Are you a Christian?
BOOK 3, CH. 2, THE PASTOR
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The vocation of the Christian minister binds him not only to labor to win souls by preaching, but also to watch over them in the services of that pastoral office which the Lord by an everlasting ordinance has established in His church. In the discharge of this solemn duty, it was Mr. Clarke’s earnest endeavor to approve himself faithful. His care was to feed the church of God, to build up believers in their holy faith, to strengthen such as did stand, to comfort and help the weak-hearted, to raise up the fallen, and to restore the wanderer. As a Methodist pastor, he conscientiously administered the discipline of which both himself and the members of his flock had alike pledged their acceptance. He considered that discipline to be perfectly scriptural in its character, and directly conducive to the edification and perpetuity of the church. In the Circuits in which he presided as superintendent, the peculiar institutions of Methodism were upheld in their vigor and integrity. Class-meeting, for example, which has afforded to so many myriads of Christ’s disciples a delightful means of brotherly fellowship, mutual improvement, comfort in trouble, and timely help in necessity, he would never see neglected without inquiry, and, if needful, remonstrance or exhortation. The value he set on this means of grace appears in the fact, that in several of the places in which he was stationed, in addition to those official visitations of the classes which devolved on him as a minister, he would have his name on some Class- Book as a private member, and meet as such, as often as opportunity served. He urged the Methodist people to make much of this peculiar advantage of their communion, and sometimes in writing a letter to a friend would throw in a memento bearing on the duty, if it were only in the simple words appended as a postscript, — “Mind your class.” So, in a letter to a captain in the navy, a Methodist, with whom he had formed an intimacy at Liverpool, as a member of the Philological Society in that town; he says: “May I ask how you get on in your classical, philological, and princely connections? Do not neglect the two former, by any means; and let the first have the first claim. We live, my friend, in a miserable world; but we may live well in it, if we look to God. I know you will be faithful to the trust reposed in you by His Majesty; but, O, be also faithful to the light and influence of the Spirit of God. Use every means of grace, and glorify God in all things. I long after my class, and doubt whether any one will let me in here. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the people yet to raise one like that in Liverpool.” This last remark refers to his success in forming a class in Liverpool of entirely new members. At the close of the first meeting, he laid down his penny (the weekly contribution) on the table, with, “There, thank God, I am once more in class.”
Thus, to another friend: “What a mercy it is that you and I are now in His fold! May God keep us both steady! Abide in Him, my dear friend, that when He shall appear, you may see Him as He is. Pray much in private.
No soul that prays much in private ever falls. Read the blessed Book; let His testimonies be your counselors, and the subject of them be your song in the night. Keep closely united to God’s people. Do not omit one classmeeting even in the year, if you can possibly avoid it. I have been now a traveling preacher upwards of twenty-four years, and yet I feel classmeeting as necessary now as I did when I began. You may think it strange to hear that I meet regularly once a week, and have done so for years. I find it a great privilege to forget that I am a preacher, and come with a simple heart to receive instruction from my leader.”
Again, farther on in life, to a brother minister: “From long experience I know the propriety of Mr. Wesley’s advice, ‘Establish class-meetings and form Societies wherever you preach and have attentive hearers: for, wherever we have preached without doing so, the word has been like seed by the way-side.’ It was by this means we have been enabled to establish permanent and holy churches over the world. Mr. Wesley saw the necessity of this from the beginning. Mr. Whitefield, when he separated from Mr. Wesley, did not follow it. What was the consequence? The fruit of Mr. Whitefleld’s labor died with himself. Mr. Wesley’s remains and multiplies. Did Mr. Whitefield see his error? He did, but not till it was too late: his people, being long unused to it, would not come under this discipline. Have I authority to say so? I have; and you shall have it. Forty years ago I traveled in the Bradford (Wilts.) Circuit, with Mr. John Pool.
Himself told me this. Mr. P. was well known to Mr. Whitefield, who, having met him on e day, accosted him in the following manner: — Whitefield: ‘Well, John, art thou still a Wesleyan?’ Pool: ‘Yes, sir. I thank God I have the privilege of being in connection with Mr. Wesley, and one of his preachers.’ W.: ‘John, thou art in thy right place. My brother Wesley acted wisely: the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.’” In cases of habitual neglect of meeting in class, Mr. Clarke hesitated at the quarterly visitation to give the accustomed ticket as the token of membership. During his residence in Manchester, he met a class one day, when a wealthy member who never came sent a guinea as his quarterly contribution. Mr. Clarke, on looking over the class-paper, and seeing how the case stood, refused the money, desiring the leader to take it back again, and request the gentleman to give him, Mr. Clarke, an interview.
As a superintendent, he superintended. In a family, a church, a kingdom, there must be a head. The proper administration of the affairs of the Circuit he considered a moral duty on his part; and a cheerful, enlightened acquiescence in every constitutional arrangement of the church, the moral duty of members, leaders, local preachers, and the other members of the official staff of a Circuit. In one place the local preachers demurred [objected] to his exclusive authority to make the Plan, and fix their appointments. To show them by a practical experiment that it was best for the superintendent to have that power, he even let them for a time or two arrange their own appointments. “Take and make out a Plan for yourselves,” said he, “and bring it to me, and I will incorporate the traveling preachers with it.” They did so, after much altercation among themselves; for they could not agree. “We soon had loud complaints from different parts of the Circuit; for those who were the least fit for certain places would g o there. The next Plan I gave them as before, and with great difficulty they planned themselves again; and then the complaints from the Circuit became louder and louder. The most pious and sensible of the local preachers saw and heard this. With the third Plan they refused to have anything to do, and confidence was restored.”
Mr. Clarke wished to see the various offices of the church filled by men whose religious qualifications would uphold their moral influence, and effectively carry out the purposes for which they had been established. A steward in a certain town had a commercial partner, who had acted in a dishonorable manner. This conduct became a topic of conversation at the leaders’-meeting, at which Mr. Clarke presided. The officer, by some remarks, intimated that he sided with his partner in what he had done. “Then,” said Mr. Clarke, “give up thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.” Reflection led this gentleman to see that he had been wrong, and that his pastor had acted rightly. He had greatness of mind enough to acknowledge it, and was at once reinstated.
Our worthy pastor inculcated the most inflexible principles on the subject of commercial integrity. In preaching one Sunday morning, at the old chapel in Spitalfields, on the fifteenth Psalm, he laid great stress on the relative duties there laid down for the guidance of men of business. An eminent merchant who had heard the sermon overtook him on the way home, and observed, “Mr. Clarke, if what you have said today in the pulpit be necessary between man and man, I fear few commercial men will be saved.” “I cannot help that, sir,” replied he: “I may not bring down the requirements of infinite justice to suit the selfish chicanery of any set of men whatever. It is God’s law, and by it He will Himself judge man at the last day.”
But, while thus resolute and unbending in maintaining the high moralities of Christian discipline in the church, he was full of tenderness for the weak and afflicted, whether in body or mind, and knew how to blend the gravity of the pastor with the gentle love of a father and a friend. Here is a glimpse of him in the class-room, as given us by his daughter in one of her piously recorded recollections: — “My father had been preaching at Chandlerstreet (now Hinde-street); and after service had a class to meet. I accompanied him on that occasion, and was permitted to sit by him.
Addressing one present, he said, ‘You, my sister, can speak good of the Lord. You have long known that He is gracious.’ She burst into tears, and said, ‘O yes, sir; but I have been most unfaithful, and my mind has been brought into great heaviness: during my daughter’s late illness, I would not give her up.’ ‘And did your daughter die?’ ‘No, sir; she was spared to me.’ ‘Look up, my sister, and learn this lesson: God never wastes His grace by giving more than is needed. Had He purposed to take your daughter, He would have bestowed upon you the gift of resignation to meet the trial.’” To another, who was in affliction, he said, “The cloud will be dispersed by and by: though affliction endureth for a night, joy cometh in the morning.
Often have I preached this doctrine to you; and now that you need it most, receive it heartily. He is the same God, willing to help, mighty to save. Put His friendship to the test, and you will find Him all you want, and all you wish.”
In the department of pastoral duty which relates to visiting from house to house, Mr. Clarke could not fully gratify the wishes of his heart. This, indeed, is true of the great majority of his brethren. There may be from a thousand to two thousand members under the care of two or three ministers, who are constantly engaged in the public duties they owe to a number of congregations spread over an area of many miles. Then, again, the connectional interests of the body make large demands on their time, involving, in cities and large towns, frequent attendance on committees, whose activity is necessary to the effective working, and even the existence, of several institutions of charity and religion; while the pecuniary support of those institutions frequently requires them to give up two or three days together in journeys to other Circuits to preach and speak at public meetings. There is also a necessity, in order to keep pace with the enlightenment of the age, and to maintain the confidence and respect of the public in the office of teacher, that the minister should spend some few hours a day in his own study. Then it must be remembered, that social visits are to be accomplished either by day or in the evening. But in the hours of the day, while the people are engaged in their business or labor, a visit becomes an intrusion: and, on the other hand, in the evening, when families have more leisure to receive visits, the minister is at work in his Circuit; for most of us preach or hold meetings every evening in the week. It is not with us, as with the parochial clergyman or the Dissenting minister, that, time being secured for the Sunday sermons and the one week-day lecture, several evenings in the week may be made available for visiting. We are so employed that it becomes physically impossible for us to gratify, according to our earnest desire, the social tendencies. Yet it must not be supposed, on these grounds, that the Methodist people are without pastoral care: on the contrary, no religious communion is so richly supplied with the means for the enjoyment of that privilege. Not to speak of Society meetings, in which the flock and the shepherd unite for intercourse and prayer, — or of the weekly class-meeting, in which the concerns of the soul occupy the solemn transactions of the hour, — in the visitation of the classes by the ministers at the renewal of the tickets, we believe there is more direct communication between the pastor and the member on the interests of the spiritual life, than would be had in twenty occasions in which, from the presence of other persons, (some of whom, it may be, are opposed or indifferent to religious things,) the conversation takes a more general character. In a word, so far as mere gossiping visits are concerned, the preachers have, and ought to have, but very little time. Some of them very properly avail themselves of the hour of “tea-time to exchange words of friendship with a family, and to offer such instruction as the opportunity may afford: but Mr. Clarke had (as we think, un fortunately) disqualified himself for this social enjoyment, by renouncing the use of tea, partly from a notion that the leaf itself was injurious to health, but more especially for the sake of employing the time which others spend at the tea-table in the prosecution of his studies. And this reminds us that, in Mr. Clarke’s case, it must be taken into account that he was called of God to a life at once more public, and yet more sequestered in many of its hours, than that of many of his brethren.
It was his vocation not only to teach with the living voice, but through the medium of the press; and the hours spent by him in earnest, laborious, and life-consuming studies, have given forth their results in those voluminous and imperishable works by which, though dead, he yet speaks, and will continue to be the instructor of distant generations. When we survey the massive labors of his pen, and call to mind the active and energetic character of his oral ministry, the wonder is how he could accomplish all this; and that wonder increases when we see that in the general routine of pastoral business he would not permit himself to be behind his colleagues.
Though he had no relish for gossip, and was intolerant of the waste of time, yet in visiting the sick and afflicted of his flock he was among the foremost. He adhered to the letter of “the Twelve Rules,” to which, as a preacher, he had pledged his obedience, desiring “never to be unemployed,” and “always to go to those who wanted him most.” Had he then time for some visits ? He would hasten to the house of mourning rather than to that of festivity, and with the poor and the needy he would share his last sixpence. It was his care to do good as well to the body as to the soul. His knowledge of medicine enabled him to give continuous relief to many a sufferer. While in Dublin, be attended the lectures on Anatomy and Materia Medica, which supplemented a large amount of knowledge he had acquired of the healing art by extensive reading and observation; and all this he turned to account in many a chamber where disease and poverty were the joint inmates. In cases, however, of a critical nature, he sought aid for t he sick poor from professional men, of whom there were many in the circle of his own friends. At Manchester and other places he became acquainted in this way with most of the faculty. In the former city Dr. Eason was much attached to him. He told Mr. Clarke that he liked to attend the Methodist people in their last labors, — “they died so peacefully.” From what I have read in manuscript letters, written in later years by the subject of our memoir, that eminent physician himself found unspeakable benefit to his own soul from the intercourse to which allusion has just been made.
Mr. Clarke was once sent for by a person in dying circumstances, who proved to be a gentleman who had been awakened under a sermon of his some time before, and who, though then in much penitential trouble, had not yet found rest for his soul. The minister heard the recital of his anxieties, and formed so good an opinion of his case as to wonder that he had not already received some comforting token of the Lord’s forgiving grace. In giving such counsel as he thought to be required, he intimated to the gentleman a surprise that there was some important act of duty from him to God or man which he was knowingly neglecting. Whereupon the dying man related that, in sailing some years before from a foreign port to England, he land by way of frolic secreted a small bag of dollars which had been committed to the captain’s care, but which had been carelessly allowed to be day after day upon the locker. At the end of the voyage, the captain making no inquiries for the bag, it was still detained, and several months elapsed before anything was heard concerning it. At length, the parties for whom the money was designed, having received notice of the fact, applied to the captain, who candidly acknowledged that he took it on board, but added that he could give no further account of it. By this time the person in whose hands it was became alarmed, and was ashamed to confess, lest his character should suffer; and so he hid the property. The poor captain was sued for the amount, and, having nothing to pay, was thrown into prison, where, after languishing for two years, he died. The guilty person now strove to banish all thought of the misery which he had occasioned, and to drown the voice of conscience by business and amusement. But it was all in vain; and, especially from the time when he heard Mr. Clarke preach, he had suffered great disquietude of mind. He had agonized at the throne of mercy for pardon, but he could obtain no answer, and he feared he must go down to the grave unpardoned, unsaved. The minister inculcated the necessity of restitution. The sum, with compound interest, was paid to the widow of the captain. The poor man thereupon found tranquillity of mind, and expired at length in the enjoyment of the mercy of God.
Wherever Mr. Clarke found genuine piety, it had an attractive charm, which drew his steps again and again to the humblest abode. He had, in fact, some of his chief favorites among the truly religious poor. In visiting the simple-hearted members of his flock Mr. Clarke made himself at home with them, entered into their affairs, and showed them that he could not only understand their joys and sorrows, but feel with them. He liked also to eat a mouthful of their food, as a token of friendship. “I always eat with people,” said he, “either breaking a piece from off a biscuit or cutting a crust from a loaf, to show them that I am disposed to feel at home among them; for, even if they are very poor, there are many ways of returning the kindness without wounding the feelings of the party by whom the hospitable disposition is manifested.” So he has been known to eat two or three potatoes in a cottage, and give a shilling pleasantly for each one of them. His visits were designedly short. He was aware that a lengthened stay might inconvenience the family, and spoil the good effect of the interview. He did not, therefore, as he once termed it, “make a dose of himself where he went,” or turn what he wished to be an agreeable visit into a disagreeable visitation.
But in [being] the genial friend he never forgot [to be] the pastor, but reproved, exhorted, gave counsel, and offered consolation, as the case demanded; while among intelligent young people he would bring out of the stores of his classical and eastern reading in example, an anecdote, or an illustration, which gave additional interest and force to the precept he wished to inculcate. Thus: — THE DIVINE MERCY OUR ONLY REFUGE It was once demanded of the fourth khalif, Aalee: “If the canopy of heaven were a bow, and the earth were the cord thereof; if calamities were arrows, and mankind were the mark for them; and if Almighty God, the Tremendous and Glorious, were the unerring Archer; to whom could the sons of Adam flee for protection?” The khalif answered, saying, — “The sons of Adam must flee unto the Lord.”
THE HASTY SHOULD GIVE THEMSELVES TIME
The philosopher Athenodorus, who had long resided in the court of Augustus, petitioned the emperor to allow him at length to retire to some quiet retreat, where he might end his days in solitude and peace. The request was granted, and on taking leave of the emperor he ventured to give his sovereign the following precept: — “Caesar! I have an advice to give thee: Whensoever thou art angry, take heed that thou never say or do anything until thou hast distinctly repeated to thyself the twenty-five letters of the alphabet.” “Athenodorus!” exclaimed the emperor, seizing his hand, “thou must not leave me; I have still need of thee.”
Reference being made to a work, the general tendency of which was bad, though it contained many well-written and brilliant passages, and one of these being quoted with admiration, Mr. Clarke said: “The Persian poet Hafiz borrowed the first couplet of his Divan from an Arabic poet of disreputable morals. His friends wondered at it, and some remonstrated.
Hafiz vindicated himself by saying that the lines contained a fine sentiment; to which one of the objectors replied, ‘ The lion would disgrace himself were he to snatch a bone from the mouth of a dog!’ “ Mr. Clarke urged upon his people the necessity of a thorough conversion, and a constant effort for moral improvement; of all that is implied in working out our salvation, while God works within to will and to do. “Remember,” he would say, “that the power that cleanses is needed to keep us clean. It is by Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith that we are preserved in holiness; and He dwells in the heart of those only who are lovingly obedient to His voice. Obedience to the will of God is the very element in which the Christian should live. Seek out His commandments till you find none left; seek to do them at all times, and in all places. How blessed to do this!” “You tell me,” said he to one, “that God has opened your eyes: can you tell me that He is keeping them open?” So, not only as when present, but when absent also, he bore in mind those whom he had once served in the Gospel. Some of his letters are thoroughly pastoral.
Here is an extract from one, written to a lady who was mourning the loss of her husband: — “I am well aware that grief like yours can be alleviated by God alone; but it must increase the distress of your situation to find a former friend careless or unaffected. God condescended to make me a messenger of peace to your dear husband; and how much I loved him, you, and every branch of your family, it is impossible for me to tell. My love was such that your joys overjoyed me, and all your troubles deeply affected me If it be now impossible for me to comfort you, it is as much so for me not to sympathize with you But the good, the merciful God needs no entreaty to come in to your assistance. He is the Fountain of endless love. He knows what He has called you to pass through; and, as He has ordained the trial, so has He the measure of strength necessary to support you under it. Yes, my dear sister, He loves you, and will never leave you, no, never forsake you He spared your dear husband, that he might know His name and receive His salvation; and then, perceiving the evil that was in his way, and perhaps would have proved his ruin, He has taken him to Himself from the evil to come. This we are always authorized to say in such cases, as we are fully assured God does all things well, and never willingly afflicts the children of men And what a wonderful and encouraging saying is this, — ‘ Thy Maker is thy Husband!’ and He is thy husband’s God. Then, my sister, if you cannot as yet rejoice, you can submit to His will, and confide in His mercy, knowing that this also, distressing as it is, will work for your good “A few days ago I was called to visit a family in distress. One child was dead; the father was just put into his coffin, and the mother expired a few moments after I went in. Things are never so ill, but they might be worse. May your father’s God, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, be your comfort and support, and save you and yours unto eternal life!”
In his Commentary on the New Testament, we often meet with sentiments and precepts relating to the pastoral office, which were evidently transcribed from an imprint which the Divine hand had made on his own heart, and which it was the study of his life to carry out into practice. “Here,” writes he, “is the difference between the hireling and the good shepherd. The hireling counts the sheep his own no longer than they are profitable to him; the good shepherd looks upon them as his, so long as he can be profitable to them.” “A good shepherd conducts his flock where good pasturage is to be found, watches over them while there, brings them back again, and secures them in the fold. So he that is called and taught of God feeds the flock of Christ with those truths of His word which nourish them unto eternal life, and God blesses together both the shepherd and the flock; so that, going out and coming in, they find pasture.”
We will now resume our narrative. Mr. Clarke was about to enter upon a vast field of ministerial labor in the metropolis. He went into it trusting alone in God, whose present Spirit could be his only sufficiency. To save one soul from hell, or to guide one man from earth to heaven, is a task to which no mere human wisdom or work is adequate. But he who hears the voice which says, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world,” will go about it in the strength of the Lord, making mention of His righteousness, even His only. Such was the frame of mind in which this single-hearted and faithful servant of the Lord endeavored to discharge the trust conferred by Him who in His providence had led him to the work, and by His grace had endowed him with those heavenly gifts which qualified him to do it, — “A prophet’s inspiration from above, A teacher’s knowledge, and a Saviour’s love.”