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knowledge of the condition of his audiences. Yet this acquaintance extends chiefly to external circumstances. Without personal visiting and frequent conversation with individuals, he cannot know the workings of their minds, the presence and pressure of disturbing doubts, the strength of severe temptations, the rapid currents which they are trying to stem, and the help of which they are constantly in need. Besides this, additions are constantly made to every congregation. Young hearts are expanding; they have longings for the invisible and eternal, which are made known only to the pastor who visits them. These changes, together with the influence of pernicious publications and the strange ideas which enter almost every dwelling, and find a way to almost every heart, require constant vigilance on the part of the oldest and most experienced pastor. The young pastor is a stranger to the religious condition of his audience. How can he become acquainted with it, so far as to form his sermons appropriately, except by personal visiting and conversation ?
In an itinerant ministry, like that of the denomination to which I belong, the difficulty with new congregations is largely increased. The preacher, passing from year to year, or every few years, to different localities, is necessarily unacquainted with his people, and must be, at first, at a loss for suitable topics. I doubt whether an itinerant ministry could be highly successful without the aid of assistants who are acquainted with the congregation. To secure this object, class-meetings have proved of immense value. A small number meet together for prayer and religious conversation under a leader, who thus becomes thoroughly acquainted with every member. Under the order of the church, these leaders are expected to meet the minister every week, and it is his duty to visit the various classes. This arrangement serves to promote personal acquaintanceship among the various members, and to furnish a mode by which the minister can more quickly meet with all his congregation. By it pastoral assistance can also be furnished to the preacher when needed. But, valuable as these meetings are to the itinerant ministry, they do not prevent the necessity of direct personal visiting from house to house. It is only in such a way that the member can enjoy
a full and earnest conversation with his pastor, and can tell him of the doubts which may trouble him, and the peculiar trials and difficulties which meet and surround him. If the pastor becomes out thoroughly acquainted with the religious condition of his people, can he will be able, for their edification, to bring forth from Sabbath to Sabbath, out of his treasury of experience, things both new and old.
Nor should pastoral visiting, in this view, be confined merely to members of the church. The preacher should mingle freely with all the members of his congregation, and visit those who occasionally attend his ministry. He may thus learn their doubts or their objections; he can ascertain what stumbling blocks lie in their way, and what it is that keeps them from embracing the Saviour and from fellowship in His church. To labour successfully, to remove scepticism, to heal difficulties, to bring families into unity and love, he must mingle with the people, and they must feel that he takes a deep interest in them.
Again, the minister needs to visit his people to gain their sympathy and good will. Quintilian says that the first requisite for an orator is to gain the good will of his audience. We all know how much more readily children learn when they love their teachers, and how little benefit they receive when they dislike them. The minister beloved by his congregation has a key to their affections. They listen with delight, and find pleasure and inspiration in all his services. But if the minister be an object of aversion, if he even be a stranger, his words are without sufficient
power to the hearts of his hearers. To gain the good will of his audience, there is no method more effectual than to manifest an interest in them and their families. The preacher who has a cheerful word for the man of business when he meets him or calls to visit his family, especially in times of affliction, and who has a kind word for their children, soon acquires an influence over those families such as to make them attentive and interested hearers. This visiting should be sò thorough that the names of all the congregation, and, as far as practicable, the names of the children, should be carefully learned. The good shepherd “ calleth his own sheep by name,” is the language of the blessed
Saviour. Children especially should be addressed by their names.
Again, pastoral visiting furnishes the preacher an opportunity to learn the influence of his sermons, and to ascertain accurately the effects which they have produced. Thus he will receive suggestions which may be of future use. If, in visiting the man of business, he finds that the influence of his last Sabbath’s sermon lingers in the counting-room, in the office, or the shop, he should thank God that he was able to deliver such a message, and should study how he may secure other trains of thought equally profitable. If, in visiting the sick, he finds that his words of comfort have been treasured in their memory, he will rejoice in his ministry of consolation, and will apply himself to find other lessons of encouragement in the Word of God. But, should he find that his sermons have not been treasured, that the people refer to no thoughts of comfort or consolation in them—if the old are without cheer and the young are disposed to wander away, he has serious cause to inquire whether he should not change his style of preaching. He should consider whether, in view of their condition, he had carefully selected important truths; whether his address had been direct and earnest; and whether he had endeavoured to speak to them because God had given him a message. Or, should he find that some of his sermons have been misunderstood, it will furnish him an occasion to explain, and he will try to correct the misapprehension. He may possibly find that, in presenting certain doctrines or in urging to certain duties, he has so stated them that to some of his people they seem to conflict with other doctrines or with other duties. He will thus learn to be more guarded in definition, and to discriminate more carefully in all his utterances.
Another advantage will be afforded by ascertaining what class of topics has been most successful in reaching peculiar minds. They will tell him of sermons which they heard in former years, and of the deep impression they received. They will speak of the preciousness of certain texts of Scripture. Oftentimes a ray of
light is thus thrown upon a passage of Scripture to which his attention had never been given. Sometimes these turns of thought, learned in the cottage or the cabin, will open up a wonderful vista of Scripture truth, looking through which, he will find much that is beneficial to his own heart and to the heart of his hearers. Sometimes in my own experience a passage was so quoted that it seemed altogether new. For a moment I doubted whether it was in the Bible; but, on reflection, I found I had connected it with some other train of thought, opening only one such crystal, when others equally beautiful had been concealed from view. Many a text have I thus found for my Sabbath's sermon as I visited the garrets and cellars of cities or the abodes of the poor in the country. I remember once accompanying a lady to a poor dwelling, where we found an old Negro woman, lying on a bed of straw and sick unto death. Yet she talked so sweetly of the love of Jesus, she was so patient in all her sufferings, and spoke with such resignation, and with hopefulness almost amounting to ecstasy, that my heart was deeply touched. It was not only a lesson to me personally, but I think the influence of it was evident in my sermons for several weeks.
Again, the work of the true preacher is to warn every man, to teach every man in all wisdom, and to present every man perfect before God. To accomplish this, he must watch the progress of his work; he must add “line upon line and precept upon precept.” The farmer does not sow the seed and then pay no further attention to the growing crop. He will love to watch its growth; and he will look forward with intense interest and with earnest expectation to the harvest, when the ripened grain may be gathered in and preserved. So the preacher who is sent of God will love to trace the growth of the spiritual work in his congregation. He saw last Sabbath a tear starting in the eye, or a bowed head, and he knew that the Spirit of God was writing lessons upon a receptive heart.' He longs to see that brother, and to converse with him personally and closely on religious topics; to remove his difficulties and to lead him to the Saviour. So he will follow up every indication of spiritual influence which he notices in his congregation; and, if he perceives that some are
hardened and careless, he will be anxious to converse with them, to learn their governing motives and through what avenues they can best be reached. For there is some avenue to every heart, and the faithful pastor will find that avenue, however guarded; will co-operate with those movings of the Spirit; and will find some truth which will touch the conscience. Sometimes he will find that some of his congregation are wandering into sin; that evil influences are alluring young men to evil habits; and he will anxiously seek some plan by which these wanderers may be brought nearer the church and saved from ruin. As the shepherd, spending the long days of summer with his flock and guarding them during the night from the attacks of wild animals, learns to know and to love each member of his flock, and, if he
away to the mountains and searches until he finds it, so the true minister watches over every member of his congregation with ceaseless care. God has made him a shepherd to care for his flock; a watchman to guard them against danger.
Last summer I passed over the great mountains and plains which lie between us and the Pacific Ocean. I frequently watched the shepherds, with their immense flocks, and marked their constant diligence and care. I saw the herders, with their numerous herds of cattle, and was surprised to observe the constant vigilance which they exercised. The herder was always in the saddle ; his eyes were continually on the cattle. If one wandered toward a precipice or became separated from the herd, it was immediately followed and brought back in safety. How much more responsible is the office of the Christian pastor? If he expects to gain the affection of all the members of his congregation, if he desires to realize the full fruit of his sermons, his eye must be upon them, and he must exercise over them a sleepless vigilance.
In this work he will also become informed of the relative fitness of the members of his congregation for such work as he may need in carrying out his plans for church activity. He will thus also gain increasing influence over the hearts of the children. Much of the sermon is necessarily beyond their comprehension; and, not being interested, the church services are