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The insufficiency of our ministry, in point of numbers, has excited considerable attention of late. The subject is deserving of all the consideration it has received. A further, treatment of it in the pages of this work will not, I trust, be deemed superfluous. To the older members of our denomination the subject is, by no means, a new one.
There has never been a time, probably, within the last twenty years, when the number of our societies did not exceed that of our ministers. This excess was never so great as at the present moment, and it is constantly increasing. During the last few years great changes have taken place in our ministry. Several of the fathers, whose wise councils gave direction to our efforts, have been called from the field of their honorable warfare. Many of our young men, too, have been removed by death from that ministry which they loved so well, and which their lives so highly adorned. Others, influenced either by a consciousness of unfitness for the sacred office, or by the more potent attractions of secular life, have resigned their places and sought a more congenial sphere of action. And I may add—what is a matter of deep regret-that others still have been obliged, on account of physical infirmities, to seek another field less suited to iheir tastes and qualifications.
By these causes our ranks have been thinned until our societies greatly outnumber our preachers. The demand for more ministers has become urgent. From the east, the west, the north, and the south, goes up a prayer to the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth more laborers into his harvest. This is not only a widely acknowledged and deeply felt necessity, but it is one of great moment. It cannot be contemplated by the earnest believer of Universalism without much anxiety and sorrow. And these feelings are vastly augmented when he turns from the present to consider our future condition. The
question arises, and it excites our deepest interest, How shall our future demands be met ? The prophets that yet remain among us, are not forever. Are suitable provisions making to supply our coming necessities? Is the requisite number of young men preparing themselves for the labors of that vineyard which the future will open around them? Alas, No. Few of this class are choosing the ministry as the sphere of their life-labor. For the young men of this age it possesses but few attractions. The paucity of candidates for our ministry has already attracted considerable attention on the part of those who best understand our necessities. Upon this topic, much has been said and written. To what cause or causes shall we ascribe the fact just referred to? Why are so few young men preparing themselves for the ministry of Universalism? Does popular prejudice against our religion operate more powerfully than it did a few years ago ? No; much of the former prejudice has been worn away. The spirit of the present age is more in harmony with the genius of our faith than was the spirit of the former times. So far, therefore, as public sympathy acts upon us, its influence is more favorable to the increase of our ministry than it was at any past period in our history.
Shall we attribute the fact under notice to a lack of educational means on the part of our denomination ? Some seem to regard this as the true cause. I am not one of this number. I do not believe that the establishment of a college, of a theological institution, or of both, would supply the necessity under consideration. Some change must take place—something must be done back of their influence, or such influence would be weak and limited. Why have we not these institutions already? It is not because we lack the pecuniary means requisite. It is because the demand for them has not been sufficiently urgent. Had the required number of earnest young men called for the means necessary to fit them for the ministry, their call would have been heeded ere this, and we should now possess at least one college and one theological institution, respectably endowed, and in successful operation. Let me not be misapprehended. I am not deny. ing our need of such institutions, nor would I undervalue their importance. We do need them, and I rejoice in
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view of their prospective establishment. But these are not our first necessities. Their absence from our denomination will not account for the fewness of the candidates preparing to enter the ministry of our religion. Other causes, more direct and efficient, contribute to this result. Some of these causes it may be well to specify. By so doing we shall be brought directly to the main purpose of this article, and shall be better prepared to master our self-imposed task.
I observe, in the first place, that the knowledge which has been acquired respecting the ministerial profession, has rather served to diminish the attractions of the profession. There was a time when many, in their ignorance, regarded it as a sphere in which influence and consideration could be obtained at the least possible expense of labor. The life which the ministry promised to them was one of indolence,-a happy holiday-life. To indolent natures it then had great attractions, and these, no doubt, contributed in some instances, to augment the number of our preachers. These false attractions, experience and observation have dispelled, until now the office is regarded as an undesirable one, so far as labor and anxiety are concerned, by those who are influenced in the choice of a profession by a love of ease and comfort. Let no one suppose, because I have placed this cause at the head of my list, that I regard it as the most extensive in its operation, or mighty in its influence. Such is not the case. I think too highly of our young men to believe, for a moment, that the consideration now named, would, as a general rule, govern their decision in the choice of a profession. But that there are natures which have been and still are swayed by it we are obliged to admit. The existence of the cause which has rendered the ministry unattractive to such natures we will not deplore. They were never tempered for its trials and stern duties, and would be out of place if elevated to the sphere of its responsibilities. Gospel ministers must be « made of sterner stuff.”
Another cause which has, no doubt, deterred some from entering our ministry is to be traced to the increased qualifications demanded by our times. In the earlier days of our existence, literary qualifications were not so essential as now. Then, if the candidate believed the
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doctrines of Universalism,-if he was familiar with the Bible, and had a fair moral character, nothing more was deemed essential. If these qualifications were combined with earnestness of purpose, success was certain. In our times, success is attained with far less ease. Greater mental culture is required. A higher standard of pulpit qualifications has been raised. Literary defects are no longer regarded as trivial matters. Once, men were so much interested in the truths of Universalism, that they gladly welcomed them when presented, no matter how awkward the manner of their presentation, or how slovenly the garb in which they were attired. Our age, having become more familiar with these truths, is bestowing more attention upon the manner in which they are set forth. This change in our public mind ought not to excite regret. It is a sign of progress, and should be welcomed, even though, by rendering ministerial success more difficult, it diminish the number of candidates for our ministry. It is better that we should have too few of such as the age demands, than an overstock of such as the age' will not respect.
Again. The seniors in our ministry have not been as earnest, of late, in soliciting accessions to their profession, as they were in the earlier periods of our history. Formerly, whenever a young man of tolerable parts became a convert to Universalism, he was at once advised to enter the ministry. So urgent, in some instances, was this advice, that the young man yielded to its force, and became a minister, if not against the dictates of his better judgement, at least, without consulting it. Such advice, though well intended, was injudicious. It led to certain unhappy results. It elevated a few to the ministry who were unequal to its duties and responsibilities. This mistake has been discovered, and, in the attempt to avoid the recurrence of its evils, the elders in our ministry may have erred, perhaps, in the opposite extreme. They may have failed to give advice, or to urge upon the consideration of young men the claims of the ministry in cases where well-timed counsel might have secured valuable accessions to their fraternity. At any rate, the influence to which we have just referred, and which once contributed largely to the increase of our ministry, has operated but slightly of late years; and this circumstance constitutes one of the causes which have diminished the number of candidates for the sacred office.
Among these causes must be reckoned the influence exerted by those, who, from various reasons, have abandoned the ministry for other pursuits. The young man, whose mind had been attracted towards the ministerial profession, would very naturally inquire for the causes of this change. It is equally natural that he should conclude that some, and, perhaps, most of them, adhered to the profession. He would thus be led to regard it as a sphere encumbered with no ordinary trials and difficulties. These difficulties would grow in his mind until he was repelled from a post which at first seemed so attractive. The testimony concerning the ministry voluntarily rendered by some who hastily entered it, and as hastily abandoned it, would, in no degree, augment its attractions. It is a Very common fault to impute our ill success, in any sphere of action, to causes existing in that sphere, rather than in ourselves. Those, therefore, who found themselves disqualified for the ministerial office and, consequently, failed in it, would not give their testimony in its favor. They would be more likely to magnify its difficulties. The number of those who have abandoned the ministry, and the testimony concerning it which some few of this class may have rendered, has, without doubt, exerted an influence prejudicial to the increase of our ministry.
The instability of the pastoral relation must be classed among the causes which deter young men from entering the ministry. This relation is far less permanent, in all denominations, than it was half a century ago. It is fast becoming one of the most uncertain relations of life. Formerly, when a pastor was installed into the sacred office, he felt that his relation to his society was a permanent one. His home was to be among the members of his spiritual flock. He felt a sacred interest in them. As he looked upon the aged, he felt that he was to be their guide through the brief remainder of their life-journey. Those in middle life, directed by his counsels, were to grow old under his eye, and become, in the autumn of his own life, the rich fruit of his pastoral faithfulness. The young he regarded with especial interest. They were the precious