« PreviousContinue »
me, that the probable good effects of a very faithful testimony in the pulpit, have, humanly speaking, been wholly defeated by too successful endeavors to be agreeable out of it.' These remarks, though made with reference to the English clergy, are but in too many instances applicable to the divines of our own country; and they suggest, at once, much important instruction and reproof. It is doubtless right, to associate with all classes among our hearers, and even with publicans and sinners; but it must be only, or principally, with a design to instruct and reform them. It is also, not only right, but a duty, to become all things to all men, so far as we lawfully can; but our only object in doing it, must be by all means to save some; and if the object be not kept steadily in view, if religious conversation be not introduced, on all proper occasions, on all occasions, which Christ and his apostles would have thought proper for this purpose, our social intercourse with our hearers will certainly become a snare to us, and a stumbling block to them; and, perhaps, more than counteract the good effects of all our public addresses. If we lay aside our official character, and feel as if we had discharged all our official duties, when we descend from the sacred desk; if, while associating with our impenitent hearers, we appear to forget their character, and the awfully dangerous situation in which they stand, they will certainly forget it too, and probably doubt whether we really believe it ourselves. Should a physician assure a number of his patients, that their symptoms were highly alarming, and their diseases probably mortal, and then sit down and converse on trifling subjects, with an air of quiet indifference or levity, what would be their inference from his conduct? Would they not unavoidably conclude, either that he did not really consider their situation as dangerous, or that he was grossly deficient in sensibility, and in a proper regard to their feelings? So if our impenitent hearers see us, after solemnly assuring them from the pulpit, that they are children of disobedience, children of wrath, and momentarily exposed to the most awful punishment, mingling in their society with an apparent unconsciousness of their perilous situation; conversing with earnestness on secular affairs; and seldom or never introducing topics strict
ly religious, or embracing private opportunities to warn them of their danger, what must they suppose? If they reflect at all, must they not unavoidably conclude, either that we do not believe their situation to be such as we have represented it, or that we are totally devoid, not only of benevolence,compassion, and religious sensibility; but even of the common feelings of humanity? It is needless to remark, that either conclusion would be far from producing favorable ideas of our sincerity, or ministerial faithfulness. If, then, we wish that such ideas should be entertained by our people, we must convince them by our conduct, that we never forget our character, our duty, or their situation.
"The conviction of our cordial belief of the truths we deliver, which such a discharge of the ministerial duty will produce in the minds of our hearers, must be seated and maintained by a corresponding life. Unaccompanied with this, all other means will be in vain. 'Example,' says a French prelate, ' is the ground work of a minister's character.' 'In vain,' he adds, 'do we preach to our hearers. Our life, of which they are witnesses, is, with the generality of men, the gospel. It is not what we declare in the house of God, it is what they see us practice in our general demeanor.' If, then, we would maintain a conviction among our hearers, that we are sincere, our conduct, as well as our sermons, must preach; and if the former contradicts, or does not coincide with the latter, no good effects can be reasonably expected to follow. We must, therefore, be able, though we may not think proper to say, with the apostle, "Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ. The things which ye have received, and learned, and heard, and seen in me, do, and the God of peace shall be with you." If, says archbishop Usher to his clergy, if practical Christian piety, benevolence, and self government, with constant zeal to promote them all upon earth, are not the first and chief qualities, which your parishioners and acquaintance will ascribe to you; if they will speak of you as noted on other accounts, but pass over these articles in silence, and when asked about them, be at a loss what to say, excepting, possibly, that they know no harm of you, all is not right; nor can such a clergy answer the design of its institution any where, nor even
maintain its ground in a country of freedom and learning.' God grant that the clergy of this country may never, by evincing the want of these qualities, frustrate the all important end of their ministry, nor render it impossible for them to maintain their ground against the assaults of error, vice, and infidelity."
Had this description of the "good minister of Jesus Christ" been drawn by another hand, the familiar acquaintances of Dr. Payson might well have supposed that himself sat for the picture; so accurately did the grand features of his ministerial character correspond with this delineation. Here is, unquestionably, the standard of excellence, which he had prescribed to himself, and at which his aims were continually directed. And whatever might have been the degree of those deficiences, which he so frequently, and so pathetically laments, as to the spirit and temper, with which he discharged his official duties, it is doubted whether the most scrutinizing observer was ever able to detect in his practice any material variation from this standard. Often did his clear exhibitions of truth, and his full and plain exposures of the obliquities of men, prove the occasion of bitter and outrageous feelings in the bosoms of many; but rarely, indeed, could the individual be found, who ventured to express a doubt of his honesty and sincerity. He was always in earnest; and "commended himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
The Pastor in action-Methods of exciting, sustaining, and extending a due interest in religious concernsPreaching, administration of ordinances, Church Fast, Conference, Inquiry Meetings.
ALTHOUGH Most of the preceding chapter, if changed from the didactic form to that of narration, would, for the extent to which it reaches, present a true history of its author: yet there are other details from his own pen, interspersed throughout his familiar correspondence, which will be found scarcely less instructive, and, at the same time, exhibit a fuller developement of the nature, extent, and variety of his pastoral labors. We shall commence our extracts with a letter, written in 1812, to a young clergyman, then recently settled in the ministry, who had sought his instruction and advice on the subject of pastoral duties. It has already been stated, that Mr. Payson was now the sole pastor of the church; and it was in this year, that thirty-one of its members were separated from it, and, by a distinct organization, constituted the "Chapel Congregational Church in Portland," over which Mr. Kellogg was placed as pastor. The vacancy hereby created was more than filled-forty-eight persons being added to the church within the same year. It was distinguished, beyond former years, for "the fruits of the Spirit.”
"DEAR BROTHER-Your letter, requesting 'information and advice,' has just reached me. I rejoice in the circumstances that led to such a request. I rejoice still more, that you feel "ignorant, and inexperienced, and inadequate to the charge which has devolved upon you." We must feel so, or we shall meet with little success.
"I can, however, assure you, for your encouragement, that you cannot possibly be more ignorant and inexperienced than I was, at the time of my settlement. I knew just nothing at all of my business; but I knew a little, O
how little! of my own ignorance. This led me to pray almost incessantly; and somehow or other, I have, as I trust, been preserved from fatal mistakes, and not suffered to ruin either myself or my people, as I sometimes feared that I should. He who has thus guided me, and thousands of others equally foolish, will, I trust, guide you.The best advice I can giveyou, is to look to Him. This Į doubt not you do; but you cannot do it too much. If we would do much for God, we must ask much of God; we must be men of prayer; we must, almost literally, pray without ceasing. You have doubtless met with Luther's remark; "Three things make a divine-prayer, meditation, and temptation.' My dear brother, I cannot insist on this too much. Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing necessary for a minister, especially in seasons of revival. The longer you live in the ministry, the more deeply, I am persuaded, you will be convinced of this. Pray then, my dear brother, pray, pray, pray. Read the account of Solomon's choice. 1. Kings, iii. 5-15. If, like him, you choose wisdom, and pray for it, it will be yours.
The next thing in importance is, as I conceive, that your church should be excited to pray for the influences of the Divine Spirit; and that they should frequently meet for this purpose. For though private prayer may be as effectual, it does not so directly tend to honor God, as that which is more public. God converts sinners for his own glory, and he will have all the glory of their conversion. Nothing tends more directly to give him the glory, than social prayer. In that duty we explicitly acknowledge, not only to him, but to our fellow-creatures, that nothing but the influences of his Spirit can render any means effectual, and that we are entirely dependant for those influences on his sovereign will. In a word, we acknowledge that, in the conversion of sinners, he is all, and we are nothing.
With respect to those who are awakened, I conceive it is our duty to act as fellow workers with the Divine Spirit: to insist principally on those truths of which he first convinces them, and to endeavor, both by our preaching and conversation, to bring them to the same point to which he aims to bring them. This point is complete self-de