The following Charge was lately delivered at the Ordination of a young Minister at W____. It is submitted for insertion in the Magazine, in the hope that it may benefit others who have just entered into the ministry.
THERE are times when the ear is open to instruction, and when the heart is prepared to receive the best impressions. To a Minister his Ordination is one of these times. When he considers the greatness of the work on the one hand, and his own unfitness on the other, he feelingly exclaims, "Who is sufficient for these things?" He is sensible that much will be expected of him, and how to perform it he knows not. He therefore prays for divine teaching, and looks wistfully to his seniors in the ministry for the benefit of their counsels and experience. He not only receives with gladness, the significant pledge of their confidence and affection in the hand of Fellowship, but knowing his own weakness, he is desirous of being reminded of the duties of an office with which he has been solemnly and publicly invested.
Such, I am persuaded, my brother, are your thoughts and feelings, on this occasion. No hour in your previous life can have been so interesting as this, except that in which you committed yourself to Christ. You have entered on a new and important connexion. In the presence of God, and of his people, you have taken upon you the duties and cares of a pastor. You have, no doubt, been anxiously asking yourself — How shall I fulfil these duties, and be sustained under these cares? Permit me, my brother, to give you a few directions.
A great portion of a minister's life should be employed in acquiring and imparting suitable religious instruction. In relation to each of these duties I would stir up your mind by way of remembrance.
I scarcely need say to you, that if you would teach others, you must first be taught yourself. As it will be your duty to explain the truths of revelation, it should be your great concern to understand them. For this purpose give attendance to reading ; meditate on the Scriptures, that your profiting may appear to all; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all knowledge and spiritual understanding, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
Be thankful for the theological instruction you have received, but do not imagine that your education is complete. It has, in fact, only just commenced.
You have been taught in the original languages, and the principles of interpretation, not as the end of all divine knowledge, but as means to acquire it more extensively. If, therefore, you would show yourself approved a workman who need not be ashamed, you must continue to search the Scriptures, and meditate upon them by day and by night. Endeavor to understand the Bible for yourself. While you respect the opinions of wise and good men, call no man Master. It has been the misfortune of many to examine human creeds first and the Bible last; and even then it has been more examined for the confirmation of sentiments previously embraced, than as the only pure source of truth, and the standard by which all our sentiments are to be tried. Let your maxim be, my brother, "The Bible — the Bible — is the religion of Protestants." Do not despise other inferior lights, but chiefly depend on the sun-light of Revelation, to show you what doctrines are to be believed, and what duties are to be practised.
Especially labor to feel the power of truth on your own heart. Without great care you may form the habit of studying the Scriptures merely as a critic, or as a caterer of spiritual food for others, without being fed yourself. It is of great importance, not only to your own piety and comfort, but to your usefulness, that you should daily read the Scripture as one who has a deep personal interest in its truths. You will then not only understand them better, but preach with more earnestness and power.
In your selection of subjects, and in preparation for the pulpit, do not be governed so much by your own convenience, as by a regard to usefulness. Look well to the state of your people; and let their condition give a character to your ministrations. Pastoral visits, particularly among the poor, the afflicted and tempted, will suggest to you some of the most useful topics for discourse. If your people are asleep, endeavor to arouse them from their slumbers. If they are active, encourage them to persevere in every good word and work. If they are mourning for sin, endeavor to comfort them. If they are careless in their transgressions, cry aloud and spare not. If they are legal, show them that by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. If they are inclined to Antinomianism, show them that faith without works is dead; and affirm constantly, that they who have believed in God, should be careful to maintain good works.
As it respects your public ministrations, endeavor to maintain a constant sense of your absolute dependence on the blessing of God. Without him you can do nothing. You may plant and water,
but God must give the increase. He alone can make you an able minister of the New Testament.
But dependence on God is not slothfulness. It is no evidence of dependence on him that we neglect means. This is presumption or laziness, not dependence. I therefore charge you, my brother, never to come to this Pulpit without previous preparation for its services, unless some special providence has prevented you. Seek to have your heart prepared by prayer and communion with God, and your understanding prepared by reading and meditation, and by a careful examination in the light of Scripture, experience and observation, of the subject that you intend to illustrate and enforce. No man, whatever may be his talents, who does not study, can preach long to the same people, without becoming tedious and e uninteresting. He will repeat the same ideas so often, and in the same words, that they will cease to have any effect, except to compose the people to sleep. Study, then, to show thyself a workman, that needeth not to be ashamed. Do not confine yourself to one class of topics. Let doctrinal, experimental, and practical subjects claim your attention. This will not only give variety to your discourses, but will be more in accordance with the will of God, and more beneficial to your hearers.
The great object of preaching is to "turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith." — Those truths, therefore, which bring into view the holy character of God — the evil nature and dangerous tendency of sin — the necessity of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ — the nature and necessity of being born again — the plagues of the second death, and the joys of a happy immortality — the love of Christ to perishing sinners, and the danger of neglecting him — with the necessity of personal holiness, should be most frequently dwelt upon, because they are best adapted for the awakening and conversion of sinners.
There are important Bible doctrines, which, perhaps, have seldom, or never been blessed to the awakening of sinners. Now if a minister always dwells on these, he need not be surprised if he should never see sinners converted under his ministry. There are other truths, which, perhaps, never were blessed to the special comfort of Christians. Should these invariably constitute the preacher's theme, his Christian hearers would not be comforted. "God has revealed various truths for the accomplishment of various effects. I charge you, my brother, so to understand these various messages, and so to deal them out to your congregation, that sinners may be alarmed, mourners comforted, and saints edified and built up in their most holy faith.
As you ought to be careful as to the matter of your discourses, so ought you to be as to the manner of delivering them. It will not answer the great purposes of preaching, that your subjects are judiciously chosen — that your arguments are unanswerable — that your illustrations are just and elegant — and that your style is learned and chaste. All these qualities may distinguish your sermons,
and yet they may be read or said with so much apparent coldness and carelessness, as to excite no interest whatever, and do no one any good. They may he finished models of pulpit composition, but like the statues of Canova, they will be cold and motionless, unless a feeling heart and an earnest manner breathe into them the breath of life. It has been the exhibition of this feeling, which has enabled men of moderate attainments to be far more successful in the conversion of sinners, than many who were more learned. Their address has been unaffected and earnest. They have uttered the honest and warm feelings of their hearts. They have aimed directly at the consciences of their hearers, and have succeeded. Religious truths are not like mathematical or philosophical truths, to be acquired merely by a cool process of reasoning: they address the affections as well as the understandings of men. And if you would have others believe and feel them, you must show that you believe and feel them yourself. While you are, therefore, careful to speak the words of truth and soberness, do not be so anxious in relation to the arrangement of every word and sentence in your discourses, as to cause the very essence of religion to evaporate from them. Be more anxious that the general impression produced by your sermons be of a deeply religious character, than that you should have the praise of being a correct and elegant sermonizer. Speak from the heart, and it will go to the heart. Let it be evident that you are in earnest — that you travail for souls — that you do indeed feel and believe the eternal realities of which you speak, and others will feel and believe. This was the great secret of the success of Whitfield, and Pearce, and Baldwin, and Summerfield — Their hearts were imbued with the love of Christ — they felt a tender concern for the salvation of sinners — they threw their whole souls into their sermons — their eyes beamed with affection, or melted into tears of pity — their voices were modulated into tones of persuasion, terror, or transport — and their countenances and gestures were moved and fashioned by the workings of the inner man. There was nothing artificial in this — all was natural. And God greatly blessed their labors; and he will always bless the labors of such men. May you, my brother, emulate their spirit and style of preaching.
And remember, that however learnedly or eloquently you may discourse, your ministry will be comparatively powerless, unless it is associated with a holy and prudent life. Splendid talents have frequently been useless, because they were not sustained by piety and circumspection. I trust no one will ever have to say of you, my brother, "He is a guide-post pointing the way to heaven, but not moving a step therein himself." By purity and knowledge, and humility and gentleness, and prudence and patience, show that you are a living instance of the blessed and soul-transforming influence of the gospel of Christ. O that you may be enabled to say with humble confidence, "Be ye followers of me, as I have followed Christ."
Having said so much concerning preparation for the pulpit, and the manner in which you should preach, perhaps I ought to say a
few words on your pastoral duties. I am more inclined to do this, because the longer I live, the more I am convinced of their importance.
Much of your usefulness, under God, will depend on the nature of your intercourse with your hearers. Visit your people as a minister from house to house. Ascertain what effect your preaching has upon them. Improve the afflictive visitations of Providence, by endeavoring to impress on your friends the truths which they will naturally suggest to your own mind. Embrace private opportunities of conversing with your hearers on the necessity and importance of personal religion. Encourage hopeful appearances of piety, and free access to you for all, whatever may be their condition, who wish to disclose to you their feelings on religion. In your social circles encourage useful and religious conversation. While you "rejoice with them that do rejoice — weep with them that weep."
Finally, my brother, let it be your highest aim to be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished and brought up in sound doctrine — Teaching and warning every one, that you may present them perfect in Christ Jesus; — then when Christ shall appear he shall give to you a crown of righteousness that shall never fade away.
[From American Baptist Magazine,March, 1830, pp. 65-69. Document from Google Books. — Formatted by Jim Duvall]
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