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You may be reproached for it by some whom you would gladly please, if you could.
You may be denounced as unfeeling, as uncharitable, as equally destitute of refinement and correct taste. be told that you entirely miss your aim; that nobody was ever frightened to heaven or ever will be, and much more to the same effect. But let Paul answer for you. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”
Let Jude speak to the same point. “And others save with fear, plucking them out of the fire.” Remember, my dear son, in every sermon you preach, whether doctrinal or practical, whether alarming or inviting, that “ it is a very small thing to be judged of man's judgment, for he that judgeth you is the Lord.”
I must add, that your preaching ought to be highly experimental, as well as doctrinal and practical. Such is the unspeakable deceitfulness of the human heart, and so much reason is there to fear, that
in the church are deceived, that professors of religion everywhere need not only to be exhorted to “examine themselves, whether they be in the faith," but to have the dangers of self-deception often and clearly pointed out from the pulpit, by those who watch for their souls. I apprehend, there is a great deficiency on this head, in many pulpits throughout our land. It is, I greatly fear, too readily taken for granted, by some ministers of undoubted piety, that nearly all who come into the visible church are truly converted to God. Unquestionably there are many false professors -many who will say, “We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets, to
whom Christ will answer, “I know you not whence ye are ; depart from me all ye workers of iniquity." And even if this were not the case, true christians need line upon line in regard to the nature and fruits of true religion, to assist them in the all important duty of self-examination. Every church needs the most searching experimental sermons, that a faithful pastor can preach, not at long intervals, but frequently; that hypocrites may find no hiding place in their delusions, and that sincere christians may be led to pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I hope, my son, you will study this subject deeply and with much prayer, that you may be able to point out the difference between true and false religion somewhat after the manner of the " Almost Christian,” “ True Religion Delineated,” by Dr. Bellamy, and the “Religious Affections,” by President Edwards; and to point it out so clearly, that none but the wilfully blind can help seeing it. In this way, peradventure, some may be brought to renounce their false hopes and begin anew.
But if not, if they should still cling to them and perish, you will " deliver your own soul."
Very affectionately, &c.
MY DEAR E.
As your stated preaching ought to be both doctrinal and practical, and must be, to make you an eminently useful minister, so its two grand objects should be, the conversion of sinners, and the edifibation of the church. The christian ministry was instituted, to “turn'men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God," first to bring them into the kingdom of Christ, and then to “feed them with knowledge and understanding," and train them up for heaven. It is hard to tell which stands in most need of preaching, the world or the church. It is, and always has been, under the faithful preaching of the gospel, that sinners are awakened and brought to repentance, and that saints are built up in their most holy faith.
First, then, let me exhort you, my son, to direct your ministerial efforts earnestly to the conversion of sinners. When you look round upon your congregation, and see how many there are, of all classes and ages, who make no pretensions to religion and give no evidence of piety, let" your eye affect your heart.” Think how precious are their immortal souls; what an infinite price has been paid for their ransom, and how certain is their eternal destruction, if they die in their sins. Remember, that till they are convinced of their lost estate, and brought to the foot of the
cross, nothing is done to any saving purpose. However much their minds may be enlightened, or their morals improved under your ministry; however highly they may applaud your preaching, and however much they may be influenced by it in their social and civil relations, till they give their hearts to God, they lie under the curse of his law.
While, therefore, you bear them on your heart continually at the throne of grace, and remember
, that God alone can make your preaching effectual to their salvation, ask him to direct you in the choice of texts and subjects; study to adapt your discourses to their respective characters and circumstances; try every lawful method to arrest their attention. Preach the terrors of the law and the invitations of the gospel. Lead them now to Sinai, and now to Calvary. Pray them now in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God, and now assure them from his lips, that “ cept they repent, they shall all perish.” Never allow yourself to feel, that things are going on well in your congregation, unless some are asking what they must do to be saved. Never rest satisfied with a year's labor in which many of your people have not been brought out of darkness into marvellous light." We are strongly tempted, when every thing is quiet in the church and society; when we are sure that we enjoy the affections and confidence of the people ; when the house is well filled on the sabbath, and we are listened to with respectful attention—we are strongly tempted, I say, under such circumstances, to congratulate ourselves, that “the lines have fallen to us in pleasant places, and we have
a goodly heritage,” although we may be constrained to confess, that no recent additions have been made to the church, and no cases of anxious enquiry have come to our knowledge. But it ought not so to be.
Should few or no conversions take place for a long time under your preaching, however acceptable your labors might be to a united and respectable congregation, it would create the painful presumption, that there must be some want of faithfulness in istrations, and might not unnaturally suggest the enquiry, whether some part at least of your popularity should not be put down to that very score.
I do not suppose that the exact degree of a minister's fidelity, or skill in dividing the word of truth, can be measured by the number of conversions in his parish, nor even that uncommon success in “winning souls to Christ” is a certain evidence of his personal piety. But I think it is an evidence that he preaches the truth. God has so adapted the gospel to the spiritual necessities of his fallen creatures, and has so pledged the aids of his Holy Spirit where it is faithfully dispensed, that the conversion of sinners may be expected with great confidence, unless hindered by some powerful counteracting influence.
Should you then, my dear E., find occasion to complain in the bitterness of your soul, “I have labored in vain and spent my strength for nought and in vain," let it be a matter of serious and prayerful enquiry with you, whether it is not owing to some defect or want of faithfulness in your preaching. One half hour spent upon your knees in your closet may show you perhaps where the fault lies, and sug