We are living in a most solemn time. All have a work to do requiring diligence. Especially is this true of the pastor, who is to care for and feed the flock of God. The one whose special work it is to lead the people into the path of truth, should be an able expositor of the word, capable of adapting his teachings to the wants of the people. He should be so closely connected with heaven as to become a living channel of light, a mouth piece for God.
A pastor should have a correct understanding of the word and also of the human character. Our faith is unpopular. The people are unwilling to be convinced that they are so deeply in error; a great work is to be done, and at present there are but few to do it. One man usually performs the labor which should be shared by two; for the work of the evangelist is necessarily combined with that of the pastor, bringing a double burden upon the worker in the field.
The minister of Christ should be a Bible student, that his mind may be stored with Bible evidence; for a minister is strong only when he is fortified with Scripture truth. Argument is good in its place, but far more can be reached by simple explanations of the word of God. The lessons of Christ were illustrated so clearly that the lowest and most simple-minded could readily comprehend them. Jesus did not employ long and difficult words in His discourses, but used plain language, adapted to the minds of the common people. He ventured no further into the subject He was expounding than they were able to follow Him.
There are many men of good minds, who are intelligent in regard to the Scriptures, whose usefulness is greatly hindered by their defective method of labor. Some ministers who
engage in the work of saving souls fail to secure the best results because they do not carry through with thoroughness the work that they commenced with so much enthusiasm. Others are not acceptable because they cling tenaciously to preconceived notions, making these prominent, and thereby failing to conform their teachings to the actual needs of the people. Many have no idea of the necessity of adapting themselves to circumstances and meeting the people where they are. They do not identify themselves with those whom they wish to help and elevate to the true Bible standard of Christianity.
In order to be a truly successful minister, one must wholly consecrate himself to the work of saving souls. It is highly essential that he should be closely united with Christ, seeking continual counsel from Him and depending upon His aid. Some fail of success because they trust to the strength of argument alone and do not cry earnestly to God for His wisdom to direct them and His grace to sanctify their efforts. Long discourses and tedious prayers are positively injurious to a religious interest and fail to carry conviction to the consciences of the people. This propensity for speechmaking frequently dampens a religious interest that might have produced great results.
The true ambassador of Christ is in perfect union with Him whom he represents, and his engrossing object is the salvation of souls. The wealth of earth dwindles into insignificance when compared with the worth of a single soul for whom our Lord and Master died. He who weigheth the hills in scales and the mountains in a balance regards a human soul as of infinite value.
In the work of the ministry there are battles to fight and victories to gain. "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth," said Christ, "I came not to send peace, but a sword." The opening labors of the Christian church were attended with hardships and bitter griefs, and the successors of the early apostles find that they must meet with trials similar to theirs; privations, calumny, and every species of opposition meet them
in their labors. They must be men of stanch moral courage, and of spiritual muscle.
Great moral darkness prevails, and only the power of truth can drive away the shadows from a single mind. We are battling with giant errors and the strongest prejudices, and without the special help of God our efforts will fail either to convert souls or to elevate our own moral natures. Human skill and the very best natural abilities and acquisitions are powerless to quicken the soul to discern the enormity of sin and to banish it from the heart.
Ministers should be careful not to expect too much from persons who are still groping in the darkness of error. They should do their work well, relying upon God to impart to inquiring souls the mysterious, quickening influence of His Holy Spirit knowing that without this their labors will be unsuccessful. They should be patient and wise in dealing with minds, remembering how manifold are the circumstances that have developed such different traits in individuals. They should strictly guard themselves also lest self should get the supremacy and Jesus should be left out of the question.
Some ministers fail of success because they do not give their undivided interest to the work when very much depends upon persistent and well-directed labor. Many are not laborers; they do not pursue their business outside of the pulpit. They shirk the duty of going from house to house and laboring wisely in the home circle. They need to cultivate that rare Christian courtesy which would render them kind and considerate toward the souls under their care, working for them with true earnestness and faith, teaching them the way of life.
Ministers can do much toward molding the characters of those with whom they are associated. If they are sharp, critical, and exacting, they will be sure to meet these unhappy elements in the people upon whom their influence is strongest; though the result is not, perhaps, of the nature which they desire, yet it is nonetheless the effect of their own example.
It cannot be expected that the people will enjoy peace and
harmony unless their religious teachers, whose footsteps they follow, have these principles largely developed and manifest them in their lives. The minister of Christ has great responsibilities to bear if he would become an example for his people and a correct exponent of his Master's doctrine. Men were awed by the purity and moral dignity of our Saviour, while His unselfish love and gentle benignity won their hearts. He was the embodiment of perfection. If His representatives would see fruits attending their labors similar to those that crowned the ministry of Christ, they should earnestly strive to imitate His virtues and cultivate those traits of character which would make them like Him.
It requires much forethought and wisdom from God to labor successfully for the salvation of sinners. If the soul of the laborer is filled with the grace of God, his teaching will not irritate his hearers, but melt its way to their hearts and open them for the reception of the truth.
The workers in the field should not allow themselves to be discouraged; but whatever their surroundings, they should exercise hope and faith. The minister's work is but just begun when he has presented the truth from the pulpit. He is then to become acquainted with his hearers. Many greatly fail in not coming in close sympathy with those who most need their help. With the Bible in their hand they should seek in a courteous manner to learn the objections which exist in the minds of those who are beginning to inquire: "What is truth?"
They should be carefully and tenderly led and educated as pupils in school. Many have to unlearn theories which have been engrafted into their lives. As they become convinced that they have been in error concerning Bible subjects, they are thrown into perplexity and doubt. They need the tenderest sympathy and the most judicious help; they should be carefully instructed; they should be prayed for and prayed with, watched and guarded with the kindest solicitude. Those who have fallen under temptation and have backslidden from God need help. This class is represented in the lessons of
Christ by the lost sheep. The shepherd left the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and hunted for the one lost sheep until he found it; he then returned with rejoicing, bearing it on his shoulder. Also by the illustration of the woman who searched for the lost piece of silver until she found it, and called together her neighbors to rejoice with her that the lost was found. The connection of heavenly angels with the Christian's work is here brought clearly to light. There is more joy in the presence of the angels in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance. There is joy with the Father and with Christ. All heaven is interested in the salvation of man. He who is instrumental in saving a soul is at liberty to rejoice; for angels of God have witnessed his efforts with the most intense interest, and rejoice with him in his success.
How thorough, then, should be the labor, and how deep the sympathy, of man for his fellow man. It is a great privilege to be a co-worker with Jesus Christ in the salvation of souls. He with patient, unselfish efforts sought to reach man in his fallen condition and to rescue him from the consequences of sin; therefore His disciples, who are the teachers of His word, should closely imitate their great Exemplar.
It is necessary, in order to pursue this great and arduous work, that the ministers of Christ should possess physical health. To attain this end they must become regular in their habits and adopt a healthful system of living. Many are continually complaining and suffering from various indispositions. This is almost always because they do not labor wisely nor observe the laws of health. They frequently remain too much indoors, occupying heated rooms filled with impure air. There they apply themselves closely to study or writing, taking little physical exercise, and having little change of employment. As a consequence, the blood becomes sluggish, and the powers of the mind are enfeebled.
The whole system needs the invigorating influence of exercise in the open air. A few hours of manual labor each day
would tend to renew the bodily vigor and rest and relax the mind. In this way the general health would be promoted, and a greater amount of pastoral labor could be performed. The incessant reading and writing of many ministers unfit them for pastoral work. They consume valuable time in abstract study, which should be expended in helping the needy at the right moment.
Some ministers have given themselves to the work of writing during a period of decided religious interest, and it has frequently been the case that their writings have had no special connection with the work in hand. This is a glaring error, for at such times it is the duty of the minister to use his entire strength in pushing forward the cause of God. His mind should be clear and centered upon the one object of saving souls. Should his thoughts be preoccupied with other subjects, many might be lost to the cause who could have been saved by timely instruction. Some ministers are easily diverted from their work. They become discouraged, or are attracted to their homes, and leave a growing interest to die for want of attention. The harm done to the cause in this way can scarcely be estimated. When an effort to promulgate the truth is started, the minister in charge should feel responsible to carry it through successfully. If his labors appear to be without result, he should seek by earnest prayer to discover if they are what they should be. He should humble his soul before God in self-examination and by faith cling to the divine promises, humbly continuing his efforts till he is satisfied that he has faithfully discharged his duty and done everything in his power to gain the desired result.
Ministers frequently report that they left the best of interest at one point to enter a new field. This is wrong; they should have finished the work they began; for in leaving it incomplete, they do more harm than good by spoiling the field for the next laborer. No field is so unpromising as that which has been cultivated just enough to give the weeds a more luxuriant growth.
Much prayer and wise labor are needed in new fields. Men of God are wanted, not merely men who can talk, but those who have an experimental knowledge of the mystery of godliness and who can meet the urgent wants of the people, those who solemnly realize the importance of their position as servants of Jesus and will cheerfully take up the cross that He has taught them how to bear.
When the temptation comes to seclude themselves and indulge in reading and writing at a time when other duties claim their immediate attention, they should be strong enough to deny self and devote themselves to the work that lies directly before them. This is undoubtedly one of the most trying tests that a studious mind is called to undergo.
The duties of a pastor are often shamefully neglected because the minister lacks strength to sacrifice his personal inclinations for seclusion and study. The pastor should visit from house to house among his flock, teaching, conversing, and praying with each family, and looking out for the welfare of their souls. Those who have manifested a desire to become acquainted with the principles of our faith should not be neglected, but thoroughly instructed in the truth. No opportunity to do good should be lost by the watchful and zealous minister of God.
Certain ministers who have been invited to houses by the heads of families have spent the few hours of their visit in secluding themselves in an unoccupied room to indulge their inclination for reading and writing. The family that entertained them derived no benefit from the visit. The ministers accepted the hospitality extended them without giving an equivalent in the labor that was so much needed.
People are easily reached through the avenues of the social circle. But many ministers dread the task of visiting; they have not cultivated social qualities, have not acquired that genial spirit that wins its way to the hearts of the people. It is highly important that a pastor should mingle much with his people, that he may become acquainted with the different
phases of human nature, readily understand the workings of the mind, adapt his teachings to the intellect of his people, and learn that grand charity possessed only by those who closely study the nature and needs of men.
Those who seclude themselves from the people are in no condition to help them. A skillful physician must understand the nature of various diseases and must have a thorough knowledge of the human structure. He must be prompt in attending to the patients. He knows that delays are dangerous. When his experienced hand is laid upon the pulse of the sufferer, and he carefully notes the peculiar indication of the malady, his previous knowledge enables him to determine concerning the nature of the disease and the treatment necessary to arrest its progress. As the physician deals with physical disease, so does the pastor minister to the sin-sick soul. And his work is as much more important than that of the former as eternal life is more valuable than temporal existence. The pastor meets with an endless variety of temperaments; and it is his duty to become acquainted with the members of families that listen to his teachings, in order to determine what means will best influence them in the right direction.
In view of these grave responsibilities, the question will arise: "Who is sufficient for these things?" The heart of the laborer will almost faint as he considers the various arduous duties devolving upon him; but the words of Christ strengthen the soul with the comforting assurance: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The difficulties and dangers that threaten the safety of those he loves should make him cautious and circumspect in his manner of dealing with them, and watchful of them as one who must give an account. He should judiciously employ his influence in winning souls to Christ and impressing the truth upon inquiring minds. He should take care that the world, by its delusive attractions, does not lead them away from God and steel their hearts to the influence of His grace.
The minister is not to rule imperiously over the flock
entrusted to his care, but to be their ensample, and to show them the way to heaven. Following the example of Christ, he should intercede with God for the people of his care till he sees that his prayers are answered. Jesus exercised human and divine sympathy toward man. He is our example in all things. God is our Father and Governor, and the Christian minister is the representative of His Son on earth. The principles which rule in heaven should rule upon earth; the same love that animates the angels, the same purity and holiness that reign in heaven, should, as far as possible, be reproduced upon earth. God holds the minister responsible for the power he exercises, but does not justify His servants in perverting that power into despotism over the flock of their care.
God has given to His servants precious knowledge of His truth, and He desires that they shall closely connect themselves with Jesus and, through sympathy, draw near to their brethren, that they may do them all the good that lies in their power. The Redeemer of the world did not consult His own pleasure, but went about doing good. He bound Himself closely to the Father, that He might bring Their united strength to bear upon the souls of men to save them from eternal ruin. In like manner should His servants cultivate spirituality if they expect to succeed in their work.
Jesus pitied poor sinners so much that He left the courts of heaven and laid aside the robes of royalty, humiliating Himself to humanity, that He might become acquainted with the needs of man and help him to rise above the degradation of the Fall. When He has given to man such unquestionable evidence of His love and tenderest sympathy, how important that His representatives should imitate His example in coming close to their fellow men and helping them to form a true Christian character. But some have been too ready to engage in church trials, and have borne sharp and unsympathizing testimony against the erring. In thus acting, they have yielded to a natural propensity that should have been firmly subdued.
This is not the calm justice of the Christian executive, but the harsh criticism of a hasty temperament.
The churches need education more than censure. Instead of blaming them too severely for their want of spirituality and neglect of duty, the minister should, by precept and example, teach them to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily."
Our ministers who have reached the age of forty or fifty years should not feel that their labor is less efficient than formerly. Men of years and experience are just the ones to put forth strong and well-directed efforts. They are specially needed at this time; the churches cannot afford to part with them. Such ones should not talk of physical and mental feebleness nor feel that their day of usefulness is over.
Many of them have suffered from severe mental taxation, unrelieved by physical exercise. The result is a deterioration of their powers and a tendency to shirk responsibilities. What they need is more active labor. This is not alone confined to those whose heads are white with the frost of time, but men young in years have fallen into the same state and have become mentally feeble. They have a list of set discourses, but if they get beyond the boundaries of these they lose their soundings.
The old-fashioned pastor, who traveled on horseback and spent much time in visiting his flock, enjoyed much better health, notwithstanding his hardships and exposures, than
our ministers of today, who avoid all physical exertion as far as possible and confine themselves to their books.
Ministers of age and experience should feel it their duty, as God's hired servants, to go forward, progressing every day, continually becoming more efficient in their work, and constantly gathering fresh matter to set before the people. Each effort to expound the gospel should be an improvement upon that which preceded it. Each year they should develop a deeper piety, a tenderer spirit, a greater spirituality, and a more thorough knowledge of Bible truth. The greater their age and experience, the nearer should they be able to approach the hearts of the people, having a more perfect knowledge of them.
Men are needed for this time who are not afraid to lift their voices for the right, whoever may oppose them. They should be of strong integrity and tried courage. The church calls for them, and God will work with their efforts to uphold all branches of the gospel ministry.