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QUARTERLY CHRISTIAN SPECTATOR.
VOLUME V.-NUMBER IV.
ART. I.-VIEWS AND FEELINGS REQUISITE TO SUCCESS IN
THE Gospel MINISTRY.
While Dr. Robert Finley, of Basking Ridge, was preaching on a subject which had not, in the preparation, excited any unusual interest in his mind, he said “there was given to him a view which was worth the world.” This “ view” formed an era in his ministerial life ; it was the commencement of a powerful revival of religion; it gave a new character to his preaching; and to it may be traced nearly all his subsequent usefulness. It was no new revelation. It was only a correct view of a truth which he had before seen but very indistinctly, and believed as though he believed it not. Before, it had made only a feeble impression; now, it thrilled through his soul with all the power and enthusiasm of a new discovery ; and prepared him to exhibit the gospel message to his dying fellow men, not as one who had learned it by hearsay, but as one who had “ seen, and felt, and handled of the word of life.”
The same has been true of many others; and it is, doubtless, in a great measure, owing to the want of such views and feelings, that the ministrations of some men are so powerless. Facts corroborate this conclusion. It was while the ministers of the gospel were “full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,” that “the word of the Lord grew and multiplied” in primitive times. The success of Luther was evidently connected with those discoveries of divine truth, which he said were “ like opening to him the gates of paradise.” Livingston's sermon at the Kirk of Shotts, by which five hundred souls were converted, was preached under a similar influence: it was er a whole night spent
prayer and communion with God. His soul was filled with the spirit of heaven, which caused his face to shine as did the face of Moses when he descended from the mount; and gave a power and an unction to his Vol. V.
appeals which melted the hearts of his hearers. And while hundreds and thousands were converted by the ministry of Whitefield, he said his experience verified our Savior's declaration : " He thai believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
Brainerd had such views of the worth of souls, of the guilt and wretchedness of their condition while impenitent, and such a desire that God might be glorified in their salvation, that at times he declared he felt as though he could not live, unless the Indians among whom he labored were converted. Those who have read his life will recollect with what amazing power his ministry was attended after such exercises. Besides the discoveries made to the Rev. Wm. Tennent, during the period of his suspended animation, he had on one occasion such views, while walking alone in a grove, just before preaching, that he fell prostrate upon the earth, and was unable to walk to the church without assistance.
The Rev. Mr. Flavel, while on a journey to a place where, I think, he had an appointment to preach, had views of the divine glory, and of heavenly things, which so absorbed and entranced his mind, as to produce an entire oblivion of surrounding objects, and such an excitement of feeling as caused a profuse bleeding at the nose. When he became conscious of his situation, he found himself sitting by a brook on the road, faint from the loss of blood. He continued in the same ecstatic state of mind during the whole of the afternoon and night-slept none at all, but said it was one of the most refreshing nights he ever spent. He used afterwards to call that day “ope of the days of heaven."
There is, however, another class of ministers who appear to see nothing arousing, enrapturing, and spirit-stirring, in the representations of the bible ; who regard religion chiefly as an intellectual affair; who go through its services mechanically, and according to systematic rules, and as if they thought a departure from these rules, or a little overflowing of tender or impassioned feeling, would spoil their performances. But what is accomplished by such men ? What effects are produced by their most elaborate discourses? These questions are proposed, not censoriously, but simply to induce the reader to look at the facts. Are sinners converted? Or are they hardened? Are christians edified, and stimulated to holy action, and to persevering efforts to explore the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God, and carried forward to the maturity of christian experience? Or are they soothed and flattered with fallacious hopes, in the neglect of duty; left in practical ignorance of those things which are essential to their religious enjoyment; and formed to a character of worldliness incompatible with any good religious influence ?
The writer is acquainted with a clergyman who has long occu
pied a conspicuous standing among his brethren, whose name never appears without its appropriate literary and theological honors, who not long ago stated to a friend, that although he had preached the gospel more than forty years, he did not know that his preaching had been the means of converting one soul! Others there are, who, though less deserted of God, are still so anxious about “innovations, and expend so much of their activity in guarding the churches against excessive zeal, as to leave but little time for the inquiry whether their own mode of preaching and the measures which they pursue, are accomplishing, or are adapted to accomplish the end of the christian ministry; while others, still, are indolently brooding over dying churches, which have become as “ salt that hath lost its savor," and cannot, without a change, much longer exist in their present state.
As to many, too, whose ministry has life and interest in it, and whose discourses often produce a solemn impression, it is a serious question, whether they do not too generally preach without aiming at the immediate conversion of sinners ? Is not such an event so far from their thoughts, that if it were to occur, it would occasion surprise? Do not their views terminate upon the mere discussion of the subject, or at most, on laying the foundation for future good to their hearers ? Are they looking for any present results, corresponding to the objects contemplated in the ministerial commission? Is not the exhibition of talent in the construction of an argument, that shall silence the caviler, or command respect for the gospel ministry, and exert some undefined influence in favor of religion, all that many expect to accomplish at any given time? True, they may indulge the hope that their ministry will eventually be productive of good to the souls of men; but are they not generally under the impression, that the time has not yet come for them to reap the harvest ?
Where such impressions prevail so generally as to give character to a minister's efforts, it is certain that the real condition of sinners is not seen; nor are the truth and the fearful import of the divine declarations respecting them, correctly apprehended. When these things are seen as they may be, and as they are seen by every minister who is furnished for his work by the Holy Spirit
, they produce emotions which give earnestness, solemnity and power to his ministry; emotions which are often strongly impressed upon the countenance ; which are seen in the starting tear, and heard in the unaffected tremulous tones of the voice; emotions which, according to the laws of the human mind, will give to a minister a command of the feelings and attention of his audience, which nothing else could secure. It cannot be doubted, that preaching of this description is peculiarly adapted to win souls to Christ ; and it is equally unquestionable that a peculiar blessing accompanies it. Ministers distinguished by such a spirit, in connection with a correct theology, seldom labor very long without seeing more or less substantial evidence of the divine blessing upon their ministry.
The more we look at this subject, then, the more important will its discussion appear, especially to theological students and to young ministers. For such it was commenced, and to such it is affectionately addressed. My plan is to present, as far as my limits will permit, AN ANALYSIS OF THE VIEWS AND FEELINGS WHICH HAVE BEEN FOUND BY EXPERIENCE TO BE CONNECTED WITH SUCCESS IN PREACHING THE GOSPEL.
What are they? Among them are the following.
1. An affecting view of our personal obligations to Christ, not only for redeeming mercy, but for the honor conferred upon us by putting us into the ministry.
If God had associated with himself the angels in the work of creation, they would doubtless have regarded it as a high honor; but it would have been as far inferior to the honor conferred upon those who are employed in carrying forward the work of redemption, as this world is inferior to the paradise above. Yet all this superior honor is conferred
upon ministers of the gospel. They are called · laborers together with God.' They are his “builders,” his under-workmen in carrying forward that spiritual temple, which is to be a habitation for himself, which he has so magnificently described in the bible, and which will doubtless be a theme of admiration and joy to the universe, to all eternity. The apostle Paul thought Moses judged correctly in preferring the reproach of Christ to the treasures of Egypt. And so he himself regarded all the obloquy and suffering connected with the gospel ministry. What though he was cast off by his friends and kindred, and despised by the world, he could look to the thousands whom he had converted to Christ as his glory and joy, and his crown of rejoicing! He appeared to be amazed at the honor conferred upon him by putting him into the ministry, although it was connected with the most arduous, incessant, and exhausting labors, and exposed him to scorn and reproach, to suffering and death. At the close of his career, standing as it were on the wreck of all he had sacrificed for Christ, and on the very verge of heaven, he utters this triumphant language: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me A CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give to me in that day."
Said Pearce, “I feel a growing satisfaction in the proposal of spending my whole life in something nobler than the locality of this island will admit. I long to raise my Master's banner in climes where the sound of his fame hath but scarcely reached.”
In a season of prayer “ It pleased God to smite the rock by the rod of his Spirit, and immediately the waters began to flow. o, what a heavenly, glorious, melting power it was! My eyes, almost closed with weeping, hardly suffer me to write. I feel it over again. O what a view of the love of a crucified Redeemer did I enjoy! The attraction of his cross, how powerful! I was as a giant refreshed with new wine, as to my animation ; like Mary, weeping at the Master's feet, for tenderness of soul ; like a little child, for submission to my heavenly Father's will; and like Paul, for a victory over all self-love, and creature love, and fear of man, when these things stand in the way of my duty. The interest that Christ took in the redemption of the heathen; the situation of our brethren in Bengal, the worth of the soul, and the plain command of Jesus Christ, together with an irresistible drawing of soul, which by far exceeded any thing I ever felt before, and is impossible to be described to, or conceived of by, those who have never experienced it; all compelled me to vow that I would, by his leave, serve him among the heathen. I was swallowed up in God. Hunger, fullness, cold, heat, friends, enemies, all seemed nothing before God. I was in a new world. All was delightful, for Christ was all and in all. Many times I concluded prayer, but when rising from my knees, communion with God was so desirable, that I was sweetly drawn to it again and again, till my animal strength was almost exhausted. Then I thought it would be pleasure to burn for God. And now while I write, such a heavenly sweetness fills my soul, that no exterior circumstances can remove it. Yes, my dear dying Lord, I am thine, thy servant; and if I neglect the service of so good a Master, I may well expect a guilty conscience in life, and a death awful as that of Judas or of Spira ?”
Similar views and feelings have sweetened the toils of successful ministers in every age ; reconciled them to hardship and suffering; given an unction to their preaching, and stimulated their minds to a holy and persevering activity ; while those who were under the influence of other views and feelings have yielded to indolence, or sunk in despondency; or like Salmasius, wasted their lives in laboriously doing nothing !
2. A peculiar sensibility to the honor of God, and a desire for His glory, so strong as to amount to a RULING PASSION.
Worldly men feel that the honor of God is his own concern, and that an omnipotent being can take care of his own glory, without any care or co-operation on their part. Such, too, are the real feelings of cold-hearted christians; and nothing is a more certain indication of incipient backsliding, than a diminished anxiety for the honor of God, or a less acute sensibility to the contempt which is thrown upon him by impenitent sinners. The faithful servant of Christ will spontaneously say with the Psalmist, “I beheld the