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■ Jul) 14, 18CS.
Your prospects of usefulness anil happiness, you are convinced, are much less encouraging than they were. You seem indeed to be startled by the circumstances in which you find yourself placed, but not to be fully able to account for them; though, I am concerned to perceive, you think some of your auditors have proved fickle, and that they were governed merely by caprice 'nquitting your ministry; however, as }ou seem unwilling to rely solely on your own judgment on this point, and feel desirous of knowing the sentiments of one on whose friendship you rely, I will endeavour, my dear friend, with the fidelity your confidence demands, to assist you in the investigation of the causes of that change; which you so feelingly lament. Allow me to suggest the importance of your examining how far any thing in your public ministrations has contributed to this painful event.
When you settled at you found
a numerous, a well instructed, and a thinking congregation. You entered on a large harvest, and soon reaped the produce of the good seed sown by your excellent predecessor, in whose steps you then determined to tread. • You devoted yourself to reading and study. You endeavoured to preach the Gospel faithfully to every creature, and to teach those, of whom there were many, who avowed their subjection to the Saviour, to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded. You did not, by dogmatizing, disgust the irreligious and harden the impenitent, but by sound argument
and affectionate entreaty, the Lord being with you, you convinced and conciliated, and eventually won over to the interests of truth and righteousness, some of the most hopeless characters among your hearers; men of considerable powers of mind, who had never disputed the truth of Christianity, but whose tempers and lives gave convincing evidence that they never, imbibed its spirit. Losing sight of the important consideration that these, and some other happy changes, were not accomplished by your own power, you sacrificed, I fear, to your own net, and burnt incense to your own, drag. You would, I am sure, have been shocked if you had supposed you were appropriating to yourself the glory that belonged to God; but yet I fear you at least began to indulge the thought that you were a necessary instrument, and that having been thus honoured by God, you were entitled to claim a greater degree of importance among your brethren. The people, from strong attachment and great tenderness to your feelings, made concessions which have, perhaps, eventually proved detrimental both to your happiness and their own.
Having troubled you with these remarks, I will endeavour to answer your anxious enquiry—Whether I can propose any means by which you may recover the ground you have lost. I hope I can, or at least I will suggest, for your consideration, such as occur to me.
Let your sermons contain materials for thinking, and you will have thinking hearers. There are still remaining in your congregation many well instructed and thinking Christians, whose devo
tional spirit and consistent conduct render them valuable members of your church, and excellent examples to their brethren. You would be grieved to lose them. But if you allow yourself to trust to your readiness as a public speaker; to your genius, or to any other endowment, and omit reading and studying, so as to be obliged to preach half studied sermons; to recur perpetually to the same ideas; to be compelled to fill up half the time with loose declamation, which gratifies none but the ignorant, and is soon forgotten by them, you will assuredly lose hearers who possess intellect. For it cannot be doubted that such persons will regard edification more than denomination. They will perhaps bear it for some time with patience, hoping that it arises out of temporary circumstances. But suffer not their forbearance to mislead you. Certain that you must be conscious 6f the change in your manner of preaching, they will think it useless to mention the subject to you; and, therefore, as they love peace, and will ■wish to remain on good terms with you, probably the first intimation, beyond that of their occasional absence, will be their entire removal to a church in which there is a prospect of edification. Their example will perhaps be speedily followed by others, who were equally dissatisfied, but who felt some hesitation in taking so decided a step till others had led the way; thus will the church, in a few years, be stripped of those, on whose eminent piety, wisdom, scriptural sentiment, and christian temper, you placed the utmost reliance.
The work of the ministry you have no doubt frequently contemplated, as consisting in preaching and teaching, and you would readily admit that it is but imperfectly fulfilled if either be omitted. Preaching the glad tidings of salvation, no man who has just ideas of the Gospel, or any compassion for perishing sinners, is likely to omit; but little preparation is necessary for this; if a man stop here he will only have occasion to bring forward a few of the first principles of Christianity, the connexion of which is obvious to the meanest understanding. A capacity for this may suffice for him who hastens from one dark village to another, to proclaim Jesus as the Saviour of sinners; but there are many other subjects on which the Pastor is bound to instruct his church and congregation; and if he confine himself
to this, I fear, that from the perpetual repetition of the same thing, his hearers growing weary of the sameness, will cease to listen with interest; and that the younger hearers will grow up with indolent intellectual habits, and will prove neither solid nor thinking Christians; they will be equally incapable of improving themselves, of instructing others, or of defending the truth. Upon this plan, the knowledge of the christian world, with the exception of a few individuals, who are determined thinkert, would soon be reduced to the mere elementary truths of Christianity.
If you intend to be permanently useful, you must teach as well as preach. In order to teach, especially as many of your hearers have had good teaching already, you must study. If you preach unstudied sermons, your delivery being impressive, your piety being ascertained, and your seriousness and affection being evident, you will doubtless have auditors, but they will be those, who are gratified by perpetual change; as far as circumstances will permit, they will be new ones; and when this can happen no longer, bear with me if I say, I fear your ministry will be in danger of being deserted, except by those who do not exercise their understandings on religious subjects, but who are satisfied by having their feelings excited.
The men who are accustomed to read the best theological writers of the seventeenth century, and of subsequent periods, will not be contented to hear common-place sermons, or mere general declamation in favour of religion. To this you are ready to reply, that you wish to be perspicuous to persons possessed but of little mind or education, as well as to themore enlightened. Their souls, you justly remark, are equally valuable. But, my young friend, from considerable observation I am convinced, that the common idea, that such people are more benefitted by unstudied declamatoryharangues, than by well studied and well arranged sermons, is a mistake. However, for the especial benefit of such, allow me to recommend to you visible order in the arrangement of your ideas: by visible order I do not mean a certain number of heads and subordinate particulars. There may be a large apparatus of technical phrases; a great deal of machinery, without any real order. I mean such an arrangement of the ideas as is easy for the mind to grasp, with LETTER TO A YOUNG MINISTER.
the additional convenience of making the leading ideas so prominent, either by numbering or restating them, that no tolerably attentive bearer can fail to observe and remember them.
I am well aware that a great genius of the present day has objected to rendering the order visible, because it is likely to weaken the impression by lessening the surprise.* Even supposing this rule were as safe a guide for men of common powers, as for the man whose luminous mind and genuine eloquence enable him to rivet the attention, and to make the most vivid impressions on the miuds uf those who hear him; yet still, we cannot help feeling, even with all these advantages, how transient is the impression. I believe, if hearers in general endeavour to recollect a sermon, in which they had not the advantage of visible order, they are little less perplexed in their attempts, than they would be to retrace their steps through a labyrinth without a clue.
Unless they can in a tolerable degree recover it, it cannot become a subject of meditation, and it is in this way, principally, that it may be expected to establish the mind and form the principles. It should be one great object of teaching, to enable persons to teach themtelves, i. e. to set them thinking, and to furnish materials for thought. Such was the effect of your earlier sermons, and if you wish to administer instruction to minds already informed, you must again read or study; or, if I may be allowed the expression, they will out read and out think you; and as a natural consequence, go elsewhere to hear well studied sermons.
Some time after your settlement, having become popular, you received invitations to speak at the public meetings of many religious and benevolent societies; you complied with them; these engagements led first to occasional, and afterwards to more frequent invitations to preach from home, which must have very much' lessened your time for reading and study; and did they not also, in a degree, dissipate your mind, and break in upon your habits? and may not making speeches in public assemblies, where what is showy is frequently more applauded than what is solid, accustom a man to a sort of offhand mode of speaking, but ill adapted to the pulpit?
Will it not assist you in the investigation, if you compare the effect of your late ministrations with those of your former? I am more earnest on this subject, because I think you will, at the present period, be perpetually in danger from the same cause, unless your popularity should be eclipsed by that of some other preacher; by which time, your good habits will be so far lost, as to require an effort to recover them; which you will not have resolution, nor, probably, encouragement to make; for those who would have approved the change will be irrevocably gone, and their places will be occupied by persons of a different description. I wish some of the ministers of the present day may not have reason to regret, in the latter part of life, having pursued a similar line of conduct. You will probably feel countenanced in the plan of preaching half your time from home, by the authority of a writer, whose ardent zeal for the dissemination of Christianity, is likely to give his opinion great weight. It cannot I c doubted that Mr. Ward is correct when he asserts, "that Gospel blessings are to be expected much more in active engagements, than in the care only for personal enjoyment;" but when he represents a minister, who has confined himself principally to instructing his own congregation, to the neglect of preaching among the unconverted, as having " spent all his energies in pleasing his people, and " the people as selfish, in requiring his constant services," he gives, I think, a distorted view of the subject.
A man who enters fully into the spirit of the Gospel, cannot omit preaching (publishing the good news of salvation), though he may, I think, justifiably spend the greater part of his time in teaching, there being so many more topics to be discussed in the latter case, than in the former.
Mr. Ward, in his letter on the cause of the neglect of the commission of Christ, remarks, " In the same spirit of selfishness a society, say of three hundred members, maintain a man to gratify them by a religious exhibition every Sabbath day, without any reference to the state of the unconverted, or at least with a very partial one ;"f adds, " Surely every Christian society should consider that they are united together not for themselves, but for the extension of the
* Hall oil the niicoiirateinents of the Christian Ministry. t Ward's Farewell Letters, p. 23.