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NOTES OF A MONTHLY CLERICAL SOCIETY IN SUFFOLK.
April 22nd, 1845. SUBJECT FOR DISCUSSION: “The Difficulties of the Parochial
Minister.” The minister, as God's commissioned servant, bearing the message of mercy to man, not only holds the position of great honour, but also of the highest responsibility. In seeking to be clear from the blood of those committed to his charge, and in his efforts to promote the best interests of the people, and the glory of God, difficulties of a varied character daily arise; varied, indeed, as the fields of labour which are ministerially occupied, and so requiring such a measure of wis dom and strength, that, with the Apostle, the parochial minister, conscious of his own weakness, often exclaims, “Who is sufficient for these things?” May all our support be from above! then in meeting difficulties as they may arise, we shall be emboldened by the assurance, “And lo! I am with you always to the end of the world;" and “ patience having her perfect work,” we shall be comforted by the promise, “My grace is sufficient for thee, my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Let us notice a few of the difficul ties as particularized.
I. It was observed that among all the dissenting bodies, extemporaneous address was a necessary requisite; that, as the result, a larger amount of certain impressions was produced among the hearers, than was to be found generally amongst church congregations, habituated, for the most part, to written composition—the member, alluding to this particular, adding, that one of the greatest difficulties he had publicly to contend with, was his inability to address his congregation without the aid of a written composition; feeling that a general impression abroad, particularly among the poor and middle classes, is, that the extemporaneous preacher, often possessing no other qualifica
tion than loud, confident, and rambling assertion, produces a far greater and more general effect, than he who from his manuscript delivers his more elaborate, calm, and reasoning address—the unconnected freedom of the one, often mistaken for the present and special gifts of the Spirit; the close arrangement of the other only indicative of a want of power, natural or spiritual, and of any real and deep concern for the souls of men.
In connexion with this head of difficulty, it was observed, that generally a freedom of address, with acceptance and profit to a people, was in a measure to be acquired by every minister, who, feeling its value, would address himself to the subject. Family exposition, and cottage lecturing, have proved excellent helps; and from experience it has been found that no natural talents, without a clear acquaintance with the doctrines of the Gospel and the letter of Revelation in its varied parts, can ever enable a man to speak with edification, or continued freedom, as an expositor or preacher. As to the advantages, or the contrary, of extemporaneous address, as compared with written, it was generally felt that either should be used as particular circumstances, arising from the character of particular congregations, should require; that sermons written in the spirit of prayer, well arranged--the weighty matter of the Gospel pervading every part-a man's congregation before him, as he discusses his subject in his study, and delivered from his manuscript, have been wonderfully blessed by God, and therefore should be used, when and where a man's own best judgment might direct. But, further, it was felt that where the subject is previously and accurately considered, and where either from nature, or industrious acquirement, a freedom of speech exists, together with a tolerable choice and command of suitable language, that then manuscript, with much advantage, might be laid aside. That this mode of publishing the everlasting Gospel was more in consonance with the habit of the apostles and the primitive Church; and in the circumstances of our day, that the more general such a mode of preaching becomes, the more effectually could prejudices be met, mistakes be corrected, and the poorer part of our people be more easily and permanent ly kept in connexion with the ministry of the Church. Extemporaneous preaching without thought, consideration, arrangement, matter, correct expression, and where a man is groping for words, and dosing his people, not only with a repetition of sentiment, but also of meagre, rambling expression-this of all other preaching, the least for edification, and assuredly the most to be avoided.
II. It was noticed as a difficulty very general in almost all our congregations, (and for the sake of consistency and decency in public worship requiring immediate correction,) viz., “the unnatural habit of sitting instead of kneeling when in prayer, and of remaining silent--no response heard, where blessings are sought, sins confessed, or thanksgiving and praise offered up--the one indicating irreverence, the other apathy.” It was suggested that much might be done towards the correction of the evil, by providing kneeling accommodation as far as possible, by occasionally from the pulpit bringing the subject scripturally before the people, and by private conversation with the most influential of the congregation, urging their example, both with respect to the propriety of a kneeling posture, as well as the life and interest which a public and general response infuses into our holy, our feryent, and, at the same time, our chastened Church Service.
III. The character of ministerial and social intercourse with a people was represented as surrounded with difficulties to many. If the minister keeps himself wholly aloof from social interchange, he is often considered high, proud, not a copyist of the lowly Jesus. If the interchange is observed toward some, as spiritually more congenial to his desires and
tastes than others, partyisms, jealousies, and impediments towards his ministry often arise. If the interchange extends to all, irrespective of character, then to some a stumbling block is raised; the holiness officially pressed from the pulpit is represented as socially compromised. To meet the difficulty, it was observed that if, by the unconverted and influential of our parishes the interchange was urged, the minister going among them as such, speaking and acting as the minister, carrying his character with him, and as a witness for God faithfully maintaining it—such requests for such intercourse will soon cease to be made, his presence will soon be dispensed with, as no intercommunity of feeling or taste is perceived to exist. With respect to the other class, those who profess the Gospel, favouritism in intercourse should be avoided ; and the social intercourse on the part of the minister, to be at all profitable, even to the latter class, should by all means be free from common worldly chitchat, or the gossip of the day; the minister always cautious to avoid expressing his opinion of any particular parishioner, if at all unfavourable, in the social circle. Intercourse carefully maintained, profitably exercised; opportunities for good prayerfully seized, were urged as well befitting the Christian minister.
IV. The existence of a wealthy squire in a parish was considered a great difficulty. When, unfortunately, he happens to be no friend to religion, being either a profligate, a man of pleasure, the patron of sinful amusements, or perhaps a man of mere cold morality; evangelical truth is to such rather a torment than a pleasure. Such a state of things often has been a source of much difficulty; but from experience it is found that “respect without compromise, faithfulness without rashness, patience marked with steadiness, holiness with visible consistency, decision free from unnecessary collision, and all accompanied with constant prayer for strength and guidance, have done much either for the removal of the difficulty, or, at least, for its mitigation, V. A competent supply of qualified teachers for Sunday Schools, punctuality of attendance on the part of teachers and taught, together with the keeping of our children in connexion with the Church, after they leave our schools for service or other occupation either at home or abroad; all this is felt as a serious difficulty, presenting itself to our notice every day. Much rests with the minister as to the supply and character of teachers. If they are not ready at hand, he is to endeavour to make them; calling together the most hopeful and the best-informed of his people, much might be done by his instruction, and as the school grows, the persons there taught may be used for the office in due time. Conversion to God, sobriety of conduct, a love for souls, responsibility realized, and conduct among the children in every respect exemplary, were considered as essentially necessary in the teacher. The infusion of Church principles, the occasional kind notice of the pupil; if at a distance a line of friendly advice; when leaving school, a testimony from the minister as to conduct, with an exhortation toward its maintenance, the opportunity afforded them of calling upon the minister when leaving their service or visiting their relations in the parish; these were represented as well calculated to keep up the school connexion with the Church, children, teachers, and minister so kindly affectioned to each another.
VI. It was observed that the restless efforts of dissenters generally to mar the minister's exertions, to excite and keep up certain prejudices, to unsettle the minds of inquirers, and, by various ingenious modes, to causethem to leave the Church, and finally settle down in some of the particular schisms of the parish, constitute a difficulty of a very painful character. The remedy prescribed was, “ stedfastness in the work of the Lord, the maintenance of a patient and unruffled temper, the culture of a forbearing spirit, the answer of a good conscience that his labours are not for a system, but for Christ and his kingdom, an honest simplicity of purpose flowing
visibly in a straightforward course for God's glory, and the true interests of his people, and without violently assailing the eccentricities of dissent, faithfully and lovingly to bring forward and urge the blessings and privileges of churchmanship.” Such a proceeding, with the culture of such a frame of mind, will render the trials bearable, keep the labourer much in the spirit of prayer, cause the prejudices of dissent to be dissipated, and induce the people to abide within the range of wholesome and disinterested instruction.
VII. The indifference on the part of many of our parishioners as to church or meeting-house-in the morning a worshipper in the former, in the afternoon a worshipper in the latter, as personal convenience may suit-was felt as another difficulty; and how to remedy the evil is a difficulty in itself. If the subject be publicly brought forward, church-goers are oftentimes so connected with dissenters by marriage and other relationships, and so little bound in hearty zeal towards church membership as a system, that more evil than good often arises; our own people are likely to become dissatisfied, and every such dissatisfaction makes for the opposite interest. Private intercourse and quiet reasoning with the people so unsettled, are found a useful corrective. Suffolk people are often inclined to reply to ministerial and public remonstrance, “I won't be driven; you must not lord it; I will go where I please.” Rebellious independence is very common. The fact that dissenters closely attend their chapels, and do not desert them for church, being urged, this tells well, as likely to produce a corresponding action with respect to steady church attendance, for in general the people are disinclined to occupy the position of such glaring and visible inconsistency,
VIII. Co-operation with dissenters in support of religious societies, such as the Bible Society, &c., is felt by many as a difficulty, and particularly at the present time, when the hostility of dissent publicly is so well known, and its workings in private so acutely felt. It is hard on a platform to be addressed and almost fondled by dissent, as a “ dear brother," whilst off the platform the “ dear brother's" exertions for God and man are often either undervalued, misrepresented, or seriously counteracted; the “dear brother's" Church, in its constitution often, and in his own parish, violently assailed. These are difficulties in deed. Under all the trying circumstances of the case, it was deemed advisable that the co-operation should be maintained; that the relinquishment would tell rather against our Church; that the platform should be occupied without a particle of compromise, and the co-operation sustained in the same spirit, blended with much love, yet free from the ful some complimentary habits of the day.
IX. The regulation of the minister's family in all its branches, so as not to be a stumblingblock to others, often proves a work of difficulty, a trial of a most painful character to the conscientious minister. The minister and his household should be the looking-glass of the whole parish, into which when they look they may behold Christianity beautifully represented, internally healthy, and externally active for God and man. But sometimes there may be the society. loving wife, the giddy, dressy daughter, the loose, immoral son, the irre. ligious, worldly relative, the ungodly servant; this is unsightly in a parish
it is the topic of conversationhence a difficulty. What is he to do? He must rule his household; a father's love must not tolerate a child's indiscretion; remonstrance must be used wherever the evil exists; if need be, as the servant of God, rigid, instantaneous coercion; the abomination, for God's glory, and the good of his people, as example, must be put aside. A laxity and a want of decision in this department, even with good and godly men, have proved an indescribable impediment to, and a positive blot upon, the public ministry.
X. A worldly parishioner-an ungodly man-refuses to pay his legal right. If you force him, eternal enmity sets in; his ears are closed; if you act otherwise, you in some mea
sure encourage his dishonesty a bad example to others. This is a difficulty happily not of very common existence. Remedy-as much as possible all litigation with parishioners should be avoided. The case should indeed be extreme to cause a collision; if so, enforce the claim; if not, rather for Christ's sake, suffer loss.
XI. The characters whom we are sometimes obliged to admit to the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, constitutes an additional difficulty. An ungodly parent presents his child for baptism. You are obliged to administer the rite. You have thoughtless sponsors. Obtain communicants for the office, perhaps you cannot. The sacrament is applied, Christian profession is made; but by sponsor or parent no possible hope can be entertained that instruction necessary to fulfil profession will be ever communicated : thus a difficulty. The case of the Lord's Supper does not bring with it such a trial though some formalists do communicate, yet the openly ungodly generally keep away. This sacrament acknowledgedly only for holy persons, and this even in the estimation and practice of the opposite characters. The application of our marriage service to all parties indiscriminately, adds to the difficulty. With too many, unhappily, it is not holy matrimony; and as with our burial service, so with this——the language of both, applicable to real believers, is often from necessity, as applied to all without distinction, lamentably misapplied and perverted. But here we have no discretion; and if we had, perhaps our difficulties would be only increased. We must therefore be more active in seeking to improve the objects of application, and thus, in this useful way, lessen the difficulty by labouring to diffuse more widely among all ranks the holy principles of the Gospel as the true basis of all moral and relative duties.
XII. Reproof, as well as instruction, is a necessary part of ministerial office. A necessity for its exercise will occasionally arise. Reprove a child in a Sunday School, let the cause be ever so well founded-what is the result? The child is huffed, the parent catches the infection, the school is left, the meeting-house becomes the resting-place. Reprove the older person privately or publicly, the individual is huffed, he, too, deserts his church, and becomes an admirer of the meeting-house. Here is a difficulty. If you reprove, you are unwittingly causing expulsion; if you are silent, you are tolerating, if not encouraging evil. The advice is, at all events let us do our duty; be honest, be faithful, all in gentleness and love; though, alas! dissenting chapels, in the present day, are the centre and the open sanotuaries for many of the proud, the disaffected, and the rebellious, towards the independent and faithful ministrations of the Church.
XIII. It becomes a source of much grievance, when, from any cause, the reading-desk of the clerk is occupied by an ungodly man. Such cases are not very uncommon, but happily they are passing away. To guard against the evil, the minister should always seek to have the appointment of clerk resting with him. It ought to be so. In some cases it is not so, but vested in the parish, and evidently the result of previous neglect on the part of some previous incumbent. Should such a person hold the office, profaning the holy words of our service, every effort" should be made to get rid of such a disgrace. Remonstrance with a vestry might operate much; if the annuity be stopped, the office will become burdensome. And in connexion with this trial, that is not less, where the churchwarden or both should happen to be men of the world, no friends to religion, perhaps as morally disreputable as the burden some clerk; the only recommendation to office being that he happens to be the largest occupier, or that his family for years held the office, and therefore, as a matter of course, that he be elected and re-elected in perpetuity. Some work, pointing out the duties of the office, its deep responsibility, what should be the character of the office-bearer, might be
productive of much good, if more frequently putin circulation among them,
XIV. Preaching in a parish for a number of years-seeing a regularity of Sunday attendance, but seeing therewith no spiritual life-the old formality still visible, the people assenting to all you say, but no heartreception - beholding profession blighted, where you were led to hope better things—all this becomes a difficulty, a heavy blow and great discouragement to the minister.
What is he to do? The advice was, Let him go on-sow the seed redeem the time with double diligence -leave the result with God, praying for a blessing-let him warn and seek to restore the backslider. God sees all; “ shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
XV, Schools, trusts, and charities, over which the minister has no direct control, are found to be in general a source of much difficulty; particularly when the master is inefficient, perhaps uppish. When no useful information is communicated; when funds are applied, not for the furtherance of the interests of the Church, or the advancement of true religion ; this, indeed, becomes a cause of daily distress to the minister. No particular remedy suggested, more than being watchful in using every influence to fill up the vacancies in committee with advantage, to be active and laborious in the school, and seize every opportunity for effect as circumstances may arise.
Lastly. It becomes a difficulty to the minister, when the duties of public life are so multiplied, as to leave but little time for those of a private but not less important nature, viz., household visiting, private prayer, suitable study, school inspection, family supervision. These duties not being duly apportioned, in the result a sad drawback is felt. He who desires to be most useful will do all things most in season, assigning to each its proper time and place.
Other difficulties were mentioned, but time will not allow further comment.
May God grant, that, whilst in the 3 s