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He that winneth souls is wise. - Proverbs 11:30.
I lectured last, from the same text, on the methods 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 duties of Ministers.
As I observed in my last Lecture, wisdom is the choice and pursuit of the best end by the most appropriate means. The great end for which the Christian ministry is 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.
I. THE RIGHT DISCHARGE OF MINISTERIAL DUTY.
A right discharge of the duties of a minister requires great wisdom: I. 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. But men are opposed to the Gospel. They are opposed to their own salvation, in this way. Their opposition is often violent and determined. I once saw a maniac who had formed designs against his own life, and he would exercise the utmost sagacity and cunning to effect his purpose. He would be so artful as to make his keepers believe he had no such design, that he had given it all up; he would appear mild and sober, but the instant the keeper was off his guard he would lay hands on himself. So, sinners often exercise great cunning in evading all the efforts that are made to save them. In order to meet this dreadful cunning, and overcome it, so as to save men, ministers need a great amount of wisdom.
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 anything but truth as the means.
Truth is the outward means, the outward motive presented first by man and then by The Holy Spirit. 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 Still, the means are to be used by men - means adapted to the end, and skillfully used. God has provided that the work of conversion and sanctification shall in all cases be done by means of that kind of truth, applied in that connection and relation, which is fitted to produce such a result.
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 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, 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?" (2 Corinthians 2:16.)
5. He must understand how to wake up the professing Christians, and thus prevent them from hindering the conversion of sinners. This is often the most difficult part of a minister's work, and requires more wisdom and patience than anything 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 it is in a cold, backslidden state, so as effectually to awaken the members 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 or 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 unrepentant. They are often employed about the machinery of religion, and pass for very good Christians, but they 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. There was a young licentiate heard Brother Foote the other day, in this city, pouring out truth, and trying to waken up the Churches; and he knew so little about it that he thought Mr. Foote was abusing the Churches. So perfectly blind was he that he really thought the Churches in New York were all awake on the subject of religion. So, some years ago, there was a great controversy and opposition raised, because so much was said about the Churches being asleep. It was all truth, yet many ministers knew nothing about it, and were astonished to hear such things said. When it has come to this, that ministers do not know when the Church is asleep, no wonder we have revivals! I was invited once to preach at a certain place. I asked the minister what was the state of the
Church. "Oh," said he, "to a man they are awake." I was delighted at the idea of laboring in such a Church, for it was a sight I had never yet witnessed, to see every single member awake in a revival. But when I got there I found them sleepy and cold, and I doubt whether one of them was awake.
Here is the great difficulty in keeping up revivals, to keep the Church thoroughly awake and engaged. It is one thing for members to get up in their sleep and bluster about and run over each other; and a widely different thing for them to have their eyes open, and their senses about them, and be wide awake, so as to know how to work for Christ.
6. He must know how to see the Church to work, when it is awake. If a minister attempts to go to work singly, 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 that is awake, and knows how to set his people 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 seems just like an assembly of children. You set children to work, and they appear to be all occupied, 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 hearts get 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. Yet if a minister would be successful in winning souls, he must know when they first begin to get proud, or to lose the spirit of prayer; when to probe them, and how to search them; in fact, how to keep the Church in the field, gathering the harvest of the Lord.
9. He must know how to divide it, so as to bring forward the particular truths, in that order, and at such times, as will be 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 to bear such truth as is calculated to produce those feelings. He must know how to present truth which is 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 want of wisdom in following up the blow. Perhaps a rousing sermon is preached Christians are moved, and sinners begin to feel, and yet, the next Sabbath, something will be brought forward that has no connection with the state of feeling in the congregation, and that is not calculated to lead the mind on to the exercise of repentance, faith, or love. It shows how important it is that a minister should understand how to produce a given impression, at what time it may and should be done, and by what truth, and how to follow it up till the sinner is broken down and brought in.
A great many good sermons that are preached, are lost for the want of a little wisdom on this point. 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 scattered soul; but he will not move the mass of the congregation unless he knows how to follow up his impressions - so to execute a general plan of operations 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 awakened, 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 impress a particular class of persons among his hearers.
Perhaps they will begin to look serious, or to talk about it, or 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 also, into the Kingdom. He should thus beat about every bush where sinners hide themselves, as the voice of God followed Adam in the garden: ADAM, WHERE ART THOU? till one class of hearers after another is brought in, and so the whole community converted. Now, a minister must be very wise to do this. It never will be done 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 refuge 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 heresies that his people had 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 had never thought of before. If a man does not mingle enough with mankind to know how people think nowadays, he cannot expect to be wise to meet their objections and difficulties.