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RELIGIOUS AND MORAL DISCUSSIONS.
In the summer of the year 1799, the presbytery of Philadelphia ordained, at one time, five candidates for the gospel ministry, viz. John B. Linn, (since dead) Jacob J. Janeway, William Latta, Thomas Picton, and Buckley Carl. They had all received and accepted calls to settlement, as pastors of particular churches, and representatives from these churches were present at their ordination. But, for the accommodation of the presbytery, they were set apart to their office in a single service, which was celebrated in the Second Presbyterian church; and in which the Rev. Dr. Blair presided, the Rev. Mr. Irvin preached, and the Rev. Dr. Green gave the charge. The whole that was delivered on the occa sion was, at the time, prepared for the press; but the occurrence of the yellow fever delayed the printing for several months, and then it was agreed to omit it altogether. The charge is now offered to the public as an article in the Magazine; and it is only necessary to remark farther, that the author was senior pastor of the church where it was delivered, and that one of the brethren ordained was installed as his colleague.
THE CHARGE. It may be generally affirmed of the time and country in which we live, as it was of the day and place in which our Lord fulfilled his ministry on earth, that “ the harvest truly is great, and the labourers are few.”. There is a much greater demand and necessity for the faithful preaching of the gospel, than can be answered or supplied by those who are engaged in the work. Affected by this consideration, many who love the Re. deemer's cause, have, I trust, been praying for some time past, with unusual earnestness, and in nc to their Saviour's command, that “ the Lord of the harvest would send forth labourers into his harvest." And have we not at this hour. a. proof that their prayer hath been heard, and that God hath begun to answer it? When did we see such a band of labourers, as this before us, entering together into the vineyard of the Lord? The ordination, in one service, of five ministers of Christ, is to us a spectacle equally novel, solemn, and animating. Let our hearts be enlarged with gratitude to God, and let our faith and hope in his promises be strengthened and enlivened.
To me it has been committed to delineate and inculcate the duties of the office and character with which you, my young brethren in the ministry of the gospel, have just been invested; VOL. II.
and to explain to you, the people of their future charge, the correspondent duties which you owe to them. Expect me then, both pastors and people, to speak with that plainness and explicitness which so sacred a trust, and so solemn an occasion, indispensably require.
The duties of ministers and people, as just intimated, are correlative; that is, the sacred obligations which bind a minister, imply that correspondent obligations are binding on his people. I will endeavour to specify these in their order, to show their connexion, and to urge their importance.
In making a statement of what is incumbent on you, my brethren, who have just been admitted to take part of this ministry with us, I shall speak I. of your personal piety; II. Of your duties as preachers and pastors; III. Of your general character and deportment as ministers of Christ.
I. I am to speak of your personal piety. “ Take heed unto thyself,” is the leading injunction of the word of life, addressed to every one who has the charge of souls. Believing, as we profess to do, that no man ought to seek the office of a gospel minister, who has not some comfortable hope, derived from a close examination of himself by the tests of unerring truth, that he has been “renewed in the spirit of his mind;" believing, also, that no man ought to be admitted to this office who does not give to those whose business it is to inquire, the proper evidence that he has been the subject of a work of grace; we could never, with a good conscience, have laid our hands on you in the solemn act of ordination just performed, if we had not obtained satisfaction in this momentous concern. But let me remind
you, that your having satisfied us, should be no reason why you should not renewedly and closely question yourselves. Nay, the approbation which you have received from others, should increase your desire not to deceive yourselves. A mind rightly disposed will be quickened in its inquiries, by the consideration that a mistaken estimation of character is easily and often made; and that, at the day of final retribution, it will be awful beyond description, to be detected and exposed as an enemy of God, after having always possessed, in the eyes of men, the character of a friend. Look, then, frequently into your hearts, with a view to ascertain whether you have really been changed from a state of nature to a state of grace; whether you have truly embraced Christ Jesus, as the only hope of your souls; whether you have been delivered from the reigning power of sin; and have your supreme delight in those exercises and habits, which are the
genuine « fruits of the Spirit.” If the holy apostle, notwithstanding all his high views and attainments, could express himself with solicitude, lest, “after preaching to others,” he might be “a cast-away" himself, how great should be the anxiety of every inferior minister of Christ, lest this should be his fearful destiny? It has been justly remarked, that we are exposed to danger in this concern, from the very nature of our office. Our familiarity with sacred subjects, may lead us tó mistake professional duty for personal religion; the exertion of our intellectual powers on theological investigations, and the employment of our time in religious offices, for a cordial attachment to the truth and service of God. To prevent this, we ought to make it our special employment, at stated seasons, carefully and frequently to try ourselves by the discriminating marks of inspiration, whether we truly belong to the number of those whom the Saviour will acknowledge as his real disciples.
But I have it here in view, not only to recommend an inquiry in regard to the reality of your religion, but to enjoin the importance of striving to be eminent in religion. The remark made by a distinguished critic* is certainly just, that the reason why pulpit discourses are not more uniformly excellent is, that it is extremely difficult for a minister of the gospel to keep up in his own mind, habitually, that lively and fervid sense of the truth and importance of divine things, which is necessary to furnish him with the most suitable thoughts, and to enable him to express those thoughts with the greatest propriety, strength and animation. Believe it, my young friends, that, after the mind is well furnished with knowledge, the very best help in preparing your public addresses, will be found in a heart glowing with love to God and the Saviour, and breaking with compassion and solicitude for immortal souls. In this state of mind you will want neither ideas nor expressions: all that you say will be pertinent; and, coming warm from your own hearts, will be best calculated to reach the hearts of others—All that you say will have about it an unction of piety, which can be derived from no other source
Eminent piety, also, naturally gives to the deportment of its possessor that gravity mingled with cheerfulness, that dignity united with condescension, that just accommodation to the tem. pers and circumstances of others, without countenancing what is sinful or yielding to what is wrong, which are peculiarly ornamental and useful to the minister of Christ. Over his whole de
* Dr. Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric, &c. Lect. 29.
meanour it sheds a kind of mild and heavenly radiance, which, like the face of Moses when he descended from the mount of God, bears visible testimony of his sacred converse, and gives him an authority and influence hardly to be resisted.
Such are the advantages of eminent piety to a gospel minister in his public services. The benefits which must result from it to himself are too obvious to need explanation. Seek it, therefore, as your first and most important qualification for the sacred office.
II. Your duties as preachers and pastors are next to be considered.
In order to preach with propriety, and with lasting acceptance to your people, remember that it is of essential importance that your own minds be extensively and richly furnished with knowledge. Be careful not to lose, as is too often the case, that measure of improvement in the liberal arts, which you acquired in your academical course. Endeavour, on the contrary, to be constantly adding something to this stock by farther acquisitions. In an age when vice and infidelity are abetted and propagated by tearned and subtle advocates, the ministers of religion have a peculiar call to be well furnished for their work from the stores of literature. The gradual improve ment of our country, also, in taste and information, renders more of this necessary now, than was formerly demanded. Far be it, indeed, from me to recommend, that you consume the greater part of your time, or make it the principal object of your ambition and pursuit, to attain distinction merely as scholars. The minister of Christ, who does this, betrays his trust as really, though he may not do it so grossly, as if he should devote himself to the acquiring and hoarding of pelf. Always consider literature, then, as a handmaid to religion, but in this character do not neglect her.
But remember that the knowledge which is to be directly serviceable to you, and which, therefore, you should be most of all engaged to acquire, is the knowledge of the word of God. The preachers of the present day may, perhaps, be allowed generally, to exceed those of the last generation in attention to method, style, and elocution; but it is, I fear, more than equally clear, that our fathers exceeded us in a familiar acquaintance with the holy scriptures: and, alas! what is this but saying that we are more attentive to the circumstantials, while they were more distinguished for the substance of religion. No other attainment can possibly be a substitute for an accurate and intimate
knowledge of the bible. The minister of the gospel, who is destitute of this, wants “ the sword of the spirit," and is like a soldier going to combat, without his most essential weapon. Endeavour, therefore, to be “ mighty in the scriptures.” Read them with unwearied assiduity. Read them as critics; read them as christians; read them in their original languages; read them abundantly in your mother tongue.
With theology, as a science and system, you are already acquainted; but let me remark, that, in qualifying yourselves more perfectly for pulpit service, you will find it extremely useful to be very conversant with a number of the best practical writers on religion. There is, perhaps, nothing superior to this for enabling a minister to speak in public with ease, readiness, application, and variety. It is, I apprehend, one of the most useful dia rections that can be given to a young clergyman, to have some book of the description. I have mentioned constantly in perusal. It will quicken him in duty; it will improve his views of evangelical truth; and it will be the means of enriching the discourses which he delivers to others.
Here, likewise, I must exhort and charge you to study and well digest the addresses which you make in public. Whatever esteem some may profess for extemporaneous effusions and harangues, or however they may actually contribute to give a man popularity for a time, I have never known an instance in which a minister, who constantly preached in this way, and was confined in his stated addresses to the same congregation, did not at length sink into uselessness or insignificance. For myself, I must express it as my opinion, that whoever, in early life, habitually enters the sacred desk, without carefully preparing for it, is an idler in the house of the Lord, handles the word of God unfaithfully, and trifles with the souls of his people. Therefore obey the apostolic direction to Timothy on this very point: « Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine; meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto thy doctrine, continue in them; for, in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.”
You will not, however, consider any thing I have said as recommending a refined or abstract system of preaching. This is even a worse extreme than the other. It is absolutely to speak in “ an unknown tongue" to far the larger part of every popular audience. While, therefore, you avoid carelessness, crudities, and vulgarity, on the one hand, be equally careful, on the other, not