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over and guard their people to better purpose, than in maintaining a strict watch and guard over themselves; carefully endeavoring to exemplify the various duties and precepts which they teach others, in their own righteous, godly, and sober lives; and to be, according to St. Paul's direction to Timothy, "an example to believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, and in purity."
It is hard to say, how very prejudicial to religion, the want of this, in Christ's ministers, is; and how it tends to render useless and of none effect, all their labors and instructions. Will a people believe their pastor sincere and in earnest, when he warns and cautions them against those things, which they see himself takes little care to avoid? when he exhorts them to the practice of those virtues, which he will not practice? when he presseth them to pursue that prize, which they evidently see him not to be pursuing? Surely they will not. They therefore that would succeed in promoting the gospel among their people, must be very careful to maintain and cultivate the true temper of the gospel in their own minds; and let it appear that they do, by a correspondent practice. And this must be carried through all the branches of the Christian temper : And it is not more necessary in any than in that, which appeared so eminently in the Author of our religion, namely, love and meekness. The servant of the Lord must not strive, or be soon angry, but show all meekness to all men : remembering that "Christ came to save us," from present wrath, as well as, "from the wrath to come." They that are Christ's, not only his disciples and followers, in common with all true Christians, but his ambassadors, and ministers in his spiritual kingdom, should be peculiarly careful "to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts; and to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
This watch for souls will also lead a minister to acquaint himself, as much as he can, with his people, and their various circumstances; that he may accommodate himself to them with greater advantage.
He will endeavor to make a prudent inquiry into their outward condition, to know whether it is prosperous, or adverse; not only that he may practise that Christian duty, "of weeping with those that weep, and rejoicing with those that rejoice;" but also, that he may lead them to a religious and profitable improvement of the various dispensations of God's providence towards them: That he may guard them against pride, presumption and security, in the the day of prosperity; against murmuring and despondence in the day of adversity; and lead them, according to the wise man's direction, in the one to rejoice, and in the other to consider.
In times of sickness, and other grievous afflictions, a minister
will often find such a candid attention to his instructions; such a tender and impressible spirit, as he has often wished for in vain at other times. And this will give him such advantages of doing them good, as he will diligently lay hold on. This will carry him frequently to the bed of sickness, and to the house of mourning. This will dispose him to practice that part of "pure religion and undefiled," which consists in "visiting the widow and the fatherless in their afflictions." Thus he may suggest to the mind, poorly furnished, and perhaps but poorly provided with helps to furnish itself, such meditations as are suited to its circumstances, and the present aspects of Providence. A word in season may be then spoken to him that is weary; and so fitly spoken, as to be "like apples of gold in pictures of silver."
This, however, is not the only valuable design to be answered, by a minister's acquainting himself, as much as may be, with the people under his pastoral care. Hereby he will learn, in some good measure, their various tempers and dispositions; their religious character; and what the present state of their mind is. He will probably find some, unhappily addicted to particular vices, which call for plain, serious and personal reproof-some, wretchedly thoughtless about the welfare of their precious and immortal souls, and regardless of all religion; who need the most serious and faithful warning to awaken them, if possible, to a due sense of their danger, and to excite them to "fly from the wrath to come, by laying hold on the hope set before them "—some, under serious impressions, from the good Spirit of God, in the conviction of sin; and earnestly inquiring " what they shall do to be saved;" who should have their minds directed to Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of sinners; and be encouraged to confide in his merit and intercession, for pardon, peace and acceptance with God-some, under grievous and distressing temptations; who need to be assisted in the true gospel-way of overcoming them-some, true fearers of God, in great darkness and perplexity about their spiritual state, and perhaps deterred from attending on those duties, which are most suited to afford them relief and comfort, through a misconstruction of some particular passages of Scripture. These wounded minds, like wounded limbs, must be treated tenderly; must be kindly instructed and encouraged; their complaints attended to; their doubts solved, and the gloom upon their minds, if possible, dissipated; that they may receive that pleasure in religion, which it is suited to give to those really acquainted with it; may find that joy," which is sown for the righteous; and that gladness designed for the upright in heart," springing up in their breasts; so that "walking in the fear of the Lord, they may also walk in the comforts of the Holy Ghost."
In these, and some other circumstances of mind, a minister, who
is conversant among his people, will find particular persons. And he may be peculiarly serviceable to them, by accommodating himself to them accordingly. Hereby he will be enabled to fulfil that commission, which all gospel-ministers receive in a sense, though in the most exalted meaning, it is applicable only to the Teacher who came from God," to preach glad tidings unto the meek; to bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives; and the opening the prison to them that are bound; and to comfort all that mourn."-" And when we view our people," says one, "in the near relation in which we stand to them; and consider them as in a great measure depending on us for instruction, when ignorant; for help when distressed, and for comfort when afflicted; we must be very insensible, if we do not feel a new flow of good-will towards them; and a strong inclination to enter into their concerns; to take their pains and feelings upon us; and to watch every opportunity of doing them good. What though kind offices of this sort, should take up much time, require much pains, and rob us of many agreeable amusements? sense of duty, love to our people, and the pleasure of doing good, will reconcile us to all these hardships."
Such a conduct, moreover, will be of special advantage, as it will greatly direct a minister in the choice of proper subjects for public discourse, as well as assist him to treat on them, in a way most likely to benefit his hearers. This leads me to observe again,
That this watching for souls, will lead a faithful minister of Christ, to compose his sermons in such a manner, as to method, style and sentiments, as he judges best suited to instruct and profit his people.
There is no doubt great advantage, in forming a regular plan and division of a discourse, in which its connection with, and dependence on the text, as well as the connection of one part with another, may appear. When an obvious and professed division is wholly avoided, the transitions from one part to another are obscure, and not easy to be observed. And when divisions and subdivisions are greatly multiplied, the mind of the hearer is led into confusion, and not able to keep that arrangement and distinction of ideas, which are necessary in order to instruction. When a just medium between these two extremes is observed; the invention of the writer, and the memory of the hearer, are both greatly assisted.
The faithful and judicious preacher will not affect any great pomp and parade of language; sensible that these serve rather to amuse the mind, and please the fancy, than to convey the weighty truths of the gospel, with life and energy to the heart. As these increase and enlarge, sincere and fervent piety often lessens and
decays: As the sun has least heat and influence, near its setting when it appears the largest. The apostle's resolution and practice among the Corinthians, is very worthy to be imitated.—“ And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech, declaring unto you the testimony of God.-My preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." A plain, easy and familiar style; free from a vain flourish of words, on the one hand; and a slovenly incorrectness, on the other, seems most agreeable to the nature of the gospel, and most conformable to the example of inspired writers.
"He that would attain to true eloquence," says Dr. Leachman, "must cherish an inward sense of the importance and excellency of sacred truths, and cultivate a strong feeling of all the virtues : For the inward feelings of a good heart, have a natural eloquence accompanying them, which can never be equalled by labored and studied ornament. The heart really and justly moved, never fails to dictate a language plain and easy; full of natural and continued vigor, which has nothing in it soft, nothing languishing; all is nervous and strong, and does not so much please the ear, as fill and ravish the soul."
The faithful instructor will endeavor to introduce, in turn, all the articles of truth and duty into his discourses. He will not dwell always upon a particular point or doctrine, either because he finds his own thoughts run more easily and freely upon it, than upon others; or his people's fancy peculiarly pleased with it. He, in conformity to the apostle's example, "will not shun to declare unto them all the counsel of God, or keep back any thing that is profitable for them." His discourses, however, will most frequently turn upon those doctrines and duties of Christianity, which are of greatest importance; most necessary to be believed and practised in order to salvation. Such are those that relate to man's ruin by sin, and point out the way of his recovery, by the obedience and sufferings of Jesus Christ. "I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified," was the resolution of the great apostle Paul, even when visiting the rich and fashionable city of Corinth, and conversing among the polite literati of it. This teaches us that Jesus Christ and him crucified, should be a very frequent subject of our discourses; and that all those doctrines and duties, which stand in connection with this grand event, or important article of Christianity, must be often insisted on, and explained by the ministers of Christ; and that, whether it be agreeable to the taste of their people, or not.The best method, no doubt, to determine what subjects deserve to be most frequently and largely treated on, is seriously to examine the writings and discourses of our Saviour and his
apostles, to see what were their general themes. Their example in this thing is worthy our imitation.
It is not the business of the public teacher to seek to discover any new truths, or doctrines, but to collect, adjust and range, in an instructive order, those which lie scattered with a noble profusion, in the sacred Scriptures: just as the skilful gardener is not expected to form any new plant or flower, but to place in a beautiful order and symmetry, those which are sown, in a beautiful disorder, by the God of nature. Nor should a minister value some religious truths, for the same reason that some men do several kinds of food; because they are rare and uncommon, not because they are pleasant, nourishing and wholesome. His sermons should not resemble those cabinets, which are stored with useless rarities, and curious amusements, instead of those serious and weighty instructions, suited to enlighten the mind, warm the heart, and amend the life.
A considerable variety of subjects for public discourse, is indeed both agreeable and advantageous; especially when they are so ranged, as to discover to the attentive hearer, their connection and mutual dependence one upon another: For there is between the doctrines and duties of Christianity, as well as between the liberal arts and sciences, a certain kindred, and chain of connection. By this variety of subjects, a minister may please his people "for their good to edification." And it may help him to avoid a practice, which some persons, of fruitful imaginations, and extensive knowledge, have been in danger of falling into; namely, that of crowding too great a variety of sentiments into a particular discourse. This will often prevent any of them from appearing in that full and clear light, which is desirable, and indeed very necessary, for the instruction of those, whose advantages for improvement have been few; and their apprehensions not quick enough to take in truth, by a kind of side glance. Discourses thus crowded with a very great variety of sentiments, how just and valuable each may be in itself, are often like trees overladen with fruit, which seldom bring any of it to perfection.
The preacher who is duly concerned to profit his auditory, will also remember that it consists of persons of different tempers and dispositions, capacities and circumstances, the avenues to whose minds are therefore various. Some will be impressed and affected in one way, and some in another. Soft and delicate addresses will fix the attention of some, and reach their hearts, when rough and severe language make no valuable impressions at all: just as subtile and thin matter finds admittance, and fills up vacancies, where bodies of a grosser contexture cannot enter. But the ears of others will be open to no addresses, but those that are severe, terrible and alarming: so deaf persons will sometimes hear the