, will not fail to lower him in the esteem and hope of the families he deranges and disgusts? If he avoids worldly profligacy, may he not indulge in religious excess; by constantly going into festive circles of spiritual triflers and gossips; spending his evenings generally from home; retiring late to rest, and never rising early? If he is not chargeable with filthy conversation; may he not err in foolish talking and jesting which is not convenient? May he not be the buffoon, or the comedian of the room? If he be not a liar, may he not be a mere newsmonger, or a noisy dabbler in party politics?" (William Jay)
We occupy a very public station; like the angel standing in the sun, we must be seen. The least approach to iniquity, by us, will be seen by many eyes, and published by many tongues. Do not affect a haughty indifference to public opinion. What others think is wrong, avoid even though you should know it to be innocent. Conform to such errors rather than lessen the weight, or obscure the beauty of your character.
B. By the prosperous state of your PERSONAL PIETY. Take heed to the state of your own heart. Accustomed as we are to treat religion as a science to be theoretically investigated, and an object of controversy to be polemically defended, we are in danger without great watchfulness, of merging the Christian in the 'professional teacher'. And he makes but a poor teacher, as to any practical effect, who is but a lukewarm Christian. "The heart of the wise teaches his mouth and adds learning to his lips." "It is from the pastor's defects considered in the light of a disciple, that his principal difficulties and dangers arise." Do not, my dear brother, as many have done, mistake gifts for grace, and judge of the real state of your own personal piety, by your readiness in thinking and speaking upon holy things. No man is in greater danger of self deception, as to the real state of his own heart, than he who has to deal officially with the hearts of others. This will require the exercise of incessant vigilance, close inspection and keen discrimination in the closet, where I hope you will spend no inconsiderable portion of your time.
Here I cannot conceal my apprehension, that as in many other respects, so especially in vital godliness and a devotional spirit, the present race of Christian ministers come far behind their predecessors. It has occurred to other and older men than myself, that in many who of late years have entered into the pastoral office, a very considerable defect of serious and spiritual feeling, is lamentably obvious. There is a frivolity of deportment which, though far removed from immorality, appears as if they wished to conciliate the affections of their people rather as cheerful companions in the parlor, than as faithful preachers in the pulpit; and as if they sought to render themselves more attractive, by displacing the holy seriousness of the ministerial character, in order to make way for a little nearer approximation to the man of fashion and the world. It would be a circumstance to be deplored in tears of blood, if our ministers should extensively lose the spirit of vital piety! For as they give the tone to their congregations, it would soon be followed by a general resemblance of our flocks to the palsied church at Laodicea.
The principles of dissent, although they have no indirect connection with a spirit of enquiry, and the cause of genuine liberty, derive their chief value from the influence which they exert upon the interests of experimental religion; and when they cease by any cause to exert that influence, their value is depreciated, their importance diminished, their glory is departed. Let us look to the fathers of dissent, to the illustrious nonconformists, not as authorities to bind our conscience, but as examples to stimulate our diligence, and especially our diligence as men of God. The ponderous volumes of their learning and divinity do not contain so much to confound us, as the diaries of their religious experience. One page of Philip Henry's life makes me blush more than all the folios of his son Matthew's peerless exposition.
Attend then, my brother, to the state of religion in your own heart. Seek to have all your intellectual attainments consecrated by a proportionate growth in grace. Let not your knowledge spread over the upper regions of the soul like the aurora borealis over the face of a wintry sky, while the world spreads out below—cold, cheerless, and dark. But let it resemble the orb of day, which warms and quickens the earth at the time he gilds and glorifies the heaven. Endeavor to feel more yourself of all that is involved in genuine religion. Feel more—and you will speak better. All men are orators when they feel. And the language of a heart feeling adequately for the glory of God and the salvation of men, would have an unction and an energy more resistless than the thunders of Demosthenes, and the vivid lightnings that flashed in the invectives of Cicero.
C. By exemplary DILIGENCE. You are of course to be diligent in all the public duties of your office. You are always to look like a man that has much to do, and whose heart is set on doing it. You must always act with the diligence of one who feels the care of immortal souls giving speed to his feet, and strategies to his thoughts. Indolence never appears in the full display of its ugly form, nor in the exact dimensions of its guilt, until it is seen in the garb of the minister. Apply all the energies of your soul to the duties of your office. Catechize the young; visit the sick; search out the people whom your sermons have impressed, and deepen the impression by private conversation; encourage the confused to bring to you their perplexities; guide the young enquirer; hasten to console the aged pilgrim; go any where, and at any time to do good; in short, watch for souls as one "who must give account."
Be diligent in the private duties of your study. I enjoin this upon you with peculiar earnestness. You cannot preach so as to edify your people and secure their esteem, except you devote much time to private intellectual toil. Whatever you may be in the social circle, you never can long secure their respect without appearing respectable as a preacher. If you fail in the pulpit, not the sweetness, no, nor the piety of an angel would keep you from sinking in their opinion. Congregations in the metropolis, where the private fellowship between a pastor and his flock must necessarily be restricted by the distance of their abodes, are raised and retained by the force of pulpit attractions. Surrounded as you are by men of popular talents, unless you preach the word with ability, "the ways of your Zion will soon mourn because none come to her solemn feasts, and in the time of her affliction she will remember all the pleasant things she had in the days of old."
It is greatly to be regretted that very many young men, who, during the early part of their preparatory studies, appear the fairest blossoms in all the academic grove, disappoint the hopes they had excited, and yield but ordinary fruit. Two reasons may be assigned for this. The first is, they are sometimes plucked too soon;* and the second, that, even when gathered in a state of academic maturity, instead of improving, as they should do, by time and industry—they become corrupted by indolence, and then sink in the public estimation as rapidly as they seemed at one time likely to ascend. Many young men, unfortunately, cease to be students when they begin to be ministers. They enter upon their office with a stock of ideas, which would be a sufficient capital for attaining to intellectual wealth, if properly improved by industry; but unfortunately, flattered by the foolish, and caressed perhaps for a season by the wise, they act like people who, coming suddenly into possession of a small fortune, begin to live immediately upon the principal, abandon themselves to idleness, and sink to contempt. During the greater part of the week they may be found anywhere but in their study; running all over the city or country to public meetings; sauntering about the houses of their flock in everybody's way; debating upon the conduct of the government with every gossiping politician they can pick up; or else idly reading the fashionable and, much of it, worthless poetry of the age, in their own parlors. Saturday arrives, and with it all the tremors and dread produced by the recollection that it is to be followed by the Sunday. A volume is taken from the shelf, a text selected, perhaps a sermon committed to memory, or else a few meager thoughts resembling Pharaoh's thin and blighted ears of corn, are gleaned from the stubble of a mind whose scanty crop has long since been carried off. Thus equipped, the preacher goes to his pulpit and his people, with no higher ambition than to get through without actually stopping. "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed," until at length they are literally compelled, in order to save themselves from starvation, to break the fences of their field, and roam in quest of pasture more suited to their taste and more adequate to their needs.
* Here I cannot reprobate in terms sufficiently strong, the impatience of some churches to induce young men to leave the advantages of the academy, before the term of education is expired; and the inconsiderate folly of those students, who hearken to such seductive solicitations. This practice is a deadly blow aimed, certainly at the respectability, if not at the very existence of the dissenting interest. The Independent body, unsupported by any general combination of strength and talent, rests for its permanence, in the order of means at least, upon the individual character and talent of its ministers. Even ignorance, when it has the stay of consolidated numbers, may present an imposing aspect, and promise continuance; but when left to struggle insulated and unsupported, it cannot long continue to maintain its ground. May we not trace up to this practice, many of those instances which so frequently occur of ministerial inefficiency and moral failure. In most cases, the term of education is already too short for the present state of the world; and therefore to curtail it is an injury done, not only to the individual church and pastor concerned, but to the cause at large. Should this pamphlet be read by any who are still enjoying advantages of academic instruction, I would recommend the subject to their most serious attention. Never were college years so important as now. The age in which we live is characterized by unprecedented activity for the diffusion of religious truth. Societies embracing in their members all classes of people, and in their design all kinds of objects, are in beneficial operation. To these a minister is expected to give his labor and influence. Much of his time must necessarily be employed in this way. The hours spent in committee meetings alone, in any large town, are incalculable. All this must be taken from the study. How important then is it, that before a minister plunge into this active routine, a good store of useful knowledge be laid up in the academy. And I therefore exhort every student to remain, except in very extraordinary cases, to the last hour of the allotted term, at his preparatory studies, and to make the most of every hour.
"Give attention, then, to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." Paul, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, a proficient in all the knowledge of the age, and in addition to this, blessed with the power of miracles and the gift of celestial inspiration, was certainly the minister, if one ever existed, who might have dispensed with diligent application to study; and yet this great man, when imprisoned at Rome, and looking forward to his approaching martyrdom, commanded his books and his parchments to be brought him. Here, then, is an example worthy your imitation.
If anything more need be said to enforce this duty, I might remind you of the present state of society at large in regard to education. An ignorant minister might have done very well in an age when all knowledge was confined to the priesthood, when "darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the peoples;" but science and literature are now so widely diffused, even among the middling classes, that no small measure of information is requisite to enable a minister to converse advantageously with his flock.
Unless, therefore, you intend to devote eight hours a day to your study, I have no very strong expectation that you will long retain this pulpit. To secure such a portion of time as this, it will be necessary to guard against the temptations to neglect, with which a ministerial station in this mighty city must ever be attended. You will of course be expected to use your influence in cherishing that public spirit, which, like the holy fire, now burns upon the altar of the Lord Still you must not suffer foreign duties to interfere with those to be discharged at home. Public meetings and public speeches are become very common, and are certainly very useful. I am not by any means reprobating them, but only reminding you that they should not be suffered to draw a young minister too much from his study and his flock. Guard against all unnecessary party visits. Never, never, become a political partisan; this may render you popular with a certain class, but it will consume your time, embitter your spirit, diminish the weight of your ministerial character, and considerably obstruct the success of your labors.
D. By PRUDENCE. This is a virtue inferior in importance only to piety, and still more rare even than that. It is almost the first grace we need, and generally the last we acquire. Imprudence is one of the greatest enemies of the pastoral office, and considering the mischief which it frequently occasions when exhibited in such a situation, approaches so near to immorality, that the most skillful philosopher might be challenged to point out the line of distinction. It is a most melancholy reflection how often the greatest talents have, as to all their beneficial influence upon society, been completely neutralized by the imprudence of their thoughtless possessor. On the other hand, it is most encouraging and instructive to mark with how slender a portion of knowledge, many a minister has done extensive good in the world, because what little stock of ideas he possessed, was disposed of to the best advantage by a cautious and prudent temper. Thus, while the former blazed and wandered like a comet through an eccentric career, to little visible advantage, though attended for a season with much public admiration; the latter, although dim perhaps, yet remained steady as the polar star, which guides the mariner, though it may never have excited his wonder.
Our blessed Lord set a high value upon this qualification, when he enjoined his disciples to "be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." Without degenerating into an insincere, hypocritical, crafty, intriguing disposition; or freezing, by a cold, selfish, and calculating temper, the genial current of benevolence; endeavor to acquire a cautious, deliberative, predictive sort of mind, which, with the quickness and the certainty of instinct, shall show you the consequences of action before you act.
E. By a KIND, affectionate disposition. "God is love, and has commended his love towards us" in a manner that will fill the universe with astonishment through everlasting ages. Can we approve ourselves the ministers of such a God without that "love which is kind?" Is not his love the theme of our ministrations? Shall we carry about in us this balm for healing the world, and the vessel partake none of its fragrant aroma? It was a beautiful picture which a deistical physician drew of the late Dr. Gillies, of Glasgow, when he said he believed that John Gillies would be glad to carry all mankind to heaven in his bosom. May no deist ever be able to say anything worse of you. It is of immense importance, that as ministers we should be distinguished by "whatever things are lovely." There should be a kindness of heart, a sweetness of disposition, a gentleness, in those who have to win souls to Christ, suitable to the instruments of reconciliation. Amiability of temper and manners—carries all the gifts of the mind, and all the graces of the heart—to their highest polish and beauty. In the church there are some men of very excellent talents, who, are unfortunately of such rough, churlish, and petulant dispositions, that it requires an effort, like getting through a thorn hedge, to gather any fruit from their ministry.
E. By a habit of importunate PRAYER. I have no need to instruct you in the necessity of a divine influence to renew and sanctify the human heart. Of this doctrine you have just publicly avowed your entire conviction. But I would just remind you, that on this important article of your faith, rests the incumbent duty of prayer. Ah, my brother, we need more of the spirit and grace of prayer. The acknowledgment of the Psalmist ought to belong to us, "I give myself to prayer." The spirit of supplication should insinuate itself into all our habits, our plans, our labors and ministries. Those who honor God in secret, God will honor in public. It has been very generally remarked, that the most successful ministers have been the most eminent as men of prayer. Luther, it is said, devoted three hours every day to devotional exercises. Queen Mary of Scotland used to say of John Knox, "I fear that man's prayers more than the English army." The story of Mr. Bruce is well known. One sabbath, being unusually late before he appeared at the house of God, a messenger was sent to hasten him, who, upon coming to his study door, heard him distinctly and vehemently affirm, "I will not go hence except you go with me." Unwilling to disturb what he considered to be a conversation, the messenger returned with the report that Mr. Bruce was not likely to come soon, for he had heard him declare that he would not stir, unless a person who was in his study, and who seemed very reluctant to stir, would come with him. At length the man of God appeared, when such an unusual solemnity, unction, and effect, attended his words, as left no doubt upon the minds of the auditory who the Stranger was with whom Mr. Bruce, like another Israel, had wrestled and had prevailed. A man of prayer is always known without erecting his oratory at the corners of the streets, or proclaiming the hour of his retirement by the sound of a trumpet. If we are much with God, the effect, in a spiritual sense, will be very similar to the vision of his glory upon the face of Moses, when the people beheld the radiance of his countenance, and gazed with veneration upon the man who had seen the Lord.
By such conduct and such habits approve yourself as a minister of God. Any considerable defect in your ministerial conduct will be more quickly seen, and more powerfully felt, than in many other situations. You are called to occupy the pulpit of a man whose praise is in all the churches, and who being dead, yet speaks by the remembrance of his distinguished virtues, and the instructions of his valuable works. If unwearied application as a student, exemplary piety as a Christian, and unceasing attention to all the duties of the pastoral office, can render any one a model for his successor, then may you remember with affection, and imitate with advantage, the example of the late Mr. Buck. Thus may you cause your people, who so highly revered him, to rejoice that his mantle, which dropped as he arose, has been found by you, and that although they have lost their Elijah, the excellences which rendered him a blessing, survive and flourish in the character of his successor.
I trust you have made up your account to meet with trials. If Satan allows you to go on without anything to try your faith and your patience, it is a sign that he despises your efforts. If you bruise the head of the serpent, he will hiss! If you attack the lion in his den, he will roar! The world will perhaps revile you, and even friends may desert you. Your success may not be equal to your desires, and oftentimes the fairest blossoms of your ministerial hopes may be nipped. As a spiritual father, some of your own children may be peevish and rebellious. As a physician, who has to do with the maladies of the soul, you must expect that under the power of delirium, they will often treat you with the greatest unkindness, when engaged in the tenderest offices to restore them to a "sound mind."
Against these gloomy suggestions, I oppose others of a more encouraging nature. You have far more to enliven your hopes, than to excite your fears. Yours is the "ministry of reconciliation." You are to be employed on an 'embassy of peace'. It is your honorable and delightful business to be engaged as an instrument in reconciling man—to God, to himself, and to his fellow creatures.
Nor are you left to labor alone and unassisted. The promise of Jesus Christ, your great master, accompanies you to the spot you are to occupy and to cultivate in his vineyard, "Lo, I am with you always!" Yours is the ministration of the Holy Spirit. The clouds of heaven, "big with blessings," are already floating over the scene of your husbandry, ready to descend in fertilizing showers upon the seed you scatter.
Should your hopes be realized and your labors blessed, though in ever so small a degree; should you be the means of saving but one soul from everlasting death, you will "rejoice in the day of Christ that you have not run in vain, nor labored in vain." It was a saying of Owen, that the salvation of a single soul was worth preaching to a whole nation for, during a long succession of years. But I trust many will be given to you who shall be "your joy and your crown of rejoicing." Then what a scene awaits you. In that illustrious day, when even the mighty works of Bacon, of Newton, of Milton shall be consumed by the general conflagration, and scattered with the ashes of the globe; when the most splendid productions of human genius, with all the choicest flowers of art, of literature, and of science, shall serve but to crown the funeral pile of expiring nature, and shall leave the scholar and the artist without a single ray of glory to distinguish them amidst the crowds thronging the bar of judgment; when the names of the philosophers, and warriors, and legislators, who for thousands of years have been emblazoned in the annals of mankind, shall all be passed over in silence; then shall your name, my brother, be announced to assembled worlds, as having accomplished an immortal work; and when observing millions shall be awaiting the triumphs of that day, one glorified spirit, dressed in the robes of righteousness and salvation, shall advance from the right hand of the Judge, followed by another, and another, and another; while all together pointing to you, with transports of delight, shall exclaim, "Behold the minister, to whose faithful labors, under God, we owe our salvation!" Then, when the eye of the universe shall be fixed upon you, and the voice of all that multitude, as the voice of many waters, shall rejoice over you, the great Master whom you serve will acknowledge your labors with smiles of ineffable delight, and those words of mysterious condescension, "Well done, good and faithful servant, having approved yourself in all things a minister of God, enter into the joy of your Lord!"