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much as it finds fault with some things in your ministry. He who knows my heart can bear me witness, that I had at any time rather commend than censure. Should I utter, therefore, any thing that may be unpleasant to you, do me the justice to believe, that it was not without a great struggle with myself that I was brought to write it.
It has pleased God to give you, my dear friend, a very extraordinary appointment; it being much more than having the charge of a single parish. By the resort of company from all parts of the kingdom to you are in some measure the instructor of a whole country. There are few clergymen so situated. You have at different times men of all classes and circumstances before you; many of whom, by their rank, their office, or their talents, have it in their power to promote or hinder that great cause in which you are engaged. For their own sakes, it is most ardently to be desired, that the design and tendency of that Gospel you preach should be clearly brought before them, disencumbered of every adventitious circumstance which the enemy of their souls might avail himself of to prejudice their minds against it. But when it is considered that some of them have the means of acting with considerable force in the community, a fair exhibition of the truth to their minds becomes a matter of the highest consequence. In your congregation you sometimes have a bishop, a nobleman, a member of the House of Commons, a minister of a populous parish, a magistrate, or a gentleman who in his country seat is lord of the village. These persons should be contemplated by you not as solitary individuals, but as they stand connected with the hundreds on whose conduct they exercise a commanding influence, and who may be benefited or injured by what they do.
Now among other things of mo ment likely to result from your be
ing heard by such persons, the following consequence is, I think, yery probable: viz. that from your preaching many of them will form their ideas of that class of clergymen who stand distinguished from the rest of their profession by their zeal for the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel. That such Clergymen are almost universally considered as a distinct class of men in the church, is beyond all doubt; but many do not know, whether this distinction arise from circumstances for which they themselves are not accountable, (as their being faithful to their engagements as ministers of the Church of England, while others are not), or from some peculiarities, incompatible with what our Church requires of them: in short, whether they are the genuine ministers of the Church, or a heterodox sect within it. By hearing you, however, something like a settled opinion respecting them will be formed in the minds of many. You will be considered as a specimen of the whole body. And from this conclusion another effect is likely to follow: many a man who has the command of some door of usefulness will be determined either to admit or reject a minister of evangelical principles, according to the light in which he views your preaching. How desirable, therefore, is it, that if possible it should approve itself to every man who hears it! I am aware, indeed, that this would be expecting too much. After all the pains we may takes numbers will disapprove: our very aim will be a sufficient ground of objection with many, even thougla prosecuted in ever so unobjectionable a manner. Nevertheless, there is an apostolic rule given to us, by which it is our duty to proceed, even with those whose approbation there is scarcely a hope of obtaining-" giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed."
I am far from intending to advise you to be a pleaser of men. All I
desire is, that there may be nothing to object to in your ministry, but the purity of your doctrine, and the fidelity with which you deliver it. These, alas! being sufficiently objectionable to human nature, let there, if possible, be nothing else in our ministry that is so.
Now, my dear friend, permit me to mention a few things in your sermons, which I think have a tendeacy to defeat the great intention of them. In the first place, let me observe, that though they contained many things admirably said, and though every one I heard you deliver gave me reason to thank God for your earnestnes and fidelity; yet I cannot think you take sufficient pains in the composition of them. They appear to me to be very basty productions. Many of those which I heard wanted that orderly succession of ideas, calculated to make a discourse more and more convincing or impressive, as the preacher proceeds with his subject. I will refer you to the first sermon I heard from you, as an instance of the fault in question. And I beg you to review that composition, and to consider, whether the time spent in delivering it might not have been more advantageously employed, had more pains been taken with it in the study. The
sermon was on Jer. v. 24.
I have also thought that you were not sufficiently attentive to that necessary part of the preacher's office-the endeavouring to make the great truths of the Gospel intelligible to people who seldom think or read on such subjects. There are certain points, in speaking of which, we ought always to bear in mind the "unlearned" in the doctrine of Christ. Of these, we have many in every congregation; and that, not merely in the aisles, but also in the "chief seats.". The man of education may be a barbarian in theology; bnt he has a soul, and I should endeavour to make him understand me, when I
am meaking to him of that which
is necessary to his salvation. The Christian Teacher should consider himself as an interpreter, when dispensing the word of God. He should not content himself with using such terms as are understood by those who know as much as himself; he should endeavour to come down to the apprehensions of those, who never heard the language of theologians, and cannot attach any ideas to their terms. I was told that Mr. said you were abstruse. And I myself think that you must appear so to most of those gay beings who hear you at ——; many of whom, with all their accomplishments, know scarcely the first principles of Christianity. Í would advise you to profit by the remark of Mr. and to pray
and strive for the attainment of that desirable talent of accommodating both your subject and your lan guage to the state of those you have to instruct.
The sermon, the subject of which seemed to me best adapted to the bulk of your hearers, was that on"consider your ways." Like all the discourses I heard from you, it was highly serious; but it had one quality which many of them wanted-it was intelligible to all. And here I cannot but advise you to deal much in such plain and popular topics. Your congregation is too young in religious knowledge to admit of your venturing at present far beyond such points as repentance, faith in Christ, the influence of the Spirit, holiness, the danger of sin, the vanity of the world, Christian tempers, prayer, vigilance, the frailty of life, the certainty of death, the security and happiness of a Christian life, and such obvious and always necessary topics. In endeavouring to make the ignorant understand, and the careless feel these subjects, you will find work enough; and happy will you be if on these you labour with success.
With respect to your rich hearers, I may further observe, that it seems necessarv' toTM bear in minil.
not only their ignorance in religious matters, but likewise that delicate and fastidious sensibility which their education and habits of life induce. They are indeed too easily wounded, and too averse to pain, to receive the full benefit of plain dealing. But such being their character; and your business being not merely to deliver the truth, but to procure its admission into their minds, regard must be had to their actual condition and circumstances. Care must be taken, that what you enforce be not delivered in such a way, as may tend rather to shut than to open the ear to instruction. We shall overact our part, if we assert things which are more likely to shock, than to convince our hearers. There was something said on patriotism, and on literature, in one of your sermons, which I felt to have this tendency. And I thought at the time you made those observations, that you need not have concerned yourself with such points. If mankind have their prejudices on such subjects, we may well let them alone, till we have subdued prejudices of a more dangerous nature. We have in our ministerial vocation enow of these to encounter. Let those which are least hurtful be reserved for the conclusion of the combat.
I admit that the morbid delicacy of feeling in the affluent makes it very difficult to set before them the final punishment of the impenitent. Yet, "knowing the terrors of the Lord" ourselves, we must "persuade men," by setting those terrors before such as are exposed to them. But surely, some caution is necessary here; lest the minister of the hope-inspiring Gospel of Jesus, look more like a denunciator of judgment than a messenger of mercy. I make this observation with a peculiar view to your ministry; for you appeared to me to err a little on this head. Sometimes indeed we must endeayour to lead our hearers to the edge of "Tophet which is prepared of
old," that they may look into it, that they may see "it is deep and large," and take heed they fall not in. But to dwell much on hell-fire in every sermon, seems not fully to coincide with the designation of one, whose office it is to " preach peace by Jesus Christ.". To set forth the final state of the ungodly, is undoubtedly one of the means of bringing men to God; but in occasionally resorting to it, I am anxious that it should be accompanied with evident marks of tender feeling. That no method of awakening the secure may be left untried, I feel myself compelled to speak of the damnation of sinners, and that not sparingly, but to dwell upon the awful subject: but even then, when my principal aim has been to alarm those who are in danger, I conceive it incumbent on me to shew, that the awful representation has been made with a benevolent intention; taking care withal so to conclude, as to leave on the minds of my hearers some considerations that encourage hope.
It is of great importance that in a discourse on the end of the wicked, we shew nothing unfeeling, nothing which indicates the indulgence of a harsh or ferocious temper. "Sound speech" is not alone sufficient. On all subjects we should recollect, that we have two things to do; to convince, and to impress. A great part of our business lies in endeavouring to interest the heart. Nor do I know any thing that has a greater tendency to produce such an effect, than an affectionate manner of conveying the truth. A zealous mind, like yours, may defeat its end by a hardness of manner. To obviate this, there should be much prayer to God for a tender spirit: a qualification which St. Paul, with all his energy of character, often discovered: yea, he could appeal to the Searcher of all hearts, that he felt it; "God is my record,” said he to the Philippians, "how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ."
To produce the feelings we should endeavour to excite, I could wish, that your sermons ended more with kind and penetrating expostula tions, drawn from your subject. The application of your sermons seemed likewise to want the spirit of invitation. There is something very attractive in a minister's coneluding with some such touching language as that which our Saviour used-Go to Him "all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you: He is meek and lowly in heart: in Him ye shall find rest to your souls." You will meet with some good specimens both of expostulation and invitation, in the conclusions of Walker's Sermons on the Church Catechism. Permit me to offer a few remarks on another important duty of our calling. We should endeavour to convince mankind of the utter in sufficiency of their own works to justify them in the sight of God. But it is to be lamented, that some who aim at this point are chargeable with doing their business in such a manner, as defeats their design, by making it very generally misunderstood. It should be our object to shew, that we are making an attack, not on the eternal obligations of duty, but on the being sa tisfied with that partial and hypocritical manner in which we discharge them. There is in the minds of men in general a convic tion, that they ought to be good men. Now I conceive, that a Chris tian minister should be careful never to say any thing that has the least tendency to shake that fundamental truth, so deeply engraven on the human mind before the fall, as still to be found even in some of the most ignorant and careless. This sentiment, a remaining trait of the Law of God originally written on the heart of man, affords something for a minister of the Gospel to work upon. Like the fragment of an inscription found on a ruined temple, expressive of its designa
tion, it should be regarded, as far as it goes, as of great consequence to him who desires to re-edify the structure, and restore the service for which it was erected. But the manner in which some persons speak of good works is such, as not only to make no use of this sense of moral obligation found in most men, but to weaken it. Egregious mistake! To weaken that sense, which it is the intention of all the revelations God has made of His will to establish, to strengthen, to illuminate, and thereby to bring us to repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ! As a mere fragment only should this general sense of obligation be regarded by the Christian teacher, whose office it is to bring forward the testimony of holy Scripture to supply those great particulars that are wanting. The inspired writers will shew, what it is to be good men the obligations we are under to be such; the multiplied instances in which we have violated those obli gations; the turpitude of those vio lations; the need in which we thereby stand of mercy; the neces sity of faith in the mediation of Christ for our justification, and of the Holy Spirit's influence on our hearts, to enable us to obey the law of God; a law, which being "holy, just, and good," is of eter nal obligation.
Not so much as a suspicion of detracting from the necessity of obedience to the will of God, should ever fall on him whose office it is to turn the "hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just." But it is matter of fact, that some, who are distinguished by their zeal in preaching salvation by Jesus Christ, are not careful to preserve themselves from such a suspicion. There is an unguarded way of decrying works, and exalting faith, which nourishes an Antinor mian spirit in lax religionists, and from which the minds of some res flecting persons revolt as subvers sive of all religion. Let every
plant which our heavenly Father hath not planted," by all means be plucked up: but let us remember, that there may be wheat among the tares; and that if a heedless hand be used in clearing the field, we may pluck up, not only what the enemy hath sown, but that also which the hand of God planted.
You will readily imagine, my dear friend, that I had a reference to your ministry in this long passage. I own it. It did not appear to me, that you were free from the charge of preaching faith in that careless manner in which many in the present day speak on that important subject. With respect to your intention, I have no doubt of its being right. It is only the way in which you endeavour to accomplish it, that appears censurable. It is the fashion among many of the religious of these times to say strong things: and a young man of your intrepid mind will naturally applaud such spirited effusions. But beware of copying them. For though they may now seem worthy of your imitation on account of their energy; they may, in a riper period of your life, be condemned by you, as having had an injurious effect on your ministry. The writings of two eminent men in the church of God (St. Augustine and Mr. Baxter) shew us, that when we sit down at the end of our course, to review our ministry, and to calculate the specific effect of every thing we have said or done, that which we thought highly of in youth may be set down among the things to be retracted in age. Great "High Priest of our profession," take away the "iniquity of our holy things!" My remarks, you perceive, are confined to your preaching. It was the only part of your ministry which I had an opportunity of observing. Had I been perfectly acquainted with the manner in which you fill up the interval between the Sundays, and had I seen any thing blameable, I would have used the same freedom, in my remarks upon
it, which I have taken with respect to your sermons. But of this I saw but little. I perceived, indeed, what was very satisfactory to me, that you had no frivolous habits. No trifling occupations seemed to waste your time or divide your attention. You appeared likewise to stand aloof from those who, by their association, were more likely to adulterate your character than to improve their own. You seemed to have but one object, and that an object of infinite magnitude. In short, I suspected but one defect: but then it is a defect of such a nature, that I cannot but impart my suspicions.
You once dropped a hint, that you could not read or think much. And indeed, before you had given me this intimation, I conjectured, from some things in your sermons, that you were not much of a student. Now if this conjecture be just, I fear that your flock will not have so good a common to feed on, as they otherwise might have. And if the herbage be scanty, the sheep must be lean. It was an Apostle's injunction to a minister, "Give thyself to reading; meditate on these things: give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all." A public conduit has to supply many vessels: large and frequent demands are made upon it. It is necessary, of course, that every thing be done to keep the conduit full. A minister of a parish is like a public conduit ; and reading and study, accompanied with prayer to God, are the means of supplying him with that stock of knowledge, with which he ought to be found always furnished, to answer the frequent demands that may be made upon him, for the refutation of error, the instruction of the ignorant, the edification of the serious, and the comfort of the distressed.
I have no doubt of your admitting the advantage of study; but I am apprehensive of your alleging that you yourself are incapable of