THE question on which I have now to address you is one which has already occupied us at some length. But its great extent and its extreme importance compel me once more to enter on it. It is this,--"Will you use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your Cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given?"
Now the special point which I wish you to weigh in addition to what I have already said, is the life of diligence to which this engagement will pledge you. The evil against which our Church would thus guard you, palpable as it is to the least observant eye, is, alas! a very common one, and it ought therefore to engage our attention at such a time as this, when the true note is to be struck for many a future ministry.
Of diligence in your "public monitions" I have already spoken in detail when considering another question, and to that part of the subject, therefore, I shall not now return, but will consider with you the other half of your pledge, and see what you promised as to those "private monitions and exhortations," on the right conduct of which the efficiency of your ministry must so largely depend. Now the first great point to which you here pledge yourself is honest labour: [121/122] you promise to use, so far as you can, private monitions and exhortations "as need shall require." And surely this must be in no scanty measure. For how manifold, how recurring, how constant is this need. How does it beset all classes of your parishioners. How greatly must the careless and unconverted need this private handling. Many of these never come to the public services of the Church, and in them, therefore, the word of exhortation cannot meet them: or if, from custom or decency, or to quiet conscience, they do come to church, with what deaf ears do they sit beneath our public addresses. Experience teaches us that it is scarcely possible to overrate the dulness of such souls to all our public ministrations. The habit of carelessness cases them in an almost impenetrable armour; and rarely is it, and of God's special mercy, when one of our arrows finds an entrance through its joints. And even when an impression is created, it is commonly soon effaced again, unless private care follows up the word of public exhortation, and fixes and deepens its work. Then, too, there are souls trembling on the edge of conversion, against whom the world and the devil bend all their power, and who need the tenderest and the most watchful care to land them safe on God's side. There are those who are just setting out along the narrow path, whom the pastor's hand must hold continually up. There are the naturally dull and sleepy, who need perpetually reawakening. There are the timid, ever ready to turn back. There are those on whom this world has still a strong hold, and who are ever in danger of being drawn aside by its enticements. There are the mourners and sad-hearted, whom God has been fitting by troubles [122/123] to receive His message from our mouth; who are looking about them for a comforter, and who, if they find one in us, as they would have found in Him whose commission we bear, may at this moment be won to Him and to salvation; but who, if they turn not now, may never again be disposed to listen. There are souls in spiritual distress; gentle, doubtful, perplexed spirits; which cannot tell aloud their griefs, but which need urgently the listening ear and tender sympathy of him who for Christ's sake will, like Him, the true Pastor, "gather the lambs in His arms, and gently lead those that are with young." [Isa. xl. 11.]
There are times of life, moreover, which require our special attention. The young men of the parish, in that dangerous and important season when thev are first asserting their independence of control, need our utmost, wisest, and most loving vigilance: the old, whose time for active employment is past, and whose leisure allows of their being led on to form habits of more systematic devotion, are another class to whom we may profitably give much labour and care.
Then, too, there are a multitude of circumstances from time to time affecting our different parishioners which call for our most careful treatment. Such are family difficulties, family misunderstandings, losses of substance, the going forth of young people into the world, their changes of service, the birth of children, and the like, all of which afford opportunities for spiritual as well as pastoral counsel; and many of which cause our people urgently to need such advice as only the trusted and loving pastor can give to them.
 Now the mere recapitulation I have just made of the various characters and of some of the circumstances which require our care, may shew us what need there is of diligence if we would discharge this work at all.
But this we shall see yet more if we look somewhat more closely into the subject, and instead of resting contented with the mere perfunctory discharge of these duties, strive to estimate what is needful for discharging them aright, and in all their fulness.
For since, as I deem most happily, in the English Church the parishioners are not brought by any mere formal rules before the pastor at stated intervals for confession and absolution, but all the deeper spiritual handling of their souls and consciences must be the result of their freely seeking him as their adviser and of the opening spontaneously their griefs to him, he must obtain their confidence before he can hope to exercise aright those inner functions of his office which are conversant with the hearts and consciences of men. And how much is needed before he can hope to be thus trusted. There must be not only, as the foundation of all, a daily consistency of life, a manifested spirituality of mind, gravity, sincerity, uncorruptness and habitual soundness of speech; but there must be that intimacy which alone nurtures the slowly-growing plant of confidence. There must be a trust in our sympathy, and patience, and kindness, or else the heart will not open to us; and this trust can only be gained by degrees, whilst it may be shaken in a moment. One irritable expression, one angry or unsympathizing answer, one inconsistent action, may kill past revival the first tender shoots of trust. It is not, therefore, without great [124/125] and continual diligence that it can be obtained. No man who is always in a hurry with his parishioners can obtain it; no man who wants to make them religious out of hand, as he would go through a task that may be done with, that he may have his time to himself, will ever attain it.
Thus our intercourse with our people is exposed to two almost opposite dangers, both of which are in a high degree fatal to our success. We may go and visit the sick and the whole; read with them verses or a chapter of the Bible; enforce it upon them by exhortation; read prayers with them; and take our departure thinking we have done all, and counting up at night, perhaps with some satisfaction, our labours and our visits, when really we have done nothing, or next to nothing: when we have opened no heart, won no confidence, touched no soul; when they amongst whom we have been moving, as spiritual beings, with all that atmosphere of hopes, fears, perplexities, desires, difficulties, which evermore hang around them, are as unknown to us and as unreached by us as though we never had been nigh them; when our visit has hardened one, tired another, satisfied the formalism of a third, and been endured by a fourth, who is greedy of gain, as establishing a present or prospective claim to some gift or earthly advantage, but when it has not aroused one sinner, comforted one penitent, directed one in perplexity, or edified one saint. For souls are not to be reached and saved in this mechanical way. We are not in this way to fling religion at them, and let it take its chance with them; but we are, following the example of our blessed Master, to seek to open [125/126] their hearts to it, to win an entrance for the truth through the door of the affections; to deal with them one by one, as separate spiritual beings; to get at their difficulties; to teach them how to impart to us a knowledge of their troubles, knowing that unless we can institute and keep alive this spiritual relationship between ourselves and them, we can have very little insight into their true state, and do them but very little good. So that it may happen that we may have to pay them many visits, in which nothing or next to nothing may seem to be done towards the great result, in which we may scarcely speak about religion, whilst yet all the time we are fitting the golden key into the intricate and delicate wards of the soul, and looking on to the day when the result of all this labour shall be attained, in a trusting spiritual confidence on their side, and a true leading of their souls to Christ for rest and peace on ours.
But then, on the other side, it is most easy to let our pastoral visitations down to the mere level of worldly civility and kindness; to let them begin and end in a gossipping garrulity, or a useless waste of time spent in unmeaning enquiries and formal answers. Now to avoid these great dangers, there is need on our part of continual diligence in its highest exercise. For, first, we must really care about them; about their interests, their concerns, and, above all, about their souls. If we do not, all our seeming solicitude about them will be unreal, and they will very soon detect its hollowness. And we cannot thus care about them, without first, of course and above all, valuing highly their souls; and then, and beyond this, without really thinking of them [126/127] at other times; having their cares, their characters, their trials, and all their circumstances before us; so that when we come to see them, we come to them not as persons with whom we are officially connected, and whom we call "our parishioners," but as men and women whom we know and care for, with flesh and blood, with hearts to feel and instincts to instruct them, with temptations, and sorrows, and joys, the secret weight or sparkling brightness of which we do really enter into; "rejoicing with them that do rejoice, and weeping with them that weep."
And then, besides this, if we are really to do our work herein, we must study the different characters of men, and be able to understand them; and we must muse over the particular characters with which we have to deal, that we may speak to real men in their individuality, and not to cold, bare abstractions bearing human names. Men must be won individually; they cannot be saved in the mass. And we must therefore deal with our people one by one in their own separate-ness. Farther than this, too, we must have made some real progress in the difficult science of dealing with souls. Unless we have learned this, we never shall have the clear insight or the delicate touch without which we can no more reach and heal the diseases of men's spirits than the surgeon could deal aright with the intricate mechanism of their bodily frames if his eyes were darkened or his fingers maimed. "The priest's lips must keep knowledge." And it is not a little diligence, depend upon it, which will give us this wisdom. There must be reading, and experience and watchfulness, and acquaintance with our own souls, and the habit of advising [127/128] others, before we can in any degree attain to it. The spirit of the most commonplace man, if you come indeed to deal with it, is too deep a mystery to be fathomed in a moment. Every soul has in it such capacities, such powers, such wants, that it requires a master's eye to see into it, and a master's hand to guide it and supply its needs. We must be deep and constant students of the mystery of man's nature in the light of Holy Scripture, and under the teaching of experience, if we would be competent to be guides of souls. And then, further, there must be the carrying all this out into act; the giving any necessary amount of time to any one case; the bearing patiently with its delays, windings, unreasonable doubts and fears, with its relapses and its changes.
Few things are more dangerous than a mere perfunctory discharge of this duty. If we allow our ministerial intercourse to degenerate into a mere routine duty; if we treat it as a charm, the mere performance of which has some good effect about it, the souls of our people are sure to suffer greatly. Take, for instance, the common expression for a clergyman's visit, that he has gone to carry to some sick or perhaps dying man "the consolations of religion." Now if it were true that the consolations of religion were all that men needed, such an expression might convey the truth. Where that is the message which the soul needs, Christ's minister should indeed be a very son of consolation. But then he should be this only when it is the message which the soul needs. It may be that it is awakening, not consoling, which that sick man requires; and that if you go to salve his conscience with consolation, you will be found to have been but a "dauber with [128/129] untempered mortar." You may be dealing with that soul as you would with the body if you gave strong drink to one gasping in a fever, or opiates to one sinking into a lethargy. Now this surely would bring upon you the awful guilt of the blood of souls; and yet how readily we fall into such a snare; for our own weakness exposes us to the temptation. It is so easy, and so agreeable a mode of fulfilling the duties of our office. To speak smooth words is so pleasant; and there is so much in a ministry which deals in them which tends to flatter our own self-love; for the visits of such a pastor are almost universally welcome. The physician who prescribes pleasant narcotics is sure to be popular. And in cases of soul-sickness, where the fatal effects of such treatment cannot easily be seen, the people so generally "love to have it so." They readily content themselves with the soothing pastoral visitation as a substitute for repentance; and so souls are lost. We must therefore resolve to search out the true characters of those to whom we minister, and like the courageous surgeon who probes to the very bottom the wound which he would cure, ascertain what treatment they really require, lest we heal slightly their deadly wound. Here, too, there is need of diligence. We cannot at once discern the characters of men. Often unconsciously, and often consciously, they hide the truth from themselves and from us. The wounded part shrinks instinctively from the touch. We must be patient, observant, open-eyed to symptoms. We must not decide in haste. The careful physician of the body does not trust to his remembrance of his patient's case; he makes his notes of it; and when he comes to minister to him again, he [129/130] compares the present state accurately with the past. Thus he weighs doubtful indications, unmasks ambiguous symptoms, and learns at last the real state of things with which he has to deal. Nor can we discharge aright our duty with less care than he can his. We should meditate on the spiritual cases which are in our charge; pray over them; gather from the great storehouse of God's Word the medicine they need. What care and toil does all this imply? We sometimes hear men speak of small parishes as if they gave no scope for a pastor's activity. How different would be the estimate if full attention were given to this inner, diligent, careful treatment of even a few souls. What a knowledge of the heart of man would they yield to the clergyman who thus watched them with a searching, loving eye; who sought often for insight into them; who weighed on his knees the remedies to be applied; who prayed earnestly for the teaching and enlightening of the Holy Spirit of God!
Apply these thoughts but to one or two of the most marked characters with which we have to deal.
First, you should endeavour to ascertain the great question of all; Is the soul to which you are ministering really converted to God or not? Has the man really repented of his sin? Has he really sought and found pardon in the Blood of Christ? If not, the mere comforting him in his sin, instead of comforting him by making him know his utter sinfulness, and drawing him to Christ for salvation, and so for true peace, is really nothing else than slaying his soul.
But then it is not easy for us to form a right judgment even on this broad question. We must know the [130/131] man's daily life; we must feel cautiously and tenderly the pulse of his spirit; we must be ready to cast off preconceived notions, to fling aside all cramping party prepossessions: there is no stereotyped formulary by which we can obtain the solution as to any soul of this great problem: decency of life is not enough; feelings are not enough, doctrinal correctness is not enough; and yet there may be true conversion of heart, where the doctrinal statements are far from correct, where the feelings are very sluggish, where the utterance of the heart is very slow; and if we jump to a conclusion either way, we may make sad a heart which God has not made sad, or buoy up with false hopes a soul which unfounded hopes are ruining.
Surely the man who would face such difficulties as these must be diligent in waiting on his ministry: and yet these are but a sample of ten thousand others.
For the heart with which we have to deal may have been truly converted to God, but may be dry, cold, formal, even growing estranged from Him. There may be in it very little of the life of the Spirit. And you must find out, if possible, the cause of this declension. It may be some secret sin which has been chilling the man's prayers, freezing up his soul; often it is some secret grudge or unkindly feeling which is harboured in his mind, and indulged every now and then; or it may be some discontent with what God has ordered for him; or it may be the rise of worldly cares, or business; or too free an indulgence in lawful pleasures; or the formality which is so natural to us all; but whatever the cause is, it is your duty, if possible, to find it out, and to lead the roan to see it, and repent of it before his [131/132] God. All this, I need hardly say to you, requires the greatest diligence, the most unsparing and loving watchfulness, if we would discharge our duty herein aright.
Nor must we, in estimating the full amount of labour which this requires of us, put out of sight what our Church would so manifestly have us remember, when she pledges us to this labour and diligence not only with "the sick" but also with "the whole" within our cures. For peculiar difficulties beset us in dealing with both the one and the other.
The sick we can easily find at home, and our visits to them will generally be received with gladness: with them our main difficulties will commonly be connected with the spiritual conduct of our intercourse with them. We shall have first to see that we are not welcomed merely for the temporal relief which we may minister to their necessities, whilst our spiritual offices are barely endured for its sake. Even our blessed Lord was followed by numbers, not for the words of heavenly wisdom which flowed from His lips, but because a carnal generation "did eat of the loaves and were filled." To meet this difficulty in any degree requires no little care on our part: to do it we must take real pains to separate between our almsgiving and our spiritual ministrations; we must be careful to relieve those who need relief at times when we do not bring nigh to them our spiritual aid. As a general rule, we should never end a visit of spiritual instruction with the half-crown which they may need for the supply of the body. It is most painful to see how the neglect of caution on this point leads the poor to a carnal hunger for the pastor's visits, which can hardly disguise its whining importunity through the [132/133] time in which he is endeavouring to draw their thoughts to heavenly things.
And even if this difficulty be overcome, how many remain behind! Sickness is a time in which it is specially difficult to begin a real and deep work of religion. The mere intermission of ordinary temptations, and the temporary withdrawal of the world, its interests, and its pleasures, make self-deceit so easy; whilst the infirmities and necessities of sickness make any great amount of self-denial and devotion so nearly impossible, that it is a time full of peculiar difficulties for the commencement of a holy life. And this affects all our ministerial intercourse with the sick. Thus, for instance, we are too often received merely as one of the fitting concomitants of sickness; respectability requires it, and even conscience, which might be troublesome if it were not lulled to sleep by the opiates of a little religious conversation and the employment of fitting forms. Into such a sick room we are often called; the anxious friends around the sick bed, and the manifest physical weakness of the sick man, seem to forbid our employing any startling or even arousing measures; and yet there is a human soul for which Christ died, with its all but infinite capacities of sorrow or of joy, about to iving its flight to the Judgment-seat. In such a case the Office for the Visitation of the Sick, used honestly and carefully, at least as a track, with the pouring forth of our soul in prayer, is perhaps the best that we can do. But who that thinks at all about it can fail to see the exceeding difficulty of dealing wisely and faithfully with such cases.
But if sickness has its own difficulties, the [133/134] visitation of those in health is beset also by its own perplexities.
The first great difficulty is to reach "the whole" without intrusiveness or inconvenient visits. We must not break in on the meal-time of the poor; we must not hinder the wife's household business; we can rarely join ourselves to the labourer at his work: and even when we have gained access to them, we have to guard against the risk either of disgusting those with whom we have to deal, or of making them hypocrites by obtruding on them religious talk. What skill, what temper, what self-recollection, what pliancy of mind, what true and unfeigned interest in them, what untiring labour are needed before we can overcome such difficulties as these! Surely instead of deeming lightly of them, we should rather say, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
For, my brethren, does not all this demand the greatest diligence in each one of us? Think how often our love of ease must be mortified before we can lead such a life as this implies. How many favourite tastes must be abandoned before our people can be really to us objects of such supreme interest. For whatever stands in the way of this must be abandoned if we would keep this promise. This is why a really efficient parish priest cannot be a keen sportsman or an eager politician, or a man of pleasure or devoted to society, or even given up to literature, because he cannot be any of these, and yet be indeed giving the first and best part of his heart and affections to his people, as he must do if he intends to save himself and them. And if he really means to keep his promises herein, he must be diligent in every part of his work. Perhaps, for instance, he has not naturally any [134/135] liking for children; an idle clergyman, so disposed, leaves his school to the schoolmaster, and the children who will not come to school to that busy school which the devil keeps for uncared-for children in most of our streets. But meanwhile, what immense opportunities of advancing his work does he leave unimproved. Not only do the children themselves grow up without the influence of his ministerial character colouring the tissues of their early thoughts and feelings, but all those avenues of natural affection to their offspring, by which he might have approached the hearts of the parents also, are closed to him. Yet, on the other hand, he must have had many an interrupted meal, got up when he wished to lie in bed, left friends with whom he wished to stay, refused invitations he would have liked to accept, borne with noise, and fractiousness, and dulness, and close rooms, if he has indeed won the children to himself and to God, and, through them, many parents who but through them would have been for ever unapproachable.
And so also it must have been with him in many other parts of his work. Some of us have a natural fear of catching disorders, which makes it a real trial to go and visit men who are suffering under various forms of sickness. Now in such cases we ought to use the same precautions against infection which would be used for himself by a prudent physician of the body; but we no more ought to stay away from such places than he would: and if we do, how can we believe, or how can others believe, that we care as much for men's souls as he cares for their bodies. With men of a certain temperament the inclination to guard their own safety by staying away is a great temptation. And yet to [135/136] yield to it is really fatal to our usefulness, not only with the sick, whom we thus leave with no man to help them just when the angel of the Lord has troubled the waters of life around them, but with all our parishioners; who cannot believe in the reality of the priestly office, or our own sincerity in discharging it, if they see us at such a moment shrink back from our manifest duty.
And the like failure may be brought about by a thousand other causes. To put out of sight careless and absolutely worldly-minded men, mere softness makes some men avoid the labour of visiting, and the foul atmosphere of sick rooms. Mere shyness makes others shrink from that close grappling of mind with mind and spirit with spirit which is an essential condition for dealing effectually with the soul of another. They draw back with a sort of instinctive avoidance of the realities of the inner life, just as they perceive that the stricken soul is about to open to them its grief, and often half nervously throw in some unmeaning generality, which shuts up for ever the heart which might, had it truly revealed its secret burden, have been led on to Christ.
Now with all these temptations before you, can you wonder that in your solemn Ordination hour this should be made one of your vows,--that you should be diligent in your work as a guide of souls? For how much easier is it to be an admired pulpit clergyman than to be a diligent school and sick-room pastor? And yet what utter unreality reigns in parishes where the pastor is lost even in the preacher: in them the guide of souls really knows nothing of his people; they move round about him as unmeaning figures, but as to all the world which is [136/137] within each one of them, he knows as little as if he or they were inanimate corpses.
How, then, are you to keep this promise? You must, believe me, if you would be safe here, not only set yourself to the actual work with all your might, but you must also beforehand make provision for its due discharge by guarding against what may hinder it, and by furnishing your souls with all which they need to fit them for their daily patient discharge of a difficult duty. Thus, for example,--
I. You must, from the very beginning of your ministry, form your habits of life on a self-denying model. It is not in vain that we are charged to "endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ." The creeping moss of soul-sluggishness can be kept off only by the continual acts of a vigorous self-denial. Whoever enters on the ministry as an easy profession, whoever suffers it to become such to him, is sure to lose the distinctive features of the pastor's character. The details of our duty are one by one so easily thrust aside by the solicitations of a love of case, that we have no safety but in an early and an universal warfare with the principle of self-indulgence.
II. Next we must know and constantly remember the inestimable value of the souls for which we watch: we must often muse on their awful capacity of life or death everlasting, and on the certain connection between these almost infinite issues and what seem to be the trifles of this present life. We must ask ourselves, when tempted by the love of ease or this world, how can we meet them before the bar of God if, through our sinful self-indulgence, we have let them perish; how, in that awful [137/138] hour, can we endure their cry for vengeance against us; how can we cry for mercy, clinging as we must do for ourselves to that cross which, had we been faithful, might have saved both them and us?
III. And then, further, we must remember the price at which they were redeemed, and Who it is that has committed them to our charge. Can it be that the everlasting Son of the Father did not disdain to shed His blood for them, and that we slight them? Can it be that He left the bosom of the co-eternal Father, and all the inconceivable blessedness of heaven, in order to redeem them, and that we, for the sake of a little passing pleasure or the softness of a drowsy ease, can let them perish, even though the Blood of our dearest Lord was shed for their redemption? How can we meet Him upon the judgment-seat if we have let the flock perish which lie entrusted to our keeping?
And this leads us, brethren beloved in Christ, to that which must be our chiefest guard from this peril of indolence.
IV. We must seek more earnestly and more continually from Him the gift of love to Himself. This is His own lesson to us; the "Lovest thou Me?" must go before the "Feed My lambs;" nothing else but love to Him will keep alive and quick within our hearts a true love to them; nothing else will keep our hearts tender in the routine of duties. When we find, as we shall find, those for whom we are set to labour, not what a glowing imagination may beforehand paint them, but as, for the most part, they will be, cold, dull, hard, ungrateful, uninteresting persons, then nothing but a true love to Christ will keep us from the upgrowth of that callous [138/139] carelessness about them which, in our Judge's ear, is evermore the utterance of the murderer's voice, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Here, then, is the close of all. If we would watch diligently for our brethren, we must love our Lord. We must, beneath His Cross, on our knees, in our own struggle against sin, in receiving our own deliverance, in hearing His voice, in receiving His benediction, in eating His flesh, in drinking His blood, learn to love Him, and for His sake to love our brethren. Then will the most difficult duties become light, because all things are easy to love; then shall we in our daily visiting and ministrations be taught by the Spirit of our Lord how to copy Him, and understand His words:--"If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you."