HOW CHURCHES CAN HELP MINISTERS
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword . - Exodus 17:11-13.
You who read your Bibles will recollect the connection in which these verses stand. The people of God, in subduing their enemies, came to battle against the Amalekites, and these incidents took place. It is difficult to conceive why importance should be attached to the circumstance of Moses holding up his hands, unless the expression is understood to denote the attitude of prayer. But then his holding up his hands, and the success attending it, will teach us the importance of prayer to God, for His aid in all our conflicts with His enemies. The cooperation and support of Aaron and Hur have been generally understood to represent the duty of Churches to sustain and assist ministers in their work, and the importance of this cooperation to the success of the preached gospel. I shall make this use of it on the present occasion. As I have spoken of the duty of ministers to labor for revivals, I shall now consider the importance of the cooperation of the Church in producing and carrying on a revival.
There are various things, the importance of which in promoting a revival have not been duly considered by Churches or ministers - things which, if not attended to, will make it impossible that revivals should extend, or even continue for any considerable time. In my last two Lectures, I have been dwelling on the duties of ministers, for it was impossible for me to deliver a course of lectures on revivals, without entering more or less extensively into that department of means. I have not done with that part of the subject, but have thought it important here to step aside and discuss some points, in which the members of the Church must stand by and aid the minister, if they expect to enjoy a revival. In discussing the subject, I propose to mention:
I. Several things which Christians must avoid, if they would support ministers.
II. Some things to which they must attend.
I. THINGS THAT MUST BE AVOIDED.
1. By all means keep clear of the idea, both in theory and practice, that a minister alone is to promote revivals. Many professing Christians are inclined to take a passive attitude on this subject, and feel as if they had nothing to do. They have employed a minister, and paid him to feed them with instruction and comfort, and now they have nothing to do but to sit and swallow the food he gives. They are to pay his salary and attend on his preaching - and they think that is doing a great deal. And he, on his part, is expected to preach good, sound, comfortable doctrine, to bolster them up, and make them feel comfortable. So, they expect to go to heaven.
I tell you THEY WILL GO TO HELL if this is their religion! That is not the way to heaven!
Rest assured that where this spirit prevails in the Church, however good the minister may be, the Church has taken the course to prevent a revival.
Be the minister ever so faithful, ever so devoted, ever so talented and eloquent, though he may wear himself out, and perhaps destroy his life, he will have little or no revival.
Where there are very few members, or none, a revival may be promoted without any organized effort of the Church, because there is no Church to organize; and in such a case, God accommodates His grace to the circumstances, as He did when the apostles went out, single-handed, to plant the Gospel in the world. I have seen instances of powerful revivals where such was the case. But where there are means, God will have them used. I had rather have no Church in a place, than attempt to promote a revival in a place where there is a Church which will not work. God will be inquired of by His people, to bestow His blessings. The counteracting influence of a Church that will not work, is worse than infidelity. There is no possibility of occupying neutral ground, in regard to a revival, though some professors imagine they are neutral. If a professor will not give himself to the work, he opposes it. Let such a one attempt to take middle ground, and say he is "going to wait and see how affairs shape" - why, that is the very ground the devil wants him to take. Professors can in this way do his work a great deal more effectually than by open opposition. If they should take open ground in opposition, everybody will say they have no religion. But, by taking this middle course they retain their influence, and thus do the devil's work more effectually.
In employing ministers Churches must remember that they have only employed leaders to lead them on to action in the cause of Christ. People would think it strange if any country should propose to support a general, and then let him go and fight alone! This is no more absurd, or destructive, than for a minister to attempt to go forward alone. The Church misconceives the design of the ministry, if the minister is left to work alone. It is not enough that they should hear his sermons. That is only the word of command, which the Church is bound to follow.
2. Do not complain of your minister because there is no revival, if you are not doing your duty, for if you are not doing your duty, that alone is a sufficient reason why there should be no revival. It is a most cruel and abominable thing for Church members to complain of their minister, when they themselves are fast asleep. It is very common for professors of religion to take great credit to themselves, and quiet their own consciences, by complaining of their ministers. And when the importance of ministers being awake is spoken of, such people are always ready to say: "We never shall have a revival with such a minister"; when the fact is that their minister is much more awake than they are themselves.
Another thing is true in regard to this point, and worthy of notice. When the Church is sunk down in a low state, professors of religion are very apt to complain of the Church, and of the low state of religion. That intangible and irresponsible being, the "Church," is greatly complained of by them, for being asleep. Their complaints of the low state of religion, and of the coldness of the Church or of the minister, are poured out dolefully, without any seeming realization that the Church is composed of individuals, and that until each one will take his own case in hand, complain of himself, and humble himself before God, and repent, and wake up, the Church can never have any efficiency, and there never can be a revival. If, instead of complaining of your minister, or of the Church, you would wake up as individuals, and not complain of him or them until you can say you are pure from the blood of all men, and are doing your duty to save sinners, the minister would be apt to feel the justice of your complaints, and if he would not, God would either wake him up or remove him.
3. Do not let your minister kill himself by attempting to carry on the work alone, while you refuse to help him. It sometimes happens that a minister finds the ark of the Lord will not move unless he lays out his utmost strength, and he has been so desirous of a revival that he has done this, and has died. And he was willing to die for it. I could mention cases in which ministers have died in consequence of their labors to promote a revival where the Church hung back from the work.
A minister, some years since, was laboring where there was a revival; and was visited by an elder of a Church at some distance, who wanted him to go and preach there. There was no revival there, and never had been. The elder complained about their state, and said they had two excellent ministers, one of whom had worn himself completely out, and died; and the other had exhausted himself, grown discouraged, and left them. They were a poor and feeble Church, and their prospects very dark, unless they could have a revival, and so he begged this minister to go and help them.
The minister at last replied by asking: "Why did you never have a revival?" "I do not know," said the elder; "our minister labored very hard, but the Church did not seem to wake up, and somehow there seemed to be no revival." "Well, now," said the minister, "I see what you want; you have killed one of God's ministers, and broke down another so that he had to leave you; and now you want to get another there and kill him; and the devil has sent you here to get me to go and rock your cradle for you. You had one good minister to preach for you, but you slept on, and he exerted himself till he absolutely died in the work. Then the Lord let you have another, and still you lay and slept, and would not wake up to your duty.
And now you have come here in despair, and want another minister, do you? God forbid that you should ever have another while you do as you have done. God forbid that you should ever have a minister till the Church will wake up to duty."
The elder was affected, for he was a good man. The tears came into his eyes, and he said it was no more than they deserved. "And now," said the minister, "will you be faithful, and go home and tell the Church what I say? If you will, and they will be faithful, and wake up to duty, they shall have a minister, I will warrant them that." The elder said he would, and he was true to his word; he went home and told the members how cruel it was for them to ask another minister to come among them, unless they would wake up. They felt it, and confessed their sins, and wakened up to duty, and a minister was sent to them, and a precious and powerful revival followed.
Churches do not realize how often their coldness and backwardness may be absolutely the cause of the death of ministers. The state of the people, and of sinners, rests upon their mind; they travail in soul night and day; and they labor in season and out of season, beyond the power of the human constitution to bear, till they wear out and die. The Church knows not the agony of a minister's heart, when he travails for souls, and labors to wake up the members to help, but still sees them in the slumber of death. Perhaps they will sometimes rouse up to spasmodic effort for a few days, and then all is cold again. And so many a faithful minister wears himself out and dies, and then these heartless professors are the first to blame him for doing so much.
I recollect a case of a good minister, who went to a place where there was a revival, and while there heard a pointed sermon to ministers. He received it like a man of God; he did not rebel against God's truth, but he promised God that he never would rest until he saw a revival among his people. He returned home and went to work; the Church would not wake up, except a few members, and the Lord blessed them, and poured out His Spirit; but the minister laid himself down on his bed and died, in the midst of the revival.
4. Be careful not to complain of plain, pointed preaching, even when its reproofs fasten on yourselves. Churches are apt to forget that a minister is responsible only to God. They want to make rules for a minister to preach by, so as to have his discourses fit them. If he bears down upon the Church, and exposes the sins that prevail among the people, they call it "personal," and rebel against the truth. Or they say: "He should not preach so plainly to the Church before the world, for it exposes religion; he ought to take members by themselves and preach to the Church alone, and not tell sinners how bad Christians are." But there are cases where a minister can do no less than show the house of Jacob their sins. If you ask: "Why not do it when we are by ourselves?" I answer: "Just as if sinners do not know you do wrong! I will preach to you by yourselves, about your sins, when you will get together by yourselves to sin. But as the Lord liveth, if you sin before the world, you shall be rebuked before the world. Is it not a fact that sinners do know how you live, and that they stumble over you into hell? Then do not blame ministers, when they see it to be their duty to rebuke the Church openly, before the world. If you are so proud that you cannot bear this, you need not expect a revival. Do not call the preaching 'too plain,' simply because it exposes the faults of the Church. There is no such thing as preaching too plainly."
5. Sometimes professors take alarm lest the minister should offend the ungodly by plain preaching. And they will begin to caution him against it, and ask him if he had not better alter a little so as to avoid giving offense, and the like. This fear is specially excited if some of the more wealthy and influential members of the congregation are offended, lest they should withdraw their support, no longer give their money to help to pay the minister's salary, and so cause the burden to come the heavier on the Church. They can never have a revival in such a Church. Why, the Church ought to pray, above all things, that the truth may come on the ungodly like fire. What if they are offended? Christ can get along very well without their money. Do not blame your minister, or ask him to change his mode of preaching so as to please and conciliate the ungodly. It is of no use for a minister to preach to the impenitent, unless he can preach the truth to them. And it will do no good for f hem to pay for the support of the Gospel, unless it is preached in such a way that they may be searched and saved.
Sometimes Church members will talk among themselves about the minister's imprudence, and create a party, and get into a very wrong spirit, because the wicked are displeased. There was a place where there was a powerful revival, and great opposition. The Church became alarmed, for fear that if the minister was not less plain and pointed, some of the impenitent would go and join some other congregation. And so one of the leading men in the Church was appointed to go to the minister, and ask him not to preach quite so hard, for, if he continued to do so, such-and-such persons would leave the congregation. The minister asked: "Is not the preaching true?" "Yes." "Does not God bless it?" "Yes." "Did you ever see the like of this work before in this place?" "No, I never did."
"Then, 'get thee behind me, Satan.' You have come upon the devil's errand! You see God is blessing the preaching, the work is going on, and sinners are converted every day; and now you come to get me to let down the tone of preaching, so as to ease the minds of the ungodly." The man felt the rebuke, and took it like a Christian; he saw his error and submitted, and never again was heard to find fault with plainness in preaching.
In another town where there was a revival, a woman who had some influence (not pious) complained very much about "plain, pointed, personal preaching," as she called it. But, by and by, she herself became a subject of the work. After this some of her impenitent friends reminded her of what she used to say against the preacher for "preaching so hot."
She said her views were altered now, and she did not care how hot the truth was preached; not even if it was red hot!
6. Do not take part with the wicked in any way. If you do it at all, you will strengthen their hands. If the wicked should accuse the minister of being imprudent or personal; and if the Church members, without admitting that the minister is so, should merely agree that "personal preaching is wrong," and talk about "the impropriety of personal preaching," the wicked would feel themselves strengthened by such remarks. Do not unite with them at all, for they will feel that they have you on their side against the minister; you adopt their principles, use their language, and are understood as sympathizing with them. What is personal preaching? No individual is ever benefitted by preaching until he is made to feel that it means him. Such preaching is always personal. It often appears so personal to wicked men that they feel as if they were just going to be called out by name before the congregation. A minister was once preaching to a congregation, and, when describing certain characters, he said: "If I were omniscient, I could call out by name the very persons that answer to this picture." A man cried out: "Name me!" And he looked as if he were going to sink into the earth. He afterwards said that he had no idea of speaking out; but the minister described him so perfectly that he really thought he was going to call him by name. The minister did not actually know that there was such a man. It is common for men to think their own conduct is described, and they complain: "Who has been telling him about me? Somebody has been talking to him about me, and getting him to preach at me!" I suppose I have heard of five hundred or a thousand just such cases. Now, if the Church members will admit that it is wrong for a minister to mean anybody in his preaching, how can he do any good? If you be not willing your minister should mean anybody, or preach to anybody, you had better dismiss him. To whom must he preach, if not to the persons, the individuals before him? And how can he preach to them, when he does not mean them?
7. If you wish to stand by your minister in promoting a revival, do not, by your lives contradict his preaching. If he preaches that sinners are going to hell, do not give the lie to it, and smile it all away, by your levity and unconcern. I have heard sinners speak of the effect produced on their minds by levity in Christians after a solemn and searching discourse. They feel solemn and tender, and begin to feel alarmed at their condition; and they see these professors, instead of weeping over them, all light and easy: as much as to say: "Do not be afraid, sinners, it is not so bad, after all; keep cool and you will do well; do you think we would laugh and joke if you were going to hell so fast? We would not laugh if only your house were on fire; still less if we saw you burning in it!" Of what use is it for a minister to preach to sinners in such a state of things?
8. Do not needlessly take up the time of your minister. Ministers often lose a great deal of time by individuals calling on them, to talk, when they have nothing of importance to talk about, and have come on no particular errand. The minister, of course, is glad to see his friends, and often too willing to spend time in conversation with his people, as he loves and esteems them. Professors of religion should remember, however, that a minister's time is worth more than gold, for it can be employed in that which gold can never buy. If the minister be kept from his knees, or from his Bible, or from his study, that they may indulge themselves in his conversation, they do a great injury. When you have a good reason for it, you should never be backward to call upon him, and even take up all the time that is necessary. But if you have nothing in particular to say that is important, keep away.
9. Be sure not to sanction anything that is calculated to divert public attention from the subject of religion. Often, when it comes the time of year to work, when the evenings are long, and business is light, and the very time to make an extra effort; at this moment somebody in the Church will "give a party," and invite some Christian friends, so as to have it a religious party. And then some other family must do the same, to return the compliment. Then another, and another, till it grows into an organized system of parties that consumes the whole winter. Abominable! This is the grand device of the devil, because it appears so innocent, and so proper, to promote good feeling, and increase the acquaintance of Christians with each other. And so, instead of prayer meetings, they will have these parties.
The evils of these parties are very great. They are often got up at great expense; and the most abominable gluttony is practiced in them. 48 I have been told that in some instances professed Christians have made great entertainments, and excused the ungodly prodigality in the use of Jesus Christ's money, by giving what was left, after the feast was ended, to the poor! Thus making it a virtue to feast and riot, even to surfeiting, on the bounties of God's providence, under pretense of benefitting the poor. This is the same in principle with a splendid ball which was given some years ago, in a neighboring city. The ball was got up for the benefit of the poor, and each gentleman was to pay a certain sum, and after the ball was ended, whatever remained of the funds thus raised, was to be given to the poor.
Truly this is strange charity: to eat, and drink, and dance, and when they have rioted and feasted until they can enjoy it no longer, they deal out to the poor the crumbs that have fallen from the table. I do not see, however, why such a ball is not quite as pious as such Christian parties. The evil of balls does not consist simply in the exercise of dancing, but in the dissipation, and surfeiting, and temptations connected with them.
But it is said they are Christian parties, and that they are all, or nearly all, professors of religion, who attend them. And furthermore, that they are concluded, often, with prayer. Now I regard this as one of the worst features about them; that after the waste of time and money, the excess in eating and drinking, the vain conversation, and nameless fooleries, with which such a season is filled up, an attempt should be made to sanctify it, and palm it off upon God, by concluding it with prayer. Say what you will, it would not be more absurd or incongruous, or impious, to close a ball, or a theatrical performance, or a card party with prayer.
Has it come to this; that professors of religion (who profess to desire the salvation of the world), when calls are made upon them from the four winds of heaven, to send the Gospel, to furnish Bibles, and tracts, and missionaries, to save the world from death, should waste large sums of money in an evening, and then go to the Missionary Meeting and pray for the heathen?
In some instances, I have been told, they find a salve for their consciences in the fact that their minister attends their parties. This, of course, would give weight to such an example; for if one professor of religion made a party and invited the minister, others would do the same. The next step they take may be for each to give a ball, and appoint their minister a manager! Why not? And perhaps, by and by, he will do them the favor to play the fiddle. In my estimation he might quite as well do it, as go and conclude such a party with prayer. I should advise any congregation that is calculating to have a circle of parties, in the meantime to dismiss their minister, and let him go and preach where the people would be ready to receive the Word and profit by it, rather than have him stay and be grieved, and killed, by attempting to promote religion among them, while they are engaged, heart and hand, in the service of the devil.
Professors of religion should never arrange anything that may divert public attention from religion, without having first consulted their minister, and made it a subject of special prayer. And if they find it will have an adverse effect, they ought never to do it. Subjects will often come up before the public which have this tendency; some course of Lectures, some show, or the like. Professors ought to be wise, and understand what they are about, and not give countenance to any such thing until they see what influence it will have, and whether it will hinder a revival. If it will do that, let them have nothing to do with it. Every such thing should be estimated by its bearing upon Christ's Kingdom.
II. SEVERAL THINGS WHICH CHURCHES MUST DO.
That is to say, things which they must do if they would promote a revival and aid their minister.
1. They must attend to his temporal wants. A minister who gives himself wholly to his work cannot be engaged in worldly employments, and of course is entirely dependent on his people for the supply of his temporal wants, including the support of his family. I need not argue this point here, for you all understand this perfectly. It is the command of God, that "they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14). But now look around and see how many Churches do in this matter.
For instance, when they want a minister, they will cast about and see how cheaply they can get one. They will calculate to a farthing how much his salt will cost, and how much his flour, and then set his salary so low as to subject him to extreme inconvenience to pay his way and keep his family.
A minister must have his mind at ease, to study and labor with effect, and he cannot screw down prices, and barter, and look out for the best chances to buy to advantage what he needs. If he be obliged to do this, his mind is embarrassed. Unless his temporal wants are so supplied, that his thoughts may be abstracted from them, how can he do his duty?
2. Be honest with your minister. Do not measure out and calculate with how much salt and how many bushels of grain he can possibly get along.
Remember, you are dealing with Christ, and He calls you to place His ministers in such a situation, that, with ordinary prudence, temporal embarrassment may be out of the question.
3. Be punctual with him. Sometimes Churches, when they are about to welcome a minister, have a great deal of pride about giving a salary, and they will get up a subscription list, and make out, in the total, an amount which they never do pay, and very likely never expected to pay. And so, after one, two, three, or four years, the society gets three or four hundred dollars in debt to the minister, and then they expect him to forego it. And all the while they wonder why there is no revival! This may be the very reason - because the Church has LIED. They have faithfully promised to pay so much, and have not done it. God cannot consistently pour out His Spirit on such a Church.
4. Pay him his salary without being asked. Nothing is so embarrassing to a minister as to be obliged to dun his people for his salary. Often he creates enemies and gives offense by being obliged to call, and call, for his money - even then not getting it as he was promised. They would have paid it if their credit had been at stake; but when it is nothing but conscience and the blessing of God, they "let it lie along." If any one of them had a note due at the bank, you would see him careful and prompt to be on the ground before three o'clock, lest he should lose his character. But they know the minister will not ask them for his salary, so they are careless, and then let it run into arrears, and he must suffer the inconvenience. This is not so common in the city as it is in the country. But in the country I have known some heartrending cases of distress and misery, by the negligence and cruelty of congregations in withholding that which was due. Churches live in habitual lying and cheating, and then wonder why they have no revival. How can they wonder?
5. Pray for your minister. Even the apostles used to urge the Churches to pray for them. This is more important than you imagine. Ministers do not ask people to pray for them simply as men, nor that they may be filled with an abundance of the Spirit's influences, merely to promote their own personal enjoyment. But they know that unless the Church greatly desires a blessing upon the labors of a minister, it is tempting God for him to expect it. How often does a minister go into his pulpit, feeling that his heart is ready to break for the blessing of God, while he also feels that there is no room to expect it, for there is no reason to believe that the Church desires it! Perhaps he has been for hours on his knees in supplication, and yet, because the Church does not desire a blessing, he feels as if his words would bound back in his face.
I have seen Christians who would be in an agony, when the minister was going into the pulpit, for fear his mind should be in a cloud, or his heart cold, or he should have no unction, and so a blessing should not come. I have labored with a man of this sort. He would pray until he got an assurance in his mind that God would be with me in preaching, and sometimes he would pray himself ill. I have known the time when he has been in darkness for a season, while the people were gathering, and his mind was full of anxiety, and he would go again and again to pray, till finally he would come into the room with a placid face, and say: "The Lord has come, and He will be with us." And I do not know that I ever found him mistaken.
I have known a Church bear up their minister in prayer from day to day, and watch with anxiety unutterable, to see that he had the Holy Ghost with him in his labors! When Christians feel and pray thus, oh, what feelings and what looks are manifest in the congregation! They have felt anxiety unutterable to have the Word come with power and take effect; and when they see their prayer answered, and when they hear a word or a sentence come WARM from the heart, taking effect among the people, you can see their whole souls look out of their eyes! How different is the case where the Christians feel that the Minster is praying, and so there is no need for them to do so. They are mistaken. The Church must desire and pray for the blessing. God says He will be inquired of by the house of Israel. I wish you to feel that there can be no substitute for this.
I have seen cases in revivals, where the Church was kept in the background in regard to prayer, and persons from abroad were called on to pray in all the meetings. This is always unhappy, even if there should be a revival, for the revival must be less powerful and less salutary in its influences upon the Church. I do not know but that I have sometimes offended Christians and ministers from other places, by continuing to call on members of the Church to pray, and not on visitors. It was not from any disrespect, but because the object was to get that Church which was chiefly concerned, to desire, and pray, and agonize for a blessing.
In a certain place, a "protracted meeting" was held, with no good results; but, on the contrary, great evils were produced. I was led to make inquiry for the reason, and it came out that throughout their meetings not one member of their own Church was called on to pray, but all the prayers were made by persons from elsewhere. No wonder there was no good done. The leader of the meeting meant well, but he undertook to promote a revival without getting the Church into the work. He let a lazy Church lie still and do nothing, and so there could be no good result.
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 protracted 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 "protracted 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.
Such members tie up the hands of the minister, and discourage his heart.
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 "protracted 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 slothful and censorious, will, by and by, find themselves in hell for their disobedience and unprofitableness in the service of Christ.