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ON WANT OF SUCCESS IN THE MINISTRY.
To the Editor of the Christian Guardian.
"WANT of success in the ministry," has been a frequent source of lamentation by ministers, and doubtless by some good and simplehearted men, disinterestedly anxious for the welfare of souls. The complaint, and the subject, discussed, as it has at times been, in different religious publications, has occasionally occupied my thoughts. Its being brought forward in your number for January, and recently in a sister publication of great excellence and respectability, has led me to think upon it again; and especially, from some late observations and conversations with a few friends. By your permission, and if deemed sufficiently deserving and important, I would present, through the medium of your esteemed miscellany, a few hints to my clerical brethren who peruse its highly interesting and useful numbers.
I am willing to admit, that, in many cases, the ground of complaint is real; there may be peculiar dispensations of Providence towards the people; they may previously have turned a deaf ear to the Gospel, and the Lord may see fit to visit their sin upon them. But there are instances, in which' the complaint may be considered imaginary, and regarded as the disappointment of a too sanguine mind, at the result of efforts conceived in its own wisdom and carried on in its own strength; or, at the defeat of expectations entertained without a due consideration of the character of the complainant, of human nature at large, and his flock in particular; who may by local habits, associations, connexions, and previous instructions, be deeply rooted in different sentiments. Certainly, where the success desired is most abundant,
still the minister of Christ, "who would have all men come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved;" who is desirous that, as the people of his charge hear of Christ Jesus, they may so walk in him, "adorning the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things;" and, especially, that those who profess to believe in him may be examples to the flock in conversation, in faith, in charity, in patience," such a minister will still have cause for lamentation that all is not as his heart desires with many.
But the chief ground of the complaint alluded to, appears to be, that little or no success attends the ministerial efforts of some labourers in the word and doctrine. Excellent, much to the purpose, and important, as have been the remarks made at different times on the subject, in both the Christian Guardian and the Christian Observer, and deeply as they deserve every one's serious consideration, there are yet two points not sufficiently adverted to, in which the subject has at times struck me, and on which I would now offer a few words.
Permit me first, however, to premise, that it does not always argue real success, i. e. soul-conviction and soul-prosperity, when hearers crowd upon us; for many are drawn by novelty, if they have not had the Gospel before, or in that particular way it is now presented to them; nor when they expatiate upon the excellence of our sermons, and seem ready to " pluck out their own eyes and give them unto us:" for many will say as others do, will "anon receive the word with joy," and to-morrow "fall away," or will attempt to serve themselves by us, and make religion a stepping-stone to some place or connexion, or the attainment of some selfish object. Nor does it absolutely demonstrate real success, when
none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? and whose agency and blessing can alone ensure success.
But God works by means, in the gathering of souls employs human instruments; and it therefore behoves them to look well to their goings. A great deal has been said to point out the error and absurdity of shooting over the heads of hearers in general, of dealing in high language and lofty sentiments; but in arguing for "great plainness of speech," some good men have gone so far as to strip the Gospel message and testimony of all its beauty, elevation, and attractiveness, and by a mistaken notion of the Apostle's expression, and a morbid indifference to the elegant simplicity, dignified terseness, attractive similitudes, sublime treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and unsearchable riches of Christ, they have used such " plainness," that instead of being called to survey the Saviour in all his beauty and loveliness, his suitableness, majesty, and grace, there has, indeed, appeared to their hearers no form nor comeliness Christ, that they "should desire him;" nor any "pleasantness” in his religion, that they should be engaged by it; and scarcely any elevation or glory in the sublime prospects it calls upon contemplate, that the affections of men should be excited towards them *.
our hearers commence teachers, or missionary, or Bible subscription collectors *; for many like to appear great in, or get at the head of, a party, and will do these things to be thought some great ones, or lead others after them. Nor, on the other hand, does it argue want of success, in reality, as it respects conversion of the soul to the knowledge, and fear, and love of God, and their edification by our ministry, if we do not see our hearers follow us in admiration, since some are too intent upon walking humbly with their God, or adoring the beauties and excellencies of the Saviour, to idolize his servant; nor if we do not hear them puff our efforts, or extol our compositions, since many are not so quick-sighted to perceive our weak side, nor so disingenuous as to take advantage of it. Nor yet if we do not find them engage at once in all the plans we propose; many have not the means we imagine, or have crosses and checks, calls and claims we do not discover; or are naturally too diffident to show themselves openly, or may be supporting and assisting us, and the cause of God, in a secret though effectual way.
But, in whatever success, or the want of it, may be supposed to consist, the one as well as the other may certainly be resolvable into obvious causes. Some of these have been well defined, on the one side, and affectingly exposed on the other, in the articles before alluded to; and God forbid, that I should for a moment lose sight of the great Cause," who giveth and withholdeth," ""who openeth and no man shutteth," and shutteth and * It is not my intention, by any part of this remark, to discourage agents of any kind in the good cause of Bible or Missionary Societies. Where true religion enters the heart, such services for Christ and his kingdom cannot but follow in one way or other; but then, they will be engaged in, and rendered from proper motives, that will, in the end, redound to the glory of God, and the honour of the instrument.
A minister's main concern while preaching Christ, I admit, and it must be admitted by others, will be to inculcate repentance and faith, Acts, xx. 21; but there are inducements to both, sufficient to command all the stores of wisdom
*I do not lose sight of the lamentable cause of all this, which is the low views such a preacher has of the person and work of Christ, of his religion, and of the heavenly state: but to enter into an illustration of this, would lead to too extended a discussion of the subject.
and knowledge with which he is acquainted, or can bring into service; and, whilst labouring at this, instantly, "in season and out of season," and using "great plainness of speech" too, he need not be other than "a sweet savour of Christ;" constraining men to depart, not chilled or disgusted, through want of illustration, poverty of matter, or badness of taste, but exclaiming of the "chiefest among ten thousand," "How great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty!" of his religion, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord;" and in regard to the bliss of heaven, "When shall I come to appear before God?" "Oh that I had wings like a dove, for, then would I flee away and be at rest." We are to be "wise in winning souls; " we are to dispense the "lively word," the "saving health of God's grace." Should we then avoid those arguments, and reject that illustration, language, and manner, so far as we can command or cultivate either, which is obviously implied in the term "winning?" Some children are best won by a flower, and some by a peach; in either case, who would strip off a leaf, despoil the one of its colour, or the other of its bloom? Should we not, as if we were desirous to gain the object, rather add to the garnish of each, if possible? Should we ministers, then, in a dull heavy style, and by a cold repulsive sameness, make our hearers as indifferent as we appear to them to be? Should we deal out only the soporific draught, till a lethargic habit is induced into the whole mass, and it becomes neither "cold nor hot?" Rather, should we not" seek out and set in order suitable proverbs," like the wise preacher in Israel," and search to find out acceptable words?" Should we not "beseech, entreat, exhort:" now as "sons of thunder," now as "ministers of con
solation;" now "with all authority," and now "with all the meekness and gentleness of Christ; " bringing forth out of our treasury, and from the inexhaustible storehouse of the Scriptures," things new and old," and the old in a new manner? Look at the teaching and preaching of the Apostles, and especially to that of St. Paul, in each of these connexions. Witness him declaring "the unknown God," at Athens, with wisdom and prudence, learning, instruction, and good fidelity; witness his conduct before Agrippa, displaying firmness, ability, argument, and affectionate appeal. There is "great plainness of speech;" but what engaging beauty and persuasive pathos also shines through each instance, illustrative, doubtless, of that procedure and the consequent effects, to which he alludes when writing to the Corinthians, 2d Epistle, xii. 16. We are certainly responsible for our talents and attainments, gifts and endowments, opportunities and means in all these respects; and if we aim not to improve them for the glory of God and the good of souls, how can we expect a reward?
Another cause, that I have often thought upon, as occasioning the want of success complained of, in some, is the affecting, or rather aping the manner of other men. If these read not formal, unadorned compositions, always measured as it were by the line and the rule, and wrought by an invariable formality of method and style, whatever be the subject, the theme, or the occasion, in a dull and apparently uninteresting manner; or tell their tale with many repetitions, and in as gloomy monotonous a mode as though they were imitating the last dying moans of a drone, and thereby repel their hearers; they are studying to read, or pronounce, or speak like some one who has adopted a singular manner, either from his own peculiar turn of character and thought,
to assist his enunciation, or give effect to his tones; and though all this may sit well on him, it appears ridiculous and absurd in them, and renders them contemptible to all, except those whose partiality or affection renders them blind to such folly, and to the growth of bad habits thus acquired. I have remarked some of these creatures of imitation: now rapid, now slow, now dropping their voice in a genteel cadence till half a dozen words are lost, and now giving a strange pedantic accent unknown among their flock; till, disappointed and perplexed in different ways, or set on thinking in a wrong train, they begin to fall off*.
How injurious any thing is that tends to make a man appear not himself, might be made evident by noticing the mode of memoriter preaching which some adopt; but as this method is mostly practised among the dissenters (many of whom are thus thought by their less intelligentand undiscerning hearers, to preach all from the heart, while they are only delivering, like a school-boy, a got up task, and ofttimes out of another's book), I omit the more particular notice of it; only observing, that with all the advantages it gives for action and address, emphasis and tone, I have seen it fail of the expected effects, both among church ministers and dissenters: the man has not appeared himself, or, as it is said, not at home.
Sir, these observations may appear trifling to some persons, but I am persuaded the things noticed have great effect, and a very detri
*Thus, for instance, in a certain district, where peculiar circumstances afford the clergy a privilege of their hearing each other frequently, which might naturally be supposed to induce improvement in manner, I am told, several of them have, from one,
caught the mode of pronouncing God like Gode, and of dropping the letter r in syllables; and other such singular and novel fancies, till some of their words can scarcely be apprehended by the most attentive hearers.
mental one, on the objects of our ministry. A minister's great aim, in order to produce effect, should be to arrest attention, to be heard distinctly, and to adopt that clear pronunciation, without descending to local barbarisms, in which people are accustomed to hear one another; not as classical scholars in dead languages, but as rational creatures, conversing in a language that is intelligible to all.
But I will not unnecessarily expand this paper. For every purpose, I would have a minister consider his object; and praying continually for divine guidance and success in it, I would have him get absorbed in that object; and let his hearers see that he forgets himself, or rather, forgets his model and is himself, in his grand and glorious occupation. Let him," in simplicity and godly sincerity," stand forth as an ambassador for Christ; let him address dead souls, proclaim reconciliation, and propound its terms with earnestness, fervour, and amplitude, with suitable matter, argument, and energy. The work of the ministry; the occasion and opportunities of employing it; the magnitude, importance, interest, and consequences of it; all require that he should so declare the counsel of Heaven. God and men, angels and evil spirits, are interested in his efforts; heaven, hell, and eternity, are involved in the result. If he views the discharge of his office in such lights and relations, if he weighs it in such balances, he will feel it seize his whole soul whenever he engages in it, and command the occupation and employment of all his powers; and he will not have occasion to follow others, but as they follow Christ; and if his "heart's desire and prayer to God is," that his word. may be glorified, and precious souls saved, while he will gladly spend and be spent, as himself, for such ends, the considerations just enumerated will inspire what will tend
to success. It will not then matter whether he read his sermon, or preach from well-digested thoughts extempore, or memoriter; all will be life, and animation, and warmth: and with the blessing of God it will tell, and especially if Christ be set forth clearly and fully (though not with the mysticism you had just cause to complain of in a former communication on the subject), as our "wisdom and righteousness,
sanctification and redemption," our "all and in all." But, should he not see all the good effects that he longs for, whilst he " possesses his soul in patience," he will have cause for consolation, in the assurance that "in singleness of heart, as unto the Lord," he has aimed to discharge his office, and "give full proof of his ministry" among men. SOPHRON.
BENEFICIAL EFFECT OF SUNDAY SCHOOLS*.
"THE first serious impressions on my mind, were occasioned by a reproof from my little sont, for profaneness. I sent him to the Sunday school, not because it was a religious institution, but because it was a source of instruction to him. When he returned I questioned him, and answered his questions, as I did not attend public worship. In the course of the conversation, I told him that such as were guilty of wickedness would go to hell; among other vices that subjected persons to punishment, I mentioned profaneness. About an hour afterwards I observed that something seemed to dwell on his mind. He said, Father, did you not say that folks who swore must go to hell?' "Yes,' was my answer. He replied, Father, I have heard you swear.' This troubled me much, and I resolved that he never should hear me swear again. I however had no idea of renouncing the practice except in his presence; and so closely did I guard my tongue, that
*Extract of a letter from one brother to another, both residing in the Western District of the state of New York, in answer to a request that he would communicate the occasion of his first serious impressions. + About seven years of age.
it was nearly two months before he heard me use any profane language. I then broke out as usual, and uttered some profane expressions. I saw him, but it was too late. He said nothing, but his mind seemed to labour. This was a little past twelve o'clock.-Early in the evening, I asked John if it was not time for him to go to bed? He did not go. At length I told him to come to me and be undressed. He came, and soon began to weep. I asked him the reason, and bade him tell Father,' he replied, you said that folks who swore must go to hell, and I do not want you to go there.' Judge then of my feelings. It was enough to make the stones cry out. Still I was that hardened wretch (although at the time I was obliged to retire, and give vent to my feelings), that I tried to drive every thing like conviction far from me; and when the Spirit of God was striving with me, I actually called in the aid of spirituous liquor to calm my troubled mind. But I have now some reason to hope that God, according to the riches of his grace, has had mercy on my soul. My constant prayer is, that I may be faithful unto death."