Page images


gums up his labors with them thus : “ Serving God in all humility of mind, and with many tears and temptations which befel me, by the lying in wait of the Jews; and how I kept nor thing back that was profitable unto you, and have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house." This is sufficient to show what was apostolic usage.

There are many passages taken from the ancient councils, from which it appears that a personal care of all the members of the churches were enjoined upon the elders after the days of the apostles. One from Ignatius will be conclusive. Še says,

“Let assemblies be often gathered; seek after (or inquire of) all by name ; despise pot servent-men, nor maids."

3. Visiting from house to house has always been regarded as a duty of the gospel ministry. In modern times, no less than in ancient, this duty is insisted upon in ordination vows. Who ever heard a charge to a pastor, which did not in the most solemn manner enjoin a faithful attention to this? The duty is a matter of positive contract, and the flock universally expect it; and they have a right to expect it. It is their right in a pastor, that he shall take heed to them in their families. They feel the painful sensation of a wrong, a violation of a solemn compact, if deprived of these shepherd visits. 4. The duty of pastoral visitation is inferred from its useful

It is a well established fact, that the most successful pastors are those who are much and systematically among their people, watching for souls. History is ample in proof touching this point. There have always been some pastors whose labors have heen greatly blessed. Revivals after revivals have marked the history of their ministry. Conversions were frequent, and their churches lived. But how did these pastors labor? It will be found that they not only preached much and , well, but they watched the effects of their sermons, and followed them up by immediate personal interviews. This fact, it is believed, accounts for their signal usefulness.

Even in times of revival, this personal labor is found to be indispensable to succes. The "inquiry meeting” is as essential as the preaching. Impressions made from the pulpit, even when the special presence of the Spirit is enjoyed, need to be followed up by personal conversation and instruction to secure conversion, and if in such circumstances there be extreme danger that impressions be lost, if not followed by immediate conversation and prayer, how much more probable in the absence of revival. Paul, doubtless, felt this necessity, when, in addition to his preaching, he went from house to house. And so did Baxter, Rowland, Hill, Wesley. Whitefield, Nettleton and Pay. son.

Indeed there can be but little doubt, that in the majority of cases, the final work of conversion has been secured by personal conversation and prayer. With this will accord the experience of every pastor who has ever been instrumental in bringing sinners to Christ.

The usefulness of this watching for souls is not confined to the people. The pastor himself is benefitted. He here finds out what suffering humanity is. Till he knows this he is not half fitted for the ministry. There is no substitute for this part of bis education and discipline, not even prayer itself. Nothing can be more useful to him, personally, than to visit the dwellings of the poor, the sick, the aged, and the afflicted, as a messenger of consolation and instruction as well of relief. Accustomed himself to the comforts of life, and it may be its luxuries, every thing there is a lesson. He sees what poverty is in its evils and triais: the scanty room, scanty food, scanty fuel and clothing, appeal to his observation and sensibilities. He sees Christ in his poor, and in every thing hears him speak, and feels it all in his heart. He sees humanity in life instead of the ideal, as viewed in his study. Instead of the neatness and order of his chamber, he finds himself perhaps in the midst of confusion and poise. Instead of this well-stored library he finds nothing but the old family Bible, with here and there some rempants of books. In such scenes, a kind and faithful pastor can scarcely fail to learn what he cannot learn in his study or even in his closet-how religion sustains the soul of the humble poor; how to those who trust him, Christ is better than riches. He here takes lessons from no ideal life. In these close. crowded rooms, amidst disorder and want, he sees poverır, old age, sickness and toil, borne without complaint, nay with sweet resignation and cheerfulness. He may know a language which to them is unintelligible; yet he finde that they toɔ have a language and an experience to which he is no less a stranger. " And he may think too,” says Dr. Arnold, “and if he does, he may ever bless the hour that took him there, that in fifty years or less, his studies and all concerned with them will have perished for ever, whilst their language and their feelings, only perfected in the putting off their mortal bodies, will be those of all-wise spirits in the presence of God and of Christ."

Your pastor is in the habit of visiting often an aged man, who has been confined to his room for several years, with a very distressing sickness. I never leave his room as I go in. On his table is always to be seen the “old Bible," and some of Doddridge's or Baxter's works—these make up the whole of bis library. I always find the leaves of the Bible turned down to some passages which he has selected to read to me. He often reads some of the most familiar passages with such an accent and tone as to make them appear new, possessing a meaning which I had never apprehended before. I retire to my study with new themes and thoughrs for sermons, such as the suffering, the tempted and the desponding need. I learn in that room of affiiction what cannot be found in the best fur. nished library. Let no pastor, for the sake of the good of his own soul, be a stranger to his people, especially to the poor, the sick, the aged and the afflicted. By no study can he maké amends for this neglect.

II.-In regard to pastoral visitation, I proceed to mention some of the things which endanger the faithful performance of this duty.

1. The demands of the times upon the pulpil. Ministers are not free from the weakness of human nature which determines the mind to extremes. There is danger, it is thought, of an extreme devotion to the study preparations for the pulpit. There is a strong tendency to this thing. It grows ont of the imperative demands which are now made upon the pulpit. These demands increase continually, and we are glad to have it so. It indicates religious and social improvement, progress, and right feeling in reference to the duty and functions of the Christian ministry. And the pulpit must meet the demands; it must lead the public mind, and mould the age, and make the Gospel mighty to regenerate and elevate the world. But if, on the contrary, in the “human and intellectual,” the pulpit makes no advance, it will fall behind, and lose its forming and controlling power over the great mind and heart of humanity; for it cannot, if it would, hold back the age. If the pulpit attempts to keep the mode of thought and expression confined to the model of the past, it will find little sympathy with, and lose its hold upon the people.

To keep up with the advancement of the age, we need not change our doctrines. These are as old as eternity, and will ever be, as they ever have been, the rudimental truths of Christianity. These we need not change, we cannot, and preserve the system; but we do need, that these doctrines of old should be brought out, as fresh waters from a living fountain.

The different ages of the church have all received the same truths, but they were not taught in the same manner, nor even through the same media; now, in the symbols of prophecy and Judean worship-then in the “lucid narrative and inspired epistle." The teachers of the "half-hundred generations " who followed, bave unfolded the same doctrines in the manner wbich served their day. And in obedience to the same law of change, the times in which we live demand a conformity to its peculiar mode of thought and expression. The same “old doctrines" must now be presented in a manner which is adapted to "the active mind of the most actively-thinking age that ever lived."

The demands on the pulpit are rightfully and powerfully pressed, They are imperative, and cannot be set aside. We have created this demand by a higher and more general education of the people. We havo not only the moderately, but the well-educated to be instructed the “masters of logic and

[ocr errors]

science,” the disciplined, the judges of good composition, correct reasoning and proper delivery. We have the inquisitive, the prejudiced, the skeptical, and the avowed atheist. These are to be addressed, interested, and convinced. They are all to be met on their own grounds, and met manfully. But this can be done by those only who are themselves - masters of logic and science."

“And although on the whole, it were better that sermons be suited to the wants of the commonly edueated, yet these, occasionally at least, should be made to feel the sublimity of truths which demand the homage of the greatest intellects, and bring low the stoutest hearts."

Let us not be understood as expressing any regrets that much is said and done to elevate the standard of qualification for the pulpit. My object is to call attention to the danger that pastors, in attempting to answer these demands, will devote themselves, too exclusively to study: True, they must study much and thoroughly. A minister, in these times, must needs be a scholar and a student, in order to be influential and successful in the ministry. As there can be no substitute for pastoral visitation, so there can be none for intellectual discipline and scholarship. He must toil early and late, patiently and prayerfully, in his study; but, then again, no amount of study can make up for the neglect of visitation. If he watch for souls in the study, he must also out of it, or many a good impression will be lost, and many a convinced soul left to perish. İf the age demand more thought in the pulpit, it also calls for more vigilance out of it. If the people demand a higher order of talent at the altar, so do they need more watching away from it. If the education of the popular mind be more finished, so are the influences which drown men's souls in perdition.

2. In addition to the demands on the pulpit for higher men. tal qualifications, the pastor is subjected to a powerful temptation, which grows out of the influence of study upon his habits and feelings. For the more a man studies the more he feels the need of it. Study also induces and strengthens the love and the habit of study. This tendency is natural, and often very strong. The studious pastor must needs watch against it, or he will soon find himself execlusively devoted to his pulpit preparations, to the neglect of the out-door work of a pastor. It requires no little self-denial to break away from the quiet study, and go forth into the field of active service. But it will be found that he who yields to the love of study, at the expense of other pastoral duties, though his sermons be better prepared, they will not, as a general fact, be as useful or as satisfactory. His flock will feel a consciousness of neglect, if deprived of the shepherd's visits.

8. The increasing facilities for intellectual study and improvement offer a strong temptation to neglect pastoral visitation. Books and periodicals of value and interest are multiplying immensely; and if the student indulge his natural feeling and taste, but little time will bu left to watch for souls. Besides, it is a matter of no little self-denial to lay aside a fa. vorite author, to engage in pastoral visits from house to house"A minister of a literary taste is in danger of becoming an idolator of books." Dr. Porter, in his Letters on Revivals, instances a case of this kind. “Hy was so fond of reading, especially works of genius and popular literature, that the spirituality of his heart was gradually impaired : he laid down his favorite author with reluctance, to attend a prayer meeting ; went to fulfil an engagement with little pastoral feeling ; and returning to his study. became absorbed in his intellectual pursuits instead of his appropriate work, as one appointed to 'watch for souls.' Rare instances of conversion, but no revivals occurred under his ministry."

4. The inadequate support of the ministry is a hindrance to pastoral visitation. This stinted policy very seriously interferes with the labors of a pastor. There must be system in labor, in order to accomplish much. If a studious pastor get time to visit, he must have something like a system of study. But the poor cannot control their time. Necessity cannot be put off. The minister can no more resist its demands than can the day.laborer. He studies when he can, for study he must at some rate, if he would sustain his influence; the visiting is done if it can be, but to any purpose, it is nearly impossible.

5. Another hindering cause is the vast amount of extra labor which is thrown upon

the ministry of this day. There are burdens laid upon the , ministry of this age, of which former times knew nothing. Were ministers

so disposed, they cannot perform that amount of pastoral labor which is desirable. Benevolent an 1 reformatory objects are multiplying greatly. Their claims are pressing and imperative. They all look to the clergy for support, and this is right. The responsibility of their existence and support rests mainly on them. Conventions and anniversaries call for their attendance and aid. Every good enterprise levies heavy taxes upon the time and mental capital of the ministry, and it is well that they are able and willing to meet the demand. But these contributions draw largely from their great and special work for watching souls.

6. A low state of religious feeling endangers the faithful discharge of this duty. This, though one of the most urgent reasons for this kind of labor, is one of the most powerful influences which operate to prerent it. It is hard and self-denying, to make pastoral visits, where there is no religious interest to invite them and render the duty agreeable. “Like priest, like people,” is an old proverb, and generally a true one ; and the converse of the saying may be just as truthful, Like people, like priest. Does not the pastor feel the influence upon his heart of a cold and worldly people ? Is it easy to keep the glow of devotion upon his altar, when all around him is frozen ? Must he not inhale the air in which he lives? He may go among his flock from the warm communings of his study, but if he find no sympathy, no warm and responsive hearts among them, will not his ardor cool ?' will he love to break away from the genial temperature of his study, and go forth to be chilled in the damp cold atmosphere without? In such circumstances, how is human nature likely to act ? The pastor finds but little to encourage him to such toil, and less to compensate him for the loss of time, which he could spend so much to his pleasure and profit in his study. This may not o right, but it is the logic of human nature.

« PreviousContinue »