A plan of pastoral training
by John Newton
March 1, 1784
I am not the son of a prophet, nor was I bred up among the prophets. I am quite a stranger to what passes within the walls of colleges and academies. I was as one born out of due time, and led, under the secret guidance of the Lord, by very unusual steps, to preach the faith which I once labored to destroy. Since you know all this, how could you think of applying to me for the plan of an academic institution? Yet, I confess, the design you mentioned to me, in which some of your friends have thoughts of engaging, is so important in my view, that I am willing to come as near to your wishes as I can. I must not pretend to dictate a plan for the business which is now in contemplation. But, if you will allow me to indulge a sort of reverie, and suppose myself a person of some consequence in Utopia, where I could have the modeling of everything to my own mind; and that I was about to form an academy there, for the sole purpose of educating young men for the ministry of the Gospel—in this way I am willing to offer you my thoughts upon the subject with great simplicity and freedom. And, if any of the regulations of my imaginary academy should be judged applicable to your design, you and your friends will be heartily welcome to them.
I should then, in the first place lay down two or three important MAXIMS which I would hope never to lose sight of in the conduct of the affair; excepting that, if I should begin without them, I must stumble at the very threshold; and that, whenever I should neglect them afterwards, all my care, and labor, and expense, would be from that time thrown away.
My first maxim is,That none but He who made the world—can make a minister of the Gospel. If a young man has capacity—then culture and application may make him a scholar, a philosopher, or an orator; but a true minister must have certain principles, motives, feelings, and aims, which no industry or endeavors of men can either acquire or communicate. They must be given from above, or they cannot be received.
I adopt, as a second maxim,That the Holy Scriptures are, both comprehensively and exclusively, the grand treasury of all that knowledge which is requisite and sufficient to make the minister the man of God, thoroughly furnished for every branch of his office. If, indeed, no other studies were of subordinate importance, in order to a right understanding of the Scriptures, and especially to those who are not only to know for themselves—but are appointed to teach others also; then academic instruction would be needless, and I might supply my young men with everything at once, by putting the Bible into their hands, and directing them to read it continually with attention and prayer. But my meaning is, that though there is such a connection in knowledge, that every branch of science may, by a judicious application, be rendered subservient to a minister's great design; yet no attainments in philology, philosophy, or in any or all the particulars which constitute the aggregate of what we call learning, can, in the least, contribute to make a minister of the Gospel, any farther than he is taught of God to refer them to, and to regulate them by, the Scripture as a standard. On the contrary, the more a man is furnished with this kind of apparatus, unless the leading truths of Scripture reign and flourish in his heart, he will be but the more qualified to perplex himself, and to mislead his hearers!
My third maxim is an inference from the two former.That the true gospel minister who possesses these secondary advantages, though he may know the same things, and acquire his knowledge by the like methods as other scholars do, yet he must know and possess them in a manner peculiar to himself. His criticisms, if he is a critic, will discover something which the greatest skill in grammatical niceties cannot of itself reach. If he is an orator, he will not speak in the artificial self-applauding language of man's wisdom—but in simplicity and with authority, like one who feels the ground he stands upon, and knows to whom he belongs, and whom he serves. If he mentions a passage of history, it will not be to show off his knowledge—but to illustrate or prove his point; and it will be evident, from his manner of speaking, that, though he may have taken the facts from human writings, his knowledge of the springs of human action, and of the superintendency of a Divine Providence, is derived from the Word of God. And so of other instances.
In a word, if a young man was to consult me how he might be wise and learned in the usual sense of the words, I might advise him to repair to Oxford or Cambridge, or to twenty other places which I could name. But, if I thought him really desirous of becoming wise to win souls, I would invite him to my New College in Utopia.
From these general observations, I proceed more directly to my subject. You are then to suppose that I have taken my determination and counted the cost, and am now sitting down to contrive my plan. As a little attention to method may not be amiss, I shall endeavor to range my thoughts under four principal heads, concerning,
1. The Place.
2. The Tutor.
3. The Choice of Pupils.
4. The Course of Education.
1. The Place.If the metropolis of Utopia should be anything like ours, there are obvious reasons to forbid my fixing upon a spot very near it. I think not nearer than a moderate day's journey. Nor would I wish it much farther distant. Occasional visits to a great city, where there are many considerable ministers and Christians, should not be rendered impracticable; as they might furnish my young men with opportunities of forming connections, and making observations, that might contribute to their usefulness in future life. I would not only fear lest they should be contaminated by the vices which too generally prevail where men live in a throng: if they escaped these, I would still have apprehensions, lest the notice that might be taken of them, and the respect shown them by well meaning friends, should imperceptibly seduce them into a spirit of self-importance, give them a turn for dress and company, and spoil that simplicity and dependence, without which I could have little hope of their success. I would wish it may be their grand aim to please the Lord, and under him, and for his sake, to please their tutor. They have, as yet, no business with other people. As for their tutor, they must love, reverence, and obey, and accurately watch his looks and every intimation of his will. But the difference between a rural and a town situation is so striking at first view, that I suppose it quite needless to say more upon this head. I therefore proceed,
2. To the choice of my tutor. Whoever he may be, when I have found him, and fixed him, I will take the liberty to tell him, that he is called to the most honorable and important office that man, in the present state of things, is capable of. The skillful and faithful tutor is not only useful to his pupils, considered as individuals—but he is remotely the instrument of all the blessings and benefits which the Lord is pleased to communicate by their ministry, in the course of their stated and occasional labors, to the end of life. On the other hand, the errors and prejudices of an incompetent tutor, adopted and perpetuated by his disciples, may produce a long progression of evil consequences, which may continue to operate and multiply when he and they are dead and forgotten. For, if the streams which are to spread far and wide throughout a land, are poisoned in the very source, who can foresee how far the mischief may be diffused. Unless, therefore, I can procure a proper tutor, I must give up my design. It is better the youth should remain untaught—than that they should be taught to do wrong.
And I seem not easily satisfied on this head. My idea of the person to whom I could cheerfully in trust the care of my academy, is not of an ordinary size.
However, since we are upon Utopian ground, where we may imagine as largely as we please, I will attempt to delineate him. And, were I to recommend a tutor to your friends, it should be the man who I thought came the nearest to the character I am about to describe.
For his first essential, indispensable qualification—I require a mind deeply penetrated with a sense of the grace, glory, and efficacy of the Gospel. However learned and able in other respects, he shall not have a single pupil from me, unless I have reason to believe that his heart is attached to the person of the Redeemer, as God-man; that, as a sinner, his whole dependence is upon the Redeemer's work of love, his obedience unto death, his intercession and mediatorial fullness. His sentiments must be clear and explicit respecting the depravity of human nature, and the necessity and reality of the agency of the Holy Spirit—to quicken, enlighten, sanctify, and seal those who, under his influence, are led to Jesus for salvation.
With respect to the different schemes or systems of divinity which obtain among those who are united in the acknowledgment of the above fundamental truths, I would look for my tutor among those who are called Calvinists; but he must not be of a curious, metaphysical, disputatious turn, a mere system-monger, or party-zealot. I seek for one who, having been himself taught the deep things of God by the Holy Spirit, in a gradual experimental manner; while he is charmed with the beautiful harmony and divinity of all the doctrines of grace, is at the same time aware of the mysterious depths of the divine counsels, and the impossibility of their being fully comprehended by our feeble understandings.
Such a man will be patient and temperate in explaining the peculiarities of the Gospel to his pupils, and will wisely adapt himself to their several states, attainments, and capacities. After the example of the Great Teacher, he will consider what they can bear, and aim to lead them forward step by step, in such a manner, that the sentiments he instills into them may be their own, and not taken up merely upon his authority. He will propose the Scripture to them as a consistent whole; and guard them against the extremes into which controversial writers have forced themselves and each other, in support of a favorite hypothesis, so as, under a pretense of honoring some parts of the Word of God, to overlook, if not to contradict, what is taught with equal clearness in other parts.
I wish my pupils to be well versed in useful learning, and therefore my tutor must be a learned man. He must not only be able to teach them whatever is needful for them to learn—but should be possessed of such a fund, as that the most forward and most promising among them may feel he has a decided superiority over them in every branch of their studies. Besides an accurate skill in the school classics, he should be well acquainted with books at large, and possessed of a general knowledge of the state of literature and religion, and the memorable events of history in the successive ages of mankind. Particularly, he should be well versed in church history; for, though it is true, that the bulk of it is little worth knowing, for its own sake, yet a man of genius and wisdom will draw from the whole mass—a variety of observations suited to assist young minds in forming a right judgment of human nature, of true religion, of its counterfeits, and of the abuses to which the name of religion is capable of being perverted. And he will likewise be able to select for their use, such authors and subjects as deserve their notice, from the surrounding rubbish in which they are almost buried.
My tutor should likewise be competently acquainted with the lighter accomplishments, which are usually understood by the term Belles Lettres; and a proper judge of them with respect both to their intrinsic and relative value. Their intrinsic value (to creatures who are posting to eternity) is not great; and a wise man, if he has not been tinctured with them in early life, will seldom think it worth his while to attend much to them afterwards. Yet in such an age as ours, it is some disadvantage to a man in public life, if he is quite a stranger to them. To a tutor they are in a manner necessary.
It is farther desirable that he should have a lively imagination, under the direction of a sound judgment, and a correct and cultivated taste. Otherwise, how can he assist and form the taste and judgment of his pupils, or direct or criticize their compositions?
Natural science is not only a noble study—but one which offers the most interesting and profitable relaxations from the weight of severer studies. If the tutor is not possessed of this, he will lose a thousand opportunities of pointing out to his pupils the signatures of wisdom, power, and goodness, which the wonder-working God has impressed upon every part of the visible creation. But, at the same time, he should know where to stop, and what bounds to set to their inquiries. It is not necessary that either he or they should be numbered among the first astronomers or virtuosi of the age. A life devoted to the service of God and souls, will not afford leisure for this diminutive preeminence. A general knowledge will suffice, even in the tutor. And, while he lectures upon these subjects, he will caution them against spending too much time and thought upon those branches of philosophy which have but a very remote tendency to qualify them for preaching the Gospel. They are sent into the world, and into the academy, not to collect shells, and fossils, and butterflies, or to surprise each other with feats of electricity—but to win souls for Christ!
Perhaps I have said enough of my tutor's knowledge; and may now consider him with regard to his SPIRIT, his methods of communicating what he knows to his pupils, and his manner of living with them as a father with his children.
He must be apt to teach. A man may know much, yet not have a facility of imparting his ideas. Ability to teach is a talent and a gift of God, and therefore will always be found, in some good degree, in the person who is called of God to the tutor's office.
He will consider himself as a teacher, not only in the lecture-room—but in all places, and at all times, whether sitting in the house, or walking by the way, if any of his pupils are with him. And he will love to have them always about him, so far as their studies and his own necessary avocations will admit.
Two things he will aim to secure from them—reverence and affection. Without maintaining a steady authority he can do nothing. Likewise, unless they love him, everything will go on heavily. But, if the pupils are properly chosen, such a man as I have described will be both loved and feared. His spiritual and exemplary deportment, his wisdom and abilities—will command their respect. His condescension and gentleness, his tenderness for their personal concerns, his assiduity in promoting their comfort, and doing them every friendly service in his power—will engage their love. These happy effects will be farther promoted by their frequent mutual fellowship in prayer, by his expository lectures, and by his public ministry, if he is a preacher. Having his eye unto the Lord, and his heart in his work, a blessing from on high shall descend upon him and upon his house.
As human nature is the same in all places, it is probable that the Christians in our Utopia may be divided among themselves with respect to rituals and modes of worship, in some such manner as we see and feel among us. Now here, as in everything else, I would have my tutor to be a man of a generous enlarged spirit, a real friend of that liberty with which Jesus has made his people free from the shackles and impositions of men; one who uniformly judges and acts upon that grand principle of the New Testament, which is likewise a plain and obvious maxim of common sense; I mean, that Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, is the sole Lord and Judge of conscience.
I suppose my tutor has already taken his side; that he is either in the establishment, (if there is one in Utopia,) or, of course, a dissenter from it. And really, as to my scheme, I am indifferent which side he has taken; we shall not have a minute's debate about it, provided he acts consistently with the principles which I have assigned him. But, as I myself, living in England, am of the Established Church, that you may not suspect me of partiality, I will suppose, and am ready to take it for granted, that he will be found to be an Utopian Dissenter.
On this supposition my imagination takes a flight, hastens into the midst of things, and anticipates as present what is yet future. Methinks I see the tutor indulging his scholars (as at proper seasons he often will) with an hour of free conversation; and from some question proposed to him concerning the comparative excellence or authority of different forms of church government, taking occasion to open his mind to them, something in the following manner.
"My dear friends, you may have observed, that when, in the course of our lectures, I have been led to touch upon this subject, it has not been my custom to speak in a dogmatic style. I have sometimes intimated to you, that, though every part of the Levitical worship was of positive divine institution, yet, when the people rested and trusted in their external forms, the Lord speaks as abhorring his own appointments. I have told you, upon the apostle's authority, that the kingdom of God consists not in foods and drinks, in names and forms—but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
"Amidst the many divisions and subdivisions which are in the visible church, there are, in reality—but two sorts of people, the children of God, and the children of the world. The former sort, though partakers in one life and in one hope, yet living in successive ages, in various countries, under very different modes of government, education, and customs—it seems morally impossible that they should all agree, as by instinct, in one certain mode of church worship. It is indeed said, that there is a plan prescribed in the New Testament, to which all ought to conform as nearly as possible. All parties say this in favor of their own plans; and men, eminent for wisdom and holiness, are to be found among the advocates for each. But is it not strange, that, if the Lord has appointed such a standard, the wisest and holiest of his people should differ so widely in their views of it, and deviate so far from each other when they attempt to reduce it to practice?
"Let others dispute; but, as for you, my friends, and I, let us rather adore the wisdom and goodness of our Lord. He who knew the heart of man, the almost invincible power of early prejudices, and what innumerable circumstances in different periods and places, would render it impracticable for his people to tread exactly in the same line, has provided accordingly. The rules and lights he has afforded us respecting the outward administration of his church, are recorded with such a latitude, that his true worshipers may conscientiously hope they are acceptable to him, though the plans which they believe to be consistent with his revealed will, are far from corresponding with each other. It is sufficient that the apostolical canons, 'Let all things be done decently and in order,' 'to edification and in love,' are universally binding; and, were these on all sides attended to, smaller differences would be very supportable.
"I have often pointed out to you the wonderful analogy which the Lord has established in many instances, between his works in the outward creation, and in his kingdom of grace. Perhaps the variety observable in the former, may be one instance of this kind. When you see every vegetable arrayed in green, exactly of the same shade, or all tulips variegated in the same manner, as if painted from one common pattern, then, and not before, expect to find true believers agreed in their views and practice respecting the modes of religion.
"Study therefore the Scriptures, my friends, with humble prayer, that the Lord may give you such views of these concerns as may fit you for the stations and services to which his providence may lead you. See with your own eyes, and judge for yourselves. This is your right. One is your Master, even Christ; and you need not, you ought not, to call any man master upon earth. But be content with this. Do not arrogate to yourselves the power of judging for others. Be willing that they should see with their own eyes likewise. The Papists, upon the ground of the assumed infallibility of their church, are, at least, consistent with themselves in condemning all who differ from them. Protestants confess themselves fallible, yet speak the same peremptory language.
"As to myself, if I had thought it preferable, upon the whole, to be a minister in our established church, I might probably have been one; but, I trust, I am where the Lord would have me be, and I am satisfied. My desire for you is to see you able ministers of the New Testament. As to the part of the vineyard in which you are to labor, wait simply upon the Lord, and he in his good time will point it out to you. If Scripture and conscience lead you to prefer the dissenting line, I shall say, it is well, provided you embrace it with a liberal spirit, and have a better warrant for your choice, than merely the example of your tutor. Should you determine otherwise, I shall still say, it is well, provided I see you unselfish, humble, and faithful. Your being educated under my roof is a circumstance not likely to facilitate your admission into the established church; but if the Lord, in his providence, should open to any of you a door on that side, and incline you to enter, I shall not dissuade you from it, as though I thought it were sinful. I shall only wish you to attend to that advice which cannot mislead you, 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your path.'"
Thus far my tutor.—Or, since I am in a supposing humor, if you will give me leave to make one supposition more, that it is possible there may be Methodists and Itinerants in Utopia, as we have in England; he would then, perhaps, continue his discourse a little longer, as follows:
"Though the pastoral care of a single congregation is the service which the Lord has allotted me, and I have not seen it my duty to engage in anything which might lead me long or far from the people to whom I serve, I am no enemy to itinerant preaching. My Lord and Savior himself, his apostles and first servants, were all itinerants; and I believe that houses and ships, hills and plains, the side of a river or the sea-shore, are all fit places for preaching the Gospel, and sufficiently authorized as such by the highest precedents. I cannot therefore censure, much less condemn, a practice which the Scripture warrants, and to which, I doubt not, the Lord has given abundant testimony in our own times, by making the Word thus dispensed effectual to the conversion and consolation of many souls.
"I believe, indeed, that some people, not duly acquainted with their own hearts, nor with what is requisite to constitute a preacher, have too hastily supposed themselves called to preach the Gospel, when the event has proved that the Lord has neither called them to his service, nor furnished them for it. And I think, if it should generally be allowed that young men are proper judges in their own cause, and have a right to commence to be preachers, when, or where, or how they please, without the advice or approbation of ministers more experienced than themselves, many inconveniences may and must follow. I could wish every young man to be so impressed with the force of the apostle's question, 'Who is sufficient for these things?' that he should rather need invitation and encouragement to preach, 'than be disposed to run hastily into the work, as the horse rushes into the battle.'
But I must not expect everything to be managed according to my wish. I have mourned over the miscarriages of some itinerant preachers; but I have been much comforted by the good conduct and success of others. It is neither my business nor my intention to persuade you to this course; but if, when you are properly instructed and qualified for the ministry, I should see any of you disposed to go forth in the itinerant way; should I be satisfied of your principles and motives, and have reason to hope your zeal was tempered with humility; I know not that I dared refuse my consent. For, as I have often told you, the honor of my Lord and Savior, and the welfare of precious souls, are far dearer to me than the detached interests of any church party; and, if Christ be faithfully and successfully preached, in whatever way, and by whatever instruments, he is pleased to work, I do rejoice, yes, and will rejoice."
I think what I have said of the tutor, and what he has just now said for himself, may suffice to give you an idea of the person I would choose; and that it is now time to consider.
3. The choice of pupils.I would have them all resident with the tutor, and therefore their number can be but small; especially as I would wish him to undertake every branch of their education. He might have an assistant to teach the rudiments of the languages, a service that would otherwise take up much of the time which he could better employ; but he must do all the rest himself. I suppose therefore that ten, or at the most twelve, pupils will be a sufficient number to be under his care at once. The man I have described would not be mercenary—but the laborer is worthy of his reward. As I shall find him work enough to take up his whole time, his pay ought to be competent and liberal; and, as I have supposed myself rich enough to execute my plan in whatever manner I please, I hope I shall not starve my tutor, nor put his economical talents on the stretch, to contrive how to squeeze and save a pittance out of the sum allotted for their board. I would fix the boarding upon equitable and moderate terms, distinct from his salary, which should be handsome, and always the same, whether he had one pupil with him, or ten or twelve. It would be my part to keep the number up; but, if I neglect it, he would be no loser; nor ought he to be dependent upon my caprice or negligence; but he should stand upon an easy, settled footing, so as to be free, not only from poverty—but from anxious care, that he might be able to attend his business without distraction.
And now my house is ready, where shall I find young men to fill it? I must look around me, and request my friends to look out for me. When I have found two, I will send them, and the rest as they offer. Perhaps it would be one of the chief difficulties attending my scheme, to collect ten or twelve youths worthy of such a tutor.
They must be serious. I mean, they must have an awakened experimental sense of the truth and goodness of the Gospel. This is a point not easily ascertained, especially in young people. There is often a something that resembles it, which, upon trial, does not prove satisfactory. However, my part will be to look to the Lord for guidance, and then judge as well as I can. But I hope no persuasion or recommendation, no desire of pleasing or obliging a friend, would prevail on me to admit one who I did not truly believe was a subject of the grace of God. Who would undertake to teach a parrot algebra? Yet this would be as practicable as to make those able and faithful preachers, whom the Lord has not first made Christians!
They must likewise have capacity. It is not necessary that their abilities should be of the first-rate, (perhaps but few of such are called,) but some tolerable measure of natural abilities, capable of being opened and improved by education, seems almost necessary in the person who aims to be a minister of the Gospel. At least it will be necessary upon my plan; for, as my tutor cannot take many, I must give the preference to such as may both do him credit by their proficiency under his care, and be qualified to profit others when they leave him.
If the heart be changed and sanctified by grace—a person of the weakest natural understanding will acquire, under divine teaching, all that is necessary to enable him to fill up his station in private life with propriety, to overcome the world, and to make his own calling and election sure. But a preacher must have gifts as well as grace, to be able to divide the Word of truth as a workman that needs not to be ashamed. And, therefore, though the Lord was once pleased by a dumb donkey to rebuke the foolishness of a prophet, I am not forward to acknowledge those as ambassadors sent by him, (however well-meaning they may be,) who seem either to have no message to deliver—or no ability to deliver it.
I would likewise be satisfied, as much as possible, concerning the views and motives which make them desirous of devoting themselves to the ministry. Some desires of this kind are very frequently found in young converts. When a sense of eternal things is new and lively upon their minds, and they look round upon a world lying in wickedness, they are much affected. The obligations they feel to the Redeemer, a grief that he should be so little known, so little loved, and a compassion for their fellow-sinners, whom they see liable to perish for lack of knowledge, make them often long to be employed, and sometimes constrain them to run before they are sent.
But, if they are not really designed by the Lord for this service, either their desires towards it gradually subside, and they yield themselves to his appointment in other paths of life. Or, if they unadvisedly venture upon it, they are seldom either comfortable or useful. They soon feel themselves unequal to the work; or, if self-conceit prevents them from feeling it, their hearers are very sensible of it. They often mistake errors for truth; they retail scraps and shreds of sentiments which they pick up from others, and for lack of judgment, misapply them. Thus hypocrites are encouraged, and those whom the Lord would have comforted, are made sad. They think that preaching with power consists in vociferation and novel views; and that to utter everything that comes upon their minds, without any regard to text, context, occasion, or connection, is to preach extempore.
Too often Satan gains open advantage over them. They are puffed up with pride, taken in snares, and perhaps fall into such woeful miscarriages, as at length ruin their characters, and stop their mouths.
It is, therefore, of great importance to be workers together with the Lord in his business; to choose those whom he chooses, to bring forward those whom he is preparing, and, if possible, none but these. We cannot indeed know the heart—but we may be wary and circumspect in judging by such evidences as we can procure; and we ought to be so. Perhaps, after all, we may be mistaken in some instances; but, if we have done our best, we have done well, and shall not be blameable for such consequences as we could not possibly foresee or prevent. If a candidate for the academy appears to be of a sincere and humble spirit, to have some acquaintance with his own heart, a tolerable capacity, hard-working, and an unblamable character as to his personal conduct, I shall be disposed to admit him. But I would leave the final decision of his fitness to the tutor; for which purpose it may be proper that he should be under the tutor's eye, for a limited time, as a probationer.
4. The next point I am to consider is, the course of STUDIESthey should pursue; though I am rather inclined to give this up, absolutely and without reserve, to the tutor, who, if he answers my description, must be the most proper person to institute a plan for himself, and would have no need of my assistance. But, if his humility and his good opinion of me should lead him to desire my advice, he should have it. I do not mean as to little secondary issues—but I would submit to him, in a general and miscellaneous way, such hints as may occur to me upon the subject. And I submit them to you beforehand.
A few thing may be previously noticed, which, though they do not properly belong to their academic studies, are well worthy of attention.
"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus!" 2 Timothy 2:3. A minister is a soldier of Jesus Christ, and, as such, is to expect and endure hardship. It is well to have this in your eye in the education of young men. They are not called to be loafers—but soldiers; not to live delicately—but to prepare for hardship. They should therefore be advised and accustomed to prefer a plain and frugal manner of life, and to avoid multiplying those expenses which luxury and folly would prompt us to multiply almost infinitely. A propensity to indulgence either in the quantity or quality of food, is a baseness unworthy of a man, still more unsuitable to the character of a Christian, and scandalous in a minister! I am no advocate for a monkish austerity, or a scrupulous, superstitious self-denial, which will almost starve the body—to feed the pride of the heart. It is, however, very desirable to possess, in early life, a habit of temperance, a mastery over appetite, and a resolute guard against everything that has a tendency to blunt the activity of the mind and heart. And youth is the proper season for gaining this mastery, which, if the golden opportunity is then lost, is seldom thoroughly acquired afterwards.
A propriety in dress should also be consulted. Neatness is commendable; but a student in divinity should keep at a distance from being a devotee to fashion. A finical disposition in this article not only occasions a waste of time and expense—but is an evidence of a trifling turn of mind, and exposes the fine self-admiring youth, to the contempt or pity of the wise and godly.
Farther, a habit of rising early should be resolutely formed. It redeems much time, and chiefly of those hours which are most favorable to study or devotion. It likewise cuts off the temptation to sitting up late, a hurtful and preposterous custom, which many students unwarily give into, and which they cannot so easily break, when the bad effects of it upon their health, convince them too late of their imprudence.
Let them be guarded against the snares attending a large acquaintance, and unnecessary visiting. The tutor will, doubtless, maintain authority and good discipline in his house, and not allow any of his pupils to be absent from family worship, nor abroad after a fixed hour, without his express permission, which should not be given but for solid and just reasons. And he cannot be too careful, both by advice and vigilance, to prevent them from forming any female connections while under his roof, however honorable the views, or deserving the person may be. Love and courtship are by no means favorable to study, nor indeed to devotion, at a time when their present engagements, and the uncertainty of their prospects in future life, render a settlement by marriage improper, if not impracticable.
Much study is weariness to the flesh; and the body and the mind are so nearly connected, that what affects the one, will have an influence upon the other. Relaxation and exercise are therefore necessary at proper seasons, for those who wish to preserve cheerfulness and strength for service, and not to become old and disabled, through lowness of spirits, infirmities, and pains, before old age actually overtakes them. Riding is a manly, unexceptionable exercise, where it can be conveniently practiced. But walking is, I suppose, equally healthful, and requires neither expense nor preparation.
That the students may have an object in view when they go from home, the tutor will probably point out to them some of the Lord's poor, who live at convenient distances, whom they may visit, and comfort with their sympathy, advice, and prayers, as well as administer to the relief of their necessities, according to their ability. Thus, while they are consulting their own health, they may, at the same time, imitate Him, "who went about doing good." And in such visits they may meet with many hints from poor believers, concerning the Lord's wisdom and faithfulness in his dealings with them, and of the power of true religion—to confirm what they read upon these subjects, and probably some hints which their books will not supply them with. Farther, if when they are abroad together, they will attempt such conversation as warmed the hearts of the disciples when walking to Emmaus; and if, when alone, they adopt the pattern of Isaac, who went out into the field to meditate; then all the time they can thus employ may be set down to the account of their studies, for few of their hours can be more profitably improved.
But what, and how, are they to study? The answer to this question depends upon another. What is the object of their studies? It is to make them not merely scholars—but ministers thoroughly furnished for their office. The particulars I aim at in placing them with my tutor are such as follow:
1. An orderly, connected, and comprehensive knowledge of the common places and topics of divinity, considered as a whole; a system of truth, of which the holy Scripture is the sole fountain, treasury, and standard.
2. A competent acquaintance with sacred literature; by which I mean such writings, ancient and modern, as are helpful to explain or elucidate difficulties in Scripture, arising from phraseology, from allusion to customs and events not generally known, and from similar causes, and which therefore cannot be well understood without such assistance.
3. Such a general knowledge of philosophy, history, and other branches of literature, as may increase the stock of their ideas, afford them just conceptions of the state of things around them, furnish them with a fund for variety, enlargement, and illustration, that they may be able to enliven and diversify their discourses, which, without such a fund, will be soon apt to run in a beaten track, and to contain little more than a repetition of the same leading thoughts, without originality or spirit.
4. An ability to methodize, combine, distinguish, and distribute the ideas thus collected by study, so as readily to know what is properly adapted to the several subjects to be treated of, and to the several parts of the same subject. When the pupils are thus far accomplished, then I shall hope,
5. That they will in good time be able to preach extemporaneously. I do not mean without forethought or plan—but without lengthy notes, and without the excessive labor of committing their discourses to memory. This ability of speaking to an auditory in a pertinent and collected manner, with freedom and decorum, with fidelity and tenderness, looking at them instead of looking at a paper, gives a preacher a considerable advantage, and has a peculiar tendency to command and engage the attention. It likewise saves much time, which might be usefully employed in visiting his people. It is undoubtedly a gift of God—but, like many other gifts, to be sought not only by prayer—but in the use of means. The first essays will ordinarily be weak and imperfect; but the facility increases, until at length a habit is formed by diligence and perseverance. I would not think my academy complete, unless my tutor was attentive to form his pupils to the character of public speakers.
General rules admit of exceptions. I have myself known people, who, with plain sense, true humility, and a spirit devoted to the Lord, and dependent upon him, have, with little or no assistance from men, proved solid, exemplary, and useful ministers. Such instances convince me, that, however expedient learning may be—it is not indispensably necessary for a minister, especially for one who is to labor in a retired situation, and among plain, uneducated hearers. I would not, therefore, preclude my tutor from all opportunity of being useful to people of this description, who would be glad of such helps from him as they might receive, when the time of life, or particular circumstances, might render the study of languages and science inconvenient.
And in general, as the capacities, dispositions, and prospects of a number of pupils would, of course, be different; I would leave it to his discretion to conduct them to the same grand ends of service, by such difference of method as he should judge most suitable to each; so as not to discourage or overburden the truly deserving, nor to permit (if it can be prevented) the more studious and successful, to set too high a value upon their superior accomplishments. For, after all, it must be owned, and ought to be remembered, that grace and divine wisdom are of unspeakably greater importance than scholastic attainments without them. We are sure, that, though a man had the knowledge of all mysteries, the gifts of tongues and miracles, and the powers of an angel—if he has not likewise humility, spirituality, and love, he is in the sight of God but as sounding brass or a noisy cymbal. He may answer the purpose of a church bell, to call a congregation together—but has little prospect of doing them good when they are assembled.
But to return to my professed students:
I. As to the study oftheology. How far it may be expedient to adopt some system or body of divinity as a ground whereon to proceed, I am not quite determined; and which of these learned summaries is the best, I shall not attempt to decide until I have read them all. My tutor will have more of this knowledge; I shall therefore refer the choice, if it is necessary to choose one, to him. Calvin, Turretin, Witsius, and Ridgeley, are those with which I have formerly been most acquainted. But indeed, of these, at present, I can remember little more than that I have read them, or the greatest part of them. I recollect just enough to say, that, though I approve and admire them all, I have at the same time my particular objections to them all, as to this use of them.
The Bible is my body of divinity; and, were I a tutor myself, I believe I would prefer the Epistles of Paul, as a summary, to any human systems I have seen, especially his Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, the Hebrews, and Timothy. There are few uninspired writings, however excellent in the main—but bear some marks of the infirmities, attachments, and biases, which, in a greater or less degree, are inseparable from the present state of human nature. I would have my pupils draw their knowledge as immediately from the fountain-head as possible. I care not how extensive and various their reading of good authors may be under their tutor's eye; the more so the better. He will improve the differences they will find among learned and spiritual men, into an argument to engage them to study the Scripture more closely, and to bring every debated sentiment to be tried, and finally determined, by that unerring standard. He will teach them to collect the detached portions of truth wherever they meet with them; to borrow from all—but to give themselves up implicitly to the dictates of none. For I know no author who is worthy of the honor of being followed absolutely and without reserve.
I am told (for I know nothing of academies but from hearsay) that it is customary for pupils to write out their lectures. If I should adopt this custom, I would not confine myself to it. Such written lectures, if well executed, must be good patterns to form the students to closeness in method and style. But I would likewise wish the tutor to give them unpremeditated lectures. Great masters of music (it is said) frequently feel an impetus in extempore playing, which enables them to execute off the cuff, such strains as they wish to repeat—but cannot; their taste assuring them that they are superior in kind to what they can ordinarily attain when they study and compose by rule. Thus a tutor who thoroughly understands his subject, and speaks from the fullness of his heart, will, now and then, at least, feel a happy moment, when he will seem to possess new powers. His thoughts and expressions at such a time will have a peculiar precision and force, and will possibly illuminate and affect his hearers more than His regular and written lectures. When he is done speaking, let the pupils retire and commit to writing what they can recollect of such discourses, keeping to his method—but using their own expressions. These exercises would engage their attention, employ their invention and ingenuity, accustom them to consider the subjects in different lights, and contribute to make the knowledge they derive from him more their own, than by being always confined to transcribe, line by line, what was read to them.
I would not have the pupils put upon the needless and hurtful attempt of proving first principles. May not a man read lectures upon optics without previously proving the existence of the sun? My tutor will not coldly lay before his students the arguments pro and con, and then leave them to decide, as evidence to them appears, whether there is a God, or whether the Scripture is of divine inspiration or not. So likewise with respect to the different sentiments on the primary points of Scripture, as whether the Savior is man or angel, or God manifest in the flesh; or concerning the different acceptations of the words, depravity, guilt, faith, grace, atonement, and the like; he will speak with a becoming confidence and certainty on which side the truth lies. He will, indeed, furnish them with solid confutations of error, from Scripture and experience; but he will take care to let them know that these things are already settled, and proposed to them, not as candidates for their good opinion—but as truths, which demand and deserve their attention.
My tutor will not dogmatize, and expect them to adopt his opinions without any better reason than because they are his. He will endeavor to throw every light he is master of, upon the subject; but, at the same time, he will speak as a teacher, not as an inquirer; as one who speaks that which he has known, and testifies that which he has seen. He will not attempt to fill their head with a detail of all the cavils which pride and sophistry have started against the truths of God; nor so far flatter his pupils, as to suppose them competent judges when they have weighed and compared the several argumentations. But he will rather warn them of their natural bias to the erroneous side, and guard them against the arts of those who, with fair words and fine speeches, beguile the unprincipled and unwary. A tutor is a guide, and, if worthy of his office, must be able to say, without hesitation, "This is the way—walk in it."
Should he be seduced, by the specious sounds of candor and freedom of inquiry, to take the opposite method, and think it his duty to puzzle his scholars with all the waking dreams, objections, and evasions, by which men, reputed wise, have opposed the simplicity of the faith once delivered to the saints; I fear that they would be more likely to turn out skeptics, than ministers of the Gospel.
Nor should he, with my consent, lay down a scheme of what is commonly called natural religion, as a foundation whereon to build a religion of divine revelation. It is needful that he should give his pupils a just idea of the religion of fallen nature; but he will remind them, that the few valuable sentiments occasionally found in the writings of the Heathen philosophers and moralists were not their own. They are all represented as having traveled for their knowledge, and all in the same route, into Phoenicia or Egypt, into the neighborhood of the only people, who, at that time, were favored with the oracles of God; and may therefore be justly supposed to have derived the detached particles of truth they acquired from that people, either by immediate converse with them, or from their inspired books, especially from the time they were translated into the Greek language. He will point out to them the strong probability that the later philosophers were equally, or more, indebted to the Christians and the New Testament.
With respect to the skeptical moralists and reasoners of modern times, the proof will be still clearer and stronger, that their best notions are borrowed from the religion they attempt to depreciate. My tutor, in order to satisfy them how far the powers of unassisted fallen nature can proceed in the investigation of religious and moral truths, will set before them the progress which has actually been made in this way by the Negroes in Africa, or the American Indians. With such a picture of natural religion in their view, I should hope they would be led most cordially to praise God for the inestimable gift of his Holy Word; without the help of which, the boasted light of nature is darkness that may be felt.
In my academy, I would have no formal disputations upon points of divinity. If it is necessary to sharpen or exercise their wits by disputing, (to which, under proper regulations, I would not object,) there are topics in abundance at hand. Let them dispute, if they please, for or against the motion of the earth. Let them determine whether Caesar or Pompey was the better man; or, in what respects Cato, who chose to die rather than venture to look Caesar in the face, discovered more fortitude or true greatness of mind, than the slave who elopes from his master for fear of the lash. Let them contend whether learning has, upon the whole, been productive of most good, or of most mischief, to mankind. My tutor can supply them with a thousand questions of this kind. But, to set a young man to put his ingenuity to the stretch, either to maintain a gross error, or to oppose a known and important truth, is, in my view, not only dangerous—but little less than a species of profaneness! What must the holy angels, who, with humble admiration, contemplate the wisdom and glory of God displayed in the Gospel; what must they think of the arrogance of sinful worms, who presume so far to trifle with the doctrines and mysteries he has revealed, as to degrade them into subjects for school exercise and logical prize-fighting? Can it be possible to maintain a spirit of reverence and dependence on God, amidst the noise of such profane discussions? And, if the youth to whom the wrong side of the question is committed, should, by superior address, baffle and silence his antagonist, my heart would be in pain for him, lest he should, from that moment, be prejudiced against the truth which he had insulted with success, and think it really indefensible, because the other was not able to defend it.l
Having been so long on the first article, I must endeavor to be more brief on those which follow.
II. Bysacred literature, I chiefly mean linguistics, criticism, and antiquities, so far as they are employed in the illustration of Scripture. In these studies, if there is a proper application in the pupils, little more will be needful on the tutor's part, than to put suitable books into their hands, to superintend their progress, and to obviate difficulties they may meet with. I would wish them not only to read the Scriptures in the Hebrew and Greek originals—but to be tolerable masters of the construction in both languages. This attainment is certainly not necessary to a minister; but they who apply themselves to the study of divinity in early life, will have time enough to acquire it, and the acquisition will be well worth their labor. If not necessary, it will be found very expedient and useful, and, when the difficulties of the first entrance and rudiments are surmounted, will be very pleasant.
The mind is capable of too many acquisitions: life is short, and more important business awaits them, in subservience to which everything else must be conducted.
polite literature. But an entrance may be made, and a relish for it acquired, under the direction and restraint of the tutor, which may provide the students with a profitable amusement for leisure hours in future life; for in this knowledge they may advance from year to year.
III. Much time cannot be allowed in our academy for the pursuit of
Other books will occasionally come in their way; for the tutor should have a well chosen library, for the accommodation of his pupils; but he will guard them against spending too much time, in this line of reading. For, though it has its subordinate advantages, it may, if too much indulged, divert them from the main point. And they should be taught to refer everything they read to the principles of Scripture, to the knowledge of the heart of man, and the works, the ways, the wisdom, and providence of God; otherwise reading will only tend to make them wise in their own conceit. I make short work with this article, and hasten to consider,
IV. What may be helpful (by the divine blessing) to enable the pupils to communicate the fruits of their knowledge to advantage in the public ministry, that they may appear workmen that need not be ashamed. For this, as I have formerly intimated, their chief and immediate dependence must be on the Lord. He alone can give them a mouth and wisdom for his service; and, without the unction from on high, the study of divinity and everything relative to it, will be but like learning the art of navigation on shore, which is very different from the knowledge necessary to the mariner who is actually called to traverse the ocean. But dependence upon the Lord should be no discouragement to the use of means.
I would have my students good logicians. The logic of the schools is, in a great measure, a cramped, forced, and formal affair, and may possibly have made almost as many scholastics and sophists, as good reasoners. But Dr. Watts has furnished us with a system of logic in a more intelligible and amiable form, and divested it of the solemn impertinences with which it was encumbered.
As the rules of grammar are themselves drawn from the language they are designed to regulate, so good logic is no more than the result of observations upon the powers of the human mind: and thus we see, that many people of plain sense are passable logicians, though they never saw a book upon the subject, and, perhaps, do not understand the meaning of the term. But they may be much assisted in the habits of thinking, judging, and reasoning, and in disposing their thoughts in an advantageous method, by rules judiciously formed and arranged. In this view I judge Dr. Watts's Logic, with his subsequent treatise on the Improvement of the Mind, to be very valuable. Unless a man can conceive and define his subject clearly, distinguish and enumerate the several parts, and know how to cast them into a convenient order and dependence, he cannot be a masterly preached. And though a good understanding may supersede the necessity of logical rules, it will likewise derive advantage from them. It remains to inquire,
5. How the pupils are to be assisted and directed that they may be able to preach extempore: an ability which, I suppose, to be ordinarily attainable by all who are called of God to preach the Gospel, if they will diligently apply themselves to attain it, in the use of proper means. I do not expect they will succeed in this way to my wish, without prayer, study, effort, and practice. For, as I have already hinted, I mean something more by it than speaking at random.
A well known observation of Lord Bacon is much to my present purpose. It is to this effect: That reading makes a full man, writing an exact man, and speaking makes a ready man. The approved extempore preacher must have a fund of knowledge collected from various reading; and it would not be improper to read some books, with the immediate design of comparing his style and manner with approved models. It might be wished that the best divines were always the best writers; but the style of many of them is quaint, difficult, and obscure. Some books that are well written have little else to recommend them, yet may be useful for this purpose; and the periodical writings of Addison and Johnson abound with judicious observations on men and manners, besides being specimens of easy and elegant composition.
Among writers in divinity, I would recommend Dr. Watts and Dr. Witherspoon as good models. By perusing such authors with attention, I hope the pupils will acquire a taste for good writing, and be judges of a good style. Perspicuity, closeness, energy, and ease, are the chief properties of such a style. On the contrary, a style that is either obscure, redundant, heavy, or affected, cannot be a good one. But I cannot advise them to copy the late Mr. Hervey. His dress, though it fits him, and he does not look amiss in it, is rather too gaudy and ornamented for a divine. He had a fine imagination, an elegant taste, and shows much precision and judgment in his choice of words: but, though his luxuriant manner of writing has many of the excellencies both of good poetry and good prose, it is in reality neither the one nor the other. An injudicious imitation of him has spoiled some people for writers, who, if they could have been content with a plain and natural mode of expression, might have succeeded tolerably well.
The pupil likewise must write as well as read; and he should write frequently. Let him fill one common-place book after another, with extracts from good authors. This method, while it tends to fix the passages, or their import, in his mind, will also lead him to make such observations respecting the order, and construction, and force of words, as will not so readily occur to his notice by reading only. Then let him try his own hand, and accustom himself to write his thoughts; sometimes in notes and observations on the books he reads; sometimes in the form of essays or sermons. He will do well likewise to cultivate a correspondence with a few select friends; for letter writing seems nearest to that easiness of manner which a public speaker should aim at.
I would not have his first attempts to speak publicly be in the preaching way, or even upon spiritual subjects. It might probably abate the reverence due to divine truth, to employ it in efforts of ingenuity. Suppose the tutor should read to them a passage of history, and require them to repeat the relation to him the next day, in their own manner. He would then remark to them if they had omitted any essential part, or used improper expressions. Or they might be put upon making speeches or declamations on such occasions or incidents as he should propose. By degrees, such of them as are judged to be truly spiritual and humble, might begin to speak upon a text of Scripture, in the presence of the tutor and pupils; and I should hope this might, in due time, become a part of the morning or evening devotions in the family. But let them be especially cautioned not to trifle with holy things, nor profane the great subjects of Scripture, by making them mere exhibitions and trials of skill.
Thus, by combining much reading and writing with their attempts to speak, and all under the direction of a judicious tutor, I shall have a cheerful hope, that the pupils will gradually attain a readiness and propriety of speech; and, when actually sent out to preach, will approve themselves scribes well instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom, qualified to bring forth from the treasury of their knowledge and experience, things new and old, for the edification of their hearers.
And now I may draw towards a close. There are some branches of science, or what is so called, on which I lay but little stress. I have no great opinion of metaphysical studies. For morality and ethics I would confine my pupils to the Bible. The researches of wise men in this way, which have not been governed by the ord of God, have produced little but uncertainty, futility, or falsehood. My tutor will, I hope, think it sufficient to show the pupils how successfully these wise and learned reasoners reciprocally refute each other's hypothesis. And, if he informs them more in detail of the extravagancies which have been started concerning the nature and foundation of moral virtue; or of the dreams of philosophers, some of whom would exclude matter, and others would exclude mind, out of the universe; He will inform them likewise that he does not thereby mean properly to add to their stock of knowledge, (for we should, in reality, have been fully as wise if these subtitles had never been heard of,) but only to guard them against being led into the mazes of error and folly, by depending too much on the reveries of philosophers.
After this delineation of my plan, it will be needless to inform you, that I do not propose my academy to be a spiritual hot-bed, in which the pupils shall be raised, and ripened into teachers, almost immediately upon their admission. I have allowed for a few excepted cases; but, in general, it is my design, that their education shall be comprehensive and exact. I would have them learn before they undertake to teach; and their sufficiency to be evidenced by a better testimonial than their own good opinion of themselves. "A scribe well instructed," "a workman that needs not to be ashamed," "an able minister of the New Testament," are Scriptural expressions, intimating what ought to be the qualifications of those who undertake the office of a preacher or pastor. The apostle expressly forbids a novice to be employed in these services. And, though in the present day this caution is very much disregarded by people who undoubtedly mean well, yet, I believe, the neglect of Scriptural rules (which are not arbitrary—but founded in a perfect knowledge of human nature) will always produce great inconveniences. I shall think a young man of tolerable abilities makes a very good improvement of his time, if the tutor finds him fit for actual service, after three or four years' close attention to his studies.
But what have I done? In compliance with your request, I have been led to give such an undisguised view of my sentiments on this interesting subject, that, though I feel myself a cordial friend to all sides and parties who hold the head, and agree in the grand principles of our common faith, I fear lest some of every party will be displeased with me. I rely on your friendship, and your knowledge of me, to bear witness for me, that I would not willingly offend or grieve a single person. And you can likewise testify, that I did not set myself to work; that I was much surprised when you proposed it to me; and that you have reason to believe my regard for you, and for the design you informed me of, were the only motives of my venturing upon the task you assigned me.
I have by no means exhausted the subject, though I hope I have not omitted anything that very materially relates to it. If I was really in Utopia, and to carry my plan into execution, other regulations would probably occur which have at present escaped me.
What I have written I submit to the candor of you and your friends; adding my prayers, that the Great Head of the Church, the Fountain of Grace, and Author of Salvation, may direct your deliberations, and bless you with wisdom, unanimity, and success, in whatever you may attempt for the honor of his name, and the good of souls.
I am, dear sir, your sincere friend and servant,
John Newton, May 14, 1782