LECTURES ON REVIVALS OF RELIGION
Delivered by the Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY
To the Congregation of the CHATHAM CHAPEL
New York City, 1835
And Reported to the Public in the New York Evangelist
WHAT A REVIVAL OF RELIGION IS
Religion is the work of man. It is something for man to do. It consists in obeying God with and from the heart. It is man's duty. It is true, God induces him to do it. He influences him by his Spirit, because of his great wickedness and reluctance to obey. If it were not necessary for God to influence men--if men were disposed to obey God, there would be no occasion to pray, "O Lord, revive thy work."
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A "Revival of Religion" presupposes a declension. Almost all the religion in the world has been produced by revivals. God has found it necessary to take advantage of the excitability there is in mankind, to produce powerful excitements among them, before he can lead them to obey.
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There is so little principle in the church, so little firmness and stability of purpose, that unless the religious feelings are awakened and kept excited, counter worldly feeling and excitement will prevail, and men will not obey God. They have so little knowledge, and their principles are so weak, that unless they are excited, they will go back from the path of duty, and do nothing to promote the glory of God. The state of the world is still such, and probably will be till the millennium is fully come, that religion must be mainly promoted by means of revivals.
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. . . It is very desirable that the church should go on steadily in a course of obedience without these excitements. Such excitements are liable to injure the health. Our nervous system is so strung that any powerful excitement, if long continued, injures our health and unfits us for duty. If religion is ever to have a pervading influence in the world, it cannot be so; this spasmodic religion must be done away. Then it will be uncalled for. Christians will not sleep the greater part of the time, and once in a while wake up, and rub their eyes, and bluster about, and vociferate a little while, and then go to sleep again. Then there will be no need that ministers should wear themselves out, and kill themselves, by their efforts to roll back the flood of worldly influence that sets in upon the church. But as yet the state of the Christian world is such, that to expect to promote religion without excitements is unphilosophical and absurd. The great political, and other worldly excitements that agitate Christendom, are all unfriendly to religion, and divert the mind from the interests of the soul. Now these excitements can only be counteracted by religious excitements. And until there is religious principle in the world to put down irreligious excitements, it is in vain to try to promote religion, except by counteracting excitements. This is true in philosophy, and it is a historical fact.
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I. A REVIVAL OF RELIGION IS NOT A MIRACLE.
1. A miracle has been generally defined to be, a Divine interference, setting aside or suspending the laws of nature. It is not a miracle, in this sense. All the laws of matter and mind remain in force. They are neither suspended nor set aside in a revival.
2. It is not a miracle according to another definition of the term miracle--something above the powers of nature. There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. When mankind become religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth . They only exert the powers they had before in a different way, and use them for the glory of God.
3. It is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means--as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.
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I said that a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means. The means which God has enjoined for the production of a revival, doubtless have a natural tendency to produce a revival. Otherwise God would not have enjoined them. But means will not produce a revival, we all know, without the blessing of God. No more will grain. when it is sowed, produce a crop without the blessing of God. it is impossible for us to say that there is not as direct an influence or agency from God, to produce a crop of grain, as there is to produce a revival. . . . In the Bible, the word of God is compared to grain, and preaching is compared to sowing seed, and the results to the springing up and growth of the crop. And the result is just as philosophical in the one case, as in the other, and is as naturally connected with the cause; or, more correctly, a revival is as naturally a result of the use of the appropriate means as a crop is of the use of its approprate means. It is true that religion does not properly belong to the category of cause and effect; but although It is not caused by means, yet it has its occasion, and may as naturally and certainly result from its occasion as a crop does from its cause.
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Suppose a man were to go and preach this doctrine among farmers, about their sowing grain. Let him tell them that God is a sovereign, and will give them a crop only when it pleases him, and that for them to plow and plant and labor as if they expected to raise a crop is very wrong, and taking the work out of the hands of God, that it interferes with his sovereignty, and is going on in their own strength: and that there is no connection between the means and the result on which they can depend. And now, suppose the farmers should believe such doctrine. Why, they would starve the world to death.
Just such results will follow from the church's being persuaded that promoting religion is somehow so mysteriously a subject of Divine sovereignty, that there is no natural connection between the means and the end. What are the results? Why, generation after generation has gone down to hell.
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I. I AM TO SHOW WHAT A REVIVAL IS.
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I. A revival always includes conviction of sin on the part of the church. Backslidden professors cannot wake up and begin right away in the service of God, without deep searchings of heart. The fountains of sin need to be broken up. In a true revival, Christians are always brought under such convictions; they see their sins in such a light, that often they find it impossible to maintain a hope of their acceptance with God. It does not always go to that extent; but there are always, in a genuine revival, deep convictions of sin, and often cases of abandoning all hope.
2. Backslidden Christians will be brought to repentance. A revival is nothing else than a new beginning of obedience to God. Just as in the case of a converted sinner, the first step is a deep repentance, a breaking down of heart, a getting down into the dust before God, with deep humility, and forsaking of sin.
3. Christians will have their faith renewed. While they are in their backslidden state they are blind to the state of sinners. Their hearts are as hard as marble. The truths of the Bible only appear like a dream. They admit it to be all true; their conscience and their judgment assent to it; but their faith does not see it standing out in bold relief, in all the burning realities of eternity. . . . This will lead them to labor zealously to bring others to him. They will feel grieved that others do not love God, when they love him so much. And they will set themselves feelingly to persuade their neighbors to give him their hearts. So their love to men will be renewed. They will be filled with a tender and burning love for souls. They will have a longing desire for the salvation of the whole world. They will be in an agony for individuals whom they want to have saved--their friends, relations, enemies. They will not only be urging them to give their hearts to God, but they will carry them to God in the arms of faith, and with strong crying and tears beseech God to have mercy on them, and save their souls from endless burnings.
4. A revival breaks the power of the world and of sin over Christians. It brings them to such vantage ground that they get a fresh impulse towards heaven. They have a new foretaste of heaven, and new desires after union to God; and the charm of the world is broken, and the power of sin overcome.
5. When the churches are thus awakened and reformed, the reformation and salvation of sinners will follow, going through the same stages of conviction, repentance, and reformation. Their hearts will be broken down and changed. Very often the most abandoned profligates are among the subjects. Harlots, and drunkards, and infidels, and all sorts of abandoned characters, are awakened and converted. The worst among human beings are softened, and reclaimed, and made to appear as lovely specimens of the beauty of holiness.
III. I AM TO CONSIDER THE AGENCIES EMPLOYED IN CARRYING FORWARD A REVIVAL OF RELIGION.
Ordinarily, there are three agents employed in the work of conversion, and one instrument. The agents are God,--some person who brings the truth to bear on the mind,--and the sinner himself. The instrument is the truth. There are always two agents, God and the sinner, employed and active in every case of genuine conversion.
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The church is required to use the means for the conversion of sinners. Sinners cannot properly be said to use the means for their own conversion. The church uses the means. What sinners do is to submit to the truth, or to resist it. It is a mistake of sinners, to think they are using means for their own conversion. The whole drift of a revival, and every thing about it, is designed to present the truth to your mind, for your obedience or resistance.
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FINALLY --I have a proposal to make to you who are here present. I have not commenced this course of Lectures on Revivals to get up a curious theory of my own on the subject. I would not spend my time and strength merely to give you instructions, to gratify your curiosity, and furnish you something to talk about. I have no idea of preaching about revivals. It is not my design to preach so as to have you able to say at the close, "We understand all about revivals now," while you do nothing. But I wish to ask you a question. What do you hear lectures on revivals for? Do you mean that whenever you arc convinced what your duty is in promoting a revival, you will go to work and practise it?
Will you follow the instructions I shall give you from the word of God, and put them in practice in your own lives? Will you bring them to bear upon your families, your acquaintances, neighbors, and through the city? Or will you spend the winter in learning about revivals, and do nothing for them? I want you, as fast as you learn any thing on the subject of revivals, to put it in practice, and go to work and see if you cannot promote a revival among sinners here. If you will not do this, I wish you to let me know at the beginning, so that I need not waste my strength. You ought to decide now whether you will do this or not. You know that we call sinners to decide on the spot whether they will obey the gospel. And we have no more authority to let you take time to deliberate whether you will obey God, than we have to let sinners do so. We call on you to unite now in a solemn pledge to God, that you will do your duty as fast as you learn what it is, and to pray that He will pour out his Spirit upon this church and upon all the city this winter.
I PREACHED last Friday evening from the same text, on the method of dealing with sinners by private Christians. My object at this time is to take up the more public means of grace, with particular reference to the
As I observed in my last lecture, wisdom is choice and pursuit of the best end by the most appropriate means. The great end for which the Christian Ministry was appointed, is to glorify God in the salvation of souls. In speaking on this subject I propose to show,
I. That a right discharge of the duties of a minister requires great wisdom.
II. That the amount of success in the discharge of his duties (other things being equal) decides the amount of wisdom employed by him in the exercise of his office.
I. I am to show that a right discharge of the duties of a minister requires great wisdom.
1. On account of the opposition it encounters. The very end for which the ministry is appointed is one against which is arrayed the most powerful opposition of sinners themselves. If men were willing to receive the gospel, and there were nothing needed to be done but to tell the story of redemption, a child might convey the news. . . .
2. The particular means appointed to be employed in the work show the necessity of great wisdom in ministers. If men were converted by an act of physical omnipotence, creating some new taste, or something like that, and if sanctification were nothing but the same physical omnipotence rooting out the remaining roots of sin from the soul, it would not require so much sagacity and skill to win souls. Nor would there then be any meaning in the text. But the truth is that regeneration and sanctification are to be effected by moral means--by argument and not by force. There never was and never will be any one saved by any thing but truth as the means. . . . Take into view the opposition of the sinner himself, and you see that nothing, after all, short of the wisdom of God and the moral power of the Holy Spirit, can break down this opposition, and bring him to submit to God. Still the means are to be used by men, and means adapted to the end, skillfully used. . . .
3. He has the powers of earth and hell to overcome, and that calls for wisdom. The devil is constantly at work, trying to prevent the success of ministers, laboring to divert the attention from the subject of religion, and to get the sinner away from God and lead him down to hell. The whole framework of society, almost, is hostile to religion. Nearly all the influences which surround a man from his cradle to his grave, in the present state of society, are calculated to defeat the design of the ministry. Does not a minister then need great wisdom to conflict with the powers of darkness, and the whole influence of the world, in addition to the sinner's own opposition?
4. The same is seen from the infinite importance of the end itself. The end of the ministry is the salvation of the soul. When we consider the importance of the end, and the difficulties of the work, who will not say with the apostle, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
5. He must understand how to wake up the church, and get them out of the way of the conversion of sinners. This is often the most difficult part of a minister's work, and requires more wisdom and patience than any thing else. Indeed, to do this successfully, is a most rare qualification in the Christian ministry. It is a point where almost all ministers fail. They know not how to wake up the church, and raise the tone of piety to a high standard, and thus clear the way for the work of conversion. Many ministers can preach to sinners very well, but gain little success, while the counteracting influence of the church resists it all, and they have not skill enough to remove the difficulty. There is only here and there a minister in the country who knows how to probe the church when they are in a cold, backslidden state, so as effectually to wake them up, and keep them awake. The members of the church sin against such light, that when they become cold it is very difficult to rouse them up. They have a form of piety which wards off the truth, while at the same time it is just that kind of piety which has no power nor efficiency. Such professors are the most difficult individuals to arouse from their slumbers. I do not mean that they are always more wicked than the impenitent. They are often employed about the machinery of religion, and pass for very good Christians, but are of no use in a revival.
I know ministers are sometimes amazed to hear it said that churches are not awake. No wonder such ministers do not know how to wake a sleeping church. . . . When it has come to this, that ministers do not know when the church is asleep, no wonder that we have no revivals.
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6. He must know how to set the church to work when they are awake. If a minister attempts to go to work alone, calculating to do it all himself, it is like attempting to roll a great stone up a hill alone. The church can do much to help forward a revival. Churches have sometimes had powerful revivals without any minister. But when a minister has a church who are awake, and knows how to set them to work, and how to sit at the helm and guide them, he may feel strong, and oftentimes may find that they do more than he does himself, in the conversion of sinners.
7. In order to be successful, a minister needs great wisdom to know how to keep the church to the work. Often the church seem just like children. You set children to work, and they appear to be all engaged, but as soon as your back is turned they will stop and go to play. The great difficulty in continuing a revival lies here. And to meet it requires great wisdom. To know how to break them down again, when their heart gets lifted up because they have had such a great revival; to wake them up afresh when their zeal begins to flag; to keep their hearts full of zeal for the work; these are some of the most difficult things in the world.
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8. He must understand the Gospel. But you will ask, Do not all ministers understand the Gospel? I answer, that they certainly do not all understand it alike, for they do not all preach alike.
9. He must know how to divide it, so as to bring forward the particular truths, in that order, and to make them bear upon those points and at such times as are calculated to produce a given result. A minister should understand the philosophy of the human mind, so as to know how to plan and arrange his labors wisely. Truth, when brought to bear upon the mind, is in itself calculated to produce corresponding feelings. The minister must know what feelings he wishes to produce, and how to bring such truth to bear as is calculated to produce these feelings. He must know how to present truth calculated to humble Christians, or to make them feel for sinners, or to awaken sinners, or to convert them.
Often, when sinners are awakened, the ground is lost for the want of wisdom in following up the blow.
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A great many good sermons preached are all lost for the want of a little wisdom here. They are good sermons, and calculated, if well timed, to do great good; but they have so little connection with the actual state of feeling in the congregation, that it would be more than a miracle if they should produce a revival. A minister may preach in this random way till he has preached himself to death, and never produce any great results. He may convert here and there a scattering soul; but he will not move the mass of the congregation unless he knows how to follow up his impressions, to carry out a plan of operations and execute it, so as to carry on the work when it is begun. He must not only be able to blow the trumpet so loud as to start the sinner up from his lethargy, but when he is waked, he must lead him by the shortest way to Jesus Christ. And not as soon as sinners are roused by a sermon, immediately begin to preach about some remote subject that has no tendency to carry on the work.
10. To reach different classes of sinners successfully requires great wisdom on the part of a minister. For instance, a sermon on a particular subject may start a particular class of persons among his hearers. Perhaps they will begin to look serious, or perhaps talk about it, or perhaps they will begin to cavil about it. Now, if the minister is wise, he will know how to observe those indications, and to follow right on with sermons adapted to this class, until he leads them into the kingdom of God. Then let him go back and take another class, find out where they are hid, break down their refuges, and follow them up, till he leads them into the kingdom of God. He should thus beat about every bush where sinners hide themselves, as the voice of God followed Adam in the garden--"ADAM, WHFRE ART THOU?" till one class of hearers after another are brought in, and so the whole community converted. Now a minister must be very wise to do this. It never will be done so, till a minister sets himself to hunt out and bring in every class of sinners in his congregation, the old and young, male and female, rich and poor.
11. A minister needs great wisdom to get sinners away from their present refuges of lies, without forming new hiding places for them. I once sat under the ministry of a man who had contracted a great alarm about heresies, and was constantly employed in confuting them. And he used to bring up many such heresies as his people never heard of. He got his ideas chiefly from books, and mingled very little among the people to know what they thought. And the result of his labors often was, that the people would be taken with the heresy, more than with the argument against it. The novelty of the error attracted their attention so much that they forgot the answer. And in that way he gave many of his people new objections against religion, such as they never thought of before. If a man does not mingle enough with mankind to know how people think now-a-days he cannot expect to be wise to meet their objections and difficulties.
I have heard a great deal of preaching against Universalists, that did more hurt than good, because the preachers did not understand how Universalists of the present day reason. They have never mingled with Universalists, and know not what they believe and how they argue, now, but have got all they know of Universalism from books that were written long ago, and are now out of date among Universalists themselves. And the consequence is that when they attempt to preach against Universalism they oppose a man of straw, and not Universalist sentiments as they are now found in the community. And people either laugh at them, or say it is all lies, for they know Universalists do not hold such sentiments as are ascribed to them by the preacher.
When ministers undertake to oppose a present heresy, they ought to know what it is at present. . . . It is of no use to misrepresent a man's doctrines to his face, and then try to reason him out of them. You must state his doctrine just as he holds it, and state his arguments fairly. Otherwise, if you state them wrong, you either make him angry, or he laughs in his sleeve at the advantage you give him. He will say, That man cannot argue with me on fair grounds; he has to misrepresent our doctrines in order to confute me. Great hurt is done in this way. Ministers do not intend to misrepresent their opponents; but the effect of it is, that the poor miserable creatures who hold these errors go to hell because ministers do not take care to inform themselves what are their real errors.
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12. Ministers ought to know what measures are best calculated to aid in accomplishing the great end of their office, the salvation of souls.
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What do the politicians do? They get up meetings; circulate handbills and pamphlets; blaze away in the newspapers; send their ships about the streets on wheels with flags and sailors; send coaches all over town, with handbills, to bring people up to the polls--all to gain attention to their cause and elect their candidate. All these are their "measures," and for their end they are wisely calculated. The object is to get up an excitement, and bring the people out. They know that unless there can be an excitement it is in vain to push their end. I do not mean to say that their measures are pious, or right, but only that they are wise, in the sense that they are the appropriate application of means to the end.
The object of the ministry is to get all the people to feel that the devil has no right to rule this world, but that they ought all to give themselves to God, and vote in the Lord Jesus Christ as the governor of the universe. Now what shall be done? What measures shall we take? Says one, "Be sure and have nothing that is new." Strange! The object of our measures is to gain attention, and you must have something new. As sure as the effect of a measure becomes stereotyped, it ceases to gain attention, and then you must try something new. You need not make innovations in everything. But whenever the state of things is such that anything more is needed, it must be something new, otherwise it will fail. A minister should never introduce innovations that are not called for. If he does, they will embarrass him. He cannot alter the Gospel; that remains the same. But new measures are necessary, from time to time, to awaken attention, and bring the Gospel to bear upon the public mind. And then a minister ought to know how to introduce new things, so as to create the least possible resistance or reaction. Mankind are fond of form in religion. They love to have their religious duties stereotyped, so as to leave them at ease; and they are therefore inclined to resist any new movement designed to rouse them up to action and feeling. Hence it is all-important to introduce new things wisely, so as not to give needless occasion or apology for resistance.
13. Not a little wisdom is sometimes needed by a minister to know when to put a stop to new measures. When a measure has novelty enough to secure attention to the truth, ordinarily no other new measure should be introduced. You have secured the great object of novelty. Anything more will be in danger of diverting the public mind away from the great object, and fixing it on the measures themselves. And then, if you introduce novelties when they are not called for, you will go over so large a field, that by and by when you really want something new, you will have nothing else to introduce, without doing something that will give too great a shock to the public mind. The Bible has laid down no specific course of measures to promote revivals of religion, but has left it to ministers to adopt such as are wisely calculated to secure the end. And the more sparing we are of our new things, the longer we can use them, to keep public attention awake to the great subject of religion. By a wise course this may undoubtedly be done for a long series of years, until our present measures will by and by have sufficient novelty in them again to attract and fix public attention. And so we shall never want for something new.
14. A minister, to win souls, must know how to deal with careless, with awakened, and with anxious sinners, so as to lead them right to Christ in the shortest and most direct way. It is amazing to see how many ministers there are who do not know how to deal with sinners, or what to say to them in their various states of mind.
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A minister once appointed an anxious meeting, and went to attend it, and instead of going round to the individuals, he began to ask them the catechism, "Wherein doth Christ execute the office of a priest?" About as much in point to a great many of their minds as anything else.
I know a minister who held an anxious meeting, and went to attend it with a written discourse which he had prepared for the occasion. Just as wise it would be if a physician, going out to visit his patients, should sit down at leisure and write all the prescriptions before he had seen them. A minister needs to know the state of mind of the individuals, before he can know what truth will be proper and useful to administer. I say these things, not because I love to do it, but because truth, and the object before me, requires them to be said. And such instances as I have mentioned are by no means rare.
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II. The amount of a minister's success in winning souls (other things being equal) invariably decides the amount of wisdom he has exercised in the discharge of his office."
1. This is plainly asserted in the text. "He that winneth souls is wise." That is, if a man wins souls, he does skillfully adapt means to the end, which is, to exercise wisdom. He is the more wise, by how much the greater is the number of sinners that he saves. A blockhead may, indeed, now and then stumble on such truth or such a manner of exhibiting it, as to save a soul. It would be a wonder indeed if any minister did not sometimes have something in his sermons that would meet the case of some individual. But the amount of wisdom is to be decided, "other things being equal," by the number of cases in which he is successful in converting sinners.
Take the case of a physician. The greatest quack in New York may now and then stumble upon a remarkable cure, and so get his name up with the ignorant. But sober and judicious people judge of the skill of a physician by the uniformity of his success in overcoming disease, the variety of diseases he can manage, and the number of cases in which he is successful in saving his patients. The most skillful saves the most. This is common sense. It is truth. And it is just as true in regard to success in saving souls, and true in just the same sense.
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1. A minister may be very learned and not wise. There are many ministers possessed of great learning; they understand all the sciences, physical, moral, and theological; they may know the dead languages, and possess all learning, and yet not be wise, in relation to the great end about which they are chiefly employed. Facts clearly demonstrate this. "He that winneth souls is wise."
2. An unsuccessful minister may be pious as well as learned, and yet not wise. It is unfair to infer because a minister is unsuccessful, that therefore he is a hypocrite. There may be something defective in his education, or in his mode of viewing a subject, or of exhibiting it, or such a want of common sense, as will defeat his labors, and prevent his success in winning souls, while he himself may be saved--"yet so as by fire."
3. A minister may be very wise, though he is not learned. He may not understand the dead languages, or theology in its common acceptation; and yet he may know just what a minister of the gospel wants most to know, without knowing many other things. A learned minister and a wise minister are different things. . . . Do not understand me to disparage learning. The more learning the better, if he is also wise in the great matter he is employed about.
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4. Want of success in a minister (other things being equal) proves, (1.) either that he was never called to preach, and has taken it up out of his own head; or (2.) that he was badly educated, and was never taught the very things he wants most to know; or (3.) if he was called to preach, and knows how to do his duty, he is too indolent and too wicked to do it.
5. Those are the best educated ministers, who win the most souls. Ministers are sometimes looked down upon, and called very ignorant, because they do not know the sciences and languages; although they are very far from being ignorant of the great thing for which the ministry is appointed. This is wrong. Learning is important, and always useful. But after all, a minister may know how to win souls to Christ, without great learning, and he has the best education for a minister, who can win the most souls to Christ.
6. There is evidently a great defect in the present mode of educating ministers. This is a SOLEMN FACT, to which the attention of the whole church should be distinctly called; that the great mass of young ministers who are educated accomplish very little.
When young men come out from the seminaries, are they fit to go into a revival? Look at a place where there has been a revival in progress, and a minister is wanted. Let them send to a theological seminary for a minister. Will he enter into the work, and sustain it, and carry it on? Seldom. Like David with Saul's armor, he comes in with such a load of theological trumpery, that he knows nothing what to do. Leave him there for two weeks, and the revival is at an end. The churches know and feel, that the greater part of these young men do not know how to do anything that needs to be done for a revival, and they are complaining that the young ministers are so far behind the church. You may send all over the United States, to theological seminaries, and find but few young ministers fitted to carry forward the work. What a state of things!
There is a grand defect in educating ministers. Education ought to be such, as to prepare young men for the peculiar work to which they are destined. But instead of this, they are educated for any thing else. The grand mistake is this. They direct the mind too much to irrelevant matters, which are not necessary to be attended to. In their courses of study, they carry the mind over too wide a field, which diverts their attention from the main thing, and so they get cold in religion, and when they get through, instead of being fitted for their work, they are unfitted for it. Under pretence of disciplining the mind, they in fact scatter the attention, so that when they come to their work, they are awkward, and know nothing how to take hold, or how to act, to win souls. This is not universally the case, but too often it is so.
It is common for people to talk loudly and largely about an educated ministry. God forbid that I should say a word against an educated ministry. But what do we mean by an education for the ministry? Do we mean that they should be so educated, as to be fitted for the work? If they are so educated, the more education the better. Let education be of the right kind, teaching a young man the things he needs to know, and not the very things he does not need to know. Let them be educated for the work. Do not let education be such, that when young men come out, after spending six, eight, or ten years in study, they are not worth half as much as they were before they went. I have known young men come out after what they call "a thorough course," who were not fit to take charge of a prayer meeting, and who could not manage a prayer meeting, so as to make it profitable or interesting.
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It is common for those ministers who have been to the seminaries, and are now useful, to affirm that their course of studies there did them little or no good, and that they had to unlearn what they had there learned, before they could effect much. I do not say this censoriously, but it is a solemn fact, and I must say it in love.
Suppose you were going to make a man a surgeon in the navy. Instead of sending him to the medical school to learn surgery, would you send him to the nautical school to learn navigation? In this way, you might qualify him to navigate a ship, but he is no surgeon. Ministers should be educated to know what the Bible is, and what the human mind is, and know how to bring one to bear on the other. They should be brought into contact with mind, and made familiar with all the aspects of society. They should have the Bible in one hand, and the map of the human mind in the other, and know how to use the truth for the salvation of men.
7. A want of common sense often defeats the ends of the Christian ministry. There are many good men in the ministry, who have learning, and talents of a certain sort, but they have no common sense to win souls.
8. We see one great defect in our theological schools.--Young men are shut up in their schools, confined to books and shut out from intercourse with the common people, or contact with the common mind. Hence they are not familiar with the mode in which common people think. This accounts for the fact that some plain men, that have been brought up to business, and acquainted with human nature, are ten times better qualified to win souls than those who are educated on the present principle, and are in fact ten times as well acquainted with the proper business of the ministry.
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I wish to be understood. I do not say that I would not have a young man go to school. Nor would I discourage him from going over the field of science. The more the better, if together with it he learns also the things that the minister needs to know, in order to win souls--if he understands his Bible, and understands human nature, and knows how to bring the truth to bear, and how to guide and manage minds, and to lead them away from sin and lead them to God.
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9. . . . It is profane to say that such a measure will do more hurt than good. God knows about that. His object is, to do the greatest amount of good possible. And of course he will not add his blessing to a measure that will do more hurt than good. He may sometimes withhold his blessing from a measure that is calculated to do some good because it will be at the expense of a greater good. But he never will bless a pernicious proceeding. There is no such thing as deceiving God in the matter. He knows whether a given measure is, on the whole, wise, or not. He may bless a course of labours notwithstanding some unwise or injurious measures. But if he blesses the measure itself, it is rebuking God to pronounce it unwise. He who undertakes to do this, let him look to the matter.
10. It is evident that much fault has been found with measures, which have been pre-eminently and continually blessed of God for the promotion of revivals. . . . if a measure is continually or usually blessed, let the man who thinks he is wiser than God, call it in question. TAKE CARE how you find fault with God!
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I was once distressed and grieved at hearing a minister bearing down upon a young preacher, who had been converted under remarkable circumstances, and who was licensed to preach without pursuing a regular course of study. This minister, who was never, or at least rarely, known to convert a soul, bore down upon the young man in a very lordly, censorious manner, depreciating him because he had not had the advantage of a liberal education, when in fact he was instrumental in converting more souls than any five hundred ministers like himself.
I would say nothing to undervalue, or lead you to undervalue a thorough education for ministers. But I do not call that a thorough education, which they get in our colleges and seminaries. It does not fit them for their work. I appeal to all experience, whether our young men in seminaries are thoroughly educated for the purpose of winning souls. DO THEY DO IT? Everybody knows they do not. Look at the reports of the Home Missionary Society. If I recollect right, in 1830, the number of conversions in connection with the labors of the missionaries of that society did not exceed five to each missionary. I believe the number has increased since, but is still exceedingly small to what it would have been had they been fitted by a right course of training for their work. I do not say this to reproach them, for from my heart I pity them, and I pity the church for being under the necessity of supporting ministers so trained, or none at all. They are the best men the Missionary Society can obtain. I suppose, of course, that I shall be reproached for saying this. But it is too true and too painful to be concealed. Those fathers who have the training of our young ministers are good men, but they are ancient men, men of another age and stamp, from what is needed in these days of excitement, when the church and world are rising to new thought and action. Those dear fathers will not, I suppose, see this; and will perhaps think hard of me for saying it; but it is the cause of Christ. Some of them are getting back toward second childhood, and ought to resign, and give place to younger men, who are not rendered physically incapable, by age, of keeping pace with the onward movements of the church. And here I would say, that to my own mind, it appears evident, that unless our theological professors preach a good deal, mingle much with the church, and sympathise with her in all her movements, it is morally, if not naturally, impossible, that they should succeed in training young men to the spirit of the age. It is a shame and a sin, that theological professors, who preach but seldom, who are withdrawn from the active duties of the ministry, should sit in their studies and write their letters, advisory, or dictatorial, to ministers and churches who are in the field, and who are in circumstances to judge what needs to be done. The men who spend all or at least a portion of their time in the active duties of the ministry, are the only men who are able to judge of what is expedient or inexpedient, prudent or imprudent, as to measures from time to time. It is as dangerous and ridiculous for our theological professors, who are withdrawn from the field of conflict, to be allowed to dictate, in regard to the measures and movements of the church, as it would be for a general to sit in his bed-chamber and attempt to order a battle.
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How few of you have ever had wisdom enough to convert so much as a single sinner!
Do not say now, "I cannot convert sinners; how can I convert sinners? God alone can convert sinners." Look at the text, "He that winneth souls is wise," and do not think you can escape the sentence. It is true that God converts sinners. But there is a sense, too, in which ministers convert them. And you have something to do; something that requires wisdom; something which, if you do it wisely, will insure the conversion of sinners in proportion to the wisdom employed. If you never have done this, it is high time to think about yourselves, and see whether you have wisdom enough to save even your own souls.
Men--women--you are bound to be wise in winning souls. Perhaps already souls have perished; perhaps a friend, or a child is in hell, because you have not put forth the wisdom which you might, in saving them. The city is going to hell. Yes, the world is going to hell, and must go on, till the church finds out what to do, to win souls. Politicians are wise. The children of this world are wise, they know what to do to accomplish their ends, while we are prosing about, not knowing what to do, or where to take hold of the work, and sinners are going to hell.
III. As proposed, I shall now advert to several important particulars growing out of this subject, as connected with preaching the Gospel, and which show that great practical wisdom is indispensable to win souls to Christ.
And FIRST, in regard to the MATTER OF PREACHING.
1. All preaching should be practical.
The proper end of all doctrine is practice. Anything brought forward as doctrine, which cannot be made use of as practical, is not preaching the Gospel. There is none of that sort of preaching in the Bible. That is all practical. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." A vast deal of preaching in the present day, as well as in past ages, is called doctrinal, as opposed to practical preaching. The very idea of making this distinction is a device of the devil. And a more abominable device Satan himself never devised. You sometimes hear certain men tell a wonderful deal about the necessity of "indoctrinating the people." By which they mean something different from practical preaching; teaching them certain doctrines, as abstract truths, without any particular reference to practice. And I have known a minister in the midst of a revival, while surrounded with anxious sinners, leave off laboring to convert souls, for the purpose of "Indoctrinating" the young converts, for fear somebody else should indoctrinate them before him. And there the revival stops! Either his doctrine was not true, or it was not preached in the right way. To preach doctrines in an abstract way, and not in reference to practice, is absurd. God always brings in doctrine to regulate practice. To bring forward doctrinal views for any other object is not only nonsense, but it is wicked.
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2. Preaching should be direct. The Gospel should be preached to men, and not about them. The minister must address his hearers. He must preach to them about themselves, and not leave the impression that he is preaching to them about others. He will never do them any good, farther than he succeeds in convincing each individual that he means him. Many preachers seem very much afraid of making the impression that they mean any body in particular. They are preaching against certain sins, not that have anything to do with the sinner. It is the sin, and not the sinner, that they are rebuking; and they would by no means speak as if they supposed any of their hearers were guilty of these abominable practices. Now this is anything but preaching the Gospel. Thus did not the prophets, nor Christ, nor the apostles. Nor do those ministers do this, who are successful in winning souls to Christ.
3. Another very important thing to be regarded in preaching is, that the minister should hunt after sinners and Christians, wherever they may have intrenched themselves in inaction. It is not the design of preaching, to make men easy and quiet, but to make them ACT. It is not the design of calling in a physician to have him give opiates, and so cover up the disease and let it run on till it works death; but to search out the disease wherever it may be hidden, and to remove it. So if a professor of religion has backslidden, and is full of doubts and fears, it is not the minister's duty to quiet him in his sins, and comfort him, but to hunt him out of his errors and backslidings, and show him just where he stands, and what it is that makes him full of doubts and fears.
A minister ought to know the religious opinions of every sinner in his congregation. Indeed, a minister in the country is inexcusable if he does not. He has no excuse for not knowing the religious views of all his congregation, and of all that may come under his influence if he has had opportunity to know them. How otherwise can he preach to them? How can he know how to bring forth things new and old, and adapt truth to their case? How can he hunt them out unless he knows where they hide themselves? He may ring changes on a few fundamental doctrines, Repentance and Faith, and Faith and Repentance, till the day of judgment, and never make any impression on many minds. Every sinner has some hiding-place, some intrenchment where he lingers. He is in possession of some darling LIE, with which he is quieting himself. Let the minister find it out and get it away, either in the pulpit or in private or the man will go to hell in his sins, and his blood will be found in the minister's skirts.
4. Another important thing to observe is, that a minister should dwell most on those particular points which are most needed. I will explain what I mean.
Sometimes he may find a people who have been led to place great reliance on their own resolutions. They think they can consult their own convenience, and by and by they will repent, when they get ready, without any concern about the Spirit of God. Let him take up these notions, and show that they are entirely contrary to the Scriptures.
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So on the other hand. He may find a people who have got such views of Election and Sovereignty, as to think they have nothing to do but to wait for the moving of the waters. Let him go right over against them, and crowd upon them their ability to obey God, and to show their obligation and duty, and press them with that until he brings them to submit and be saved. They have got behind a perverted view of these doctrines, and there is no way to drive them out of the hiding-place but to set them right on these points. Wherever a sinner is intrenched, unless you pour light upon him there, you will never move him.
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I have been informed of a minister in New England, who was settled in a congregation which had long enjoyed little else than Arminian preaching, and the congregation themselves were chiefly Arminians. Well, this minister, in his preaching, strongly insisted on the opposite points, the doctrine of election, Divine sovereignty, predestination, etc. The consequence was, as might have been expected where this was done with ability, there was a powerful revival. Some time afterwards this same minister was called to labor in another field, in this State, where the people were all on the other side, and strongly tinctured with Antinomianism. They had got such perverted views of election, and Divine sovereignty, that they were continually saying they had no power to do anything, but must wait God's time. Now, what does this minister do, but immediately go to preaching the doctrine of election. And when he was asked, how he could think of preaching the doctrine of election so much to that people, when it was the very thing that lulled them to a deeper slumber, he replied. "Why, that's the very class of truths by which I had such a great revival in-----;" not considering the difference in the views of the people. And if I am correctly informed, there he is to this day, preaching away at the doctrine of election, and wondering that it does not produce as powerful a revival as it did in the other place. Probably those sinners never will be converted. You must take things as they are, find out where sinners lie, and pour in truth upon them there, and START THEM OUT from their refuges of lies. It is of vast importance that a minister should find out where the congregation are, and preach accordingly.
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5. If a minister means to promote a revival, he should be very careful not to introduce controversy. He will grieve away the Spirit of God. In this way probably more revivals are put down, than in any other. Look back upon the history of the church from the beginning, and you will see that ministers are generally responsible for grieving away the Spirit and causing declensions by controversy. It is the ministers who bring forward controversial subjects for discussion, and by and by they get very zealous on the subject, and then get the church into a controversial spirit, and so the Spirit of God is grieved away.
. . . I believe the ministers of the present day are responsible for the present state of the church, and it will be seen to be true at the judgment. Who does not know that ministers have been crying out "Heresy," and "New Measures," and talking about the "Evils of Revivals," until they have got the church all in confusion? Look at the poor Presbyterian church, and see ministers getting up their Act and Testimony, and keeping up a continual war! O God, have mercy on ministers.
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6. The Gospel should be preached in those proportions, that the whole Gospel may be brought before the minds of the people, and produce its proper influence. If too much stress is laid on one class of truths, the Christian character will not have its due proportions. Its symmetry will not be perfect. If that class of truths be almost exclusively dwelt upon, that requires great exertion of intellect, without being brought home to the heart and conscience, it will be found that the church will be indoctrinated in those views, will have their heads filled with notions, but will not be awake, and active, and efficient in the promotion of religion. If, on the other hand, the preaching be loose, indefinite, exhortatory, and highly impassioned, the church will be like a ship, with too much sail for her ballast. It will be in danger of being swept away by a tempest of feeling, where there is not sufficient knowledge to prevent their being carried away with every wind of doctrine. If election and sovereignty are too much preached, there will be Antinomianism in the church, and sinners will hide themselves behind the delusion that they can do nothing. If the other doctrines of ability and obligation are too prominent, they will produce Arminianism in the church, and sinners will be blustering and self-confident.
When I entered the ministry, there had been so much said about the doctrine of election and sovereignty, that I found it was the universal hiding place, both of sinners and of the church, that they could not do anything, or could not obey the Gospel. And wherever I went, I found it indispensable to demolish these refuges of lies. And a revival would in no way be produced or carried on, but by dwelling on that class of truths, which holds up man's ability, and obligation, and responsibility. This was the only class of truths that would bring sinners to submission.
It was not so in the days when President Edwards and Whitefield labored. Then the churches in New England had enjoyed little else than Arminian preaching, and were all resting in themselves and their own strength. These bold and devoted servants of God came out and declared those particular doctrines of grace, Divine sovereignty, and election, and they were greatly blessed. They did not dwell on these doctrines exclusively, but they preached them very fully. The consequence was, that because in those circumstances revivals followed from such preaching, the ministers who followed, continued to preach these doctrines exclusively. And they dwelt on them so long, that the church and the world got intrenched behind them, waiting for God to come and do what he required them to do, and so revivals ceased for many years.
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By preaching truth in proper proportions, I do not mean mingling all things together in the same sermon, in such a way that sinners will not see their connection or consistency. A minister once asked another, Why do you not preach the doctrine of election? Because, said the other, I find sinners here are intrenched behind inability. The first then said he once knew a minister who used to preach election in the forenoon, and repentance in the afternoon. Marvellous grace it must be, that would produce a revival under such preaching! What connection is there in this? Instead of exhibiting to the sinner his sins in the morning, and then and in the afternoon calling on him to repent, he is first turned to the doctrine of election, and then commanded to repent. What is he to repent of? The doctrine of election? This is not what I mean by preaching truth in its proportion. Bringing things together, that only confound the sinner's mind, and overwhelm him with a fog of metaphysics, is not wise preaching. . . . Election, predestination, free-agency, inability, and duty, have all been thrown together in one promiscuous jumble. And with regard to many sermons, it has been too true, as has been objected, that ministers have preached,
You can and you can't,
You shall and you sha'n't,
You will and you won't
And you'll be damned if you don't.
Such a mixture of truth and error, of light and darkness, has confounded the congregation, and been the fruitful source of Universalism and every species of infidelity and error.
7. It is of great importance that the sinner should be made to feel his guilt, and not left to the impression that he is unfortunate. I think this is a very prevailing fault, particularly with printed books on the subject.
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Multitudes of the books written for children, and for adults too, within the last twenty years, have run into this mistake to an alarming degree.
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8. A prime object with the preacher must be to make present obligation felt. I have talked, I suppose, with many thousands of anxious sinners. And I have found that they had never before felt the pressure of present obligation. The impression is not commonly made by ministers in their preaching that sinners are expected to repent NOW. And if ministers suppose they make this impression, they deceive themselves. . . . Oh, to what an alarming extent does the impression now prevail among the impenitent, that they are not expected to repent now, but must wait God's time!
9. Sinners ought to be made to feel that they have something to do, and that is to repent; that it is something which no other being can do for them, neither God nor man, and something which they can do, and do now. Religion is something to do, not something to wait for. And they must do it now, or they are in danger of eternal death.
10. Ministers should never rest satisfied, until they have ANNIHILATED every excuse of sinners. The plea of "Inability" is the worst of all excuses. It slanders God so, charging him with infinite tyranny, in commanding men to do that which they have no power to do. Make the sinner see and feel that this is the very nature of his excuse. Make the sinner see that all pleas in excuse for not submitting to God, are an act of rebellion against him. Tear away the last LIE which he grasps in his hand, and make him feel that he is absolutely condemned before God.
11. Sinners should be made to feel that if they now grieve away the Spirit of God, it is very probable that they will be lost for ever. There is infinite danger of this. They should be made to understand why they are dependent on the Spirit, and that it is not because they cannot do what God commands, but because they are unwilling; but that they are so unwilling that it is just as certain they will not repent without the Holy Ghost, as if they were now in hell, or as if they were actually unable. They are so opposed and so unwilling, that they never will repent in the world, unless God sends his Holy Spirit upon them.
Show them, too, that a sinner under the Gospel, who hears the truth preached, if converted at all, is generally converted young. And if not converted while young, he is commonly given up of God. Where the truth is preached, sinners are either gospel-hardened or converted. I know some old sinners are converted, but they are rather exceptions, and by no means common.
I wish now, SECONDLY, to make a few remarks on the MANNER OF PREACHING.
1. It should be conversational. Preaching, to be understood, should be colloquial in its style. A minister must preach just as he would talk, if he wishes to be fully understood. Nothing is more calculated to make a sinner feel that religion is some mysterious thing that he cannot understand, than this mouthing, formal, lofty style of speaking, so generally employed in the pulpit. The minister ought to do as the lawyer does when he wants to make a jury understand him perfectly. He uses a style perfectly colloquial. This lofty, swelling style will do no good. The Gospel will never produce any great effects, until ministers talk to their hearers, in the pulpit, as they talk in private conversation.
2. It must be in the language of common life. Not only should it be colloquial in its style, but the words should be such as are in common use. Otherwise they will not be understood. In the New Testament you will observe that Jesus Christ invariably uses words of the most common kind. You scarcely find a word of his instructions, that any child cannot understand. The language of the gospels is the plainest, simplest, and most easily understood of any language in the world.
For a minister to neglect this principle, is wicked. Some ministers use language that is purely technical in preaching. They think to avoid the mischief by explaining the meaning fully at the outset; but this will not answer.
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Use words that can be perfectly understood. Do not, for fear of appearing unlearned, use language half Latin and half Greek, which the people do not understand. The apostle says the man is a barbarian, who uses language that the people do not understand. And "if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?"
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I have sometimes heard ministers preach, even when there was a revival, when I have wondered what that part of the congregation would do, who had no dictionary. So many phrases were brought in, manifestly to adorn the discourse, rather than to instruct the people, that I have felt as if I wanted to tell the man, "Sit down, and not confound the people's minds with your barbarian preaching, that they cannot understand."
3. Preaching should be parabolical. That is, illustrations should be constantly used, drawn from incidents, real or supposed. Jesus Christ constantly illustrated his instructions in this way. He would either advance a principle and then illustrate it by a parable, that is, a short story of some event real or imaginary, or else he would bring out the principle in the parable. There are millions of facts that can be used to advantage, and yet very few ministers dare to use them, for fear somebody will reproach them. "Oh," says somebody, "he tells stories." Tells stories! Why, that is the way Jesus Christ preached. And it is the only way to preach.
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4. The illustrations should be drawn from common life, and the common business of society. I once heard a minister illustrate his ideas by the manner in which merchants transact business in their stores. Another minister who was present made some remarks to him afterwards. He objected to this illustration particularly, because, he said, it was too familiar, and was letting down the dignity of the pulpit. He said all illustrations in preaching should be drawn from ancient history, or from some elevated source, that would keep up the dignity of the pulpit. Dignity indeed! Just the language of the devil. He rejoices in it. Why, the object of an illustration is, to make people see the truth, not to bolster up pulpit dignity. A minister whose heart is in the work, does not use an illustration to make people stare, but to make them see the truth.
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The Saviour always illustrated his instructions by things that were taking place among the people to whom he preached, and with which their minds were familiar. He descended often very far below what is now supposed to be essential to support the dignity of the pulpit. He talked about the hens and chickens, and children in market-places, and sheep and lambs, shepherds and farmers, and husbandmen and merchants. And when he talked about kings, as in the marriage of the king's son, and the nobleman that went into a far country to receive a kingdom, he had reference to historical facts, that were well known among the people at the time. The illustration should always be drawn from things so common that the illustration itself will not attract attention away from the subject, but that people may see through it the truth illustrated.
5. Preaching should be repetitious. If a minister wishes to preach with effect, he must not be afraid of repeating whatever he sees is not perfectly understood by his hearers. Here is the evil of using notes. The preacher preaches right along just as he has it written down, and cannot observe whether he is understood or not. . . . If a minister has his eyes on the people he is preaching to, he can commonly tell by their looks whether they understand him. And if he sees they do not understand any particular point, let him stop and illustrate it. If they do not understand one illustration, let him give another, and make it all clear to their minds, before he goes on. But those who write their sermons go right on, in a regular consecutive train, just as in any essay or a book, and do not repeat their thoughts till the audience fully comprehend them.
I was conversing with one of the first advocates in this country. He said the difficulty which preachers find in making themselves understood, is, that they do not repeat enough, Says he, "In addressing a jury, I always expect that whatever I wish to impress upon their minds, I shall have to repeat at least twice, and often I repeat it three or four times, and even as many times as there are jurymen before me. Otherwise, I do not carry their minds along with me, so that they can feel the force of what comes afterwards."
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6. A minister should always feel deeply his subject, and then he will suit the action to the word and the word to the action, so as to make the full impression which the truth is calculated to make. He should be in solemn earnest in what he says.
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Let a minister, then, only feel what he says, and not be tied to his notes, to read an essay, or to speak a piece, like a school-boy, first on one foot and then on the other, put out first one hand and then the other. Let him speak as he feels, and act as he feels, and he will be eloquent.
No wonder that a great deal of preaching produces so little effect. Gestures are of more importance than is generally supposed. Mere words will never express the full meaning of the Gospel. The manner of saying it is almost everything. Suppose one of you, that is a mother, goes home to-night, and as soon as you get into the door, the nurse comes rushing up to you, with her whole soul in her countenance, and tells you that your child is burnt to death. You would believe it, and you would feel it too, at once. But suppose she comes and tells it in a cold and careless manner. Would that arouse you? No. It is the earnestness of her manner, and the distress of her looks, that tells the story. You know something is the matter, before she speaks a word.
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A fact which was stated by one of the most distinguished professors of elocution in the United States, ought to impress ministers on this subject, That man was an infidel. He said, "I have been fourteen years employed in teaching elocution to ministers, and I know they do not believe the Christian religion. The Bible may be true. I do not pretend to know as to that, but I know these ministers do not believe it. I can demonstrate that they do not. The perfection of my art is to teach them to speak naturally on this subject. I go to their studies, and converse with them, and they speak eloquently. I say to them, Gentlemen, if you will preach just as you yourselves naturally speak on any other subject in which you are interested, you do not need to be taught. That is just what I am trying to teach you. I hear you talk on other subjects with admirable force and eloquence. I see you go into the pulpit, and you speak and act as if you did not believe what you are saying. I have told them, again and again, to talk in the pulpit as they naturally talk to me. And I cannot make them do it, and so I know they do not believe the Christian religion."
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7. A minister should aim to convert his congregation. But you will ask, Does not all preaching aim at this? No. A minister always has some aim in preaching, but most sermons were never aimed at converting sinners. And if sinners were converted under them, the preacher himself would be amazed.
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8. A minister must anticipate the objections of sinners, and answer them. What does the lawyer do when pleading before a jury? 0h, how differently is the cause of Jesus Christ pleaded from human causes! It was remarked by a lawyer, that the cause of Jesus Christ had the fewest able advocates of any cause in the world. And I partly believe it. Does a lawyer go along in his argument in a regular train, and not explain any thing obscure, or anticipate the arguments of his antagonist? If he did so, he would lose his case to a certainty. But, no. The lawyer, who is pleading for money, anticipates every objection, which may be made by his antagonist, and carefully removes or explains them, so as to leave the ground all clear as he goes along, that the jury may be settled on every point. But ministers often leave one difficulty and another untouched. Sinners who hear them feel the difficulty, and it is never got over in their minds, and they never know how to remove it, and perhaps the minister never takes the trouble to know that such difficulties exist, and yet he wonders why his congregation is not converted, and why there is no revival. How can he wonder at it, when he has never hunted up the difficulties and objections that sinners feel, and removed them?
9. If a minister means to preach the Gospel with effect he must be sure not to be monotonous. If he preaches in a monotonous way, he will preach the people to sleep. Any monotonous sound, great or small, if continued, disposes people to sleep. The falls of Niagara, the roaring of the ocean, or any sound ever so great or small, has this effect naturally on the nervous system. You never hear this monotonous manner from people in conversation. And a minister cannot be monotonous in preaching, if he feels what he says.
10. A minister should address the feelings enough to secure attention, and then deal with the conscience, and probe to the quick. Appeals to the feelings alone will never convert sinners. If the preacher deals too much in these, he may get up an excitement, and have wave after wave of feeling flow over the congregation, and people may be carried away as with a flood, and rest in false hopes. The only way to secure sound conversions is to deal faithfully with the conscience. If attention flags at any time, appeal to the feelings again, and rouse it up; but do your work with conscience.
11. If he can, it is desirable that a minister should learn the effect of one sermon, before he preaches another. Let him learn if it is understood, if it has produced any impression, if any difficulties are felt in regard to the subject which need clearing up, if any objections are raised, and the like. When he knows it all, then he knows what to preach next, What would be thought of the physician who should give medicine to his patient, and then give it again and again, without trying to learn the effect of the first, or whether it had produced any effect or not? A minister never will be able to deal with sinners as he ought, till he can find out whether his instruction has been received and understood, and whether the difficulties in sinners' minds are cleared away, and their path open to the Saviour, so that they need not stumble and stumble till their souls are lost.
I had designed to notice several other points, but time does not admit. I wish to close with a few
4. . . . . All ministers should be revival ministers, and all preaching should be revival preaching; that is, it should be calculated to promote holiness. People say, "It is very well to have some men in the church, who are revival preachers, and who can go about and promote revivals; but then you must have others to indoctrinate the church." Strange! Do they not know that a revival indoctrinates the church faster than anything else! And a minister will never produce a revival, if he does not indoctrinate his hearers. The preaching I have described, is full of doctrine, but it is doctrine to be practised. And that is revival preaching.
5. There are two objections sometimes brought against the kind of preaching which I have recommended.
(1.) That it is letting down the dignity of the pulpit to preach in this colloquial, lawyer-like style. They are shocked at it. But it is only on account of its novelty, and not for any impropriety there is in the thing itself. I heard a remark made by a leading layman in the centre of this State, in regard to the preaching of a certain minister. He said it was the first preaching he ever heard, that he understood, and the first minister he ever heard that spoke as if he believed his own doctrine, or meant what he said. And when he first heard him preach as if he was saying something that he meant, he thought he was crazy. But eventually, he was made to see that it was all true, and he submitted to the truth, as the power of God for the salvation of his soul.
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(2.) It is objected that this preaching is theatrical. The bishop of London once asked Garrick, the celebrated play-actor, why it was that actors, in representing a mere fiction, should move an assembly, even to tears, while ministers, in representing the most solemn realities, could scarcely obtain a hearing. The philosophical Garrick well replied, "It is because we represent fiction as reality, and you represent reality as a fiction." This is telling the whole story. Now what is the design of the actor in a theatrical representation? It is so to throw himself into the spirit and meaning of the writer, as to adopt his sentiments, make them his own, feel them, embody them, throw them out upon the audience as living reality. And now, what is the objection to all this in preaching? The actor suits the action to the word, and the word to the action. His looks, his hands, his attitudes, and everything are designed to express the full meaning of the writer. Now this should be the aim of the preacher. And if by "theatrical" be meant the strongest possible representation of the sentiments expressed, then the more theatrical a sermon is, the better. And if ministers are too stiff, and the people too fastidious, to learn even from an actor, or from the stage, the best method of swaying mind, of enforcing sentiment, and diffusing the warmth of burning thought over a congregation, then they must go on with their prosing, and reading, and sanctimonious starch. But let them remember, that while they are thus turning away and decrying the art of the actor, and attempting to support "the dignity of the pulpit," the theatres can be thronged every night. The common-sense people will be entertained with that manner of speaking, and sinners will go down to hell.
6. A congregation may learn how to choose a minister.
When a vacant church are looking out for a minister, there are two leading points on which they commonly fix their attention. (1.) That he should be popular. (2.) That he should be learned. That is very well. But this point should be the first in their inquiries--"Is he wise to win souls?" No matter how eloquent a minister is, or how learned. No matter how pleasing and popular in his manners. If it is a matter of fact that sinners are not converted under his preaching, it shows that he has not this wisdom, and your children and neighbors will go down to hell under his preaching.
I am happy to know that many churches will ask this question about ministers. And if they find that a minister is destitute of this vital quality, they will not have him. And if ministers can be found who are wise to win souls, the churches will have such ministers. It is in vain to contend against it, or to pretend that they are not well educated, or not learned, or the like. It is in vain for the schools to try to force down the throats of the churches a race of ministers who are learned in everything but what they most need to know. The churches have pronounced them not made right, and they will not sustain that which is notoriously so inadequate as the present system of theological education.
It is very difficult to say what needs to be said on this subject, without being in danger of begetting a wrong spirit in the church, towards ministers. Many professors of religion are ready to find fault with ministers when they have no reason; insomuch, that it becomes very difficult to say of ministers what is true, and what needs to be said, without its being perverted and abused by this class of professors. I would not for the world say anything to injure the influence of a minister of Christ, who is really endeavoring to do good. I would that they deserved a hundred times more influence than they now deserve or have. But, to tell the truth will not injure the influence of those ministers, who by their lives and preaching give evidence to the church, that their object is to do good, and win souls to Christ. This class of ministers will recognise the truth of all that I have said, or wish to say. They see it all, and deplore it. But if there be ministers who are doing no good, who are feeding themselves and not the flock, such ministers deserve no influence. If they are doing no good, it is time for them to betake themselves to some other profession. They are but leeches on the very vitals of the church, sucking out its heart's blood. They are useless, and worse than useless. And the sooner they are laid aside, and their places filled with those who will exert themselves for Christ the better.
FINALLY--It is the duty of the church to pray for us, ministers. Not one of us is such as we ought to be. Like Paul, we can say, "Who is sufficient for these things?" But who of us is like Paul? Where will you find such a minister as Paul? They are not here. We have been wrongly educated, all of us. Pray for the schools, and colleges, and seminaries. And pray for young men who are preparing for the ministry. Pray for ministers, that God would give them this wisdom to win souls. And pray that God would bestow upon the church the wisdom and the means to educate a generation of ministers who will go forward and convert the world. The church must travail in prayer, and groan and agonize for this. This is now the pearl of price to the church, to have a supply of the right sort of ministers. The coming of the millenium depends on having a different sort of ministers, who are more thoroughly educated for their work. And this we shall have so sure as the promise of the Lord holds good. Such a ministry as is now in the church will never convert the world. But the world is to be converted, and therefore God intends to have ministers who will do it. "Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest."