John Thornton, 1784
Permit me to give you a few hasty thoughts on the great work of the ministry, and may the Lord the Spirit be pleased to set them home with power on your heart. You have now put your hand to the plow; never think of turning or looking back, but seek with all diligence and perseverance after those things that are necessary to qualify you for the discharge of that momentous work whereunto you are called. I recommend you to be very diligent in reading the Scriptures: they are the storehouse from whence you must draw all your materials for building God's House. Get well acquainted with the leading Doctrines of Grace, and endeavor to see all originate from the everlasting Love and Purpose of the Almighty. Get as clear views as possible of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, that the foundation may be rightly laid, for herein lies the masterpiece of wisdom.
Be deeply impressed with this Truth of God—that success lies not in the wisdom of man, but in the Power of God—that there must be another Teacher besides you, if any work is done to purpose. Presume not upon supernatural assistance, lest you run into enthusiasm. It is easy to say, "I will trust in the Lord, at the time which is no better than a cloak for idleness, and lack of due preparation. I could wish you to be rather timorous and backward to pulpit duty than bold and forward; the one is a sign of humility, the other of pride and self-sufficiency, especially in a young minister. There are none more fearful than the able; none more bold than the unworthy! Go, only after much private prayer, into the pulpit.
This I look upon as a good method. Let your subject matter be proposed in a clear and distinct manner—three or four particulars are sufficient to be spoken on. It has been a fault long among some ministers to run into a great number of divisions and sub-divisions. Two or three Texts well-chosen for confirmation of any point of Doctrine are better than twenty; the former can be easily remembered, the latter perplexes the audience. Let your applications be short and pithy; and let them be used after each particular head—which I think is better than reserving all to the conclusion of your discourse. Advance nothing positively that you have not a full experience of in your own heart—what comes from the heart of the speaker goes to the heart of the hearer.
Affect not pompous but plain language, and beware of displaying self-aggrandizement. Human learning is a good handmaid to religion, but let it keep its proper place. Avoid all personalities in your sermons, and when you would reprove a sinner, pull down self-righteousness, expose a hypocrite, or any other that is unpleasing to God—search for such characters in His Word, and show the danger of such—and conscience and the Holy Spirit will make the particular application. The same will hold as to mourners, the tempted, the backslider, and the Believer. There is a not a possible case for a man to be in but its parallel may be found in Scripture.
If you should be warmed with your subject, let your zeal be according to knowledge, and arise from the weight of your subject. Beware of passionate and angry expressions, for the wrath of man never did work the Righteousness of God! In a word, when you are discharging the work of your ministry, look upon yourself as an instrument—a mere voice—and be willing that others should consider you in the same manner. This will bring you into an habitual dependence upon Almighty God for His blessing, that He will give you success.
Let all you say in public be confirmed by a modest, pious and humble deportment in life and conversation—then your people will love you, will pray for you, and profit under your ministry. May we and ours obtain the repentance of Peter, the faith of Paul, the love of John, and be kept humble at the foot of the Cross till we are called to join the heavenly choir.