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Churches should pray for ministers as the agents for breaking down sinners with the word of truth. Prayer for a minister is often made in a set and formal way, and confined to the prayer meetings. They will say their prayers in the old way, as they have always done: "Lord, bless Thy ministering servant whom Thou hast stationed on this part of Zion's walls!" and so on; and it amounts to nothing, because there is no heart in it. The fact often is that they never thought of praying for him in secret; they never have agonized in private for a blessing on his labors. They may not omit it wholly in their meetings, for if they do that, it becomes evident that they care very little indeed about the labors of their minister. But that is not the most important place. The way to present effectual prayer for your minister is, when you are in secret, to wrestle with God for success to attend his labors.
I knew a case of a minister in ill-health, who became depressed and cast down in his mind, and was very much in darkness, so that he did not feel as if he could preach any longer. An individual of the Church was awakened to feel for the minister in such a situation, and to pray that he might have the Holy Ghost to attend his preaching. One Sabbath morning, this person's mind was very much exercised, so that he began to pray as soon as it was light, and prayed again and again for a blessing that day.
And the Lord in some way directed the minister within hearing of his prayer. The person was telling the Lord just what he thought of the minister's situation and state of mind, and pleading, as if he would not be denied, for a blessing. The minister went into the pulpit and preached, and the light broke in upon him, and the Word was with power, and a revival commenced that very day.
6. A minister should be provided for by the Church, and his support guaranteed, irrespective of the ungodly. Otherwise he may be obliged either to starve his family, or to keep back a part of the truth so as not to offend sinners. I once expostulated with a minister whom I found was afraid to come out fully with the truth. I told him I was surprised he did not bear upon certain points. He told me he was so situated that he must please certain men, who would be touched thereby. It was the ungodly that chiefly supported him, and this made him dependent and temporizing.
And yet perhaps that very Church which left the minister dependent on the ungodly for his bread, would turn round and abuse him for his want of faith, and his fear of men. The Church ought always to say to the minister: "We will support you; go to work; let the truth pour down on the people, and we will stand by you."
7. See that everything is so arranged that people can sit comfortably in the meeting. If people do not sit in ease, it is difficult to get or to keep their attention. And if they are not attentive, they cannot be converted. They have come to hear for their lives, and they ought to be so situated that they can hear with all their souls, and have nothing in their bodily position to call for attention. Churches do not realize how important it is that the place of meeting should be made comfortable. I do not mean showy. All your glare and glory of rich chandeliers, and rich carpets, and splendid pulpits, make for the opposite extreme, taking off the attention just as effectually, and defeating every object for which a sinner should come to a meeting. You need not expect a revival there.
8. See that the house of God is kept clean. The house of God should be kept as clean as you want your own house to be kept. Churches are often kept excessively slovenly. I have seen them where people used so much tobacco, and took so little care about neatness, that it was impossible to preach with comfort. Once, in a prolonged meeting, the thing was charged upon the Church (and they had to acknowledge it), that they paid more money for tobacco than they did for the cause of Missions. There is an importance in these things, which is not realized. See that man! What is he doing? I am preaching to him about eternal life, and he is thinking about the dirty pew.
9. It is important that the house should be just warm enough, but not too warm. Suppose a minister comes into a house and finds it cold; he sees, as soon as he gets in, that he might as well have stayed at home; the people are shivering, their feet are chilled, and they feel as if they should take cold; and the minister wishes he were at home, for he knows he cannot do anything; but he must preach, or the congregation will be disappointed.
Or, he may find the house too warm, and the people, instead of listening to the truth, are fanning themselves and panting for breath. By and by a woman faints, and makes a stir, and the train of thought and feeling is all lost, and so a whole sermon is wasted. These little things take off the attention of people from the words of eternal life. And very often it is so, that if you drop a single link in the chain of argument, you lose the whole, and the people are damned, just because the careless Church does not see to the proper regulation of these little matters.
10. The house should be well ventilated. Of all houses, a church should be the most perfectly ventilated. If there be no change of the air, it passes through so many lungs that it becomes bad; its vitality is exhausted, and the people pant, they know not why, and feel an almost irresistible desire to sleep; the minister preaches in vain; the sermon is lost, and worse than lost. I have often wondered that this matter should be so little the subject of thought. The elders and officials will sit and hear a whole sermon, while the people are all but ready to die for the want of air, and the minister is wasting his strength in preaching where the room is just like an exhausted receiver; there they sit and never think to do anything in the matter. They should take it upon themselves to see that this is regulated rightly; that the house is just warm enough, and the air kept pure. How important it is that they should be awake on this subject; that the minister may labor to the best advantage, and the people give their undivided attention to the truth which is to save their souls.
It is very common, when things are wrong, to have it all laid to the sexton, or caretaker. Often, however, the sexton is not to blame. If the building is cold and uncomfortable, very often it is because the fuel is not good, or the stoves not suitable, or the place is so open it cannot be warmed. If it is warm, perhaps somebody has intermeddled, and heaped on fuel without discretion. Or, if the sexton is in fault, perhaps it is because the Church does not pay him enough for his services, and he cannot afford to give the attention necessary to keep the place in order. Churches sometimes screw down the sexton's salary to the lowest point, so that he is obliged to slight his work. Or they will select one who is incompetent, for the sake of getting him cheap. Let an adequate payment be made for the work, and it can be done, and done faithfully. If one sexton will not do it rightly, another will, and the Church must see that it is done aright. What economy! To pay a minister's salary, and then, for the want of a small sum added to the sexton's wages, everything is so out of order that the minister's labors are all lost, souls are lost, and your children and neighbors go down to hell!
Sometimes this uncleanliness, and negligence, and confusion, are chargeable to the minister. Perhaps he uses tobacco, and sets the example of defiling the house of God. Perhaps the pulpit will be the filthiest place in the house. I have sometimes been in pulpits that were too loathsome to be occupied by human beings. If a minister has no more piety and decency than this, no wonder things are "at loose ends" in the congregation. And generally it is even so.
11. People should leave their very young children at home. I have often known children to cry just at that stage of the services that would most effectually destroy the effect of the meeting. If children weep, they should instantly be removed. I have sometimes known a mother, or a nurse, sit and toss her child, while its cries were diverting the attention of the whole congregation.
12. The members of the Church should aid the minister by visiting from house to house, and trying to save souls. Do not leave all this to the minister. It is impossible he should do it, even if he were to give all his time, and neglect his study and private prayer. Church members should take pains and qualify themselves for this duty, so that they can be useful in it.
13. They should hold Bible classes. Suitable individuals should be selected to hold Bible classes, for the instruction of the young people, and where those who are awakened or affected by the preaching, can be received and be converted. As soon as persons are seen to be touched, let them be invited to join the Bible class, where they will be properly treated, and probably they will be converted. The Church should select the best men for this service, and should all be on the look out to fill up the Bible classes. It has been done in this congregation. It is a very common thing when persons are impressed, that they are observed by somebody, and invited to join the Bible class. They accept the invitation, and there they are converted. We want more teachers, able and willing to take charge of such classes.
14. Churches should sustain Sabbath Schools, and in this way aid their minister in saving souls. How can a minister attend to this and preach?
Unless the Church will take off these responsibilities, and cares, and labors, he must either neglect them, or be crushed. Let the members be WIDE AWAKE, let them watch and bring in children to the school, teach them faithfully, and lay themselves out to promote a revival in the school.
15. They should watch over the members of the Church. They should visit each other, in order to stir each other up, know each other's spiritual state, and "consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works"
(Hebrews 10:24). The minister cannot do it, he has not time; it is impossible he should study and prepare sermons, and at the same time visit all the members of the Church as often as is necessary to keep them advancing. The members are bound to watch over each other's spiritual welfare. But how is this done? Many do not know one another. They meet and pass as strangers, and never ask about one another's spiritual condition. But if they hear anything bad of one, they go and tell it to others. Instead of watching over them for their good, they watch for their halting. How can they watch for good when they are not even acquainted with each other?
16. The Church should watch for the elect of preaching. If the members are praying for the success of the preached Word, they will watch for it, of course. They should keep a look- out, and when any in the congregation give evidence that the Word of God has taken hold of them, they should follow it up. Wherever there are any exhibitions of feeling, those persons should be attended to, instantly, and not left till their impressions wear off. They should be spoken to, or visited, or got into the anxious meeting, or into the Bible class, or brought to the minister. If the members do not attend to this, they neglect their duty. If they attend to it, they may do incalculable good.
There was a pious young woman, who lived in a very cold and wicked place. She alone had the spirit of prayer, and she had been praying for a blessing upon the Word. At length she saw an individual in the congregation who seemed to be affected by the preaching, and as soon as the minister came from the pulpit, she came forward, agitated and trembling, and begged him to go and converse with the person immediately. He did so, the individual was soon converted, and a revival followed. Now, one of your stupid professors would not have seen that that individual was awakened, but would have stumbled over half a dozen such without noticing. Professors should watch every sermon, and see how it affects the congregation. I do not mean that they should be stretching their necks and staring about the house; but they should observe, as they may, and if they find any person affected by preaching, they should put themselves in his way, and guide him to the Savior.
17. Beware, and do not give away all the preaching to others. If you do not take your portion, you will starve, and become like spiritual skeletons.
Christians should take their portion to themselves. Though the sermon should be quite searching to them, they should still make the honest application, lay it alongside their heart, and practice it, and live by it.
Otherwise, the preaching will do them no good.
18. Be ready to aid your minister in carrying out his plans for doing good.
When the minister is wise to devise plans for usefulness, and the Church ready to execute them, they may carry all before them. But when the members hang back from every enterprise until they are actually dragged into it - when they are opposing every proposal, because it will cost something, they are a dead weight upon a minister.
I was once attending a "prolonged meeting," where we were embarrassed because there were no lamps to the building. I urged the people to get them, but they thought the expense would be too much! I then proposed to get them myself, and was about to do it, but found it would give offense, and we went without. But the blessing did not come, to any great extent. How could it? The Church began by calculating to a nicety how much it would cost, and they would not go beyond that exact figure to save souls from hell.
So, where a minister appoints such a meeting, such people object, because it will cost something. If they can offer unto the Lord that which costs nothing, they will do it. Miserable helpers they are! Such a people can have no revival. A minister might as well have a millstone about his neck, as such a Church. He had better leave them, if he cannot teach them better, and go where he will not be so hampered.
19. Church members should make it a point to attend prayer meetings, and attend in time. Some will always attend the preaching, because they have nothing to do but to sit and hear and be entertained, but they will not attend prayer meetings for fear they should be called on to do something.
Why do they employ a minister? Is it to amuse them by preaching? Or is it that he may teach them the will of God, that they may do it?
20. Church members ought to study and inquire what they can do, and then do it. Christians should be trained like a band of soldiers. It is the duty and office of a minister to train them for usefulness, to teach and direct them, and lead them on in such a way as to produce the greatest amount of moral influence. And then the Christians should stand their ground and do their duty, otherwise they will be right in the way. But I could write a book as large as this Bible before me, in detailing the various particulars which ought to be attended to.
1. You see that a minister's want of success may not be wholly on account of a want of wisdom in the exercise of his office. I am not excusing negligent ministers; I never will spare ministers from the naked truth, nor apply flattering titles to men. If they are blameworthy, let them be blamed. And, no doubt, they are always more or less to blame when the Word produces no effect. But it is far from being true that they are always the principal persons to blame. Sometimes the Church is much more to blame than the minister; if an apostle or an angel from heaven, were to preach, he could not produce a revival of religion in that Church. Perhaps they are dishonest to their minister, or covetous, or careless about the conveniences of public worship. Alas! what a state many country churches are in, where, for the want of a small expenditure, everything is inconvenient and uncomfortable, and the labors of the preacher are lost.
They "dwell in ceiled houses" themselves, and let "the house of God lie waste" (Haggai 1:4). Or the professors of religion counteract all the influence of the preaching by their ungodly lives. Or perhaps their worldly show (as in most of the Churches in this city) annihilates the influence of the Gospel.
2. Churches should remember that they are exceedingly guilty, to employ a minister and then not aid him in his work. The Lord Jesus Christ has sent an ambassador to sinners, to turn them from their evil ways, and he fails of his errand, because Churches refuse to do their duty. Instead of recommending his message, and seconding his entreaties, and holding up his hands in all the ways that are proper, they stand right in the way, and contradict his message, and counteract his influence, and souls perish. No doubt, in most of the congregations in the United States, the minister is often hindered so much that for a great part of the time he might as well be on a foreign mission as be there, for any effect of his preaching in the conversion of sinners, for he has to preach over the heads of an inactive and stupid Church.
Yet these very Churches are not willing to have their minister absent a few days to attend a "prolonged meeting." "We cannot spare him; he is our minister, and we like to have our minister here"; while at the same time, they hinder all he can do at home. If he could, he would tear himself right away, and go where there is no minister, and where the people would be willing to receive the Gospel. But there he must stay, though he cannot get the Church into a state to have a revival once in three years, to last three months at a time. It. might be well for him to say to the Church: "Whenever you are determined to take one of these long naps, I wish you would let me know it, so that I can go and labor somewhere else in the meantime, till you are ready to wake again."
3. Many Churches cannot be blessed with a revival, because they are "sponging" out of other Churches, and out of the treasury of the Lord, for the support of their minister, when they are abundantly able to support him themselves. Perhaps they are depending on the Home Missionary Society, or on other Churches, while they are not exercising any self - denial for the sake of the Gospel. I have been amazed to see how some Churches live. One Church, as I have said, actually confessed that the members spent more money for tobacco than they gave for Missions. And yet they had no minister, because "they were not able to support one"!
There is actually one man in that Church who is himself able to support a minister, but still they have no minister and no preaching!
The Churches have not been instructed in their duty on this subject. I stopped in a place where there was no preaching. I inquired of an elder in the Church why it was so, and he said it was "because they were so poor." I asked him how much he was worth; he did not give me a direct answer, but said that another elder's income was about five thousand dollars a year; and I finally found out that this man's was about the same.
"Here," said I, "are two elders, each of you able to support a minister, and because you cannot get outside help, you have no preaching. 'Why, if you had preaching' it would not be blessed." Finally, he confessed that he was able to support a minister, and the two together agreed that they would do it.
It is common for Churches to ask for help, when in fact they do not need any help, and when it would be a great deal better for them to support their own minister. If they get funds from the Home Missionary Society, when they ought to raise sufficient themselves, they may expect the curse of the Lord upon them, and this will be a sufficient reason for the Gospel proving to them a curse, rather than a blessing. Of how many might it be said: "Ye have robbed God, even this whole Church (Malachi. 3:9).
I know a Church which employed a minister for half the time, and felt unable to pay his salary for that. A Women's Working Society in a neighboring town appropriated their funds to this object, and assisted this Church in paying the minister's salary. The result was, as might be expected; he did them little or no good. They had no revival under his preaching, nor could they ever expect any, while acting on such a principle. There was one m an in that congregation who could support a minister all the time. I was informed by a member, that the Church members were supposed to be worth two hundred thousand dollars. Now if this be true, here is a Church with an income, at seven per cent., of fourteen thousand dollars a year, who felt themselves too poor to pay two hundred dollars for the support of a minister to preach half the time, but would suffer the women of a neighboring town to work with their own hands to aid them in paying the sum. Among the elders of this Church, I found, too, that several used tobacco; two of them, however, subsequently signed a covenant, written on the blank leaf of their Bible, in which they pledged themselves to abandon that sin for ever.
It was in a great measure simply for want of right instruction that this Church was pursuing such a course, for, when the subject was taken up, and their duty laid before them, the wealthy man of whom I am speaking said that he would pay the whole salary himself, if he thought it would not be resented by the congregation, and do more hurt than good; and that if the Church would procure a minister, and go ahead and raise a part of his salary, he would make up the remainder. They can now not only support a minister half the time, but all the time, and pay his salary themselves.
And they will find it good and profitable to do so.
As I have gone from place to place laboring in revivals, I have always found that Churches were blessed in proportion to their liberality. Where they have manifested a disposition to support the Gospel, and to pour out their substance liberally into the treasury of the Lord, they have been blessed both in spiritual and in temporal things. But where they have been parsimonious, and let the minister preach for them for little or nothing, these Churches have been cursed instead of blessed. And, as a general thing, in revivals of religion, I have found it to be true that young converts are most inclined to join those Churches which are most liberal in making efforts to support the Gospel.
The Churches are very much in the dark on this subject. They have not been taught their duty. I have, in many instances, found an exceeding readiness to respond, when the subject was laid before them. I knew an elder who was talking about getting a minister for half the time, because the Church was poor, although his own income was considerable. I asked him whether his income would not enable him alone to support a minister all the time? He said it would. And on being asked what other use he could make of the Lord's money which he possessed, that would prove so beneficial to the interest of Christ's Kingdom, as to employ a minister not only half, but all the time, in his own town, he concluded to set himself about it. A minister has been obtained accordingly, and I believe they find no difficulty in paying him his full salary.
The fact is, that a minister can do but little by preaching only half the time. If on one Sabbath an impression be made, it is lost before a fortnight comes round. As a matter of economy, a Church should lay itself out to support the Gospel all the time. If they get the right sort of a minister, and keep him steadily at work, they may have a revival, and thus the ungodly will be converted, and come in and help them; so that in one year they may have a great accession to their strength. But if they employ a minister only half the time, year after year may roll away, while sinners are going to hell, and no accession be made to the strength of the Church from the ranks of the ungodly.
The fact is, that professors of religion have not been made to feel that all their possessions are the Lord's. Hence they have talked about giving their property for the support of the Gospel! As if the Lord Jesus Christ were a beggar, and they were called upon to support His Gospel as an act of almsgiving!
A certain merchant was paying a large part of his minister's salary: one of the members of the Church was relating the fact to a minister from another place, and spoke of the sacrifice which this merchant was making. At this moment the merchant came in. "Brother," said the minister, "you are a merchant. Suppose you employ a clerk to sell goods, and a schoolmaster to teach your children; and you order your clerk to pay your schoolmaster, out of the store, such an amount, for his services in teaching.
Now, suppose your clerk gave out that he had to pay this schoolmaster his salary, and should speak of the sacrifices that he was making to do it: what would you say to this?" "Why," said the merchant, "I should say it was ridiculous." "Well," said the minister, "God employs you to sell goods as His clerk, and your minister He employs to teach His children, and He requires you to pay the salary out of the income of the store.
Now, do you call this your sacrifice, and say that you are making a great sacrifice to pay this minister's salary? No: you are just as much bound to sell goods for God as he is to preach for God. You have no more right to sell goods for the purpose of laying up money than he has to preach the Gospel for the same purpose. You are bound to be as pious, and aim as singly at the glory of God, in selling goods, as he is in preaching the Gospel. And thus you are as fully to give up your whole time for the service of God as he does. You and your family may lawfully live out of the profits of this store, and so may the minister and his family, just as lawfully, If you sell goods from these motives, selling goods is just as much serving God as preaching; and a man who sells goods on these principles, and acts in conformity to them, is just as pious - just as much in the service of God - as he is who preaches the Gospel. Every man is bound to serve God in his calling; the minister by teaching; the merchant by selling goods; the farmer by tilling his fields; and the lawyer and the physician by plying the duties of their professions. It is equally unlawful for any one of these to labor for the meat that perisheth. All they do is to be for God, and all they earn, after comfortably supporting their families, is to be dedicated to the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of the world."
It has long enough been supposed that ministers must be more pious than other men, that they must not love the world, that they must labor for God: that they must live as frugally as possible, and lay out their whole time, and health, and strength, and life, to build up the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. This is true. But although other men are not called to labor in the same field, and to give up their time to public instruction, yet they are just as absolutely bound to consider their whole time as God's; and have no
more right to love the world, or accumulate wealth, or lay it up for their children, or spend it upon their lusts, than ministers have.
It is high time for the Church to be acquainted with these principles. The Home Missionary Society may labor till the Day of Judgment to convert people, but will never succeed, till the Churches are led to understand and feel their duty in this respect. Why, the very fact that they are asking and receiving aid in supporting their minister from the Society while they are able to support him themselves, is probably the very reason why his labors among them are not more blessed.
I would that the American Home Missionary Society possessed a hundred times the means that it now does, of aiding feeble Churches that are unable to help themselves. But it is neither good economy nor piety to give funds to those who are able, but unwilling, to support the Gospel. For it is in vain to attempt to help them, while they are able, but unwilling, to help themselves.
If the Missionary Society had a ton of gold, it would be no charity to give it to such a Church. But let the Church bring in all the tithes to God's storehouse, and He will open the windows of heaven and pour down a blessing (Malachi 3:10). But let the Churches know assuredly that, if they are unwilling to help themselves to the extent of their ability, they show the reason why such small success attends the labors of their ministers.
Here they are, "sponging" their support from the Lord's treasury! How many Churches lay out their money for tea, and coffee, and tobacco, and then come and ask aid from the Home Missionary Society! I will protest against aiding a people who use tea and tobacco, and live without the least self- denial, wanting to offer God only that which costs them nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).
Finally: if they mean to be blessed, let them do their duty - all their duty, put their shoulder to the wheel, gird on the Gospel armor, and come up to the work. Then, if the Church is in the field, the car of salvation will move on, though all hell oppose, and sinners will be converted and saved. But if a Church will leave all the labor to the minister, and sit still and look on while he is working, and themselves doing nothing but complain of him, they will not only fail of a revival of religion, but, if they continue lazy and censorious, will, by and by, find themselves in hell for their disobedience and unprofitableness in the service of Christ.