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THE CHRISTIAN REVIEW.
NO. XLIX....MARCH, 1848.
EMINENT PERSONAL RELIGION ESSENTIAL TO SUCCESS IN
THE Christian ministry, as ordained of God, is the principal agency in the hand of the Holy Spirit by which souls are to be converted and saved, and this whole world reclaimed to Christ, its rightful sovereign. It follows that the office of a Christian minister is most important, honorable, and awfully responsible. Well might the apostle, when speaking of the work of the ministry and its results, exclaim, “Who is sufficient for these things?"
In entering on this high and holy office, and at every stage of the discharge of its duties, it is wise for us to inquire, in the language of the same apostle, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” Nor is it enough that we should know what to do as ministers of Christ; it is
equally important to know how to do it. If the right ó thing is done, but done with a wrong spirit, or in a wrong
way, it may be worse than useless. Good things may be said, but said in a manner so wrong as to be productive of little or no good. What is essential to success in the ministry, is a
question of vital importance. It is certain that some have been, and some now are, more successful in the ministry than others. The reason of this difference may, in part, be correctly accounted for by attributing it to the sovereignty VOL. XIII.NO. XLIX.
of God. Nothing is more true than that all success is from God. “ Paul may plant, and A pollos water, but God giveth the increase.” But still are there not certain conditions under which success may be expected, and without which it may not be expected ? Is it not ordained of God that certain things must be true of a minister, both in regard to his character and his work, in order that he may properly expect success?
It is not to be doubted that God sometimes gives men success in the ministry, whose character and preaching alike fail to indicate in them any proper fitness for the sacred office. He is able to bring good out of evil, and to cause "the wrath of man to praise him.” But, ordinarily, success in the ministry may not be anticipated, unless there be some degree of conformity to the requirements of God, in regard both to the ministerial character and work. It will be our object in this discussion to exhibit our view of the high place held by eminent personal religion, among the elements of a minister's usefulness and success.
We hold it to be beyond controversy that deep-toned personal religion,-an experience of the power of Bible truth,-a realization of the gospel in the soul, is most of all essential to success in the ministry. It lies at the foundation of all others. A heart deeply imbued with gospel truth is to all the other qualities which a minister may possess, what fire is to combustible materials; without it, there will be neither light nor heat. It is what steam or water power is to machinery; without it there is no motion-nothing is done.
It was this more than any thing else which distinguished the preaching of the apostles, and secured to them their wondersul success. They were not only pious men, but preëminently pious. They were deeply imbued with the spirit of the gospel. They felt the power of divine truth. Love to Christ and love for souls were the master passions in their hearts. The love of Christ constrained them in every department of their high and holy work; and love for souls impelled them to incessant toil and prayer. Their faith was of a high order. It took such strong hold of Christ, with his purposes and promises, and brought him so near, with all his glory, that it was as if he had been with them in person. Heaven and hell, and
the awful scenes of the final judgment and of the future world, stood out before them as living realities. To thein the religion of Christ was every thing, and every thing else, in comparison, was nothing. They had vivid conceptions of divine truth, and its influence thrilled their souls. They were charged with the message of God to lost men, which they were to deliver as from him; and, thus qualified, they went forth “as ambassadors for Christ.
They went every where, preaching the word.” They "ceased not to warn every one, night and day, with tears;” and when their work was finished they could say, in truth, "I take you to record that I am free from the blood of all men; for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Animated by such feelings, they could not do otherwise. With the whole system of gospel truth, like "a fire shut up in their bones," with the love of Christ burning in their hearts, the worth of souls, and their final destiny in heaven or in hell, vividly before them, and conscious that they themselves must soon stand with an assembled universe "before the judgment seat of Christ,” to “give account" of their ministry, how could they fail to preach most effectively? How could they do otherwise than discharge their trust in the best possible manner ?
There is an intimate connection between eminent personal religion and success in the ministerial work. The essence of religion is love to Christ and love to the souls of men. A man is religious in proportion as he loves the Saviour and the souls of men. He may have every other passion and principle, but if he have not this, his * heart is not right in the sight of God,” his “religion is vain."
But love to Christ and love to souls is promoted by the conjoint influence on the heart of the word and the Spirit of God. Religious truth is the proper aliment of the human soul; and when that truth is made clear to the mind and applied to the heart, in all its richness, purity and efficiency, by the Holy Spirit, it produces the most salutary influence. Then the soul “grows in grace,” it becomes "strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” And this is what we mean by eminent personal religion. It is that state of a human being in which the
whole soul is permeated, pervaded and filled by the word and Spirit of God; in which the soul realizes the glorious system of gospel truth in all its power, and enjoys a sacred nearness to God, and free and frequent intercourse with him.
Such a state of mind will have a most happy influence upon a minister in every department of his work. It will manifest itself in his countenance, his deportment, his gestures, in the tones of his voice, in "thoughts which breathe, in words that burn.” Such a mau cannot fail to commend himself to his hearers. God will be with him and crown his efforts with success.
66 It is not great talents which God blesses, so much as great likeness to Christ. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. A heated iron, though blunt, will pierce its way even where a much sharper instrument, if it be cold, cannot penetrate. So if ministers be filled with the Spirit, who is like fire, they will pierce into the hardest hearts, where the sharpest wits cannot find their way."
Eminent personal religion in a minister is intimately connected with his success,
1. Because it makes him preëminently prayerful. A minister's success depends entirely on the divine blessing. With “Christ strengthening him, he can do all things; without him, “he can do nothing." Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” And a divine blessing comes in answer to prayer.
« ardent opens heaven.” Ministers are and will be, usually, if not invariably, successful, in proportion as they are men of prayer. If they pray much, and pray in faith, they will prosper; if they restrain prayer, they will not prosper. Of this the devout minister is deeply sensible. He feels the necessity of prayer, and of the spirit of prayer. He feels bound to pray, and he loves to pray. He will pray frequently, fervently, and with great importunity. He will enter, as it were, into "the most holy place,"—he will get near the "mercy seat;” and, firmly relying upon the purposes and promises of God, he will wrestle hard,-he will plead earnestly and long for the blessing. Like Elijah, he will not give up, though he has prayed for the same thing six times. He will feel the spirit of Jacob, if he does not use his words :-“I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” Such a man will not
enter upon any part of his sacred work, without first seeking the guidance of heaven. All his studies will be mingled with prayer. From his closet and his knees he will go to his pulpit, and from his pulpit he will return to pray.
2. Eminent personal religion will aid the minister in the selection of his texts and topics of discourse. An important part of a minister's work is to " preach the word.” The successful preaching of the word depends in a high degree upon a proper selection of texts and topics of discourse. The preacher of the gospel is furnished from heaven with his text book; he is shut up to the sacred volume, as the source of all his subjects. Nor need he wish for a wider range-a more extensive field from which to cull-a deeper fountain from which to draw.
In the Bible there is an almost endless variety. It is a deep and inexhaustible mine of the richest treasures. There is truth suited to every case, and appropriate to every occasion. From such a variety it is no easy task to select, at all times, what is best adapted, and what will produce the best effect upon those who hear;—a task, in fact, which no man, unaided, can fulfil. Of this, the eminently religious man is sensible, and seeks direction from heaven.
Still, he will not expect to receive miraculous aid, or to be guided without the exercise of his own judgment. On the contrary, having sought from God that “wisdom which is profitable to direct," he will bring to the study of the Bible all the powers of which he is possessed, and all the aid, from every source, of which he can avail himself. In the selection of his text and topic, he will not consult his own fancy, ease, interest, or personal pleasure, nor the fastidious taste of his hearers. He will not bow to their flatteries or their frowns; nor will the political, literary, or civil aspect of the times, in ordinary cases, have any thing to do in directing him. He has vastly more important interests to consult. He has to do, on the one hand, with souls,—with deathless spirits, which are speeding their way through probation to the final judgment, to spend an eternity in all the bliss of heaven, or in all the woes of hell; and, on the other hand, he has to do with his final Judge, who has charged him to be faithful, VOL. XIII. NO. XLIX.