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Under a pretense of disciplining the mind, attention is in fact scattered, so that when the young men come to their work, they are awkward, and know not 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 could not manage a prayer meeting, so as to make it profitable or interesting. An elder of a Church in a neighboring city, informed me of a case in point. A young man, before he went to the seminary, had labored as a layman with them, conducting their prayer meetings, and been exceedingly useful among them. After he had been to the seminary, they sent for him and desired his help; but, oh, how changed! He was so completely transformed, that he made no impression; the members soon began to complain that they would "die" under his influences; and he left, because he was not prepared for the work.
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 in love I must say it.
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 how to bring the 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 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, who have been brought up to business, and are 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. These are called "uneducated men." This is a grand mistake. They are not learned in science, but they are learned in the very things which they need to know as ministers. They are not ignorant ministers, for they know exactly how to reach the mind with truth. They are better furnished for their work, than if they had all the machinery of the schools.
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.
9. The success of any measure designed to promote a revival of religion, demonstrates its wisdom; with the following exceptions:
(a) A measure may be introduced for effect, to produce excitement, and be such that when it is looked back upon afterwards, it will seem nonsensical, and appear to have been a mere trick. In that case, it will react, and its introduction will have done more harm than good.
(b) Measures may be introduced, and the revival be very powerful, and the success be attributed to the measures, when in fact, it was other things which made the revival powerful, and these very measures may have been a hindrance. The prayers of Christians, and the preaching, and other things, may have been so well calculated to carry on the work, that it has succeeded in spite of these measures.
But when the blessing evidently follows the introduction of the measure itself, the proof is unanswerable, that the measure is wise. It is profane to say that such a measure will do more harm 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 harm 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 destructive 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 labors nevertheless 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!
11. Christians should pray for ministers. Brethren, if you felt how much ministers need wisdom to perform the duties of their great office with success, and how insufficient they are of themselves, you would pray for them a great deal more than you do; that is, if you cared anything for the success of their labors. People often find fault with ministers, when they do not pray for them. Brethren, this is tempting God; for you ought not to expect any better ministers, unless you pray for them. And you ought not to expect a blessing on the labors of your minister, or to have your families converted by his preaching, when you do not pray for him. And so for others, for the waste places, and the heathen: instead of praying all the time, only that God would send out more laborers, you have need also to pray that God would make ministers wise to win souls, and that those He sends out may be properly educated, so that they shall be scribes well instructed in the kingdom of God.
12. Those laymen in the Church who know how to win souls are to be counted wise. They should not be called "ignorant laymen"; and those Church members who do not know how to convert sinners, and who cannot win souls, should not be called wise - as Christians. They are not wise Christians; only "he that winneth souls is wise." They may be learned in politics, in all sciences, or they may be skilled in the management of business, or other things, and they may look down on those who win souls, as nothing but plain, simple- hearted and ignorant men. If any of you are inclined to do this, and to undervalue those who win souls, as being not so wise and cunning as you are, you deceive yourselves. They may not know some things which you know; but they know those things which a Christian is most concerned to know, and which you do not.
It may be illustrated by the case of a minister who goes to sea. He may be learned in science, but he knows not how to sail a ship. And he begins to ask the sailors about this thing and that, and what this rope is for, and the like. "Why," say the sailors, "these are not ropes, we have only one rope in a ship; these are the rigging; the man talks like a fool." And so this learned man becomes a laughing-stock, perhaps, to the sailors, because he does not know how to sail a ship. But if he were to tell them one half of what he knows about science, perhaps they would think him a conjurer, to know so much. So, learned students may understand their Latin very well, and may laugh at the humble Christian, and call him ignorant, although he may know how to win more souls than five hundred of them.
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 having pursued a regular course of study. This minister, who was never, or at least very 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 the one who criticized him.
I would say nothing to undervalue, or lead any to undervalue, a thorough education for ministers. But I do not call that a thorough education, which they receive 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 of having none at all. They are the best men the Missionary Society can obtain.
I suppose 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, when the Church and world are rising to new thought and action. Those dear fathers will not, I suppose, see with me in this; and will perhaps think hardly 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 sympathize 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 bedchamber and attempt to order a battle.
Two ministers were one day conversing about another minister, whose labors were greatly blessed - in the conversion of some thousands of souls. One of them said: "That man ought not to preach any more; he should stop and go to - (a theological seminary which he named), and proceed through a regular course of study." He said the man had "a good mind, and if he were thoroughly educated, he might be very useful." The other replied: "Do you think he would be more useful for going to that seminary? I challenge you to show by facts that any are more useful who have been there. No, sir, the fact is, that since this man has been in the ministry, he has been instrumental in converting more souls than all the young men who have come from that seminary in the time."
Finally: I wish to ask, who among you can lay any claim to the possession of this Divine wisdom? Who among you, laymen? Who among you, ministers? Can any of you? Can I? Are we at work, wisely, to win souls?
Or are we trying to make ourselves believe that success is no criterion of wisdom? It is a criterion. It is a safe criterion for every minister to try himself by. The amount of his success, other things being equal, measures the amount of wisdom he has exercised in the discharge of his office.
How few of you have ever had wisdom enough to convert so much as a single sinner? Do not say: "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 which, if you do it wisely, will ensure 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, 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.