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of mind are below the generality of their brethren of mankind, ought not to be encouraged to enter into the sacred work.
2. A man should have some special advantages of education, in order to be able so to teach, as to qualify him for the evangelical ministry. I do not say that what we call a liberal, collegiate education, is in all cases, without exception, necessary; though I conceive this to be very desirable, and the want of it, hardly to be dispersed with, where it may be obtained, and with so little difficulty, as in our land. Is it not dangerous to the interest of religion, and to the prosperity of the churches of Christ, to countenance an illiterate clergy? Men of that order, are, in a measure, set for the defence of the gospel, against infidels, and gainsayers. That they can be but poorly able to defend it, must be obvious to all who properly consider the matter, if they have no more than what we call common learning. An acquaintance with the liberal arts and sciences, greatly enlarges and improves the powers of the mind. It enables men io arrange their ideas properly ; to reason clearly and forcibly, upon any subject; to detect sophistry, and to judge of the conclusiveness of an argument.
Knowledge of the learned languages, particularly of those in which the sacred Scriptures were originally penned, must be very useful to a Christian teacher. It will assist bim more clearly to understand the inspired writings; to solve difficulties which may occur in them, and to point out their beauty and harmony.
At least, a man must have had, and must have improved, opportunities and helps to study the sacred oracles, in order to understand the great truths contained in them, in their connection and mutual dependence. A superficial student of the Scriptures cannot deserve those characters, which should meet in every public religious teacher, of “a scribe well instructed to the kingdom of heaven;" "an able minister of the New Testament."
It is such a pitch of enthusiasm, as I trust none of you will attempt to defend, for ministers to expect that their minds should be furnished with knowledge, by the immediate teachings of the Holy Spirit; or that those truths should be given them directly from above, which they are to deliver to their people.
It is incumbent on men, before they enter on the sacred work, as well as through the whole course of it, to "give themselves to reading, meditation and prayer.” In this way they may expect the aids and teachings of the Spirit of God; in this way "their profiting will appear to all;" and they will be able to teach, so as to promote godly edifying. I only add,
3. A man must have a good faculty of communicating his knowledge. The gift of utterance is valuable, and necessary to teachers. This is not always found in proportion to the knowledge with which men's minds are stored; therefore we cannot say that every man, of piety and learning, is qualified to be a gospel
minister. The “ priest's lips are to preserve,” and communicate “ knowledge.” He should have the “tongue,” as well as the mind of “the learned.” This qualification is possessed in various degrees by different persons. Some good measure of it may be deemed requisite, in one who is, by office, a public religious instructor. It is a happy acquirement, to be able with ease, freedom, and perspicuity, to communicate his sentiments, not only 10 the understanding of the learned and judicious few, but to that of persons of common abilities, and small literary improvements. This talent will, like most others, increase and brighten, by use, which should be an encouragement to those who are conscious that they do not possess it, in so happy a degree as many around them, to take much pains that it may grow and increase in them.
It is of great importance for persons, when first setting out in the business of preaching, to get into a way of composing, and speaking, with ease and propriety. This being neglected at first, and a habit, the reverse of this, being once established, the longest life will seldom afford sufficient time to correct and unlearn it.
“ Apt to teach” is a qualification of so much importance as to be recommended by an inspired pen. Who can need it more than persons employed in teaching things of everlasting moment; and yet things which, through the dullness of some, and the perverseness of others, are hard to be introduced into the minds and consciences of most men? He who hath a due solicitude for the edification of his people, will strive by all the advantages of address, to bring gospel truths home to their hearts, with power and energy; and to fasten them there, as with “ a nail in a sure place,” that he " may be to them a savor of life unto life, and not of death unto death."
What hath been imperfectly suggested, must suffice to represent the persons, suitable to be employed in the gospel ministry.
By way of reflection,
1. Doth it not appear important, from what hath been said, that we who are invited, from time to time, to assist in setting apart men to the work of the gospel ministry, should be careful not to introduce any, who do not appear to be faithful men, and able to teach others? Is it not requisite that we be satisfied as to their fidelity and capacity? The question then will arise, how are we to obtain this satisfaction ?
Some worthy men, with a view to exclude errors, in faith, and to maintain Christian orthodoxy, conceive a critical examination into the religious sentiments of those who are candidates for ordination, to be very necessary; and that creeds, and confessions of faith to be assented to, or subscribed, answer very valuable purposes. Others suppose very little can be done, in this way, towards maintaining purity of faith, and uniformity in religious sentiments. It may be said that the language, in which such tests are expressed, will be as indeterminate as that of the holy Scriptures; and that without an infallible interpreter, to fix the meaning of the one and the other, we shall be never the nearer the object of pursuit. It hath been also observed, that ministers of the church of England, who are invariably obliged to subscribe a long catalogue of articles, are not more sound in the faith, or more united in their religious opinions, than others. Some further suppose, an implication in this practice, not very honorary to the Author of our religion, viz. that he hath left the credenda of it, or things to be believed, so loose and vague, as to render a greater precision and determinateness necessary to be added, by the wisdom and sagacity of uninspired men; and that the “words which the Holy Ghost teacheth," do not afford so clear and unequivocal a system of gospel truth, as "the words which man's wisdom teacheth.” i Cor. xi. 13.
As to this matter, it seems that men equally solicitous for maintaining the purity of the faith once delivered to the saints, and equally desirous to promote the honor and utility of the preached gospel, are not entirely agreed. However, I doubt not, they will very well agree, in the most important steps to be taken in this matter. They will all judge it necessary, in order to make the path of duty plain before them, in setting apart men to the work of the ministry, that they obtain satisfactory evidence, that they are of a good moral and religious character; of good intellectual abilities; and that they have enjoyed, and improved, some special advantages of education.
2. Is it not reasonable for us, my brethren, who have been put into the gospel ministry, to inquire, on this occasion, whether we entered upon it with proper views, and from proper motives? And whether, under the influence of them, we have faithfully attended to all the parts of our duty? I would hope that, upon a review of our temper and conduct, we stand acquitted, by our own consciences, of any habitual and allowed unfaithfulness. But alas ! have we not found ourselves too prone to slothfulness, in that work which requires the greatest diligence and fervency? Have we not reason to acknowledge, and lament many sinful defects? Are we not called to humble ourselves before God, this day, on account of them? To renew our resolutions to be steadfast and unmovable, abounding always in the work of the Lord ? And importunately to seek fresh supplies of wisdom and grace, from Jesus Christ, in whom all fullness dwells ?
3. From what hath been suggested, our beloved young friends, who are candidates for the gospel ministry, will be led to consider the qualifications they should endeavor to be possessed of, in order to enter upon that important work. You must be sensible of the impropriety and danger of contenting yourselves with small furniture and preparation for an employment so great and arduous. To be faithful is of the last importance. The noble and excellent motives of love to Christ, and ardent desires to advance his religion, and the good of precious souls, operating properly, will encourage you to enter yourselves as laborers in Christ's vineyard, though the prospects of temporal emolument are but small; and will support you under the many difficulties and discouragements to be met with in it.
It is reasonable that “they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel. So hath Christ ordained in his churches." You are not to be censured, as of a mercenary temper, and as hirelings, in a bad sense, because in entering into this service, you have a regard to a decent and honorable support. But the motives, which I mentioned before, being predominant, will render your labors, labors of love, which, in a great measure, carry their own reward with them. May the great Lord of the harvest send forth a plenty of faithful laborers into his harvest !
I now turn myself to my young friend, who hath desired me to be his monitor on this solemn and joyful occasion.
You will easily see, dear Sir, from the instances that have been mentioned, in which a minister should show himself faithful, that you must give up a life of sloth and indolence, or be greatly wanting in fidelity to God, to this people, and to your own soul. I hope you act from proper motives in undertaking this great work. Take heed that these motives be kept present to your mind, that they may never lose their influence upon you.
Here is a large number of precious and immortal souls, who now commit themselves to your pastoral care. It is incumbent on you " to watch for them as expecting to give account.” They have a right to the faithful improvement of your time, and best abilities. They prosess a love and esteem for you. Let love and esteem be mutual between them and you. This will lighten your burdens, and carry you more cheerfully through your work. Think nothing too much to do, to promote their spiritual good, since Christ did not think bis blood too precious to be shed, for
their redemption. Be willing to spend, and be spent in their service.
My acquaintance with this people makes me confident, that you will find them of a candid and teachable disposition. They have too much judgment, and have been too well instructed heretofore, to wish you to dwell much in your discourses on knotty points of controversy, and matters of doubtful disputation, or metaphysical niceties, and curious distinctions, which tend rather to perplex than to edify. A serious, practical, evangelical method of preaching, will be most agreeable to them. Your judgment and inclination will happily coincide with theirs in this thing. Herein you will follow the example of your late worthy father, deceased ; *
* He was pastor of the church in Norton for about thisty-eight years.
under whose public and private instructions, your youthful days have been spent, I trust, not only much to your comfort, but greatly to your advantage in preparing you for the due discharge of the duties of that profession, in which he was so many years engaged. Herein you will also imitate the pattern of your predecessors in this place.
Labor, by plain, serious and servent addresses, to bring divine truths home to the hearts and consciences of your hearers; that sinners may be awakened, convinced, and made willing to accept the mercy of God through Christ, as offered to them in the glorious gospel; and that saints may be quickened, comforted, and built up, in their most holy faith. The work is great and arduous. Great assistance, and great comfort, you may expect in it, if you are faithful. Often recollect, for your encouragement and support, who bath said, “my grace is sufficient for you.” Be strong then, my son, in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Often anticipate in your thoughts the approaching day, when your work will be finished, and you will meet those, who have been the people of your charge, at the bar of our final Judge. One serious thought of this kind, will be powerful, to break the force of a thousand temptations to sloth and unfaithfulness. Bear in mind the uncertainty of life, and how short your opportunity may be, in which you can do any thing for the good of your dear people. I wish you, my dear friend, great success in your labors. May God make them instrumental of saving good to many souls; and grant, that “having turned many to righteousness, you may sbine as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever.”
In the next place, I take the freedom to address the beloved church and society, in this place.
My dear friends, When I profess to feel myself tenderly interested in your welfare, I trust my sincerity will not be suspected. I have been, for about thirty-seven years, ministering 10 a beloved and kind people, nearly connected with you, and from among whom your ancestors principally proceeded.* The Rev. Joseph Belcher, my venerable, though not inimediate predecessor, assisted in embodying this church, and preached, on that occasion, from those words, Titus ii. 14. “A peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Perhaps he might view the words, as in a good degree, characteristic of your ancestors, then living. I wish they may be of their posterity.t In his
Needham was set off from Dedham, and incorporated as a town, in the year 1711, + Here the preacher introduced another anecdote concerning the Rev. Mr. Belcher. The design of it was, to show the favorable opinion he had of this church and society, in its infant state, and his concern to prevent a man's becoming their pastor, whose abilities were small, and his character doubtful; and that they might obtain one able and faithful. He had the satisfaction of seeing his wishes accomplished, when the Rev. Mr. Townsend was settled among them.