Chapter 3. The Pastoral and Social Life of the Pastor
IT is not unusual to speak of the profession of a minister of the gospel as we do of that of a lawyer or a physician; and were it simply a profession in the sense that these others are, our next subject of consideration, after having discussed the nature of the office itself, would be the different modes of operation, or lines of duty, through which its important ends are to be reached. But there is an easily recognised distinction between the ministerial calling and a profession in civil life. The one cannot, like the other, be contemplated as a thing by itself, apart from the state and character of the individual. From its very nature, it is but the more peculiar embodiment and exhibition of the characteristics of the Christian community, a kind of concentrated manifestation of the views and principles, the feelings and obligations, which belong in common to the Church of Christ. And as the Christianity which should pervade and distinguish the membership of this Church is emphatically a life, so the Christian ministry, in which it may be said to culminate, must be regarded as in the first instance a life, and secondarily as a work. It has to do primarily with a condition of being and a course of behaviour, and only afterwards with the ministrations of service. Not only must the two co-exist together, but they must stand related to each other in the manner now indicated; the life from the first takes precedence of the work, and throughout must hold the place of pre-eminent importance. In the Sacred Scriptures our attention is frequently and very forcibly fixed upon this point. Thus in the Sermon on the Mount, when our Lord was speaking of those in His kingdom who should occupy the position of spiritual guides, He said, ‘Whosoever shall do and teach these things, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven,’ (Mat_5:19) giving, it will be observed, marked precedence to the doing, even in the case of those whose distinctive place was to be that of teachers in the kingdom. In another passage of the same discourse, the absence of the doing, or rather its converse, the working of iniquity, is represented as the special ground of the condemnation which shall be pronounced on those who have falsely aspired to the rank of prophets and wonder-workers in Christ’s name. (Mat_7:23) The stress laid upon the pastor’s life and behaviour is one of the most striking things found in the instructions given through Timothy and Titus in the pastoral epistles. They are themselves charged to be most careful and exemplary in this respect, while labouring to plant or build up the churches: as in this to Timothy, ‘Take heed to thyself, and to the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee;’ (1Ti_4:16) and to Titus, ‘in all things showing thyself a pattern of good works,’ (Tit_2:7) making this, as it were, the sure ground of all your proceeding, looking to it as an indispensable element of success. Not only so, but in the delineations given of the qualifications that should be sought in those who were appointed to fill the office of presbyter or episcopos in the several churches, nearly the whole have respect to character; (1 Timothy 3) so that out of thirteen or fourteen different qualities mentioned, only one has distinct reference to the gift of teaching; (Titus 2) virtually implying that character was the most essential thing, and that if matters were but right there, others would in good measure follow as a matter of course. And how much it was St. Paul’s own practice to let example go before, and give weight to all his ministrations, appears from the general tenor of his life; in particular, from his addresses to the elders of Ephesus, and to the church of Thessalonica, (Acts 20; 1 Thessalonians 2) in which he points to the blameless, self-denying, and godly life he maintained, as the clear evidence of the sincerity of his heart, and the seal of His testimony as an ambassador of God.
Turning from the light of Scripture on the subject to the subject itself, a variety of considerations readily present themselves, lending confirmation to this view of the fundamental importance of the pastor’s personal state and behaviour, in relation to the objects of his ministry. First of all, it is itself one of the most effective means of teaching; it is one side of the gospel in a living and embodied form, a form which, if sound and true, will, in accordance with the proverb which places example above precept, give forth deeper impressions than what is heard from the lips. As the pastor is the official representative of the flock, he ought to be, all men expect him to be, a typal Christian. There are thousands even in Protestant countries who seldom think of looking higher for their ideal of Christian perfection. The saying of Massillon is at least partially true of them, ‘The gospel of most people is the life of the priests whom they observe; ‘or, as Philip Henry more happily expressed it, ‘Our lives should be the book of the ignorant.’ More than other men the pastor is encompassed by influences which tend to encourage and stimulate him to the cultivation of what is pure and good. For religion is more peculiarly the business of the Christian minister than it is of ordinary believers; his daily occupations, unlike theirs, bring him into immediate contact with divine realities; his position, with the proprieties naturally belonging to it, forms a kind of safeguard against temptations to which they are frequently exposed; and as his proper business is to labour that others may be good, consistency alone obliges him to strive to be such himself. It is inevitable, therefore, that men’s expectations should generally be directed toward the minister as the one in whom there should be seen the brightest exemplification of the spirit and character of the gospel; and if this expectation is in any competent measure realized, the interests of religion and morality will be effectively promoted; if otherwise, they cannot but sustain material damage.
Besides, not the nature merely, but the practicability also of the Christian life finds its natural and appropriate illustration in the exemplary walk and deportment of the pastor. The excuse is thereby in a measure cut off, which is so apt to present itself to worldly men when they hear the spiritual demands of the gospel, that these are but the devout speculations of the closet, scarcely to be looked for as realities amid the scenes and employments of every-day life. Let the realization of these, then, be actually witnessed; let the man, who is God’s more peculiar agent in setting forth the requirements of a gospel obedience, be himself an example of the spirit and behaviour they enjoin; and though still the thought may too readily be entertained, that what is possible and becoming in the pastor is too high for the observance generally of the flock, yet the visible reality in him, if in a good degree conformed to the proper standard, will go far to work in men’s minds an .impression of the practicable nature of the Christian life. Indeed, as it will usually be impossible otherwise to convince them of the practicability of such a life, it will be still more impossible to convince them of our sincerity in urging them to aim at it, or of being ourselves persuaded that the earnest pursuit of it is of real moment to their well-being. A minister’s testimony in favour of a godly life, if not borne out by his own example, can only have its fitting counterpart in a people holding the truth in unrighteousness, and for the most part is but too likely to have it.
Even in those lines of action which are less directly connected with spiritual and moral ends, but in which also an appreciation and advocacy of these is to some extent involved, a heartfelt regard to the good, and a practical exhibition of it, have ever been deemed essential to complete success. Thus Milton, writing in respect to the sphere of things in which he came so near to the realizing of his own high idea, nobly says: ‘I was confirmed in this opinion, that he who would not be frustrate of his hope, to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and most honourable things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that is praiseworthy.’ (Apology for Smect.) In a sphere more nearly approaching the one before us, that of the civic orator, if we turn to the thoughtful, judicious pages of Quinctilian, we shall find him very distinctly and repeatedly insisting on the necessity of personal worth. He even throws it into the definition of an orator, saying, oratorem esse virum bonum dicendi peritum, (Inst. L. xx. I.)—first himself good, then skilled in the faculty of speech; a notable description. And again, ‘Not only do I affirm that he who would be an orator ought to be a good man, but that he shall not become an orator unless he is a good man,’ stating his reasons at some length for the assertion, urging, especially for the higher species of eloquence, the necessity of moral honesty in him who pleads for the right, and vindicating Demosthenes and Cicero from the charges sometimes preferred against them of a defective morale. Of Demosthenes himself we have a testimony to the same effect in Plutarch, who tells us, in explanation of the great regard which the orator had for the public influence of Phocion, that ‘he knew a nod or a word from a man of superior character is more regarded than the long discourses of another.’
An unhappy yet most striking illustration of the soundness of this judgment may be found in the case of one of the most highly gifted men of modern times, whose pleadings in the cause of reform chiefly failed of their end from his own sad need of personal reformation. Fox had everything to make him the resistless opponent of public abuses, the most effective and triumphant advocate of what is just and right in the government of the country, except a moral life; and this vitiating element counteracted the force of all his oratory. ‘Both principles and practices tending toward arbitrary power and national degradation, were (to use the words of Foster (Review of Fox’s Memoirs.)) progressively gaining ground during the much greater part of the time that he was assailing them with fire and sword; yet the people could hardly be induced to regard him otherwise than as a capital prizefighter, and scarcely thanked him for the fortitude and energy he devoted to their service. He was allowed to be a most admirable man for a leader of opposition; but not a mortal could be persuaded to regard that opposition, even in his hands, as bearing any resemblance to that which we have been accustomed to ascribe to Cato—an opposition of which pure virtue was the motive, and all corruptions whatever the object.
The talents and the long and animated exertions of this most eloquent of all our countrymen failed plainly because the people placed no confidence in his virtue; or, in other words, because they could never be persuaded to attribute virtue to his character. They did not confide in his integrity. Those who admired everything in his talents regretted that his name never ceased to excite in their minds the idea of gamesters and bacchanals, even after he was acknowledged to have withdrawn himself from such society. . . . We wish the greatest genius on earth (Foster concludes), whoever he may be, might write an inscription for our statesman’s monument, to express in the most forcible and strenuous of all possible modes of thought and phrase, the truth and the warning, that no man will ever be accepted to serve mankind in the highest departments of utility, without an eminence of virtue that can sustain him in the noble defiance,—Which of you convicts me of sin?’
But if such be the case in respect to those who would head a reform in the merely economical and political sphere, how much more must it hold with the spiritual guides and reformers of the people! How inevitably must their efforts in the cause of righteousness fail, if their own spirit and behaviour obviously fall below the mark! Not only should they have the reality of the goodness they undertake to press upon others, but the appearance of it also should be so vividly impressed on their aspect and demeanour as to raise them above all suspicion of the contrary. In proportion as any one recedes from this living exemplification of the spirit of the gospel, he becomes disqualified for the effective proclamation of its truths: and if instead of a simple deficiency there is a visible contrast, the result must be in the last degree disastrous. ‘This,’ says Baxter, (Reformed Pastor, c. i. sec. 8.) ‘is the way to make men think that the word of God is but an idle tale, and to make preaching seem no better than prating. He that means as he speaks, will surely do as he speaks. One proud, surly, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action, may cut the throat of many a sermon, and blast the fruit of all you have been doing.’ He therefore justly notes it as a palpable inconsistence and grievous mistake in those ministers who study hard to preach exactly, but study little, or not at all, to live exactly; who spend most of the week in studying how to speak two hours, and scarcely spend an hour in studying how to live all the week. Such conduct in the case of a popular preacher once met with a just reproof from a blunt English farmer, in the cutting remark, ‘Sir, you light a bright candle on Sundays, and put it out all the week.’
These are all considerations of grave moment, and are more than sufficient to establish the fitness, the necessity even, if any real good is to be accomplished, of the ministers of the gospel being themselves practical examples of its truths and principles. But there are other, and one might almost say higher, considerations still to enforce the same conclusion; for, without being themselves under the power of the truth, they cannot adequately manifest the truth to the consciences of others; they cannot do it as Christ requires it to be done; and whatever talent or learning they may throw into their ministrations, there must still be wanting elements for which no amount of talent or learning can compensate. The kind of preaching, it must be remembered, which the Spirit is promised to bless for much spiritual good, is not the bare manifestation of the truth, but the truth made instinct with the life of Christian experience, quickened and intensified by feeling. It is the truth reflected from heart to heart from a soul already penetrated and imbued with its spirit, to other souls either wholly estranged from it, or less sensibly under its power. Let the same work which is done, or the same word which is spoken, by one from whom they pass lightly off, with little seeming apprehension of their importance, be done or spoken by another with the warmth and earnestness which bespeak a heart all on fire with the mighty interests involved, and that which in the one case falls on comparatively listless ears, will in the other awaken a response in every surrounding bosom. It is the action of the sanctified on the unsanctified soul, the expression of the truth from a conscience thoroughly alive to its teaching, which in the hands of the Spirit is the great means of conveying deep and salutary impressions of it to consciences that are still slumbering in ignorance or sin. And more especially for the purpose of maintaining such a living, spiritual agency has the preaching of the gospel been appointed to form a standing ordinance in the Church.
And then there is the progressive nourishment of the soul in the life of faith, the conducting of those who have already believed onwards to the higher experiences of grace, and a more enlarged acquaintance with its blessings. ‘A minister,’ it has been justly said, (Sermon by Mr. Litton.) ‘may have piety, and yet not the quality of piety for this task. He may preach awakening sermons on such subjects as the value of the soul, the uncertainty of life, the terrors of the coming judgment; he may enlarge forcibly on the various branches of Christian practice; he may reiterate in every variety of form the doctrine of justification by faith; and yet but inadequately fulfil this part of his commission. To exhibit the Saviour Himself to the eye of faith, and not a mere doctrine concerning Him; to expose the devices of Satan, and unravel the windings of that labyrinth, the human heart; to enter into the exercises of Christian experience; to conduct the flock into the interior recesses of the sanctuary, where the hidden manna of the gospel lies concealed, where Jesus manifests Himself to His people as He does not to the world, and the Spirit bears witness with their spirit that they are the children of God, and so to promote growth in grace by unfolding the rich privileges of the Christian calling,—this is to feed the flock, this is to make full proof of one’s ministry. And who is sufficient for these things? Assuredly none but he who through the Spirit’s grace has penetrated into the mysteries of the life of faith, and knows the truth in its reality and power.’
Further, if a personal acquaintance with the things of the Spirit, and a consistent exhibition of them in the walk and conduct, be necessary to secure the proper aptitude to teach, they are equally necessary to secure the requisite conditions for the copious effusion of the Holy Spirit. Whatever importance may justly be attached to the clear and comprehensive exhibition of divine truth, it is not to be forgotten that everything ultimately depends on the presence and power of the Spirit. And though the Spirit in His regenerative and sanctifying agency does not exclusively bind Himself to any specific channel for the presentation of the truth; though He distributes to every one severally as He wills, and sometimes communicates saving energy through instruments with which the element of personal holiness is little if at all connected, yet such is by no means His wonted method of working, nor is it what in any case we are properly warranted to expect. According to the ordinary law of the Spirit’s operations, there is a close correspondence between the personal state of the agent and the measure of blessing that is made to accompany his exertions in the service of God. No one, as formerly stated, who is himself a stranger to faith, and the godly behaviour of which faith is the living principle, can have any just right to minister in holy things, much less to look for the seal of divine acceptance and effective co-operation in his work. And it stands to reason, that if the minister’s soul is itself somewhat like a dry and parched region, the wilderness around shall not through his instrumentality be refreshed with the streams of grace. On the other hand, both reason and experience justify us in expecting that those whom the Spirit will most distinctly own in the husbandry of the gospel, whose efforts He will crown with the richest harvest of blessing, are such as have become true participants of grace, and know much personally of its saving operations. For the most part, they are made instruments of good to others in proportion as they are conscious to themselves of the love and practice of the good. Truly spiritual and earnest ministers of the gospel will ever be able to distinguish in this respect between one part of their ministrations and another; as Brainerd, for example, when pressing on those actively engaged in the Lord’s service the importance of their possessing the more special influences of grace, strikingly said, ‘These wonderfully assist them to get at the consciences of men, and, as it were, to handle them with their hands; while, without them, whatever reason and oratory we make use of, we do but make use of stumps instead of hands.’
Yes; and as an elevated spiritual frame is required to fit us instrumentally for the greater results of the Spirit’s working, so this alone can properly dispose us to ask and look for the larger effusions of His grace. There is a close connection between the measure in which the Spirit is given, and the degree of desire and faithfulness with which He is sought. And it is the soul which has experienced much personally, that will ever be the best prepared for seeking much believingly for others. He who has himself known only the small drops of divine grace and power, will hardly be in a condition to expect, or even earnestly to pray for, the richer showers of blessing on the field of his labours. And if there are to be Pentecostal times for the Church, we must look for Pentecostal experiences going before in the hearts of the ministry. And these, I may add, manifesting themselves in an engrossing eagerness of desire and intensity of active effort for the salvation of men. In whom but in such spirit-replenished souls could we expect a picture like the following, the life-picture of the Apostle to the Gentiles, to be in any measure reproduced? ‘Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself the servant of all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake.’ (1Co_9:20-23) It is this high-strung concentration of soul, through the larger gifts of God’s Spirit, which most of all qualifies a man for doing great things in the more peculiar work of the Spirit. One master-passion animates and controls his movements; and whatever he has of genius or talent, of time, of sympathy, of love, of skill in adapting himself to circumstances, and turning to account the opportunities which present themselves, all are laid under contribution to the one great end, and with an impressiveness of manner, a fulness of soul, which goes far to secure what it seeks to have realized. This one thing I desire, this one thing I do, seems to breathe in all he says and does.
On every account, therefore, it is of importance that the personal state and character of the pastor, his possessing and exercising the principles of a divine life in a higher degree than common, should be taken, in a manner, as the postulate of all that should otherwise characterize him, and be anticipated from his labours. And if the following portraiture, drawn by an eminent Dutch divine (Vitringa), of the proper ideal of a Christian minister be too high to warrant the expectation of its being fully realized amid the difficulties and temptations of a present life, it is at least what should be constantly aimed at; and the more it is realized, the ampler will be the reason for expecting a blessing on the work done in the Lord’s vineyard. ‘The faithful servant of Christ, says he, the teacher of the gospel, is a man of sound mind, burning with zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of men, one taught by the Holy Spirit, experimentally acquainted with the ways of God; one who seeks not the things of men, but men themselves; not his own things, but the things of Christ; of chaste and unadulterated manners; by his example teaching the virtues of piety, modesty, gentleness, zeal, prudence, gravity; one who, like a candle set upon a candlestick, gives light to all who are in the house, to all who are desirous of salvation; both showing the way of life, and on gospel terms dispensing the blessings of grace and peace. Whithersoever he goes, there is light; wherever he turns his steps, there is salvation; when he opens his lips, there is the salt of grace; everywhere beloved, respected, and not less the means of imparting consolation to others, than a solace to himself.’
It is the sacred influence which attends this personal piety, the felt power it breathes, the moral weight it imparts to everything said and done, which renders a pastorate much distinguished by it, more attractive in its ministrations, and in its results more beneficial, than another deficient in this, though bringing to its aid much ampler resources of human talent and learning. ‘Read the biographies of those eminent labourers who in modern times have adorned the different communions of the Church of Christ, whose memory is blessed, and whose works to this day do follow them, and you will find that, without exception, they were men whose closets witnessed the close communings, the importunate pleadings, of a life hid with Christ in God; who, abiding near to the fountain of grace, and drawing from it rich supplies according to their need, went forth to their ministerial duties with their hearts enlarged by the love of God, and lips speaking out of the abundance of the heart’ (Litton).
For those who are at all read in such biographies many instances will readily occur in proof of what has now been stated. But a better instance, perhaps, could scarcely be selected than that of Mr. Robinson of Leicester, especially when placed beside the case of one who yielded a noble testimony in its behalf, one immensely superior to the other in talent and eloquence, though far from equal in the point now under consideration. I refer to Mr. Robert Hall, who at the time of Mr. Robinson’s death was pastor of a Baptist Church in Leicester, and shortly after it, at a meeting of the Bible Society in the place, pronounced a generous and eloquent tribute to the memory of the deceased. As a writer, Mr. Robinson could not be compared with Hall; he is now chiefly known as the author of a series of Scripture Characters, a work which was once extensively read, and undoubtedly contributed in the earlier part of this century to revive the spirit of genuine piety. In present times one is rather disposed to wonder at its former popularity; for, while it abounds in sensible reflections, and never fails to point to the great principles of the gospel as the living root of all godliness and purity, there is a flatness in the tone, and a commonplace character usually attaching to the style of representation, such as might be thought to argue no great power in the work, or any peculiar fascination about its author. But turn to the delineation of Hall, drawn when the knowledge of the man’s person, and the memory of his life and labours, were still fresh upon the minds of all, and, even making some allowance, as evidently requires to be done for the excitement of the occasion, it cannot be doubted that in the subject of the panegyric there had been witnessed one of the most eminent examples of ministerial attractiveness and power; that a sway had been wielded by him, and moral effects produced, such as might well have excited the envy of the most gifted intellect. ‘His residence in Leicester,’ said Hall, ‘forms an epoch in the religious history of this country. From that time must be dated, and to his agency under Providence must be ascribed, a decided improvement in the moral and religious state of this town and its vicinity; an increase of religious light, together with the general diffusion of a taste and relish for the pure word of God. He came to this place while it was sunk in vice and irreligion; he left it eminently distinguished by sobriety of manners, and the practice of warm, serious, and enlightened piety. He added not aqueducts and palaces, nor did he increase the splendour of its public edifices; but he embellished it with undecaying ornaments; he renovated the minds of the people, and turned a large portion of them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. . . . The loss which the Church of Christ has sustained by the extinction of such a luminary is great; the loss to this populous town and neighbourhood irreparable.’ Certainly he must have been no ordinary man of whom such things could be said, even with the abatements which must be made on account of the impressions of the moment. And if not the only, beyond all doubt the main element of success lay in the deep-toned, consistent, elevated, and, we may say, full-orbed character of Mr. Robinson’s life and ministry. Piety the most sincere, charity the most enlightened and active, a zeal in doing good that grudged no sacrifice or toil, a steadiness of aim that never deviated from its purpose, the greatest kindliness of manners coupled with the most blameless rectitude and sobriety of life: such were the prominent characteristics of his life and behaviour. ‘Religion with him was not an occasional feeling, but an habitual element; not a sudden or transient impulse, but a permanent principle, a second nature, producing purity of intention, elevation of mind, and an uninterrupted series of useful exertions.’ And as a necessary consequence, ‘no one could hear him without feeling persuaded that it was the man of God who addressed them; their feelings toward him were not those of persons gratified, but benefited; and they listened to his instructions, not as a source of amusement, but as a spring of living water.’ The example of such a man, and it is but one of a numerous class, should be viewed at once as an instruction and encouragement for all who in pastoral work would be found occupying the higher places of the ‘field. It shows how much depends on the spiritual healthfulness and vigour of the individual engaged in it; and how much may be accomplished where this exists in any degree of perfection, even though there is nothing like the charm of genius or the force of commanding intellect. The greatest care and solicitude, therefore, should be applied by all in this direction, the more so as here a certain completeness is requisite; and a single palpable blemish, or inconsistence, will go far to undo the effect of many an excellence. Some things will do it more readily than others, because more obviously indicative of a frailty, or weakness, which it is hard to reconcile with a felt apprehension of the great realities of the gospel, and a hearty surrender to its obligations; such as an irritability of temper, apt to fire at trifling offences, or fret at petty annoyances; an intermeddling disposition that is fond of prying into other people’s affairs, or giving heed to the gossiping tales of the neighbourhood; a proud carriage, that looks with indifference or hauteur on those who should be treated with tenderness and regard; a want of disinterestedness and generosity, seeing that an obvious selfishness in pressing his own material comforts and advantages, to the neglect of those of others, seems like a contrariety to the whole design and spirit of his office. Let every one who would lay a good foundation for honour and usefulness in this office sedulously watch and pray against these and such like imperfections in temper and conduct, avoiding, as he would his deadliest enemy, whatever might serve to prompt the question in those among whom he ministers, ‘Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?”
I have said that in general the minister’s office is itself a monitor, guarding him against moral dangers to which others are exposed, and stimulating him to the personal cultivation of that goodness which it is his business to press on the regard of others. Perhaps I should add, that there are certain failings to which his office does present temptations somewhat peculiar, and in respect to which he will do well to take heed. In particular, there may be a temptation, if in the discharge of his office he has won the acceptance of his people, to self-elation, impatience of contradiction, jealousy of fame, fondness of applause, and at times, it may be, of offensive dogmatism of manner. So long as men have difficulties to struggle within their work, opposition to meet, or little apparent success in their labours, the circumstances of their position at least cannot be said to afford much provocation to the indulgence of such selfish humours; but it is otherwise when a prosperous current of affairs sets in; when the pastor finds himself at the head of a thriving and numerous congregation, moving in a circle of admiring friends, often receiving the breath of popular applause, and by many sought unto for advice in perplexing and critical affairs. In such circumstances be assured it requires special grace, grace sustained by constant watchfulness and prayer, to keep the even balance of the mind at once open to the encouragements of the position, and ready to check the risings of every fractious or petulant feeling. The great theme he handles, it may possibly be thought, the gospel of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, should be of itself sufficient to guard against the danger to which he is exposed, since it has so much to do with human weakness and corruption, and presents so many calls to deep abasement of heart in all who cordially receive it. No doubt it should do so; but another tendency in the preacher’s position, the tendency to handle the topics of sin and salvation with reference to others rather than himself, and in handling them, to think more of the mode in which he deals with them than with the subjects themselves, will, unless carefully watched, serve in a great degree to neutralize their influence on his own temper and disposition. If he succeeds in preventing it, it will only be by taking pains to press home upon his own heart what he is often preaching to others, examining himself often in the mirror of the divine word, and charging upon his soul the considerations that should beget the meek and lowly spirit which shone so brightly out in the Master whom he serves, and should never be wanting in those who minister in His name.
Substantially the same thoughts are suggested, though more immediately with respect to preaching itself, in the following passage from a late German professor, from whom, considering his controversial keenness and severity, one would scarcely have expected it: ‘Even the most beautiful and sacred things which flow from human lips may in time become mere phrases. It is a part of human weakness and defectiveness, a curse, as it were, accompanying the divine blessing, that the very richest gifts of speech are the most in danger of being used in the service of vanity, since they lead one to take pleasure in them, to tickle by means of them, and thus to glorify oneself, rather than to serve God and one’s fellow-men. Or the words, being through frequent use deprived of their soul, become at last as sounding brass. To this danger the clergyman is more than others exposed. As he is required by his vocation so often to. hold up the word of God to others, and to have always at hand and give expression to those truths and ideas which are most of all suited to move, startle, and penetrate men’s hearts, it is only too apt to be the case, that these truths lose for him their terribleness, so that their force and effect on his own heart is neutralized or weakened, and the constant direction of his attention to others keeps him from watching himself; so that while he works on the hearts of others he neglects his own, and lets the weeds in it grow up unheeded.’ (Hupfeld, quoted in Bib. Sacra for October 1866.)
Enough, perhaps, has now been said on the subject of the pastor’s life generally, considered with respect to the leading features by which it should be distinguished, and the bearing, as so characterized, it is fitted to have on the success of his labours. But there are various matters of detail connected with it, which partly also stands to the life itself in the relation of means to end, on which a few practical hints may not be out of place.
1. First, it is essential both for maintaining such a life as we have been endeavouring to describe, and for the efficient discharge of the duties of his office, that the pastor secure for himself a certain amount of privacy and retirement. He must know to be alone, and, in a measure, love to be so. Vital godliness generally may be said to require this; as it necessarily involves a habitual recalling of the mind from external things to those which concern its proper well-being, and its relation to a spiritual and eternal world. The life of the soul not only cannot thrive, it cannot for any length of time exist, without the habit of at least occasional abstraction from the busy scenes and avocations of the world, in order to a more distinct recognition of the realities and interests which lie beyond, and from which it mainly draws its inspiration and power. But in a still higher degree must this be predicated of the pastor, whose calling it is, not simply to maintain the divine life for himself, but also to minister to its formation and growth in the souls of others. It will be next to impossible for him to do this unless he be much alone; not as if he shunned society, or placed any virtue in solitude, but because he needs the opportunities it affords to counteract the distracting tendency of earthly things, to have faith strengthened with its proper nourishment, and his ministerial resources supplied with suitable materials of wisdom and knowledge. No doubt he has much also to learn from society, especially from personal intercourse with the members of his flock; there he will find, if he knows how to get at it, a book which it much concerns him to study, and from which he may derive many valuable suggestions, both for himself and his ministry. As regards the poorer members of the flock more particularly must this course be followed, were it only to know how to reach their understandings and hearts; for, as has been justly said, ‘He only can think as they think who often hears them speak their thoughts. It is utterly impossible for a clergyman to preach down to their level who is not in their confidence.’ (Alford, Essays and Addresses, p. 8.) Yet such intercourse can only supplement, it can no way supersede, the advantages to be derived from systematic retirement. The pastor’s favourite resort must be his study; in it he must find what shall be more peculiarly his home; for in the employments to which it calls him, he has what tends most directly to promote his self-culture, and feeds the fountain whence is to flow light and refreshment to others. If ever any minister of the truth might have fitly dispensed with such quiet hours for thought and meditation, it assuredly was the Captain of our salvation, who knew what was in man, and possessed, besides, the treasures of all divine wisdom and knowledge; yet in this respect also He set His people an example. How long a period of preparation, culminating in a season of entire withdrawal from the world, and earnest communings with the things of the Spirit, preceded the commencement of His more public ministry; and even amid its busiest scenes of energetic action, how eagerly did He seek for the lonely hour to refresh His soul with holy contemplation and sustained fellowship with Heaven! With ordinary pastors, however, there are reasons for such seasons of retirement which could have no place with Jesus; and without them, as part and parcel of his regular course of life, no pastor, whatever may be his gifts and acquirements, can reasonably expect either to maintain in healthful vigour his own spiritual being, or throw into his ministrations the variety, the freshness, and the power which ought to characterize them.
True, perhaps some may be disposed to say, especially such as are actually engaged in pastoral work, and well when it can be carried into effect; but the question is, how to secure the time requisite for the stated return of retired thought and spiritual occupation at home, so much being taken up with the calls of out-door duty, and interruptions from various kinds of business. Practically, this proves with many ministers of the gospel to be the great difficulty; but in a very considerable proportion of cases, by far the larger number indeed, I have no doubt it comes very much from a prior defect on their part, from the want of a fixed purpose to obtain the requisite time as necessary to success, or the want of orderly, systematic procedure in arranging with a view to its attainment. Everything, in a manner, depends upon these two points: fixedness of purpose as to the object itself, and methodizing one’s own time, or securing the co-operation of others, so as to effect its accomplishment. Where these scarcely if at all exist, one comes to be much at the mercy of accidents; and it may well-nigh be said of the more peculiar vineyard of the pastor, as was said by the Psalmist of another sort of vineyard: ‘The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.’ There is no regulative principle, no girdle, as it were, to bind together the scattered energies of his mind for specific action; and so time on every hand runs to waste; intermeddlers of all sorts are allowed to do with it what they will. Not that I would recommend a rigid and unbending adherence to a particular method of working, which, amid the ever-changing circumstances of pastoral life, could not be retained in even one of the quieter spheres of labour without giving frequent occasions of offence, and missing often the fitting time for the discharge of pastoral work if it is to be done with effect. Exceptions, therefore, ought readily to be allowed; but still they should be known to be exceptions; the minister should be generally understood to have a method and an order, from which he may be expected to depart only for some valid reason. And when such an understanding as this prevails, people for the most part will be found to respect it; they will rarely intrude upon their minister, or expect to see him among them, when his plan of life requires him to be alone. Even if they should at times be disposed to complain that he is not even seen more frequently among them, they will not usually do it so as to disturb his equanimity, if they are well assured that he is really engaged in that kind of employment which is congenial to his office, and tends to fit him for its important duties.
2. A second subject for consideration, naturally growing out of the one just noticed, is the proper distribution of that portion of his time which the pastor may usually allot to the retirement of the study. A reasonable latitude must here be allowed, and to a large extent each individual must judge for himself. Several things of a somewhat specific and formal description used not unfrequently to be recommended to persons preparing to enter on a regular pastorate, such as keeping a registry of the acts and experiences of each day, or a summary of such at more distant intervals, of the course of study pursued, the modes of ministerial action adopted, also the feelings, purposes, behaviour of which the pastor has been conscious to himself from time to time, so that he may both preserve a more distinct recollection of the past, and may have materials beside him for future guidance and caution. Undoubtedly, there are advantages to be derived from such personal records, especially as connected with particular periods of life and experimental efforts; but there are also doubtful tendencies which it is apt to foster, unless kept within definite limits, and managed with brevity and prudence. Discretion and experience must be the chief guides. Right-minded, humble, and earnest men will by degrees find out what is the wisest course for them to pursue, the one best adapted to their own mental idiosyncrasy, and the circumstances in which they are placed. The good and profitable for one may not be so for another.
Leaving matters of that sort, then, as neither requiring nor admitting of any precise and uniform rule, the chief appropriation of the hours which the pastor devotes to solitude should unquestionably be given to meditation, prayer, and study. The exact distribution of time to each must be regulated by circumstances. It may, however, be laid down as a general principle, that the whole of a minister’s labours should be intermingled with meditation and prayer. He should never be simply a man of learning or study; for this itself may become a snare to him; it may even serve to stand between his soul and God, and nurse a spirit of worldliness in one of its most refined and subtle forms. If he be really a man of God, experience will teach him how much, even for success in study, he needs to be under the habitual recognition of God’s presence, and to have the direction of His Spirit. It will also teach him how little he can prevail, with the most careful preparations and active diligence, in regard to the great ends of the ministry, without the special aid of the Holy Spirit; how, when left to themselves, his most zealous efforts and best premeditated discourses fall powerless to the ground; yea, and how often, amid the comparatively quiet and orderly events of ministerial employment, he will himself err in counsel, and do what he shall have occasion to regret, unless he is guided by a higher wisdom and sustained by a stronger arm than his own. Continually, therefore, has the true pastor to give himself to prayer; his study should also be his proseuché, in which he daily holds communion, not only with the better spirits of the past and present through the written page, but with the Father of spirits, in the secret communications of His grace and love.
There are also, it should be noted, special subjects and occasions in respect to which the pastor may justly feel that he is called in a more peculiar manner to seek the direction and blessing of Heaven. The purpose, for example, of instituting any new agency for the good of the congregation, or the spread of the gospel in its neighbourhood, everything of such a nature should be projected, planned, inaugurated with earnest prayer, both for guidance as to the instrumentality to be employed, and for the wished-for results on the measures that may be put in operation. Discouragements and perplexities in the work of the ministry form another special call to humble waiting upon God, it being always one great design of troubles of that description to bring the pastor to a deep sense of his own insufficiency, and to a closer dependence on God. The extent to which this effect is produced will usually be the measure of his profiting by the dispensations. But most of all should he exercise himself unto prayer in connection with his work as a preacher of the gospel. In the selection of the topics whereon to address his people, in the specific mode or aspect in which he should present particular truths to their heart and conscience, in the frame of his own spirit while delivering the message of salvation to his fellow-men, in the impression actually made by what is delivered on those who hear: in one and all of these the earnest pastor will find what should draw him as a suppliant to the throne of grace. How much often depends on a particular vein of thought being opened, on a certain illustration being employed, sometimes even on a single word of appeal to the conscience! How much also upon the general tone and bearing of the speaker, or the unction with which all is done! And what so likely to help in every respect to what is desired, as the spirit of habitual communion with the sanctuary above? Let the pastor, therefore, like Milton, accompany all ‘with devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit who enriches with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out His seraphim with the hallowed fire of His altar to touch and purify the lips of whom He pleases.’ What more than this contributed to raise the genius of Milton himself to its singular elevation, and has given to his productions a character of sacredness and majesty that assimilates them to the lofty strains of a Hebrew prophet?
But prayer, it must ever be borne in mind, however valuable as an auxiliary, will fail if it is taken as a substitute for other resources; if it is allowed to supersede the proper application to study. The same apostle who, for himself and other evangelical labourers, speaks of the necessity of ‘praying always with all prayer and supplication,’ has such exhortations as these: ‘meditate upon these things;’ ‘give thyself wholly to them.’ So that to make the exercises of devotion an excuse for neglecting continuous and stated application to study is to depart from the course prescribed in Scripture, as well as to set at nought the well-ascertained results of experience. Both extremes are to be avoided as alike unwise and unscriptural. Study should be accompanied and blessed by prayer, otherwise it can never reach its end. On the other hand, prayer should be fed and sustained by study, otherwise the spirit of devotion itself will languish, and both prayer and preaching will become monotonous and languid. Proofs of this are not far to seek. There are many who, at the outset of their career, gave promise of much acceptance and usefulness in the work of the ministry, but who by relaxing their diligence in study have come ere long to exhibit a wearisome flatness in their services, or in their thoughts and illustrations to move in a kind of circle, the same rounds of ideas perpetually returning, clothed not unfrequently in the same words. It is even worse when freshness is attempted. ‘I have been cured,’ said Richard Cecil, ‘of expecting the Holy Spirit’s influence without due preparation on our part, by observing how men preach who take up that error. I have heard such men talk nonsense by the hour.’ (I have referred only in one respect to the disadvantage attending an early settlement in a large city charge; but other things also should be taken into account. In particular, the country is a far better field for the free and natural development of one’s faculties, and getting fairly alongside the common feelings and sympathies of mankind. There is a much easier access there to men’s understandings and hearts than when encompassed by the conventionalisms and formalities, not to say corrupt manners, too often found in city life. And in nine cases out of ten, a man’s powers of thought and speech will be more likely to take their native direction, and reach their proper healthfulness and vigour, in the one sphere than in the other.)
It is perfectly possible, of course, and perhaps not uncommon, to go to the opposite extreme, to study to excess, if not to the neglect of prayer, at least to an undue curtailment of more active labours and employments, and even, it may be, an impairing of the healthful tone and vigour of the frame. There is a certain amount of application in this particular line which may be overtaken with profit; but if more is attempted than the constitution is able rightly to bear, nature will be sure to have its revenge, and a loss, not an additional gain, will be the result. The more immediate consequence will probably be, that the mind being overtasked will perceptibly lose its freshness and power, will feel unable for the sustained thought and application which it was wont to possess; it can neither so well remember what it reads, nor so promptly and energetically use the materials of knowledge it has acquired. And what also not uncommonly, though somewhat more remotely happens, the nervous system falls into disorder, imaginary evils brood over the mind, and even the most ordinary duties are felt to be a burden. When such things begin to make their appearance, the studious pastor should hear in them a call to seek a period of rest, or to give a portion of his time to work less directly mental.
In regard to the subjects of study, there can be no doubt as to what should occupy at least the primary place. For a Christian pastor there is nothing in that respect to be placed beside the word of God; that word itself, and the literature bearing on its history and elucidation. Whether his more direct object may be to qualify himself for the effective ministration of the gospel, or to become a well-read and able theologian, the close, exact, and continued study of Scripture is alike necessary. For any department, indeed, of ministerial service, whether as connected with the pulpit or the press, to be mighty in the Scriptures is to have the most fundamental qualification for doing it with success. But on this it is needless to enlarge; it is rather to be taken for granted, as a point upon which there can be no reasonable dispute with those who understand and appreciate aright the things of God.
The difficulty rather lies in the practical direction, in getting such command of time, and bringing to the task so much resolution and energy, as will avail to keep up habits of study in any particular line. When a person, still comparatively young, and after, perhaps, no very long experience in evangelistic work, comes to have devolved on him the responsibilities of a regular pastoral charge, he will usually find his weekly preparations for the pulpit absorb all the time he has to spare for study; and if he can only manage to investigate and handle Scripture so as to acquit himself with some measure of profit and satisfaction in his official duties, it will be nearly as much as he can seriously aim at. Work of this description undoubtedly has the first claim on his attention; it will always demand the larger share of his time and application; but in a great many cases it need not, in the long run at least, engross the whole, if there were only a wise economy and proper distribution of time, and what is perhaps fully as essential, the selection of some definite line of inquiry for more careful and prolonged examination. I of course except those who from the first commencement of their pastoral labours are set down in a large town, and charged with the oversight of a numerous and intelligent congregation. In such a case there is probably not one in fifty who possesses either the physical energy or the mental resources to do more than meet the immediate requirements of official duty. Scripture and everything else will have to be studied almost exclusively for the purpose of obtaining the requisite materials for public discourse. And along with this necessary contraction of the field of study, and living, as one may say, from hand to mouth, there naturally springs up also the habit of simply working for the occasion; so that when the occasion makes no demand, nothing of any moment is done, and there is no development of the powers of the mind, or systematic multiplication of its resources, except in connection with the stated labours of the ministry. Independent literary exertion is scarcely possible.
Take the case, however, of a person who is called to a sphere of labour, which may be described as of manageable extent or moderate compass; one which may afford scope enough for pastoral activity, and yet not so large but that, after the preliminary difficulties of the work have been mastered, there may be found some time to spare for independent study. Well, to turn this time to best account, it will usually prove of no small service to have the attention directed into a specific line of meditation or research, for the purpose of being somewhat minutely and fully acquainted with the things which belong to it, or of becoming comparatively at home with it. Where no selection of this sort is made, there is the want of a precise object whereon to concentrate the powers of the mind, and awaken its interest. The historian Gibbon, who may here be pointed to as an example, after having completed the first half of his great work, where he at first thought of concluding his labours, states that he then, as one relieved from toil, began to luxuriate over the wide field of ancient literature, but that he soon found such unrestrained and aimless liberty to grow distasteful to him; so that ere long he came ‘in the luxury of freedom to wish for the daily task, the active pursuit, which gave a value to every book, and an object to every inquiry;’ and forthwith resumed the prosecution of his design. Now, whether one may have any approach to the mental calibre of Gibbon or no, whether also there may or may not be the intention of committing the result of one’s labours to the press, still the selection of a particular subject or line of inquiry for more special and careful consideration will always bring along with it this advantage, that it engages the active interest of the mind, provides it with a theme to prosecute in seasons of comparative leisure, a resource to fall back upon in circumstances of discouragement, or, as Gibbon puts it, a pursuit which will impart a value to the books one reads, and furnish an object for specific inquiry. Where such is altogether wanting, the reading is apt to become desultory, and the information obtained, being without any definite aim or connecting bond, is like random seed which yields no adequate harvest. But, indeed, without some special study to nourish his intellect and sustain his thoughts above every-day concerns, the pastor, especially the country pastor, is apt to sink into common-place. Besides, both for the improvement of the mind itself, and for one’s own position and character, it is always an advantage to be well informed upon some particular branch of sacred learning, more so than to have a wider range of knowledge, though less exact and thorough in its character. In the very process, also, of becoming an adept in some one department of inquiry, the mind necessarily gathers a great deal of collateral information, for every subject has its points of contact with many others; and if there should be acquired real depth of research and maturity of view within a limited range, this will ensure a considerable degree of enlightenment over a much wider field.
It appears to me, therefore, a wise and beneficial thing for those who have some real taste for study, and the resolution to carry out a plan after they have got a settled position and had time to look about them, to make choice of some particular subject, or class of subjects, for their more peculiar consideration; one that they shall be ever returning upon and labouring at till they acquire in regard to it a comparative mastery. The Bible itself presents a considerable variety of departments which might severally be chosen for such a purpose, each having associated with it a more or less extensive literature. There is, for example, the text of Scripture, viewed with respect to the authorities on which its correctness is based, or to the languages in which it was originally written, with the various and characteristic shades of diversity which they assumed in different ages, or in the hands of different penmen. Then there are the several classes of writings in the Bible, each indicating, on the part of the human authors, a distinctive cast of mind, and requiring a certain affinity with the same in those who would apply successfully to their elucidation: such as the historical books of the Old Testament, which not only relate to what may be called the kernel of all history, the development of God’s kingdom in the world, but touch also incidentally on all the more prominent kingdoms of antiquity, and the manners and customs of former times; the poetical and didactic books, which exhibit the forms of spiritual thought, and the devotional, spiritual, and moral results which sprang from the revelations and institutions successively given to the people of God; lastly, the prophetical, which connected the past with the future, and laid open the more secret counsels of Heaven for the instruction and warning of men. In the New Testament, again, we have the Gospels, the Epistles, the Apocalypse, each forming so many great divisions, and calling for a characteristic mode of treatment, as well as for prolonged study to become thoroughly acquainted with the materials which past diligence and research have accumulated for their elucidation. In addition to these, and more or less connected with the teaching of Scripture, how many other fields of investigation present themselves! Archaeology, or Jewish and Christian antiquities, monumental theology, chronology, patristic and medieval phases of thought and action, the writings and labours of the Reformers, the Puritan development of theology, the controversies with infidels and heretics, the lives of eminent divines and missionaries, etc.; any one of which, if systematically prosecuted, might afford ample scope for profitable and interesting employment. Take up any one of them to which a sense of its own importance, or the drawing of natural inclination, might induce you to give the preference, and you will find that the deliberate effort to master its details, and obtain an intimate acquaintance with its different bearings, will serve at once to give an impulse to your studies, and enable you to make a profitable use of many fragments of time which would otherwise slip unimproved through your hands.
With this recommendation, however, let me couple the earnest advice, that no independent course of study be pursued in such a manner, or to such an extent, as to interfere with the regular discharge of pastoral duties, or suitable preparation for them. These should on no account be jostled out of their proper place; and if things which, however important in themselves, are still in their relation to the pastor’s own responsibilities but of secondary rank, come to usurp the time and application which are due primarily to them, dissatisfaction will inevitably arise, and the blessing of God may not improbably be withheld from the employments which are allowed to impoverish the flock. The spirit of vital godliness in the first instance, and then a proper estimate of the nature and ends of the pastoral office, will alone be adequate to preserve in the mind the proper balance between the respective claims that press on it, and save it from running to extremes.
3. To refer now to that part of a minister’s time which is not appropriated either to the occupations of the study or to the formal duties of the pastorate, he is undoubtedly entitled to find in it enough for purposes of daily relaxation, with seasons also of occasional recreation on a larger scale. Interludes of this sort are indispensable to his physical health, and the general freshness and elasticity of his frame. In the kind of occupations or entertainments, however, selected for this end, care should ever be taken to avoid what is unbecoming the gravity which befits the ministerial character, and what may tend to indispose the mind to serious employments. The sports of the field, therefore, hunting, shooting, and such like, are justly proscribed by the spiritual sense of the religious community, as too distinctively worldly in their nature, and in their tendency ministering too powerfully to animal excitement, to comport well with what should be the predominant state of feeling in those who are the keepers of souls. Even entering into parties which are formed for the purpose merely of going a pleasuring, if done at all, should be done with prudent foresight and consideration, as such things are exceedingly apt to degenerate into improper levity and frolicsomeness. For the most part, the safer and more becoming method of filling up the time devoted to relaxation will be to spend it in the quiet occupations of the garden, or in walking excursions and friendly visits, which can be managed without the slightest violation of decorum, and can be taken either alone, or in the company of a very few, and these quite congenial spirits. In matters of this description it were absurd to prescribe for others, or even for oneself, stringent and imperative rules. One must be guided to a large extent by circumstances. Yet there are always limits which the thoughtful and well-balanced mind, which is duly alive to the interests of salvation and the powers of the world to come, though still without moroseness, will not fail to prescribe to itself.
As for diversions, exhibitions, and scenes which are in their very nature of a questionable kind, the safe path for a minister of the gospel will be to stand altogether aloof from them. It is not for him, who has to deal with his fellow-men on the great themes of mercy and of judgment, to be mingling in parties or frequenting places where he has to debate the matter at the threshold with his own conscience; and the advantage which he might derive from occasionally seeing what is transacted in them for the amusement of the mere lovers of pleasure, would be greatly more than counterbalanced by the extent to which his character and position should be