2. Pastoral visitation, combined with personal dealing, is by far the best way of watching for souls. I well remember when I first began my ministry in this congregation, how much I was impressed with what one of the ablest and best of our then ministers was reported to have testified on his deathbed. Calling back to his bedside a young minister who had come to see him, the dying man said: 'Prepare for the pulpit; above everything else you do, prepare for the pulpit. Let me again repeat it, should it at any time stand with you between visiting a death-bed and preparing for the pulpit, prepare for the pulpit.' I was immensely impressed with that dying injunction when it was repeated to me, but I have lived,--I do not say to put my preparation for the pulpit, such as it is, second to my more pastoral work in my week's thoughts, but-- to put my visiting in the very front rank and beside my pulpit. 'We never were accustomed to much visiting,' said my elders to me in their solicitude for their young minister when he was first left alone with this whole charge; 'only appear in your own pulpit twice on Sabbath: keep as much at home as possible: we were never used to much visiting, and we do not look for it.' Well, that was most kindly intended; but it was much more kind than wise. For I have lived to learn that no congregation will continue to prosper, or, if other more consolidated and less exacting congregations, at any rate not this congregation, without constant pastoral attention. And remember, I do not complain of that. Far, far from that. For I am as sure as I am of anything connected with a minister's life, that a minister's own soul will prosper largely in the measure that the souls of his people prosper through his pastoral work. No preaching, even if it were as good preaching as the apostle's itself, can be left to make up for the neglect of pastoral visitation and personal intercourse. 'I taught you from house to house,' says Paul himself, when he was resigning the charge of the church of Ephesus into the hands of the elders of Ephesus. What would we ministers not give for a descriptive report of an afternoon's house-to-house visitation by the Apostle Paul! Now in a workshop, now at a sickbed, now with a Greek, now with a Jew, and, in every case, not discussing politics and cursing the weather, not living his holidays over again and hearing of all the approaching marriages, but testifying to all men in his own incomparably winning and commanding way repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. We city ministers call out and complain that we have no time to visit our people in their own houses; but that is all subterfuge. If the whole truth were told about the busiest of us, it is not so much want of time as want of intention; it is want of set and indomitable purpose to do it; it is want of method and of regularity such as all business men must have; and it is want, above all, of laying out every hour of every day under the Great Taskmaster's eye. Many country ministers again,--we, miserable men that we are, are never happy or well placed,--complain continually that their people are so few, and so scattered, and so ignorant, and so uninteresting, and so unresponsive, that it is not worth their toil to go up and down in remote places seeking after them. It takes a whole day among bad roads and wet bogs to visit a shepherd's wife and children, and two or three bothies and pauper's hovels on the way home. 'On the morrow,' so runs many an entry in Thomas Boston's Memoirs, 'I visited the sick, and spent the afternoon in visiting others, and found gross ignorance prevailing. Nothing but stupidity prevailed; till I saw that I had enough to do among my handful. I had another diet of catechising on Wednesday afternoon, and the discovery I made of the ignorance of God and of themselves made me the more satisfied with the smallness of my charge . . . Twice a year I catechised the parish, and once a year I visited their families. My method of visitation was this. I made a particular application of my doctrine in the pulpit to the family, exhorted them all to lay all these things to heart, exhorted them also to secret prayer, supposing they kept family worship, urged their relative duties upon them,' etc. etc. And then at his leaving Ettrick, he writes: 'Thus I parted with a people whose hearts were knit to me and mine to them. The last three or four years had been much blessed, and had been made very comfortable to me, not in respect of my own handful only, but others of the countryside also.' Jonathan Edwards called Thomas Boston 'that truly great divine.' I am not such a judge of divinity as Jonathan Edwards was, but I always call Boston to myself that truly great pastor. But my lazy and deceitful heart says to me: No praise to Boston, for he lived and did his work in the quiet Forest of Ettrick. True, so he did. Well, then, look at the populous and busy town of Kidderminster. And let me keep continually before my abashed conscience that hard- working corpse Richard Baxter. Absolutely on the same page on which that dying man enters diseases and medicines enough to fill a doctor's diary after a whole day in an incurable hospital, that noble soul goes on to say: 'I preached before the wars twice each Lord's Day, but after the wars but once, and once every Thursday, besides occasional sermons. Every Thursday evening my neighbours that were most desirous, and had opportunity, met at my house. Two days every week my assistant and I myself took fourteen families between us for private catechising and conference; he going through the parish, and the town coming to me. I first heard them recite the words of the Catechism, and then examined them about the sense, and lastly urged them, with all possible engaging reason and vehemency, to answerable affection and practice. If any of them were stalled through ignorance or bashfulness, I forbore to press them, but made them hearers, and turned all into instruction and exhortation. I spent about an hour with a family, and admitted no others to be present, lest bashfulness should make it burdensome, or any should talk of the weakness of others.' And then he tells how his people's necessity made him practise physic among them, till he would have twenty at his door at once. 'All these my employments were but my recreations, and, as it were, the work of my spare hours. For my writings were my chiefest daily labour. And blessed be the God of mercies that brought me from the grave and gave me, after wars and sickness, fourteen years' liberty in such sweet employment!' Let all ministers who would sit at home over a pipe and a newspaper with a quiet conscience keep Boston's Memoirs and Baxter's Reliquiae at arm's-length.
3. Our young communicants' classes, and still more, those private interviews that precede and finish up our young communicants' classes, are by far our best opportunities as pastors. I remember Dr. Moody Stuart telling me long ago that he had found his young communicants' classes to be the most fruitful opportunities of all his ministry; as, also, next to them, times of baptism in families. And every minister who tries to be a minister at all after Dr. Moody Stuart's pattern, will tell you something of the same thing. They get at the opening history of their young people's hearts before their first communion. They make shorthand entries and secret memoranda at such a season like this: 'A. a rebuke to me. He had for long been astonished at me that I did not speak to him about his soul. B. traced his conversion to the singing of 'The sands of time are sinking' in this church last summer. C. was spoken to by a room-mate. D. was to be married, and she died. Of E. I have great hope. F., were she anywhere but at home, I would have great hopes of her,'--and so on. But, then, when a minister takes boldness to turn over the pages of his young communicants' roll for half a lifetime--ah me, ah me! What was I doing to let that so promising communicant go so far astray, and I never to go after him? And that other. And that other. And that other. Till we can read no more. O God of mercy, when Thou inquirest after blood, let me be hidden in the cleft of that Rock so deeply cleft for unwatchful ministers!
4. And then, as Dr. Joseph Parker says, who says everything so plainly and so powerfully: 'There is pastoral preaching as well as pastoral visitation. There is pastoral preaching; rich revelation of divine truth; high, elevating treatment of the Christian mysteries; and he is the pastor to me who does not come to my house to drink and smoke and gossip and show his littleness, but who, out of a rich experience, meets me with God's word at every turn of my life, and speaks the something to me that I just at that moment want.' Let us not have less pastoral visitation in the time to come, but let us have more and more of such pastoral preaching.
5. But, my brethren, it is time for you, as John said to the elect lady and her children, to look to yourselves. The salvation of your soul is precious, and its salvation is such a task, such a battle, such a danger, and such a risk, that it will take all that your most watchful minister can do, and all that you can do yourself, and all that God can do for you, and yet your soul will scarcely be saved after all. You do not know what salvation is nor what it costs. You will not be saved in your sleep. You will not waken up at the last day and find yourself saved by the grace of God and you not know it. You will know it to your bitter cost before your soul is saved from sin and death. You and your minister too. And therefore it is that He Who is to judge your soul at last says to you, as much as He says it to any of His ministers, Watch! What I say unto one I say unto all, Watch. Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. Look to yourself, then, sinner. In Christ's name, look to yourself and watch yourself. You have no enemy to fear but yourself. No one can hurt a hair of your head but yourself. Have you found that out? Have you found yourself out? Do you ever look in the direction of your own heart? Have you begun to watch what goes on in your own heart? What is it to you what goes on in the world around you compared with what goes on in the world within you? Look, then, to yourself. Watch, above all watching, yourself. Watch what it is that moves you to do this or that. Stop sometimes and ask yourself why you do such and such a thing. Did you ever hear of such a thing as a motive in a human heart? And did your minister, watching for your soul, ever tell you that your soul will be lost or saved, condemned or justified at the last day according to your motives? You never knew that! You were never told that by your minister! Miserable pair! What does he take up his Sabbaths with? And what leads you to waste your Sabbaths and your soul on such a stupid minister? But, shepherd or no shepherd, minister or no minister, look to yourself. Look to yourself when you lie down and when you rise up; when you go out and when you come in; when you are in the society of men and when you are alone with your own heart. Look to yourself when men praise you, and look to yourself when men blame you. Look to yourself when you sit down to eat and drink, and still more when you sit and speak about your absent brother. Look to yourself when you meet your enemy or your rival in the street, when you pass his house, or hear or read his name. Yes, you may well say so. At that rate a man's life would be all watching. So it would. And so it must. And more than that, so it is with some men not far from you who never told you how much you have made them watch. Did you never know all that till now? Were you never told that every Christian man, I do not mean every communicant, but every truly and sincerely and genuinely Christian man watches himself in that way? For as the one essential and distinguishing mark of a New Testament minister is not that he is an able man, or a studious man, or an eloquent man, but that he is a pastor and watches for souls, so it is the chiefest and the best mark, and to himself the only safe and infallible mark, that any man is a sincere and true Christian man, that he watches himself always and in all things looks first and last to himself.
'In all things showing sincerity.'--Paul to Titus.
Charles Bennett has a delightful drawing of Sincere in Charles Kingsley's beautiful edition of The Pilgrim's Progress. You feel that you could look all day into those clear eyes. Your eyes would begin to quail before you had looked long into the fourth shepherd's deep eyes; but those eyes of his have no cause to quail under yours. This man has nothing to hide from you. He never had. He loves you, and his love to you is wholly without dissimulation. He absolutely and unreservedly means and intends by you and yours all that he has ever said to you and yours, and much more than he has ever been able to say. The owner of those deep blue eyes is as true to you when he is among your enemies as he is true to the truth itself when he is among your friends. Mark also the unobtrusive strength of his mouth, all suffused over as it is with a most winning and reassuring sweetness. The fourth shepherd of the Delectable Mountains is one of the very best of Bennett's excellent portraits. But Mr. Kerr Bain's pen-and-ink portrait of Sincere in his People of the Pilgrimage is even better than Bennett's excellent drawing. 'Sincere is softer in outline and feature than Watchful. His eye is full-open and lucid, with a face of mingled expressiveness and strength--a lovable, lowly, pure- spirited man--candid, considerate, willing, cheerful--not speaking many words, and never any but true words.' Happy sheep that have such a shepherd! Happy people! if only any people in the Church of Christ could have such a pastor.
It is surely too late, too late or too early, to begin to put tests to a minister's sincerity after he has been licensed and called and is now standing in the presence of his presbytery and surrounded with his congregation. It is a tremendous enough question to put to any man at any time: 'Are not zeal for the honour of God, love to Jesus Christ, and desire of saving souls your great motives and chief inducement to enter into the function of the holy ministry?' A man who does not understand what it is you are saying to him will just make the same bow to these awful words that he makes to all your other conventional questions. But the older he grows in his ministry, and the more he comes to discover the incurable plague of his own heart, and with that the whole meaning and full weight of your overwhelming words, the more will he shrink back from having such questions addressed to him. Fools will rush in where Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Peter and Paul feared to set their foot. Paul was to be satisfied if only he was let do the work of a minister all his days and then was not at the end made a castaway. And yet, writing to the same church, Paul says that his sincerity among them had been such that he could hold up his ministerial life like spotless linen between the eye of his conscience and the sun. But all that was written and is to be read and understood as Paul's ideal that he had honestly laboured after, rather than as an actual attainment he had arrived at. Great as Paul's attainments were in humility, in purity of intention, and in simplicity and sincerity of heart, yet the mind of Christ was not so given even to His most gifted apostle, that he could seriously say that he had attained to such utter ingenuity, simplicity, disengagement from himself, and surrender to Christ, as to be able to face the sun with a spotless ministry. All he ever says at his boldest and best on that great matter is to be read in the light of his universal law of personal and apostolic imperfection--Not that I have attained, either am already perfect; but I follow after. And blessed be God that this is all that He looks for in any of His ministers, that they follow all their days after a more and more godly sincerity. It was the apostle's love of absolute sincerity,--and, especially, it was his bitter hatred of all the remaining dregs of insincerity that he from time to time detected in his own heart,--it was this that gave him his good conscience before a God of pity and compassion, truth and grace. And with something of the same love of perfect sincerity, accompanied with something of the same hatred of insincerity and of ourselves on account of it, we, too, toward this same God of pity and compassion, will hold up a conscience that would fain be a good conscience. And till it is a good conscience we shall hold up with it a broken heart. And that genuine love of all sincerity, and that equally genuine hatred of all remaining insincerity, will make all our ministerial work, as it made all Paul's apostolic work, not only acceptable, but will also make its very defects and defeats both acceptable and fruitful in the estimation and result of God. It so happens that I am reading for my own private purposes at this moment an old book of 1641, Drexilius On a Right Intention, and I cannot do better at this point than share with you the page I am just reading. 'Not to be too much troubled or daunted at any cross event,' he says, 'is the happy state of his mind who has entered on any enterprise with a pure and pious intention. That great apostle James gained no more than eight persons in all Spain when he was called to lay down his head under Herod's sword. And was not God ready to give the same reward to James as to those who converted kings and whole kingdoms? Surely He was. For God does not give His ministers a charge as to what they shall effect, but only as to what they shall intend to effect. Wherefore, when his art faileth a servant of God, when nothing goes forward, when everything turneth to his ruin, even when his hope is utterly void, he is scarce one whit troubled; for this, saith he to himself, is not in my power, but in God's power alone. I have done what I could. I have done what was fit for me to do. Fair and foul is all of God's disposing.'
And, then, this simplicity and purity of intention gives a minister that fine combination of candour and considerateness which we saw to exist together so harmoniously in the character of Sincere. Such a minister is not tongue-tied with sinister and selfish intentions. His sincerity toward God gives him a masterful position among his people. His words of rebuke and warning go straight to his people's consciences because they come straight out of his own conscience. His words are their own witness that he is neither fearing his people nor fawning upon his people in speaking to them. And, then, such candour prepares the way for the utmost considerateness when the proper time comes for considerateness. Such a minister is patient with the stupid, and even with the wicked and the injurious, because in all their stupidity and wickedness and injuriousness they have only injured and impoverished themselves. And if God is full of patience and pity for the ignorant and the evil and the out of the way, then His sincere-hearted minister is of all men the very man to carry the divine message of forgiveness and instruction to such sinners. Yes, Mr. Bain must have seen Sincere closely and in a clear light when he took down this fine feature of his character, that he is at once candid and considerate--with a whole face of mingled expressiveness and strength.