« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
never wish to have you preach a poor sermon, either as a candidate, or a settled pastor. But let me earnestly advise you, not to bring out all your best thoughts, not to preach your very best sermons, while you are on probation. You will want them more, another day. The safest and best course, altogether, and I will add, the most honest is, to give the people a fair sample of what they may reasonably expect, should you become their pastor. I would therefore advise you, by all means, to prepare some of your discourses on the spot, both to satisfy yourself what you can do, and to furnish your hearers with specimens upon which to make up their opinions. If they like your ordinary sermons well enough to give you a call, you will enter upon your ministry with a fair prospect of rising in their estimation and confidence.
In the next and last place, preach your sentiments fully and honestly before you settle. The church and congregation have a right to know just what you think, on the great controverted points of theology, and what they are to expect, if you become their pastor. Be as open as the day in declaring your doctrinal opinions. Conceal nothing, from an apprehension that some of the people may differ from you, and so demur to your settlement. What if they do? How much better to meet the difficulty here and retire quietly, than to find yourself in a quarrel with a part of the congregation, before you are fairly warm in your place. There is a blind way of exhibiting offensive doctrines, when a man is on probation, which is as impolitic, as it is disingenuous. He will assuredly get himself into trouble, if he becomes more pointed and direct after he is ordained. “ Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
On this point, (and I may have frequent occasion to do the same thing,) I will give you a little of my own experience. It might seem to a stranger too much like vain boasting; but I have nothing to fear, on that score, in these familiar epistles to a beloved
When I went to preach as a candidate in F-, more than thirty years ago, the church was in a very low state. I was called to address an intelligent and highly respectable congregation, but the people had been unaccustomed to discriminating doctrinal preaching. The half way covenant, as it was called, had been “owned” and acted upon for several generations; and under it most of the families had been baptized. My own settled conviction was, that none but believing parents, in full church communion, had any scriptural warrant for offering their children in baptism, and of course, that I could not administer the ordinance upon the strength of their merely “ owning the covenant." As they had invited me to preach upon probation, I thought it my duty to take the matter up in the pulpit; and not only tell the congregation, that I could not conform to the existing usage, but to give the reasons why. This I did in full, in several discourses, which were listened to with much apparent interest. I preached also, on all the doctrines which I believed to be essential, and some of which I had reason to expect would not be favourably received. Strange as it may seem, and as it did seem to me, at the end of
three months they gave me an unanimous call. Nearly all my probationary sermons I prepared from
I week to week, as I went along. I cannot say, that nobody objected to “ hard sayings” after I was settled, or that I met with no trouble from parents wishing to have their children baptized, upon the old half way covenant; but this frank and full avowal of my sentiments gave me an immense advantage. Nobody pretended that I had deceived them. I could appeal to the whole congregation; I could appeal to my manuscripts, that I had “kept back nothing," when I was on trial, and it saved me infinite trouble. Bring out your views clearly. Never stop to ask whether the people will relish this or that doctrine, or whether it will be any bar in the way of your getting a call ; if you deem it true and important, preach it. Whatever may be the result, you will have a clear conscience, and your Master can, if you are sent away, and he pleases, give you a much better field to labor in.
With unabated affection, &c.
MY DEAR E.
I perceived from the post mark of your last letter, before I opened it, that you had left Land you inform me, that a call has been put into your hands, inviting you with great unanimity, to return and settle there. I do not wonder that this invitation has awakened a new train of thoughts and feelings in your mind. The decision to be made in a few days, or weeks, at most, is one of no ordinary moment. It brings directly before you all the duties and responsibleness of the pastoral office. Has God called you to the work of the ministry? Is it his pleasure to set you as a watchman somewhere upon the walls of Zion; and if so, is the present call from Him, as well as from the second Presbyterian Church and Congregation in L-?
The first of these questions was so far settled in your mind, when you left the Theological Seminary of A-, and received a license to preach, that trusting in the “Spirit to help your infirmities,” you resolved to go forward. This resolution I approved of. You had thought much on the subject, and long made it a matter of special prayer. You had taken the best advice you could obtain from christian friends and acquaintances, both clergynen and laymen. They encouraged you to go on; and though not without much self-distrust and trembling, you have
now advanced to the foot of the altar. Shall you take the only remaining step by giving an affirmative answer, being by "prayer and the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery,” set over the people who have called you? You ask for advice.
What sort of a call, then, have they given you ? If it contains the modern condition of leaving, or being sent away, upon three or six months' notice, I disapprove of it altogether. Of all modern miscalled improvements, this, in my judgment, is one of the most objectionable. As I have not time, nor space, to state my objections fully in this letter, I refer you to a discourse which I delivered some years ago, before the General Association of Massachusetts. A few thoughts, however, I cannot refrain from throwing out, as I hasten to other topics. If you were destined to the missionary service, you might very properly be ordained, “ with your loins girded about, and your staff in your hand.” But I do not wish to see you settled on horse-back, nor under any prospective warning to leave town at the shortest notice. It is absurd. The old way is infinitely better; and I am persuaded, that both ministers and churches will be convinced of it, when they have suffered one or two generations longer, under the new system. In deed, if I do not greatly mistake the signs of the times, there is a favorable change now going on in the public mind, with reference to this subject. There are fewer settlements upon the, (what shall I call it ?) upon the “half-way” ministerial“ covenant,” than there were some dozen years ago. If any one wishes to contract by the year, for so