THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
By Newman Hall, addressed to the theological
students at Andover, Yale, Princeton, and the Union Seminary, 1867.
Dear Brethren. You are looking forward to the most
responsible, yet most honorable and delightful of all occupations. Having
myself been engaged in the Christian ministry upwards of twenty-five years, I
can truly say that there is no social position, no kind of work, for which I
would exchange it. Whatever the emoluments, whatever the honors, which may
allure in other directions, he who, with pure motives and an ordinary degree
of efficiency, enters on this service will never regret the step he has taken.
The work itself, and its own appropriate results, apart from all worldly
considerations, will be a sufficient reward, and enough to satisfy the largest
ambition. In other spheres of activity, however lawful and honorable, you may
sometimes feel that the time and toil expended are too great for the end in
view, even when that end is attained; much more when expended only for a hope
which fails. This can never be so in the ministry. We are always a "sweet
savor of Christ." Whether men receive our testimony or not, we are still
witnesses for truth, and love, and holiness, and God. It is worth while to
acquire the largest stores of learning, to cultivate the mind to the utmost
limit, to spend the longest life, and develop the greatest energy of our
nature in a work like this. And when we consider the interests at stake, the
possible influence which may be exerted on the present character and future
destiny of one immortal soul, who will ever have cause to feel that this is a
work on which too much labor can be expended—which is not worthy of the
highest powers and the utmost zeal?
In accepting your kind request to address you, I feel I
have no right to your consideration, except that arising from the actual
experience I have had in the work to which you are looking forward. All that I
can say can be said, and has often been said, by your own professors and
others; and much; if not all, might occur to your own minds. But I remember
well how pleasant and profitable it was to myself, when a student, to listen
to those who were actually engaged in the work for which I was then being
trained; just as a soldier fresh from the battlefield might interest and
stimulate those who were training for the war under teachers far wiser and
more learned in the art than he who had thus casually visited them, but who
spoke out of the fullness of a heart roused by the scenes he had just
witnessed, and the struggles in which he was bearing, however humble, a part!
Thus alone do I venture to ask your indulgent attention to a few words of
counsel, which it may be well to arrange under these three topics: The call
to the ministry, the preparation for it, and the work of it.
I. THE CALL TO THE MINISTRY. The ministry is not
a profession, but a vocation. This distinction is most important. A young man
enters a profession with a view to his comfort, status, and worldly
prosperity. Whether he chooses the law, or medicine, or commerce, or a
military life, he is perfectly justified in calculating his chances of
advancement, and the probability of securing wealth, position, fame, and at
length ease and retirement. If he is disappointed in one profession, he is at
liberty to change it for another. No one will blame him for securing in the
best way his worldly interests.
But the ministry is a divine vocation, which we enter from
a conviction of duty to God, and which, so long as we have capacity to
exercise it, we are not at liberty to relinquish, whatever the worldly
disadvantages which may be connected with it. If God calls us to do a certain
work we must do it because He calls, and not because that work is supposed to
be respectable or profitable—because it may bring us fame, or leisure, or the
opportunity of indulging a literary taste. To enter the ministry, and then to
abandon it, not because there is not ability and opportunity to prosecute it,
but because of the obscurity, difficulties, and poverty attending it; or to
prosecute it only so long as it supplies us with the temporal comforts we
need, and can get nowhere else, and then to give it up when from some
unexpected source, wealth pours in upon us, and renders us no longer dependent
on our own exertions for the supply of our needs—this conduct shows that the
ministry was entered on as a mere profession, and from secular motives.
Far different will it be in the case of one who feels he is
called of God, and who says, "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel." Without
this call let no one venture upon this work. Choose any other instead.
Disappointment must certainly result. There can be no happiness in it. God's
blessing cannot rest on such an intruder upon holy ground. He is committing
sacrilege. He is usurping a post to which he has no right. He is engaging to
do a work for which he has not the essential qualification. He is injuring the
souls of those to whom he professes to minister as the servant of God, but
whom he cannot rightly teach and train when he himself is not animated by
right motives in undertaking the work.
If, then, any of you are thinking of the ministry as a
profession to which you are inclined by such motives as would be quite
admissible in other spheres of activity, I beseech you, as you would not incur
great guilt, and bring vexation on yourself and injury on others, draw back at
once; and though you are here professedly studying for the ministry, seek some
other avocation in which you may be both useful and happy; but enter not on
this sacred office without a call from God.
What is this call? I shall say nothing that savors of
enthusiasm. These are not days when we are to expect a divine
revelation, as of old, when prophets were summoned from the pastures and the
cornfields to carry the message of God. Still it is not difficult to discover
whether or not we are called of God to this ministry. The following are
elements of such a call:
First. There must be, of course, true conversion. If
a man is not himself a follower of Christ, how can he persuade others to
follow? Can the blind lead the blind? Can the dead become instruments of life?
Whatever the learning, the eloquence, the degrees of a clergyman, if he is not
himself a converted man he is not within the church at all. How, then, can he
be a minister of it? He is not one of the people of God. How, then, can he be
a teacher and a guide?
Secondly. There should be an earnest desire to make
known the truth to others. This desire to be useful to others is an element in
all real piety. But in those who are "called" to the ministry, we look for
this desire in a very strong and abiding degree. Such a person is anxious to
do good. The condition of sinners is a grief to him. He longs to make known
Christ to perishing souls.
Thirdly. This desire will be indicated in appropriate
actions. The person thus called will be "moved" by the Spirit to do what
he can. He will not wait to be invested with the outward signs of office.
Unconsciously he will begin his ministry before he thinks it is ministry. His
hand will find to do what his heart prompts him to do, and he will do it "with
his might." In some way—by tract distribution, by Sabbath-school teaching, by
quiet words of comfort or remonstrance to his companions, or to strangers whom
he may casually meet—he will indicate this call.
Fourthly. Where it is a call, not simply to usefulness—for
all Christians should have this—but to the ministerial office, there will be
the possession of the requisite natural gifts. God calls no one to an
office for which he is not qualified. The work of the ministry at the present
day is not one for which every zealous Christian is fitted. There must be some
intellectual power to keep up with the age, and to contend with varied forms
of error. There must be some power of speech to arrest attention. A bishop
must be "apt to teach." The aptitude required in one actually engaged in the
work, is not to be expected in one who is only preparing for it; but there are
natural gifts which must exist in order to be cultivated. Many young men, with
pure motives, have entered on the ministry and failed, because destitute of
those natural faculties of mind and speech which are necessary for the
exercise of the ministerial office.
Fifthly. There should be the concurrent testimony of
wise friends. Let those who know the candidate well, counsel him
faithfully. We are bad judges in our own case, especially when our desires are
strongly in favor of a particular course. But if wise, kind, conscientious
friends, who have opportunities of judging of the character and the talents of
the aspirant to the ministry, consider that, after due training, he might be
well qualified for the ministry, then let him take another step in advance.
This further step might be taken in response to the act of the church of which
he has been a member, sending him, with their sanction, to some school of the
prophets; or, in the absence of this, in response to the invitation of the
authorities of such school.
Finally. Opportunity to exercise the ministry
confirms the call to it. The call of a Christian church to become its pastor,
their acknowledgment of the candidate's qualifications—this is the best
outward ratification of the inward call of God. All may be summed up under
these three essentials—desire, ability, opportunity. A pure desire thus
to serve God, the possession of the necessary ability, the opportunity
afforded by Providence and in the desire of the church to accept the service
offered—these three are a sufficient warrant for the hope that we are called
of God to the ministry. If any of you have reason to doubt that the two former
exist in your case, I beseech you to pause before you proceed.
Nothing is more important for your future comfort than a
solid assurance you are doing right in undertaking this office. Examine
yourselves as to your motives. Are you seeking the ministry because
of the ease, or the income, or the popularity, or the status it
may give you? Or are you seeking it for the opportunity it will afford of
making known Christ, and saving the souls of men? You are not asked to be
indifferent altogether to other considerations, but what is it which weighs
most with you? Would you accept the ministry for its own sake only? If God
gives you a comfortable income, with popularity and social influence, you may
receive this thankfully, and use it all for Him. But supposing He does not
give it; would you accept the ministry itself as a greater boon than all these
adventitious circumstances? Would you rather be a minister of Christ with none
of those advantages, than possess all those advantages in some other pursuit?
I well remember how, during many months, my own mind was
painfully exercised on this subject. I shared the ambition of youth. I loved
mental pursuits. I admired oratory in others. The ministry, as a profession,
was most attractive to me. On this account I feared it was not to me a divine
vocation. I almost wished that books and oratory had no charm for me, so that
I might be certain that my motives were pure. Yet I did earnestly long to be
useful, and this was my chief motive. During many months previous to
entering college, I earnestly prayed, saying, "If Your presence go not with
me, carry me not up hence." And I sought advice from several friends. At
length my mind was relieved by this counsel: "If you had no relish for mental
pursuits, this would show you were not qualified for a work which requires
such pursuits; therefore your natural tastes confirm the evidence of a divine
call, if only you desire the ministry chiefly for its true ends, and not
because of this congeniality between some of its duties and your mental
tastes." And then, when I came to the assurance that although I desired
whatever was congenial to natural taste, and pleasing to a youthful ambition,
yet that I would rather exercise the ministry in a secluded village, or down
in a coal-mine, than enjoy literary leisure, and rank, and fame in any other
pursuit, then it was I ventured to go forward.
And so I say to you, Be sure your motives are right and
pure—that you seek the ministry for its own sake, and not for its adventitious
circumstances; otherwise only vexation, disappointment, and remorse are before
you. But if with a pure purpose you wish to devote yourselves to this
ministry, and thus far have reason to hope you are called to it by God, then
diligently avail yourselves of the advantages of your college life to prepare
for the exercise of that ministry hereafter. This leads me to ask you to
listen to a few remarks on
II. THE PREPARATION FOR THE MINISTRY. You are at
college chiefly for the cultivation of the mind and the acquisition of
knowledge. To this, therefore, at present, your energies should be chiefly
directed. You may have very little time hereafter for these pursuits. You may
be thrown, as I was, very early in your ministry, into the midst of some large
population, making incessant demands on your time. God may manifestly give you
work to do in the field of your holy warfare, which may disarrange all your
plans for the prosecution of a studious life, and for attaining eminence in
any branch of learning. The present is your golden opportunity; and on the
mental proficiency attained during your college career will greatly depend the
mental power you will be able to employ in your subsequent ministry. Do not be
diverted, then, by trifles from your present duty. Work hard as students, that
you may work efficiently as ministers. And do not too curiously inquire what
special advantage this or that study may prove to you in your sacred calling.
Leave the selection of those studies to more experienced and better judges.
The amount of learning stored up is not so important as the culture of your
mental powers, and the habits of attention, discrimination, reasoning, and
perseverance you will acquire. Resolve, then, to be eminent as students.
But do not, meanwhile, forget you are ministers.
Some have done this. They have lost sight of the object while cultivating the
means. They have become scholars, and ceased to be missionaries; good
classics, but bad teachers; eminent mathematicians, but negligent pastors;
sound theologians, but dull preachers. Many have entered college warm-hearted
and zealous workers for Christ, who have left it cold critics and heartless
philosophers. It would have been well for some men that colleges had not
existed. In a passion for learning, in ambition for literary degrees, they
have gradually lost their first love for Christ. Let it not be so with you.
Study hard; but study for the ministry. Study hard; but remember you are
here especially as the consecrated servants of Christ.
Therefore, pray hard. Cultivate your personal piety.
Do not be tempted to neglect private prayer and the daily devout reading of
the Bible. Do not cease to "speak one to another" concerning your personal
relations to the Savior and the great work for which you are preparing. There
is no necessity that diligence in study should divert your thoughts from the
great object of that study, whatever the immediate subject before you. Is it
mathematics? Study diligently, that, by clearness of thought and correct
reasoning, you may be the better able, hereafter, to explain and defend the
gospel. Is it classics? Study diligently, that, by familiarity with the laws
of language, you may be the better able to interpret the Scriptures, and to
enforce their lessons. Is it metaphysics? Study hard, that you may better know
the powers and susceptibilities of the human mind, to influence which for God
is to be your great employment. Is it science or history? Study hard, that you
may the better illustrate one department of God's government by references to
others. Thus will your diligence as students be promotive of your ministerial
spirit; not diverting you from your great object, but helping you to keep that
object in view. For in every classroom you will be animated by the holy
passion of saving souls; feeling that, instrumentally, the more successful
you are as students, the more useful you will be when you exercise the powers
cultivated in these halls of learning.
I would also suggest that, during your college course, you
keep yourselves in practice as evangelists. Every week visit some of
the poor and the sick. Conduct cottage meetings. Go together in bands of half
a dozen, and hold open-air services, at which each can speak for five or ten
minutes. If the opportunity is presented, preach. But do not labor to produce
elaborate or eloquent discourses. If you choose, take some great model as a
study of style, but do not victimize a congregation by exhibiting your poor
imitation in their presence. And do not, while students, spend much time in
making sermons. Your present duty is to cultivate your powers, so that you may
make good sermons hereafter. Much time spent at college in making sermons is
generally wasted, and the sermons themselves useless.
When you preach, be as simple and natural
as possible. Let your sermons be the result of feeling and prayer
rather than of elaborate composition; and let your topics be the great simple
truths of the gospel, rather than any speculative or peculiar theme. You will
thus be far better appreciated in your occasional ministrations as students,
and your appropriate studies will not be interrupted.
Let me especially recommend you, while at college, to
cultivate extemporaneous speech. There are occasions when sermons may
be read with advantage. But habitual reading in the pulpit is very prejudicial
to impression and usefulness. What effect would political speeches exert on
great meetings if they were read? Would a lawyer be likely to get verdicts
from juries if he read his appeal for his client? So preaching, to be
effective, must, for the most part, be an address spoken, and not a
composition read. Some people can be more effective with a manuscript than
without, but these cases are very rare. Besides, the time required so to write
out sermons as that they shall be legible for pulpit delivery, is very great,
and will often interfere with the pastor's other duties. He is sometimes so
unexpectedly occupied with pressing engagements, or so indisposed for the
labors of composition, that he cannot prepare his manuscript in time for the
service, and thus great anxiety and difficulty may result. But if he is able
to express his thoughts extemporaneously, he will be spared much unnecessary
toil, will have more time for other departments of ministerial labor, and be
more effective as a preacher. This habit should be acquired at college.
Discussion classes are useful in this respect. Students might also, in
private, cultivate this faculty. Whatever the difficulty, it will yield to
Thus improve to the utmost this season of ministerial
training, and as its close draws near, do not be hindered in your present
duties by anxious thoughts respecting your future settlement. Leave
that to God. Lose none of the advantages, neglect none of the work, of today
by taking thought of tomorrow. Up to the last day of college life do well the
work of college, and then commit yourself to God as regards your sphere of
labor. Make no conditions with Him. Be ready to go wherever it may seen that
Providence directs. Do not be ambitious to take an important charge at once.
It might crush your energies, by excessive demands on them, before they are
matured. You may gain a higher degree eventually by beginning lower than might
be within your grasp. Be simply anxious to do the will of God, and He will
show you what it is His will that you should do. "Commit your way unto the
Lord, and He will direct your steps."
III. THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY. The ministry has
many duties, but the chief of all is preaching the gospel. This is
God's principal instrument for the conversion of sinners, and the building up
of His church. To this your chief attention should be directed. Neglect no
other method of usefulness; but, above all, labor and pray that in the pulpit
you may be "apt to teach," and "workmen needing not to be ashamed, rightly
dividing the word of truth."
Do you ask what is the end of preaching. Is it to display
your own learning, or genius, or eloquence? You will not think so if you are
divinely called to the ministry. What is it but to expound and enforce the
truths of the gospel, to lead men to repentance towards God, and to faith in
our Lord Jesus Christ? Do not confound theology with Christ. Do
not confound the doctrine of justification with the Justifier. It is possible
to preach orthodox sermons, from which shall be absent, not indeed the name of
Jesus, but Jesus Himself. Let Him be alpha and omega in your addresses. Try to
set Him forth, so that your hearers may see, admire, love Him. Often may
discourses be heard which are full of sound Christian doctrine; but they are
cold, dry, formal, hard, repulsive. It is Jesus Himself who is to subdue the
hearts of men.
Never forget that you are ministers of the gospel.
You are not merely philosophers, or moralists, but ambassadors of mercy from a
God of love; and your great business is to make known that mercy which is
revealed to us by Christ, "who died for our sins." Preaching must always be
defective when it is not the preaching of the gospel, since this is its very
essence. A discourse without Christ may be a good lecture, or essay, or
argument, but it cannot be a good sermon; for it is no sermon at all, in the
true sense of the term. I do not mean that no topic is to be treated of in the
pulpit but the death of Christ for our sins and our justification by faith.
Every holy lesson of the Bible is to have its place in a course of pastoral
teaching—its true and proportionate place. A truth which is subordinate may
become an error by exaggeration, and by undue prominence. But every truth
has its claims to attention. Yet every truth must be viewed in relation to
the great central truth of salvation by Christ.
Is it said that you cannot always introduce the gospel when
you are speaking on the varied truths collateral with it?
As well might you say that you cannot study some particular planet of
our solar system, and also refer to the sun. The fact is, you cannot properly
study any one planet, and leave out some reference to that central orb which
regulates all the motions of that planet, and from which that planet derives
all its light. So the great truth of salvation by a crucified Savior is the
center of the Christian system, and while there are a multitude of revolving
planets, all demanding attention, not one of these can be understood when
viewed apart from that great central "Sun of Righteousness."
An anecdote is related of the great Andrew Fuller which
illustrates this point. A young minister, who had preached in his presence and
was anxious for his approval, asked the learned divine what he thought of his
sermon. "It was carefully prepared, well thought out, and well delivered; but,
sir, there was no gospel in it." "No, sir," replied the youth; "but then the
subject did not lead to it." "Not lead to it?" said Andrew Fuller; "there is
not a by-lane in this country that does not lead out into the king's highway."
The gospel must not only be preached, but preached so as
to be understood and felt. The effect of a sermon is immediate, or it is
nothing. A book is different. You may read a paragraph and not understand it;
but you can refer to it again and again, until the meaning becomes clear. Not
so with a sermon. If it is not understood and felt as you utter it, your
hearers cannot go back to reconsider what you said, nor can you pause while
they do this, nor can you repeat what you said. It is idle to pretend that you
have prepared something so profound and clever that it requires deep
thought and mature meditation properly to appreciate it. A spoken address is
for the ear, for the ear at the moment, for conviction at once, for producing
assent and emotion at once; and if it fails in this, as a sermon it fails
Remember of what class of people an ordinary
congregation is composed. There may be a few people of eminent genius or
learning, a few professional men, accustomed to continued and abstract
thought. But the majority are people actively engaged in daily toils, whether
as merchants and tradesmen, or in factories, or in the occupations of the
house and the family. Many are people unaccustomed to any severe taxing of
their intellectual powers. Many are weighed down with trouble. Many are
sorrowful women, and many are young children. You have to consider them all.
Should not your addresses be such that all may understand them? Suppose you
went to preach to a barbarous race; would you speak to them in your own
language, because you regard it superior? Of what avail would be an "unknown
tongue" as an instrument of instruction? Just so we must speak so as to be
understood. This is a primary condition of successful preaching.
Do not misunderstand me. I do not advocate vulgarisms in
the pulpit, but I do advocate plainness of speech. Is our English Bible
vulgar in its style? Is it not the purest and grandest specimen of the
language? Yet how simple it is! so that, however difficult some of its
mysteries, the difficulty does not arise from the obscurity of the words,
but from the unavoidable profoundness of the theme. People of inferior
education and intellect do not desire, are not pleased with, a vulgar style of
speech. But an address may be of the very purest and most classic English, and
yet perfectly simple, so that the least cultured can understand it.
Moreover, the men of highest culture also will admire
sermons of this kind far more than those which are sometimes preached for
their special edification. I heard lately of a person who was high in office
in this country, and who was one day, contrary to his habit, late in his
attendance at a Cabinet council. He said, in explanation, that on his way he
had stopped for a minute to listen to a preacher who was at the time exciting
much popular attention, though a man of no culture. This statesman said, "I
went in just for a minute, but I could not get away; it was the best preaching
I ever heard, for it drove me up into the corner of the seat, and made me feel
what a sinner I was."
Another case was recently told me. One of your clergymen
was interested in the accession to his congregation of a man of great
intellect and learning, and at once began to prepare discourses which he
thought would be worthy of the learned hearer's attention. After some time
this gentleman went off to the ministry of another clergyman of very inferior
culture, and whose sermons were remarkable for their simplicity. Surprise
being expressed at the change he had made, he said, "O, I was wearied with
everlasting arguments and dissertations. I have enough of that sort of thing
in my own study. On Sundays I come to church for my heart to be made to
feel, not to have my brain taxed."
I can state another fact under my own experience in the old
country. It was my privilege to be engaged in the erection of the church at
Scarborough. While the pastorate was as yet vacant, the pulpit was occupied by
various clergymen "with a view to settlement." The chief supporter of the
church was a dear friend and connection of my own—a man of some social rank
and considerable mental culture. It seemed as if many of the preachers had
imagined that all the congregation were of the same stamp, and that they—at
least that he—would be delighted with what is called "intellectual preaching."
I know that he was utterly wearied with it. Sunday after Sunday he used to
long for some simple, warm utterances of gospel truth, which came from the
heart and went to the heart. When my friend came to visit Scarborough,
fresh from college, but fresh from communion with his Savior, and evidently
determined not to know anything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, he was at
once called to the pastorate, and has had, during many years, one of the most
influential and cultured congregations of the denomination to which he
belongs, the town of Scarborough being one of our most frequented and
What all men want in church and on Sunday is to have their
hearts warmed with the love of God in Christ; to be cheered amid daily
troubles; to be fitted for daily duties; to be strengthened against daily
temptations. They do not want elaborate essays and profound
argumentations. The multitude cannot understand them, and the few do not wish
them. It is a grand mistake to preach exclusively for the learned or
distinguished few. If a judge or a governor comes to your church, let him come
and be addressed as one of the crowd; don't preach at the governor. If a
scholar comes, don't give him some learned treatise; he can get this from one
of his own books much better done. If a learned professor comes, don't try to
show him how much, or how little, you know. Don't you think he knows all about
it much better than you? But what you can do is to send him away with fresh
feelings, with renewed humility, or faith, or love, or zeal.
When your hearers go away, saying, "What a grand sermon!
What an eloquent preacher!" depend upon this, that you have failed. The
object of preaching is not to fix attention on the preacher, but on the
subject of the preaching; not to lead men to admire the servant, but to adore
the Master; not to lead them to say, "What a fine discourse we have had!" but,
"What a sinner I am! What a Christ I have! What must I do to be saved? Lord,
what will you have me to do?"
I ask you, my brethren, not to suppose, from these remarks,
that I recommend carelessness in preaching, or depreciate genius and learning.
All I mean is, that the object of preaching should be to make the hearers
then and there feel the power of gospel truth; and therefore that your
genius and learning should be devoted to this end. Your powers are perverted
when they exhibit themselves rather than Christ. Indeed, it
often happens that mere smatterers are much more grandiloquent and obscure,
and pass with the superficial hearers, as more learned than men of real
culture. It is easy to cram big terms into a sentence. Any fool can do this.
It is not so easy by plain and simple words to make great truths understood
and felt, and old subjects to be ever assuming some new phase.
Cultivate learning, but do not parade it. Employ all
your resources of criticism to discover the true meaning of your text, but do
not waste precious time in the pulpit by giving the names and conflicting
opinions of commentators. Give the results of your study, but not the
process. Put forth the burning truths you have arrived at in your
meditation, but do not weary your hearers with fencing them on all sides
against all the subtle objections which occurred to you as conceivable. Would
a man keep up the scaffolding when the house is built, just to show his
ingenuity? This would be to hide the house: and thus many preachers hide the
There is no learning, no genius, no imagination, no logical
power, no rhetorical art which may not be consecrated to the great work
of preaching. Cultivate every power of thought and speech to the utmost, but
let all these powers have this for their chief aim and glory—to make saving
truths understood and felt by all people. Was Christ, as a preacher,
superficial because "the common people heard Him gladly"? Was He not worthy to
be listened to by the learned, because His speech was that of the multitude
also, and because His illustrations were drawn from familiar scenes? Abjure,
then, the false ideas too prevalent in regard to "Intellectual Preaching." Be
as intellectual, and as learned, and as eloquent as possible, but be sure that
it becomes inferior intellect, and inferior learning, and inferior eloquence,
when it fails in the great object to which it should be devoted.
Do not misunderstand what I say respecting simple
preaching. I don't mean that you are to preach without preparation. I
don't want to give a pretext for laziness. Read hard—think hard—if you please,
write hard. Do your very best; put forth all the powers you possess. But let
the object of all this effort be to make truth simple and forcible, so as to
be understood and felt by all. I've no patience with indolent preachers, who
think anything will do for the pulpit, however dreary, stale, wordy, and then,
as an excuse for pouring out such shallow teaching, say it is the simplicity
of the gospel! No! Do your very best every time you preach, but let your
object be to exalt, not yourself, but the Savior; to save, not your
reputation, but men's souls.
The great interests at stake should forbid trifling
in the pulpit. Remember you are preaching to dying men. How often there
is some one before us listening to the last sermon he will ever hear!
Sometimes the hearer of one Sunday is dead on the next, as was the case with a
merchant in Boston, who heard me preach the other day on the words, "This day
you shall be with Me in paradise," and who was in eternity before the week was
ended. But besides such cases, it is constantly happening that people are
hearing their last sermon; for before the next Sunday an illness may begin
from which they will not recover; or they may thenceforth neglect altogether
the house of God. We may always feel that it is very probable there is some
one before us whom we have the opportunity for the last time of warning
against sin for the last time of directing to Christ for salvation.
Let, then, the value of the immortal soul stimulate us to
zeal and fidelity. No work can be more important than to "save a soul from
death." It is worth the longest life, the largest powers, the most devoted
labors. No other work suggests such motives for diligence. And "the love of
Christ constrains us." Let us then "watch for souls as those that must give
account," and strive and pray that at the great day, our Lord and Master may
pronounce this benediction on us, "Well done, good and faithful servant."