PASTORAL CLAIMS STATED
A sermon addressed to the church assembling in Livery Street, Birmingham, November 16, 1827, by John Angell James, at the settlement of the Rev. J. Mather.
"And we beseech you, brethren, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake—and be at peace among yourselves." 1 Thess. 5:12, 13
The part assigned to me in the services of this day is to state to you, my friends, the members of this church and congregation, the duties which you owe to the man whom you have now publicly acknowledged to he your pastor. Often as I have performed a similar task, I have always found it to be a delicate and a difficult one, inasmuch as in enforcing the claims of a brother minister, I feel as if I were urging my own; and cannot act up to my convictions in reference to him, without seeming to violate the laws of modesty in regard to myself. It is, however, some relief in this perplexity, to remember, that as your minister is not forced upon you—but is elected by your own choice, there can be no impropriety in the case of such a mutual and voluntary compact, if each party explicitly states what is expected from the other. With this consideration, I shall proceed to bring forward, in an unembarrassed manner, the claims which your pastor has upon you, and which appear to me to be all included or implied in the text.
I. You are to pay proper respect to the OFFICE which he sustains.Without pretending to a perfect character, which no change in our circumstances or conduct can destroy; or supposing that any personal sanctity, priestly usurpation, or exemption from the ordinary obligations of civil society, are connected with the pastoral functions—I affirm, that as the ministry is an office, an office instituted by God, an office of a very sacred nature—it does demand for those who bear it, from those on whose account it is borne, no small measure of respect. An unholy man has no scriptural right to the office, and a holy one is not only to be beloved as a brother—but is to be also respected as an office bearer. This is clearly laid down in the text. "You are to know those who are over you in the Lord;" and of course to know them as those who are in such a situation. "You are to esteem them very highly in love, for their work's sake," nor merely for their character's sake as good men—but for their office' sake as ministers of Christ.
That many have disgraced their character, and caused the ministry to be blamed; that others have rendered it almost contemptible, by the insufferable arrogance, and the ridiculous airs of self-importance which they have assumed, is nothing to the purpose; for, in resisting the usurpations of a lawless and tyrannical despot, we are not to overturn the foundations of all government. And it may be certainly affirmed, that while the crouching slaves of the Vatican, in kissing the foot of the Roman Pontiff; and acknowledging him God's Vicar upon earth, concede infinitely too much to the claims of ministerial office, some democratic levelers in our Independent churches concede too little when they attempt to strip their pastors of all official superiority, and reduce them to the rank of a mere speaking brother.
Respect then your minister for his office's sake—regard him, not indeed with feelings of superstitious dread, or slavish veneration—but not with light and frivolous familiarity. "Receive him with all gladness, and hold such in reputation." Welcome him not as your friend and companion merely—but as your minister; rejoice in him, not as one who is to be the grace and ornament of your parties, the enlivener of your social fellowship—he may indeed be this—but he must be much more than this. He comes to you as the "ambassador of God, to beseech you in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God;" as the guide, watchman, instructor of your souls. How many reverential sentiments, how many respectful feelings, how many tender emotions, should be awakened by the avowal of such a relationship; by the utterance of the simple expression, "our minister." If the unholy pastor deserves no respect, either on account of his character, or his office which he only disgraces, a holy one is entitled to double honor; and let this view of his office protect him from all crude familiarity, all impertinent obtrusion, all contemptuous disesteem.
II. The Word of God claims for your minister a due regard to his AUTHORITY.This arises out of the former claim, for office without authority is a misnomer. I cannot forget that I am now on ground where it becomes me to tread softly, and not without a guide. I will read you a few passages of the New Testament. "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor." "Remember those who have the rule over you."' "Obey those who have the rule over you, and submit yourselves." "Know those who are over you in the Lord." "Reprove, rebuke." "Rebuke sharply." Now certainly, no language can be more explicit or decisive on the point, that some kind of authority belongs to the ministers of religion; but the question is, what is the nature of this authority? And here we remark at once, that it is not personal and independent—but only derived and dependent—it is not legislatorial but judicial and executive—it is not an authority to make laws in the church, for Christ is the only Lawgiver, and his word the only statute book; it is only an authority to expound his laws, and enforce them in his name; it is not an authority to coerce men's minds—but to convince and to persuade—it is not an authority to deliver our injunctions with an "I say unto you," but a "Thus says the Lord."
If a duly appointed minister, that is, a minister elected by the church, and ordained by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, advances anything that is contrary to sound doctrine, it is to be rejected without hesitation by the people, under the peril of the displeasure of Christ and of the loss of their own souls; nor will the Judge of living and dead, at the last day, excuse an error merely because it was taught by a minister. And if the people are to receive only what is true, they must compare what they hear with the unerring standard of truth, they are "to prove all things, and hold fast only that which is good," they must test the minister by the Bible, and not the Bible by the minister—and we do greatly desire to see more of this inquisitive research into the Scriptures of truth, and of this comparison of our discourses with the Word of God. But all this does not authorize our hearers to sit from time to time in the critic's chair, in the caviler's seat; as if the end of hearing were to find out errors in the preacher, and to give employment to an ignorant, conceited, or malignant perverter of words and phrases. Nothing can be more opposed to the object and spirit of a right method of hearing the gospel, than that carping, quibbling disposition, which leads a person to sit hearkening for something on which to found an objection or a cavil. On this subject no language that I could employ would convey my ideas more forcibly than that which has been used by a distinguished and much-esteemed friend and brother, on an occasion similar to the present.
"He is responsible, not to you—but to his Master, both for the matter and manner of his preaching. You are not to dictate to him what he is to preach, or how he is to preach. You are not to determine from what texts he shall preach, or how he shall discuss them. He may, and doubtless will, use with thankfulness the hints which may be suggested to him. He will, I dare say, be ready to gratify the wishes of any, when respectfully expressed to him, whose peculiar state of mind, or the critical posture of whose circumstances may render it desirable for their consolation and instruction, that a particular subject, or passage of Scripture should be illustrated or explained; and no doubt he will judiciously apply the knowledge, which by pastoral visits and other means he may obtain, of the state of families and individuals, in the selection and application of the topics of his public ministry. But all this is very far from anything like the recognition of a right to dictate to him in this respect—for, if such a right were once acknowledged and enforced, the ends of a stated ministry would be immediately defeated. The Christian pastor must give to each a portion in due season—but each would wish the sermon altogether and always especially adapted to his circumstances or his taste; and our brother would soon find the attempt to please everyone as hopeless as the old man in the fable is represented to have done; and at the close of every sabbath would sit down in despair, with nothing but vexation, and disappointment, and chagrin, as the recompense of his thankless and useless toil. Perhaps if all in a congregation were to express their wishes as to what, and in what a manner a minister should preach, the confusion of sentiments would be as great as the confusion of tongues among the builders of Babel. One would have him always preaching upon certain doctrines, another would rather he never touched on them at all. One would prefer practical, another experimental preaching. One would desire him never to take an Arminian text, another never to take a Calvinistic text. One would like him always to preach from Paul, another, more frequently from James. One would like more of the cheering influence of the promises, another, more of the quickening power of the threatenings. One would have him to be a Boanerges, another a Barnabas. And I should, indeed, look upon our brother with pity and regret if I saw him driven at the mercy of such counter currents and crossing tides of sentiment. No, it is for him, with a dignified decision of character, with inflexible fidelity to the best interests of the people committed to his charge, and with a noble independence of everybody and everything but of truth, conscience, and God, to blend all these in his public ministry; to be a Boanerges to the presumptuous sinner, and a Barnabas to the dejected saint; that everyone in his turn may feel the probe or the balm applied to his particular wound, and see his own character reflected from the faithful mirror constantly held up in the pulpit for your contemplation. Thus your pastor will commend himself to every man's conscience, approve himself to God, a workman who is not ashamed, and at the great day be clear of the blood of all men.
"But when I say that preaching the word is a matter that belongs to your pastor, I mean to be understood in a still more literal sense than I have yet hinted at. This is an age of preaching, and we are thankful that it is so. Every church, almost, has in it some who preach occasionally, as well as the stated pastor, and by means of such, many a benighted village has been enlightened. I wish that there were more pious and judicious, as well as zealous young men, in our respective churches, disposed to sacrifice their own ease and enjoyment, and go forth to the dark, the crude, and the long-neglected hamlets round us, to tell to their little less than barbarous inhabitants the wondrous story of redeeming love! But there is danger even here, as well as in everything we do, of the abuse of that which is in itself most excellent. We have known preachers arise in a church, who have at length attained to such perfection in the art of preaching, in their own esteem, that the pastor has become nothing in comparison of them; and when they have condescended to cease from their own labors to give him a hearing, it has been for little else than to criticize his manner, or to sit in judgment on his orthodoxy. Others, again, have obtruded themselves into the pastor's place, and by hints and offers of service, which he had not the fortitude or prudence to resist, have gained possession of the pulpit, until the preacher has been actually outpreached, and the good man has been glad to retire, for the sake of peace, to a less gifted congregation; for his own have grown wiser than their teacher, and more disposed to instruct him than to listen with a suitable disposition to his instructions."(Raffles' sermon at the ordination of the Rev. J. Parsons)
In the performance of his duty, it belongs to your pastor to preside at all the meetings of the church, in the meekness of wisdom and the mildness of love it is true—but still in the chair of office, and in the exercise of authority. He is to bring forward all the business that is to be attended to, or is to appoint those by whom it shall be laid before the brethren; for what scenes of disorder and confusion may be expected, if any and everyone "who has a dream, should be allowed to tell his dream." He is to explain every case, to show in what way the Scripture bears upon the point, and to what decision the church should come. Not that his opinion should be received by the members without deliberation, and adopted as law contrary to the convictions of the body over which he presides; but still, it should be listened to with great deference, and never be opposed out of mere capricious resistance to his authority—for all such opposition is a direct disturbance of the peace of the society, and a rebellion against the appointment of Christ, who has commanded the members of churches "to submit themselves to those who have the rule over them."
And when at any time it becomes necessary for the members to dissent from the opinion of their pastor, and to express their dissent, as it some times may, this should be done in the same respectful manner as the barristers in our legal courts express their difference of view from the official expounders of the law upon the bench. No minister who has a right idea either of himself as a fallible man, or of his authority as a mere executive and responsible officer, will, in the management of church affairs, wish or strive to have every matter decided according to his own inclination, for this would be ecclesiastical despotism; so neither will any member who has a right view of the pastoral office ever oppose his minister's views, except it can be made manifest that they are unscriptural; and even then, he will do it in a manner which shall neither undermine his authority, nor lessen the confidence which the church reposes in his general wisdom.
A pastor is personally responsible to Christ for the peace and good order of the church under his care; but who would undertake so fearful a charge, if a system of suspicious, obtrusive, impertinent intermeddling were allowed to be carried on by those who can only make themselves known by making mischief. It is a radical error, a fundamental mistake, in reference to the principles of Independency, to suppose that the pastor is a mere chairman, sitting amidst the brethren, rather to hear the opinions of others, than to deliver instructions in the name of the Lord. Church meetings are not intended for debate and discussion, except so far as is actually necessary; and in a well-conducted church such necessity rarely occurs. In all popular assemblies, whether civil or sacred, there will usually be found some praters and busy-bodies, whose officious interference should be resisted and suppressed by the good sense of the body. It will be often found that those are most fond of talking who are least worthy of being listened to, and that those who are most prone to interfere are least deserving of confidence. Church meetings are or should be devotional meetings, and everything should be conducted in a spirit of devotion, under the direction of the pastor. Therefore, my brethren, be not many masters, for one is your master, even Christ, whose servant is in the midst of you, to rule and guide, in his name. And, depend upon it, you not only best consult the comfort of your minister—but your own peace and prosperity as a church, and your own edification as individual believers, by respecting the office, and acknowledging the scriptural authority of your pastor.
III. Your minister has a claim upon you for your regular, punctual, and serious ATTENDANCE upon his ministry.Preaching, united public prayer, and sacramental services, to be conducted by duly appointed ministers—are ordinances instituted by Christ, for the building up of his church, upon which all people are under a solemn obligation to attend. The ends of ministerial labors are two—instruction and impression. It is surely not claiming too much for men, who set apart their whole time to the study of God's Word, and of whatever else may help them to understand the Scriptures, to suppose that they have more enlarged views of divine truth, than most of their hearers; but were not this granted, yet as it is recollected that impression is another end of our labors, our people are still bound to attend upon our ministry; for who, however small their knowledge, act up to what they know? Who, if they are real Christians, and possess accurate though inadequate ideas, do not need more to be quickened and warned than to be informed? And, for such ends as these, how wisely adapted are the preaching of the gospel, "and the breaking of bread, and fellowship, and prayers." The very choice of a minister is an implied promise given on the part of the people, that they will attend statedly upon his public ministrations.
But I said, that this attendance should be REGULAR. There are some people, in perhaps all congregations, of whom it is difficult to conceive by what principle their attendance on public ordinances is regulated. We can no more depend upon their presence than we can upon the wind's blowing from a certain point in the heavens. Sometimes they are with us for several sabbaths successively, and then we miss them for a still longer time. There are others, who, though not so extremely irregular, are far more so than they should be. Conceive how disheartening it must be to a minister, when he has selected a subject with special reference to some individual case, when he has studied it with much concern and prayer, when he has designed that it shall in every part be adapted, without being in the offensive sense of the term personal, then to find, on his coming to the pulpit, that the person for whom all this solicitude was cherished, was not in his place. His minister came with a message from God to him—but he was not there to receive it; a blessing was brought for him—but he, impelled to some other place of worship by idle curiosity, was not in the way to be blessed. Well, painful and vexatious as it is for ministers thus to lose the object of their particular studies, the blessing itself is not lost, for there are always some present to whom it is as suitable as to the individual for whom it was designed, and by whom it will be more valued and improved. We are sometimes reproached by hearers for not visiting them in sickness, and on replying that we were not informed of their illness, are told that we might have missed them from public worship; to whom we are able to answer, that while some of the congregation are so regular in their attendance, that their absence from a single sermon would excite concern and lead enquiry into the cause; as for them, they are so often away, without adequate cause, that their absence for almost any length of time, never leads to any apprehension concerning their health.
It may not be amiss here to glance at some of the causes of irregular attendance on public worship. Distance from the place may be mentioned as keeping many away. It is now become a pretty general custom, and it is by no means a censurable one, for people to live as near the country as possible; for who would not rather reside amidst green fields, and inhale pure air, than be shut up in narrow streets, and breathe a smoky atmosphere; and if health does not require a rural retreat, yet it is so agreeable that everyone may well covet such a pleasant and innocent gratification. But then it is likely to become a snare in keeping us away from the house of God, and is in fact too often made an excuse for such a neglect of religious duty. Many modern Christians have quite reconciled themselves to one service on the sabbath, and to none all the week besides; and even this one visit to the house of prayer is sometimes withheld when the weather is not perfectly to their mind. Is it any wonder that the religion of the present day falls so far short of the depth, earnestness, and fervor of that of our forefathers, if we thus forsake the assembling of ourselves together? Is it any wonder if spirituality decline, if lukewarmness spread through the soul, when the ordinances of public worship are thus neglected? No people should, unless at the dictate of absolute necessity, allow themselves to go so far from their accustomed place of worship, as to be prevented from attending the public means of grace twice on the sabbath. Nor should the week day services be neglected by those who can conveniently attend them.
I am aware that, in the present age, the claims of business are such, that a man cannot always command his time—but I have remarked that many of those whom I knew to be most deeply involved in the cares of life, and to be the most diligent tradesmen, were the most regular attendants on our meetings for social prayer and our week-day sermons. By system, by early rising, by diligence through the day, and by abstaining from voluntary engagements, most men may contrive, in the ordinary state of things, to get their worldly business finished time enough in the evening to devote an hour once or twice a week to the house of prayer. Mothers of large families, with a heavy burden of domestic care and responsibility, cannot be expected to neglect their household in an evening, even to hear a sermon; but yet of these, I have known some of the most fond and careful mothers, some of the most attentive and judicious mistresses, in whose domestic economy nothing was lacking and nothing disorderly, who were among the most regular attendants on the services of the week. Method, diligence, and punctuality, will do wonders in providing opportunities, where there is a desire to possess them, and an inclination to embrace them. But still, I again admit, that to neglect household affairs, to leave home uncomfortable, and children unprovided for, in order to be present at a prayer meeting or a sermon, if such must unavoidably be the result, cannot be the duty of the female head of a family.
Another cause of irregular attendance is the too prevailing practice of Sunday feasting. In the poor man's cottage the wife, and in the rich man's house the servants, are often detained from public worship in the morning, to provide for the gratifications of the palate. But is this the purpose for which the sabbath is given to man? Is this the remembering it to keep it holy? The case of servants, in such instances, is peculiarly hard. After they have been working all the week for our comfort and ease, we might surely lighten their labors on the day of rest; and passing by the hardship to their bodies of keeping them at labor on the sabbath morning, in what state are their minds for receiving religious instruction in the afternoon? There is, indeed, a great deal of sabbath breaking in the world; and I am afraid there is not a little in the church—there is much in the streets that meets the eye and the ear; and I fear there is not a little within doors, concealed from general observation. Could not the wives and children of some professing Christians tell strange tales of sabbaths at home?
A roving spirit of unhallowed curiosity causes many to be very irregular in their attendance at their own place of worship. Is there no such malady now, as that which partially infected the churches in the apostle's time, and which he denominated, "having itching ears?" Is it not a very widely spread, and still more widely spreading, epidemic? There are some people who act as if they believe that novelty is the spice of religion, as well as of life. Not a charity sermon is anywhere preached—but they are sure to be there to hear it, although the funds are rarely the richer for their munificence—funeral sermons have an irresistible attraction—and it would be thought by them almost a sin not to run after every popular preacher of every denomination who happens to come to town; and, as they have a taste for music, Sunday concerts, whether performed in a protestant or a catholic chapel, in a church or a meeting house, for most have them by turns, are an object of great delight; because they can thus, as they suppose, unite the pleasures of faith and of sense. But is this a spirit becoming the sobriety, seriousness, and steadiness which should ever characterize religious profession? Few and rare are the occasions on which a person should allow himself to be absent from his own accustomed place of worship. Were I a hearer, instead of a preacher, I think it would be my effort to try, and my exultation to find, what temptations I could resist, what occasional sacrifices I could make, rather than be absent from my own pew on the Sabbath day.
And this steadiness of attendance should be maintained, not only when your own pastor is at home—but also, when he is abroad; for there is something quite childish in running away from an occasional supply, because his voice is unmusical, his imagination dull, his style not classical, or his preaching not impassioned. What is this—but to treat the house of God as a theater, ministers as actors, and sermons as mere performances. Curiosity, such as that I have been describing, is distinct and separate from a thirst after truth, and from the sober, serious disposition with which truth is pursued. It is an unhallowed propensity, a babyish taste, the mark of a light and frivolous mind, which, with childish instability, is ever seeking after some new toy, and cannot be pleased with any one for a long time. I am anxious to see the Christian world purified from all its follies, and to see the professors of religion manifesting, even in minor points, the dignified steadiness and sobriety which comport with their principles, hopes, and aims; and the absence of which must abstract from their profession much of its consistency, beauty, and attractiveness.
I said that your attendance upon your minister should be PUNCTUAL. Come to the house of God in time; for late attendance, which is a crying sin in all our congregations, is an excessive annoyance to the more serious and orderly worshipers, is disrespectful to the preacher and an insult to God.
And come SERIOUSLY. Come from the closet to the sanctuary; from private prayer to public worship—from the act of praying for the minister, to the act of hearing him preach. It is at home that the fire of devotion should be kindled, the preparation of the heart effected, and the soul reminded of the solemn nature of the service in which she is about to engage. We should always go up to the house of the Lord, remembering that we are entering into the presence of the Eternal, before whom angels veil their faces, to commune with him on his throne of infinite majesty and heavenly grace, and to listen to his terms of life and salvation. The most sublime spectacle on earth, and the most interesting and encouraging to a minister's heart, is a large congregation, assembled punctually on a Sabbath morning, waiting in solemn silence for their teacher; whose devout appearance seems to say to him as he enters, we are all here present before God, "to hear all things that are commanded you from God."
IV. A minister has a claim upon his people for their sincere and fervent AFFECTION."Esteem them very highly in love."
1. This love should be APPARENT—for however strong it may be, yet if it be confined to the heart, it can be of little value to its object. But who can conceal an ardent attachment, when opportunities are continually occurring, which not only allow—but even invite expressions of it? A minister should no more be in doubt of the attachment of his people than he is of that of his wife and children. The coldness and distance of some of our flock are poor evidences of regard. Not that we covet an attachment which expresses itself in silly epithets, fawning sycophancy, or disgusting flattery. It is difficult sometimes to repress the contempt we feel for those who offer such nauseating incense. The affection which we desire, is not that weak and childish fondness of which a wise man would be ashamed—but a more dignified kind, which an angel would not blush to receive.
2. Your love for your minister should be TOLERANT—for charity covers a multitude of faults. By tolerance, I do not mean that spurious liberality which is not only attached to an object, notwithstanding his faults—but actually on account of them. I trust we shall never live to see the day when character will be thought by our churches to be of little importance in their pastors, though certain strong symptoms of this are apparent in a few of them. Let a man only pander to their erroneous predilections, their perverted imaginations, their antinomian taste; let him be their blessing companion in private, and be a little tolerant towards their inconsistencies, and some will be disposed to be peculiarly indulgent in return, towards even his wide departures from ministerial consistency.* Levity, malice, folly, and even suspected intemperance, will be connived at, if he has only ingratiated himself into those affections which are too blind to see anything wrong in a darling object. I ask no tolerance for a man, who, though receiving a competent salary, lives in extravagance and self-indulgence beyond his income, and involves himself in debt and disgrace. I ask no tolerance for a man, who, though he may not be a drunkard, is a tippler. I ask no tolerance for a man, who, though he be neither fornicator nor adulterer, indulges in indecent liberties with females. I ask no tolerance for a man who is malicious and implacable, and who, by the bitterness of his animosities, is perpetually involving himself and his friends in feuds and quarrels. I ask no tolerance for a man who receives money from his people for public objects, and refuses to account for it. I ask no tolerance for the liar or calumniator; and I rejoice that our ministers are not such; so that I have no need to ask tolerance for these things. God forbid I should ask for the tolerance of sin in the ministerial character! "An elder must be blameless, of good report from them that are without, not given to wine, not fond of filthy lucre, an example to believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." His character, like that of Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion; and did he preach with the tongue of an angel, yet without something of an angel's holiness, his eloquence should be in our ears but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
The charity then, which I ask, is not for an unholy man—but for an imperfect one; for those infirmities which attach even to the best of men in this world. I ask for the love which thinks no evil, which is not easily provoked, which suffers long and is kind; which covers all things, believes all things, hopes all things—which is disposed to diminish, rather than to magnify imperfections; and to conceal, rather than to expose them. I do ask for every minister, from the people of his charge, for that charity which is slow to take offence, especially on doubtful grounds. We are commanded, I know, to give no offence, and in the meaning of the apostle, I trust we shall give none; but to live so as in no sense to give offence to anyone, is a very difficult—if not an impossible task. With so many to please, and those possessing such various and changing inclinations, it is too much to expect that we shall be able to avoid displeasing some. It is really surprising and painful to think what insignificant circumstances will sometimes, quite unintentionally, on the part of a minister, give offence to some of his hearers. Calling a little oftener on some than on others; or, forgetting to call according to his promise; not visiting the sick, when no one had informed him of their illness; preaching a little longer or a little shorter than usual; a supposition that he was personal, when he had no individual on earth in his mind as the special object of address; passing a house without stepping in, or not stopping to converse with an individual in the street, when speeding on an errand of mercy, or on some important business; speaking with less frankness or cheerfulness, and with an appearance of coldness, when, perhaps, the mind was burdened with grief, or travailing with some great purpose—these, and less than these, are the frivolous circumstances on account of which some petulant minds are displeased with their minister. I can only say, that to such trifles, none but triflers can attend—and it is impossible that the most charitable or watchful mind can avoid giving offence to those who are thus predisposed to take it. But, where is their affection? Where is their tolerance?
* I by no means give it as my opinion that churches are to be unforgiving towards a minister, who has been "overtaken in a fault;" much less that his brethren should forever withdraw from him, after he has given the most unequivocal and satisfactory proofs of repentance, as well as grief, Some falls, however, are so disgraceful, as to be sufficient to exclude a man forever from the pulpit, whatever may be his compunction or reformation; and in no case of immorality should a minister be restored to the confidence of the churches, or his brethren, without such evidence of penitence as would restore a private member to the communion. And in all cases of ministerial defection, it does appear to me that character should be regained where it has been lost, and that the same church which causes him to suspend his labors, should restore him again to his pulpit; they who have been the witnesses of his sin, should be the judges of his repentance. Among them, however humiliating it may be, he should walk humbly, and bring forth the fruits of repentance, and if restored to their confidence, there exists no reason why in many cases he may not be restored to their pulpit.
3. Your affection to your minister should be PRACTICAL.It should lead you studiously to avoid everything that would give him, not only lasting distress—but even momentary uneasiness; and as anxiously to do everything to promote his comfort. It should be matter of actual study, of frequent and deliberate counsel, in what way you can promote his happiness in the situation to which you have invited him. In the prosecution of this object, you must be a holy and consistent people, following "whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report." "You must adorn the doctrine of God your Savior," by all conversation and godliness. "You must deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world." You must "come out and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and not be conformed to this world." Do what you will in other things, fill his purse with wealth, his house with presents, and his ear with words of tenderest affection, still, after all, if he sees you decline in the spirit and practice of religion, if he witnesses you walking inconsistently, forgetting your obligation to the practice of the most refined morality, he will be, and necessarily must be, a miserable man. Your sins will inflict wounds on his heart which nothing can heal, and throw a gloom on his path which nothing can irradiate. You must be holy, or he cannot be happy; your irregularities will embitter his cup of consolation, however full or sweet it might otherwise be.
To promote his comfort, you must be at peace among yourselves. He cannot be happy among a divided and discordant people—such a state of things is an impediment in the way both of his usefulness and of his comfort. What a wretched condition is that pastor in, who sees the influential members of his church, jealous of each other, alienated and unable to act together; the different families of his flock living not only in estrangement—but in ill will; while each party is filling his ear with complaints against the other—the deacons jealous of the interference of the people, the people suspicious of the conduct or the motives of the deacons; the whole body in that loose connection, that preparedness for division, which place the coherence of the church in peril on the discussion of the most trivial question. A minister in such a situation must have anything but comfort. "Fulfill my joy," said the apostle to the Philippians, "that you be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory—but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than themselves." Even an apostle could not be happy while the churches were not at peace, although he resided at a distance from them—how much less can a pastor be comfortable who stands in the very breach. "Seek after the things that make for peace, and things whereby you may edify one another." "Look diligently, lest any root of bitterness springing up, trouble you, and thereby many be defiled." "Be clothed with humility," for "by pride comes contention." Seek to be more holy; for "from whence comes wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence—even of your lusts?" "Be subject one to another;" the young to the aged, the novice to the experienced Christian, the ill-informed to the wise. Avoid all private feuds. Seek after more love to Christ. Get more of that charity which Paul has so beautifully described, and this will keep you at peace among yourselves. Disturbances and divisions in our churches reflect discredit upon our principles as dissenters, and upon our religion as Christians; they are a great injury to personal piety, throw a stumbling block in the way of the young, and not only grieve a pastor's mind—but form an impediment to the success of his labors.
Practical affection to your minister will lead you to provide liberally for his SUPPORT; for that is a 'peculiar' kind of love which leaves its object to suffer poverty. I greatly disesteem a greedy, grasping minister, who though not scantily supplied by his people, is ever complaining of his poverty, and perpetually teasing them for an increase of salary! And I as greatly detest the conduct of that church, the members of which drive a really deserving and necessitous pastor to knock and to knock in vain at the door of their cold and callous hearts for assistance! I bless God that instances are rare among us in which ministers are thus obliged to beg for support, or in which their flocks imagine that all they give for their pastor's salary is to be set down on the list of their alms deeds. The Divine Head of the church has, by an explicit law, intervened for the comfortable support of all his ministers. He has enjoined no fixed sum, because, as everything in his kingdom is to be performed under the influence of love, and all is left in that way which is best calculated to be a test of love, the provision for his servants is trusted to the operation of this general principle; and we may be quite sure, that where there is a proper regard nourished by the people for their minister, they will not leave him to poverty. It is not desirable, except in cases of absolute necessity, that a pastor should be encumbered with the cares of secular business, not even by the profession of a schoolmaster; for the nature of his duties, as well as scriptural injunction, requires that he should give himself wholly to his office; but still, inasmuch as even the apostolic office itself was not disgraced by the secular labors of those who filled it, so neither can the ministry now be degraded by such employments—where expediency or necessity requires them.
Paul's exhortation to others evidently enjoins a separation of ministers from secular pursuits—but his example allows of exceptions from his own general rule. And certainly, a preacher of righteousness is far less disgraced by being seen a part of his time even in a retail shop—than he who, to support the dignity of his office, disdains to soil his clerical hands with honest work, though perhaps many a hope-sick creditor in his congregation is continually replying to all his admonitions from the pulpit, "Pay me what you owe."
4. Your love should be MINUTE and delicate in its attentions.There are a thousand ways of manifesting regard, too varying and minute to be specified. Love is a virtue which adapts itself to the occasion, whether it be great or small; it can rise to the sublimity of martyrdom for its object, or it can descend to extract the thorn from the foot, or the speck from the eye. And as the occasions for its more gigantic efforts occur but rarely, while those for its more minute attentions are of daily recurrence, you should be more concerned about the latter than the former. A minister would be but ill-qualified for the exercise of those tender sensibilities which his office calls for, if he had not a heart alive to the value of even the most delicate expressions of his people's attachment.
5. Your love should be CONSTANT.There is a fickleness in the human character which frequently finds its way into the church of God. The victims of inconstancy are not a few, and great is the torture which attends the process of a broken heart slowly dying. Many a lovely and worthy woman has lived long enough to have her mind tormented by contrasting the vast difference between the 'bride' and the 'wife'—and to measure by the extent of her misery the wide extremes of 'idolatrous attention' and 'unconcealed hatred'. And a similar remark may be made of some excellent ministers, who by turns have become the 'idols of affection' and the 'martyrs of inconstancy'. At this we are not to be surprised, when even the illustrious Jonathan Edwards, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, uninspired divine that ever lived, was driven from a church in which he had been made extensively useful, and where he had been once remarkably happy, for no other reason than because he had wounded parental pride, by rebuking, (perhaps in an injudicious manner,) some of his young people for immoral conduct. Yes, even the great apostle tells us of some, who at one time would have plucked out their eyes for him—but had become his enemies because he had told them the truth!
Sometimes, I am aware, a change of affection is the result of a hasty and ill-advised choice of a pastor. But if a minister continues to be all that he was when he was chosen, the people, like a man who has formed an unsuitable connection in marriage, should abide by their choice, and suffer the punishment of their folly, as a warning to others. In those cases where a pastor becomes indolent, and by the neglect both of his private and public duties, gives his flock just reason to complain of the miserable poverty of his discourses, as well as of the frivolity of his general conduct, he should be reminded first by the senior brethren or deacons, in a candid, respectful, and affectionate manner of his omissions. And then, if he does not alter and become more diligent, should be told by the united voice of the people, that as he was chosen to be a laborer and not a loiterer, he had violated his engagement, and was at liberty to depart. If a minister become unholy, or so imprudent as to injure his reputation, destroy his usefulness, or interrupt all pleasant fellowship between him and his people, in such cases the hearts of his flock must and ought to be alienated from him. And I have no doubt that oftentimes, perhaps most frequently, the fault of a disagreement is to be traced up almost exclusively to the bad temper, imprudence, or suspected morality of the pastor.
Still, however, instances do occur of the most censurable instability on the part of congregations, which, when the freshness of novelty has faded from the labors of their pastor, grow tired of him, and want a change. Be upon your guard, then, against everything which would alienate your heart from your minister. Extinguish the first risings of disaffection, for nothing grows so fast as dislike; and if at any time circumstances should arise, which, though they do not affect the character of your pastor, or his fitness for the situation he occupies, render it impossible for any individual to remain any longer under his ministry—let such person go quietly away. It is an honorable step in your pious career to remove to the communion of another church, compared with the conduct of those who remain to spread disaffection, and to excite rebellion.
V. Your minister has a just claim upon you for your respectful attention to the instructions, counsels, and reproofs, which he may feel it to be his duty to deliver to you in private.
If he feels as he ought, the weight of your soul's affairs, pressing upon his own, he will visit you in your habitations, not merely to receive the rites of hospitality—but to "watch for your souls as one who must give account," and to admonish you on the subjects that relate to your everlasting welfare. I am sure you will not think it necessary to provide for him a feast of fat things, or suppose that the only lure that can draw him to your house is a well spread table. You will rather "receive him as a prophet, in the name of a prophet;" and instead of saying, "here is the minister coming, we shall now be amused by jokes and stories, or entertained by news," will joyfully exclaim, "here is the man of God approaching, we shall now have a word in season, on the great themes of eternity." If it be a convenient time, and the business of the day should be over, lay the Bible upon the table, and gather round him your family, that he might instruct them, admonish them, and pray with them. Consider him, not indeed as your confessor, in the Popish sense of the term—but still as your divinely commissioned instructor, the resolver of your doubts, the guide and comforter of your soul, amidst all her perplexities and anxieties. Treat him on such occasions with the confidence that is due both to his office and to his affection; lay open to him the state of your mind; acknowledge to him your difficulties, your feelings, your fears, and seek at his lips the words of instruction or of consolation. There is not enough of this hallowed confidential fellowship between the shepherd and the flock in the present age. How edifying would it be, if the families of a congregation, were, separately, if their number were not too great; or, if it were so, in unions of two or three families together, to invite the pastor to spend an hour occasionally with them, for the express purpose of counselling and addressing them on religious matters. How much more consistent would this be, than an imitation of the expensive feasts of the men of the world. It is an insult to the ministerial character to suppose that it is a necessary compliment to those who bear it, to set before them the dainties of the epicure.
And if, at any time, your minister, in the exercise of what must ever be considered to be the most delicate and self-denying part of his duty, should come to you in the character of a reprover, and should find it necessary even to "rebuke sharply," I admonish you, that instead of treating his reproofs with silent contempt, careless indifference, or angry resentment, you bow down to them with a spirit of ingenuous and dignified submission. Instead of saying, "Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?" imitate the Psalmist and exclaim, "Let the righteous smite me, and it shall be a kindness; it shall be as excellent oil that will not break my head." And if in the perplexity of determining the precise degree of sharpness that the rebuke should contain, he should give to it more severity than you may imagine the offence calls for, still acquiesce in a spirit of meekness, remembering that it is a mercy to be healed, though by a somewhat unnecessary degree of probing; and that it is better to be plucked with violence from ruin, than to be allowed to go softly to perdition. Do not account him your enemy, nor become his, because in faithful love he has reproved you. This part of his duty is truly distressing to him.
VI. Your minister has a claim upon you for your cooperation in all his judicious schemes of usefulness, whether they respect your own church, the town in which you live, or the world at large.
It is not sufficiently considered, that Christian churches are formed and set up to be the lights of the earth. Beautiful and instructive is the language of God, speaking by the prophet. "And I will make them, and the places round about my hill, a blessing—and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessings." Now, although this language refers primarily to the Jews, as settled again in their native land, yet it may be applied with great propriety to every Christian church, as descriptive of its duty to exert a local and beneficial influence on all around it, so as to become a foreign and a home missionary society within itself. Of course its own interests are its first—but not its exclusive, concern. In all schemes of public utility, the pastor must be expected to take the lead. Often will his anxious mind revolve the question, "What more can I do for my vineyard, that I have not yet done for it?" Sunday schools, congregational libraries, societies for visiting the sick, tract societies, home Bible studies, benefit societies—will all be viewed by him, as means of associating the energies, and calling forth the exertions of his people for the public good. To such plans and efforts, as well as to the cause of foreign missions, he will often call your attention.
Frequently will he lay before you, either in your smaller circles, or at your church meetings, some benevolent scheme which he has devised, some object of mercy which he is anxious to accomplish—but in which he cannot proceed without your zealous cooperation. On such occasions do not let him perceive cold, calculating, repulsive looks; nor hear frivolous and caviling objections, which sound more like the pleas of covetousness, than the suggestions of prudence—do not let your own torpor benumb his energies, nor the frosty atmosphere of your souls chill the ardor of his heart. You are of course to examine the schemes of his benevolence, no less than the doctrine of his sermons; you are not expected to support any wild and visionary schemes of an unrealistic zeal. Scrutinize everything with impartiality, in order that you may give him the support of your judgment, as well as of your heart, and of your purse. A minister cannot be happy with a people whom he does not respect; and how can he respect those, whose apathy or avarice in reference to public spirit, leads him to exclaim, "no man stood by me, and of the people there was none with me."
And then, there is another piece of advice I would give you, and that is, not to engage yourselves to schemes and adventurers in the field of benevolence, from which he holds back; at least until you have asked and heard his reasons for declining. He will not wish to make his views your law; but he may have reasons for not acting, which you would, perhaps, approve, if you knew them, and which you might know by asking for them.
VII. A minister claims his people's PRAYERS.
If apostles, in whom dwelt the gift of a divine inspiration, who wrought miracles, planted churches, and wrote the Scriptures, cast themselves upon the prayers of the people, and ascribed their success in a great degree to the supplications which were presented on their behalf—surely such means of assistance cannot be unnecessary for the ordinary ministers of the word. We therefore give a most emphatic echo to the demand of Paul, and say, "Brethren, pray for us!" I ask, then, on behalf of your minister, for your constant supplications that his life and health may be spared; that his personal piety may be maintained in full vigor; that he may remain sound in the faith; that he may be guided in his private studies, and assisted to attain to still more enlarged and profound views of truth; that he may be apt to teach, and skillful in dealing with the consciences of men; that he may not shun to declare the whole counsel of God; and that he may be eminently successful in the conversion of sinners, and the edification of believers. Pray for him at your social meetings, and consider this as one great object of such meetings. Pray for him at your seasons of family worship, and thus teach your children and servants to love and respect him. Pray for him in the closet, when you retire to commune with God, who sees in secret. Remember that his personal piety, his pastoral fidelity, his ministerial success—all depend upon divine grace. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit he can do nothing. Even Paul would have planted, and Apollos have watered, in vain—had not God given the increase. The total and universal corruption of human nature, and the necessity of divine grace for its renovation and sanctification—which are fundamental articles of your faith—furnish equal reasons for the offering earnest prayer on behalf of your pastor.
Such, then, are the claims of your minister, and did time permit, or did any question about their validity exist, I would urge them on the ground of justice; for, in the very act of choosing a minister, you give him a right to expect all that I have stated. I could urge them on the ground of gratitude; for how many benefits, what rich consolations, is he the instrument of imparting to you. I could urge them on the ground of personal interest; for in yielding them, you promote your own and your children's welfare. I could urge them on the ground of piety; for God has demanded them on his behalf. Nothing now remains—but that in CONCLUSION, I refer you to the solemn day of scrutiny and of decision, when your minister must give an account how he has preached; and you, an equally strict account how you have heard!
In prospect of that tremendous and eventful scene, I admonish you, that "you receive not the grace of God in vain." "To you is the word of salvation sent." "Therefore you ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which you have heard, lest at any time you should let them slip. For, if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how will you escape, if you neglect so great salvation." In prospect of the judgment day, I solemnly warn you, that as you have a minister, who will preach to you the law, by which is the knowledge of sin, and the gospel, by which is the knowledge of pardon—your condemnation will be dreadful indeed, if you live and die impenitent, unbelieving and unholy. You have chosen a man, who, as you shall improve his ministry, or neglect it, will be a blessing, or an unwilling occasion of your greater guilt here, and of your greater misery hereafter! He must be "a savor of death unto death," if you will not allow him to be "a savor of life unto life." Prepare to meet him at the tribunal of God!