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MY DEAR E.
In glancing at the duties of the christian ministry, we may, for the sake of convenience, arrange them under three general heads—viz. preaching the word, the pastoral care, and those more public labors which are called for to promote the general interests of the Redeemer's Kingdom, both at home and abroad.
Among these, preaching holds the first place; and the proof is, that much greater stress is laid by the sacred writers, upon this form of religious instruction than upon any other. I might refer you to a hundred passages such as the following. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor ; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and the recovering of sight to the blind.” “ From that time, Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." “ And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach. And they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” The last command of the ascending Saviour to his disciples was, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” It was under the first gospel sermon, after the ascension, that three thousand were converted on the day of pentecost. When the fires of persecution waxed hot in Jerusalem, “ They that were scattered abroad, went everywhere preaching the word.” “Unto me, saith Paul, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ.” “For after that, in the
. wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” “How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard ? How shall they hear without a preacher ? And how shall they preach except they be sent ? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things to come.”
Such is the great stress which is laid upon preaching, throughout the New Testament. It is put before and above all the other means of human salvation. Not that other modes of instruction are unimportant, but that preaching is, above everything else, the divinely appointed instrumentality, by which sinners are to be saved. It was under the preaching of the Apostles, that the first christian churches were planted. It was by preaching, that the Gospel was promulgated throughout the Roman empire, in the first and second centuries. It was by preaching, that the glorious reformation was introduced and carried forward in the sixteenth century ; and it is by preaching, that the whole world is to be evangelized. Very much depends upon the faithful discharge of pastoral duties, as I shall have occasion to show in a future letter, but nothing can be made a substitute for preaching, or demand an equal amount of study and labor.
“It is impossible," says a writer in the Eclectic Review, which has just fallen under my notice, “it is impossible to overrate the importance of preaching; he is no friend to the church or the world, who impairs its sanctity, or diminishes the respect in which it is held. We have often been astonished and distressed at exhortations to the youthful preacher, to remember, that preaching is not the most important part of his office, and that he may do more good out of, than in the pulpit. Surely this is to be wise above what is written in this particular case, and to teach a principle of dangerous application in all cases, namely, that what the Bible says nothing about, in relation to any office, may be more important, than that about which it says all it has to say.” "
The terms preaching and to preach, require very little, if any explanation. Preaching is a public religious discourse. It may be written, or unwritten. It may be read, or delivered from memory, or poured forth extemporaneously, from a full heart and a well disciplined mind. In either case, if it is a public religious discourse, it is preaching. To preach, in the modern sense of the term, is to deliver a discourse from some text of Scripture, selected for the occasion. In primitive times, it was to discourse more freely and discursively, upon the great doctrines and duties of Christianity.
As your first and great business is to preach the gospel, you will naturally wish to settle it in your
mind, as early as you can, how much and how often it is your duiy to preach. You cannot be always in the pulpit, or the lecture-room. Other duties will demand a part of your time; and if they did not, your strength would soon be exhausted. There are limits beyond which no man can go, although some can go much farther than others.
You ask me whether you ought to preach more than twice on the sabbath, and to give you some advice about your weekly lectures. You are too well acquainted with my principles and habits, to expect any overweening indulgence here. You are bound to do what you can, and what the best good of your church and congregation requires. It is not a task, but a privilege, to spend and be spent in the work, to which your Master has called you. But before I answer your questions, allow me to narrow them down by some general remarks.
The first is, that no rule can be given, which will, apply at all times and in all cases. It is undoubtedly a minister's duty to preach oftener, during the time, of a powerful revival among his people, than when there is no special call for extra-labors. So when the spirit is poured out upon neighboring churches, it may be his duty to preach day after day for his brethren. This is much better, than to call in the aid of evangelists. It is obvious, too, that some preachers are able to do much more than others; and that the same preacher can do more at one time, than at another. It is also manifest, that an evangelist, or a circuit rider, or a missionary travelling from place to place, can preach much oftener than a settled pastor,
who has new discourses to prepare from week to week, as he goes along. It is not the effort of speaking, but the mental labor in the study, which makes the face pale and wears out the strength. Almost any minister, of ordinary health, who would find it impossible to settle down and bring out two good discourses in a week, might preach every day, if that were all he had to do, and if by going from town to town, he could repeat the same sermon a hundred times over.
The general rule for a settled pastor, I take to be this—to preach as often as his health, and a due regard to his preparation, and other duties will permit; and as the good of his people requires. His ability may not always be adequate to their wants, on the one hand, or he may be able to preach more than would be profitable to them, on the other. But it cannot be supposed, that there will ordinarily be any essential difference, between the demand for religious instruction, and the ability to give it. He who ordained the christian ministry, and gives his servants a certain degree of strength to labor, does not at the same time create reasonable demands on the part of their congregations, which it is impossible for them to meet. If the conversion of sinners and the edification of the church required four or five public discourses on the sabbath, and preaching every other day in the week, God would doubtless have given his ministers strength, both of body and mind, to meet the demand ; for under the wise and equitable laws of his kingdom, one thing is always set over against another. Let any man tell me, how many well di