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Thirty-four letters to a son in the ministry online

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the certainty of such a result, excuse you for keeping
back any part of the truth ? Has Christ anywhere
set his ministers such an example ? Did the Apostles
and other primitive preachers ever adopt this man-
pleasing, time-serving policy ? Did they not on the
contrary, voluntarily expose themselves to persecution
and death, by their inflexible and uncompromising
adherence to the letter and spirit of their divine com-*
mission ? The holy martyrs of the two first centuries,
how many of them might have saved their lives, by
promising to " speak no more in the name of Jesus ;"
but did they hesitate between duty and the fagots —
between the commands of their Master and the
terrors of a violent and frightful death ? Did Luther


refrain from denouncing the corruptions of popery,
because the thunders of the Vatican threatened to
smite him, as an apostate who liad sinned beyond
forgiveness ? No. " I would go to Worms, if I
knew there were as many devils there, as there are
tiles on the houses." This, as you know was the
spirit of that illustrious Reformer. And every ser-
vant of Christ in the ministry ought to preach the
whole truth, though it should empty his church, or
consign him to beggary. Who would not rather
descend to the lowest menial service, with a good
conscience, and toil for a crust, under the approving
smiles of his Master, than to remain pastor of the
most popular church in the land, by the forfeiture of
his allegiance ?

But what class of ministers, in point of fact, have
the largest congregations, and enjoy the highest con-
fidence of their people, and are least liable to be
driven from their pulpits ? If it is those who are
most accommodating or indefinite in their preaching,
then my observation and enquiries have deceived me.
I believe it will be found, on the contrary, with very
few exceptions, that other things being equal, those
pastors enjoy altogether the most encouraging and
desirable popularity, who preach what are called the
hard doctrines just as they stand in the Bible. At
all events, they do the most good ; for they use not a
part, but all the means which God has appointed, to
bring sinners to the knowledge of the truth, and '' to
edify the body of Christ." Nothing can be more un-
safe, may I not add, nothing can be more criminal,
than to substitute our short-sighted wisdom and pru-


dence for '^ the wisdom of God in a mystery."
Those very " weapons of our warfare" against the
powers of darkness, which the world would persuade
us to throw aside as wholly unfit for use, are often
found to be the " mightiest through God, to the pull-
ing down of strong holds." " Thou, therefore, my
son, endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus
Christ. Be faithful unto death, and he will give thee
a crown of life."

I am very affectionately, &c.



My Dear E.

You must have felt, in reading over my last letter,
that it bears heavily upon those ministers, if there be
any, and I think there are some, who try to atone for
the deficiency of their preaching, by the orthodoxy of
their creed. When they are examined for ordination,
they unhesitatingly avow their belief in all the evan-
gelical doctrines ; and wish to have it understood by
their people, that they are as sound in the faith, as
any of their brethren. But you may sit under their
preaching for years together, without ever hearing a
discourse upon any of the more difficult and contro-
verted points. They seem to be afraid to grapple
with them. The most you can expect from a preach-
er of this class is, that he will now and then glance
at the more abstruse articles of his own creed and the
creed of his church, by the way of inference towards
the close of a sermon. He deems it inexpedient and
unprofitable, to bring them into the pulpit in the way
of free and full discussion ; and the first consequence
is, that his people are led seriously to doubt, whether
he himself more than half believes them ; for if he
did, they argue, he would feel himself bound to make
them more prominent in his public ministrations.
The next consequence of this omission is, that the
congregation and not a few members of the church,
arc gradually prepared to reject, first one and then


another of the prominent doctrines contained in their
own confession. It is not necessary to preach against
any doctrine to undermine it. Only keep it out of
sight, and it will fall as a matter of course. It was
not by preaching against the Trinity, the Divinity of
Christ, man's total depravity, the necessity of regen-
eration by the Holy Spirit, and the like, that these
fundamental doctrines of our puritan fathers were
ultimately thrown out of so many of the churches
which they planted. It was by letting them alone, by
leaving the congregations to forget them, or to regard
them as antiquated and unimportant, if not absolute-
ly erroneous. And the same thing will happen uni-
formly, where a similar course is pursued. Doctrines
must be preached, or they cannot be retained — those
in particular which exalt God and humble the pride
of man. No matter how scriptural and evangelical
the articles of any church may be. Let the pastor of
that church omit to explain, prove and enforce them,
for a quarter of a century, and they will cease to be
believed by the great body of his hearers. He can-
not after that preach them if he would. They wilt
not be endured. It is idle, therefore, for a minister,
however correct his own speculative opinions may be,
to think that they can be perpetuated, without being
preached. Omitting to bring them forward in their
proper place is, to all practical purposes, the same
thing as giving them up.

But as I have laid so much stress upon doctrinal

preaching, you will ask perhaps, whether, if some

ministers have been deficient in this part of their

duty, others have not gone into the opposite extreme,



and dwelt upon the more abstruse and controverted
doctrines too much ? I frankly answer, that I think
they have. This seems to me to have been the fault
of some very able and pious divines of the last age.
They gave too much ground for cavillers to say, that
they could think and preach of nothing else but de-
pravity, divine sovereignty, election, regeneration and
other kindred topics, and there may be here and there
a preacher still who dwells too much, rather than too
little, upon these doctrines. But I am free to ex-
press it as my opinion, that where one errs on this
hand, five may be found, who err more or lesson the
other. The present is not so much an age of funda-
mental principles and calm discussion, as of action^
and aiming at immediate results. I wish you, my
son, to be more thoroughly doctrinal in your preach-
ing than most young ministers of the present day are.
But I hope to convince you before I am through, that
1 lay as great stress as you could wish, upon practical
preaching also.

There are several ways in which the doctrines may
be brought into the pulpit ; and with regard to these,
as well as to the proper times and seasons, " wisdom
is profitable to direct." Sometimes, as when the
opposite errors prevail and are gaining ground, it is
necessary to adopt the style, (not the bitter spirit,)
but the style of controversy. The enemy is at the
gates, and you must meet him hand to hand. There
is no other way. When truths which you believe to
be fundamental are assailed, you are bound, as a good
soldier of Jesus Christ, openly and manfully to defend
them. AVlicn '' damnable heresies" are brought in,


or when error in any form is obtruded upon your
people, and efforts are made to turn them away from
the " faith once deHvered to the saints," — if this
should ever happen, it will be your duty to dispute
every inch of ground with " the sword of the spirit,"
which has so often " turned to flight the armies of
the aliens." Whether they who trouble you be the
open and avowed enemies of the gospel, or wolves in
sheep's clothing, you must keep them out of the fold
if you can. Whatever popular errors may be pro-
mulgated, you must take them up one by one, and
show their falsity by bringing them to the test of
Scripture. You must convince your hearers by ar-
guments drawn from the word of God, that their
faith, however artfully it may be assailed, stands
" not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of
God." This is controversial preaching. Under such
circumstances it is called for. It cannot be avoided
without giving up the truth.

Some excellent preachers and defenders of the
faith, it appears to me however, unnecessarily
expose their own positions by going abroad as it
were, in quest of the enemy, when they should be
strengthening themselves within their own entrench-
ments. They read of some heresy, new or old, which
is springing up and gaining proselytes a thousand
miles off, but which not one in twenty of their con-
gregation knows anything about, and for fear that it
will ere long be brought in by somebody, and spread
among the people, they introduce it into the pulpit,
tell every body what it is, warn every body against
it, and in this way excite a fatal curiosity in unsta-



ble minds, vvliicli, but for the pastor's zeal to guard
them against error, might liave always remained in
happy ignorance of it.

If you ask me what course I would advise you to
pursue in such cases, I will tell you what I have al-
ways done, and it has worked well. When, from my
watch-tower, I have descried the enemy at a distance,
but threatening no immediate danger, I have gone
quietly to work on that side, without sounding the
alarm, and fortified against him. In this way I have
endeavored to make my defences too strong for him,
if he should ever come. Or to speak without a fig-
ure, I have always tried to keep myself informed
with regard to the existence and progress of errone-
ous doctrines, wherever they might prevail, and to
meet them, not by heralding their coming, but by
preaching the opposite truth and thus preparing my
hearers to reject them at once. If the blasphemies
of such infidels as Voltaire and Paine, or Abner
Kneeland, should ever become rife where you are
stationed, you must rebuke them fearlessly in the name
of the Lord. So if those who " deny the Lord that
bought them," or reject the doctrine of future punish-
ments, or aspire to " something newer" in the mystical
vagaries of a transcendental gospel, or the atheistical
dreams of pantheism, should seek within the circle
of your influence to "draw away disciples after them,"
it would undoubtedly be 3our duty to withstand
them face to face. But I hardly know how a minis-
ter could be more unprofitably, I was going to say
woj'se employed, than, for the sake of showing his zeal
or his skill in controversy, in collecting and retailing


infidel objections and erroneous expositions of the
Bible to his people, which, had he been silent, they
never would have heard of. You know the adage,
that it is easier to raise the evil spirit than to lay him.
There is always danger, considering the wrong bias-
es of the human heart, that the objections will be
remembered, after the answers are forgotten. If the
objections come, meet them in the threshold and
scatter them ; but if they will stay away, never bring
them in yourself, nor say anything which may move
your people to go out and invite them. The best way
to keep out error is, to pre-occupy the minds of your
hearers with the truth.

But although doctrinal preaching ought not, in my
judgment, to be controversial, except where the
truth is directly assailed, I am equally well satisfied,
that all the important doctrines ought to be brought
forward and fully discussed from appropriate texts
of scripture, by every minister of Christ. Is it the
entire depravity of the human heart that he wishes
to prove, let him select a passage which asserts the
fact, as Rom. 8:7. " Because the carnal mind is
enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of
God, neither indeed can be." Is it regeneration by
the Holy Spirit, or the doctrine of the Trinity, or
the Divinity of Christ, or faith, or repentance, let him
do likewise. The doctrines of Christianity are its
fundamental principles, which ought from time to
time to be clearly stated, each by itself, and substan-
tiated by appropriate arguments. This may be done
without assailing or answering anybody ; and I can-


not think that any preacher does his duty, who is not
in this sense a doctrinal preacher.

Another way of preaching the doctrines, is to bring
them forward, in their scriptural relations and har-
mony. This is called systematic preaching. Dr.
Griffin's Park Street Lectures are a very good exam-
ple of it; and it has some important advantages. I
would not advise you to proceed in this respect, just
as you would, if you were a theological professor in
Andover, or Princeton. Perhaps it may not be ex-
pedient for you to go through with a regular system
of divinity before your people, and perhaps it may be,
with such alternations and interruptions as the state
of your church and congregation may require. But
at any rate, I would strongly recommend that you
attempt something of the kind. The doctrines of
the Bible illustrate and support each other. If you
cannot find time for a regular course, take up one
part of the system at one time, and after a suitable
interval take up another, and so proceed as you find
it most profitable and convenient. You will derive
great advantage from it yourself, while your congre-
gation will be more interested and confirmed in the
truth than they could be in any other way. I verily be-
lieve that one great reason, why many serious minded
persons look with so much dread and suspicion at
some of the Calvinistic doctrines, is, they contemplate
them as standing out, each by itself, in stern and lonely
repulsiveness ; — whereas, if they had been taught to
view these same doctrines in their proper harmony,
according to the analogy of faith, they would have
seen their consistency and embraced them.


There is still another method of doctrinal preach-
ing, which is recommended by some peculiar advan-
tages, although, as I have intimated in another place,
I should regard any preacher as exceedingly deficient
in his duty, if he were to rely upon it excliisivelij. I
allude to that class of discourses, in which contro-
verted and offensive doctrines are brought out inferen-
tially and unexpectedly. The hearer is led along,
step by step, in a plain path, assenting to the truth of
every proposition, because it agrees with his creed, or
because it is so clear that he cannot help it, till the
preacher draws an inference which he was not look-
ing for, and which presents some doctrine that he
had been accustomed to deny, in an entirely new
light. He is startled. He cannot believe it, and
yet upon a careful review of the premises, he does
not see how it is possible to get rid of it. He sees
it, almost in spite of himself, to be a legitimate, logi-
cal deduction. In many cases this produces convic-
tion, where apparently nothing else could. I have
no hesitation in saying, that all the hard doctrines
may be inferred from premises, in which almost all
sects of evangelical christians are agreed ; and he
who is skillful in eliciting these doctrines wields a most
important weapon in defence of the truth.

If you ask me, whether I would have you make
each of the doctrines equally prominent in your
preaching, or how, if you ought to dwell more upon
some than others, you can ascertain the right propor-
tion, I refer you to the Bible, for the safest and best
answer that can be given. Carefully note the
space which the doctrines respectively occupy, in


the scriptures. ]\Iark the comparative stress which
is laid upon them by the sacred writers, and let this
be your guide. Try to make each one just as promi-
nent as the Holy Ghost has made it, and no more so.
By following this rule, you will dwell much more
upon depravity, the atonement, regeneration, faith
and repentance, than upon free agency and divine
efficiency, or natural and moral ability ; but I hope
you will carefully bear it in mind, that the latter are
just as much entitled to their due proportion of re-
gard as the former. The more you study the scrip-
tures, with fervent prayer to God for the teaching of
his Spirit, the more likely you will be " rightly to
divide the word of truth, and to give to every one his
portion in due season." If you should find some of
the controverted doctrines made more prominent by
the sacred writers, than you had once supposed, you
need not give yourself a moment's anxiety about the
effect of preaching them distinctly and earnestly ; for
God will take care of his own truth, and make it
''accomplish the thing whereto he sent it."

The only additional remark I have to make with
regard to doctrinal preaching is, that it ought to be
judiciously timed,and clothed in as acceptable language
as is consistent with a clear exhibition of the truth.
" Words fitly spoken are like apples of gold in pic-
tures of silver." No person was ever convinced of
the truth of a mathematical demonstration, by being
knocked on the head for not seeing it. It will be
perfectly clear to any preacher who " discerns the
signs of the times," and is acquainted with the state
of his flock, that some seasons are more favorable


than others, for the discussion of difficult or unac-
ceptable topics ; the great thing is, to seize upon and
improve the golden opportunity. In many cases,
perhaps in most, the way may be gradually prepared
by a judicious preacher for the presentation and ac-
ceptance of truths, which many might otherwise have
wrested to their own destruction. That you, my
dear son, may have all needed wisdom and grace
imparted to you, to " preach the preaching which
God hath bidden you," is the earnest prayer of your

Affectionate Father.



My Dear E.

I hope you will not infer from my having dwelt so
long upon doctrinal preaching in my two last letters,
that I attach any the less importance to practical
preaching. Indeed, when rightly understood and
presented, all the doctrines of the gospel, like all the
principles of natural science, are highly practical; and
it is on this account, that they ought to be frequently
brought into every pulpit, and thoroughly studied by
every congregation. If the doctrines of the christian
religion were mere barren abstractions, however in-
teresting the study of them might be to men of phi-
losophic minds, there could be no possible advantage
in preaching them. It is because they have a direct
bearing upon the immortal interests of man, that they
were put into our sacred commission; and if we keep
them back, it is at our peril. This is true of the most
mysterious doctrines of the Bible, such as the Omni-
presence of God, the Trinity in Unity, man's free
agency and absolute dependence, and that great
" mystery of Godliness, God manifest in the flesh,
justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto
the gentiles, believed on in the world, received up
into glory." Should any person deny that these doc-
trines are practical, I would simply ask him to reflect
a moment and then answer me. Is it of no practical
importance whether men believe that God is every


where present, '- searching the heart and trying the
reins, to render unto every one according as his work
shall be ?" Is it of no practical importance to believe,
that God exists in three distinct persons, Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in
power and glory ; that the Father sent the Son into
the world to seek and to save that which was lost ;
that in him the divine and human natures were mys-
teriously united, so that there might be man to bleed,
and Divinity to atone ? Is it of no practical import-
ance to be taught and to believe, that we are per-
fectly free and accountable moral agents on the one
hand, and on the other, that '' we are not sufficient
of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, but
that all our sufficiency is of God." The truth is,
that in some sense every thing in the Bible is practi-
cal. From beginning to end it is a practical book ;
so that whoever preaches the doctrines and applies
them as its divine Author intended, is a practical

But there are classes of truths, which, though
founded upon the doctrines or growing out of them,
are commonly called practical, on account of their
more obvious and immediate bearing upon our duties
and our destiny. Such are the ten commandments ;
the beatitudes in our Lord's sermon on the mount,
and the warnings, threatenings, invitations and prom-
ises, which abound throughout the Old Testament
and the New. All these, and whatever other great
practical truths you find in the Bible, I would have
you preach distinctly, earnestly, faithfully. The law
and the gospel comprehend all the duties which we


owe to God and to our fellow men. I would advise
you, therefore, as soon as you can, to take up the
decalogue in a series of discourses, more or less ex-
tended according to circumstances, so as to be sure
that you touch upon all the requirements and pro-
hibitions of the ten commandments, in the early part
of your ministry. You will find it an exceedingly
fruitful and interesting field, and when once you have
fairly entered it, I have no doubt your congregation
will be anxious to have you go over the whole
ground. If you make thorough work of it, it will do
you more good than a \i^hole year in the best Theo-
logical Seminary, and lay a broad foundation for
future success in your labors. It may cost you more
hard study than to preach on various familiar topics,
from isolated texts of Scripture ; but it will be all
the better for that, provided you have health to sus-
tain it. In entering upon such a course of sermons,
you will have a fine opportunity to hold up the law
of God before your people, in all its strictness and
spirituality ; to insist upon the reasonableness of its
claims, the justice of its penalty and the impossibility
of being justified by it. Let me exhort you, in
preaching upon the law of God as laid down in the
ten commandments, to be very explicit in pointing
out the difference between the letter and the sjiirit.
Show your hearers, that outward obedience however
exact, is nothing, without the heart ; that no external
act of worship or relative duty is rightly performed,
unless it springs from love to God and love to man.
This is the only right way of preaching the moral
law. In this way, and in this way only, can it be


made to bear in a direct and practical manner upon
the heart and the conscience.

1 know very well, that some persons cannot en-
dure what they are pleased to stigmatise as "legal
preaching," any more than they can bear sound
doctrine." But what is legal preacliing in the proper
sense of the term ? If you were to hold up perfect
obedience to the moral law, as the ground of
justification before God, and to tell your hearers,
they can be saved by their own works, that would
be legal preaching with a witness. But still, some
will tell you that they do not want the law, but
the gospel. They are mistaken. They " know not
what they ask." They do want the law, " as a school-
master to bring them to Christ." Preaching the law
in its length and breadth — in its deep and searching
spirituality, prepares the way for the gospel. '' The
whole have no need of a physician, but they that are
sick." The sinner must first be convinced, that if he
lingers about Mount Sinai, the lightning may at any
moment strike him dead, and then he will be glad to
have you tell him the way to Calvary, but not before.
I do not say that in preaching the law, you are bound
to take all your texts from the twentieth chapter of
Exodus. " Cursed is every one that continueth not
in all things written in the book of the law, to do
them," and other appropriate passages will do just as
well. Nor do I say, that you are bound to begin
your ministry with the law, and to say nothing about
the gospel, till you have gone over all the ten com-
mandments. Far from it. What I mean is this, and
I hope I have made it sufficiently clear already, that

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Online LibraryHeman HumphreyThirty-four letters to a son in the ministry → online text (page 5 of 22)