« PreviousContinue »
Do they possess the belief that no people are to be lightly abandoned to eternal doom, and that success may be obtained if it be rightly sought? Is it their feeling that the ministry was never meant to be a respectable profession but a hard work ? Are moral and eternal fruits, in the instruction, quickening and sancti. fying of men, more highly prized than the comforts, and enjoyments arising from respectable positions, established interests, and intelligent society? We might multiply these inquiries almost without end, and we fear the response to them would be sorrowful from most persons whose information would warrant their making a response at all. Let us repeat, that our intention is not to prefer charges, though our mode may suggest it. We write with the deepest self-abasement, and devoted love and honour for our brethren, whose shoes' latrhet we are not worthy to unloose. Nor, however painful may be our own views in some respects, would justice be done us if we were regarded as lamenting the entire condition of our body, and class. So far from it, we would not for one moment hint that a very large number of ministers may not be found amongst us, whose course and success, if looked at alone, would justly excite astonishment at the nature of our interrogatories. We have amongst us a glorious company of men who combine in rich and harmonious variety all the qualifications and attributes of servants of the most high God;' the simplicity of whose piety appears in beautiful fellowship with great attainments, who are as devoted workmen as they are eloquent orators, who unite the fervour of the first age to the refinement of the last, and who behold in large and flourishing churches the natural, and yet supernatural, results. And we must add, likewise, that our object is even still less to draw, or to intimate, any distinction beween one class or race of ministers and another. We speak not of the young or of the old. This remark is rendered necessary, by not a little that has been said of late years in disparagement of the rising ministry. For some time we received these complaints and accusations only as at the worst, the oozings out of the distrust and impatience with which it is natural for the aged to contemplate the youthful, especially if the latter show signs of independence and of power, and we are strongly inclined to cherish this estimate still. Who likes to be assailed with the peremptory order, 'move on?' Ever since the world began there have been the elements of schism between the ancient holders of office, and those who have but recently received it. It is unnecessary for us to conceal the faults which generally obtain among young ministers, or those which especially obtain among the existing race; we know too well how thankless and thoughtless would be the work of an indiscriminate vindication ; but, without making any invidious comparisons, we may avow our belief that in relation to our present subject, viz. piety, they stand as well as others, while in relation to some other things they stand much better. A good deal of the suspicion which prevails respecting this important class, and which many foster who ought to reprove it, arises, we are persuaded, from what those persons would be sorry to sanction—a secret belief in the sinfulness of human learning. We put it strongly on purpose-but not too strongly. This is the primary element. As an unconscious moral feeling against matter leads to sympathy with much popish doctrine and ritualism, so, we are thoroughly convinced, an unconscious moral feeling against knowledge leads to sympathy with much pagan ignorance and barbarism. Protestants find it difficult to divest themselves of the sentiment that matter is evil, and that therefore ‘more flesh' is more frailty, and many dissenters find it as difficult to conceive that what is added to the intellect is not taken from the heart, and that godly simplicity is not human stupidity. Hence a jealousy, strong in some quarters, of the efforts to improve and extend our collegiate course of training, among other reasors, because of the incompatability of the end proposed with a fresh and fervid spirituality. Against this doctrine we have all along protested, nor are we prepared to write one word of recantation in reference to the papers which have from time to time appeared in this journal, expounding and enforcing the principles and details of a higher order of ministerial education. We know of no wisdom that is opposed to the wisdom of God,' and should as soon think of enmity between a sharp eye and a good digestion as between learning and holiness. But a man may be attending to his eye when he should be attending to his digestion, and so in studying men may neglect that better way of studyingpraying.
Let us return. In order to estimate accurately the importance of great piety in the Christian ministry, it is needful to look carefully at its relations to the individual man and his official work. Its importance is generally conceded; it passes as a stock sentiment. No one denies, and for that reason few analyze it. So catholic an agreement prevents careful consideration, and the truth is as often concealed as revealed by its expression. Why should a minister of God be ' a man of God ?' It requires a little reflection to detect the reasons, and much to obtain a full and solemnizing perception of them.
The ultimate end of the ministry can be realised so as to operate in its proper manner and degree only as the soul sees things which are invisible. That end is the salvation of men. All other ends are secondary and subservient. A man supremely devoted to this may engage in works that are not immediately, or in the view of short-sighted persons, conducive to its attainment. He may do this to excite attention, remove prejudice, and gain power. He may do it on the ground on which eminent counsel is sometimes retained when not wanted, it being better to buy silence than encounter opposition; and he may do it on the higher ground of enlisting a powerful advocacy in favour of a good cause. A minister may thus cultivate acquaintance with general literature, and aid the progress of many social questions, not forgetting his higher aim, but remembering and pursuing it, and so much the more, and with larger ultimate recompense, because with more patience and comprehensiveness of toil. But he will still watch' supremely for souls. No amount of mental culture, of social reformation, of even moral improvement, will satisfy his zeal. Regarding men as possessing spiritual powers, filling spiritual relations, and advancing to a spiritual destiny, and believing these views to be infinitely more important than all other views of them, and comprehensive of all, he will not estimate his work by any criterion that excludes, or that gives not prominence to, spiritual salvation. He seeks them, not theirs, and to 'win' them, to 'form Cbrist in them,' to beget them again by the gospel, to 'present them perfect in Christ Jesus' at last, will constitute a purpose of absorbing solicitude, The existence and operation of such a purpose will affect the ministry in an essential manner, often investing with attractiveness modes and scenes of labour otherwise repulsive. It will concentrate the energies upon the work, and augment their force. The power of a man is not to be judged by contemplating what he is, but by calling to mind the impulse under which his faculties are used; and the impression that is denied to unconnected and chance exertions, however strenuous and splendid they may be alone, is often given to much inferior exertions continuously, systematically, and perseveringly employed. There is literally more power expended in the unceasing application of a small mind than in the fitful and occasional performances of a gigantic intellect. And if an inferior minister, absorbed with the conviction that men are precious and that they are perishing, works with a single view to their redemption, 'gives himself wholly to this thing,' making all his acquirements, and circumstances, and plans, tell upon it, he will do more, and more effectually, than can be done by the decent regularity, or temporary excitements of one vastly superior to him in gifts and furniture. The vivid realization of men's spiritual destiny which we suppose, will find reasons for love and toil when all besides will see a justification or excuse for neglect and abandonment. The most ignorant are the choicest subjects to him whose passion it is to teach; the most depraved are just the objects to be preferred by
him who thirsts to make alive to God. Indolence, selfishness, worldliness, will gladly leave the post of arduous toil, the mind that was in Christ Jesus' will covet it. If human spirits be sought for their own sake, every sign of corruption, degradation, and danger, will be an argument for more strenuous pursuit. Preferment to a man who 'travails in birth’ for them will be the sphere in which their destitution is the greatest. And to such an one there will be no satisfying limit of success. He will not ask how little may consist with a Divine commission, but how much may be attained by human instrumentality. It may be that his usefulness is quite an average, it may be that it is more, yet will he strive to reach a higher point of blessing, and deem his past achievements as both means and motives of a more abundant benediction. In labouring for this, recourse will of necessity be had to aggressive methods. The worldly must be attacked, the bold transgressor faithfully dealt with, the stupidly sinful energetically and tenderly entreated. This is the severe test of Christian solicitude and love. It is comparatively easy to meet the expectations and fulfil the wishes of those who are seeking to be saved, to teach such as are anxious to be instructed, to go when there is a welcome, to visit those who deem a visit an honour; it is comparatively easy to labour faithfully in the pulpit and the church, to travail in the beaten route of public and pastoral engagements, satisfying the ordinary demands of ordinary Christians; but to attempt something else and something more than this, to labour out of season' as well as 'in it,' to aim not only at keeping up a respectable religious establishment but at doing a great work for God, to come into personal contact with the severer and more disgusting forms of depravity, to render services that are not likely to be appreciated but are almost sure to be misunderstood, to endeavour to communicate knowledge to minds destitute of any desire for it, to encounter the sharp opposition and clever reasonings of the sceptical, to strive to quicken the most elementary love of moral excellence-in one word, to raise a standard solely by the help of truth, to exceed the rule of common ministerial labour, toil for souls that are unknown or avoided by the church, and in methods unknown or disapproved by the church, this can be the result of nothing but a passion for human salvation. And by what is such a passion to be excited and sustained ? There is a perpetual tendency to lose sight of the individual and spiritual worth of men, to glide into modes of estimation which do not involve it, and the state of our own hearts and of the world, is such as powerfully to check the exercises of such love and pity towards them as may be in us. To maintain an habitual sense of their great capacity and destitution, and an habitual anxiety to work
out their good, it is needful, and indispensable, that the heart should live in the light of eternity, and of God. Zeal against sin will never be greater than personal holiness, and 'charity to the soul,' which is the soul of charity,' will abound only as the great Parent and Father of all charity is realized and enjoyed. Paul expounds the whole subject in one energetic sentence •Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober it is for your canse: for the love of Christ constraineth us.'
A vital relation of great godliness to ministerial efficiency exists through the medium of truth. Let it be assumed that truth is the means by which men are invariably saved, which it may well be among us, and it becomes a matter of importance to know what is the best security for the full maintenance and energetic teaching of truth. There must be faith, that is indispensable; and we mean by faith not an exact and minute reflection of certain, or of any, dogmas, but a vivid, cordial, loving appreciation of the facts and principles which they embody. Without this, a ministry must be weak, heartless, vacillating, useless. The positive is the only source of power. Animal life is not upheld by the rejection of poisonous but the reception of wholesome food, and the heart derives all its virtue and all its strength from the presence and incorporation of spiritual realities. Doubt is almost as fatal as disbelief. It may be very fine to have the mindin a state of constant sublime scepticism, it may seem very modest to fear any fixed conclusions in so vast a mystery as that of the universe, it may appear very candid to refrain from adopting formal theories about any spiritual subjects, but one thing is certain, men cannot work in this way. Let the soul be tossed about on the ocean of moral uncertainties, let it have no definite and decided convictions, and one result will infallibly be—that it will do nothing. It was not by doubtful minds and doubtful ministries that the achievements of the gospel were made in times past, that paganism and popery have been effectually assailed. And if it be inquired-how may a staunch and settled confidence in truth, a seeing handling tasting of it be best secured, our answer is—by a high degree of sanctity. Learning, and hard thinking, let there be as much as possible of these; too much there cannot be. But we have no fear or shame in avowing our trust for orthodoxy to be in the obedience of the heart to God and Christ. We believe in the close sympathy between holiness and truth, in the living union of spiritual affections and spiritual perceptions, in the certainty that the doer of the will shall be the knower of the doctrine. There is a tendency in a right healthy moral state to find out and ally itself to objective truth. It will go in quest of it, be predisposed to its reception, and possess a blessed freedom from