Chapter XI. The Successful Priest from a Layman's Standpoint
By Hector Baxter, Esq., Minneapolis, Minn.
THE life of the priest in his family should be an example of duty and obedience; duty born of love, obedience from a recognition of the sovereignty of family ties and family life. His personal life in his own family should be an inspiration and benediction, inspiring to a higher and more unselfish level of family life in their inter-related living. The benediction should be as the self-consciousness of how fully, by Divine grace, the human and earthly family may be made to approach the Divine ideal.
Within this sacred and hallowed relation the priest of the people and father of the family will gather unction, strength, and prophetic vision of his privileges and duty. The human blooms with sweetest fragrance when the Divine is most present.
As in the home, so in the parish. Its atmosphere will speak of its life and silently work out its own problems. He must realize that the family in all its phases of related living is the unit of the community; and no priest can inspire to a higher or more spiritual level than the normal level of his own home The germ of all right living is born, lives, moves, and has its greatest inspiration, in the family. There the transparency of purpose is realized; there the warp and woof of fatherhood and motherhood are woven into silken cords of eternal endurance, binding together its holy and sacred relations which are sanctified by the daily sacrifice of one's self to all that is best in the human heart
He must remember that the eyes of the community are upon him, and any deviation from the demands of a severe public criticism, correspondingly limits his usefulness and helpfulness. The consecrated power of one's soul brought to bear upon the people for their transformation was the secret of the power of the early Church. The same living force is just as effectual to-day. Christianity does not succeed so much by the force of its doctrines as by the lives and example of its priesthood and disciples. The Master's command was, "Let your light so shine before men that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in Heaven." Attract by the goodness and manliness which men see in you. Be simple, sparkling, cheerful, full of hope, considerate of others; not stubborn, nor sentimental; blossoming in everything that is good, a constant rebuke to everything that is mean or little.
The priest will be such a man that everybody who looks upon him will say, "That is a royal good fellow; he has the spirit that I should like to lean upon in times of trouble, or be a companion with at all times." In a word, build up a manhood which will be winning to men. That is what the early Christians did. The heathen world, in the days of the Apostles, could neither attain to nor grasp the philosophies of those days; yet under the influence of the lives of the early Christians who made religion attractive by the goodness of their lives, they soon began developing traits that neither persecution nor opprobrium could. change; so that it became proverbial, that Christian men lived more beautiful lives than anybody else.
It is this beauty of the Christian life which will overcome philosophy, and win the world for Christ and His doctrine. Don't aim to do great things or preach great sermons. As a rule such efforts are failures. By proper preparation, great sermons will come of themselves. The priest will be full of sympathy for men--like St. Paul. He should remember that being expert in theology alone will not make him a successful pastor, nor can he succeed without it, either. He will use theology as a dictionary, an aid to an end. He must aim to rise to the ideal of the New Testament must be an exemplar; be something more than known for not cheating and stealing; must be a man of grace, considerate of others, charitable, slow to anger, no manipulator, though of a high and self-defensory spirit when necessary.
He must live up to a much higher level than common manhood if he is to be a power for good and a preacher of righteousness. A priest is called to such nobleness and largeness of opportunities, that the Christ-life within must so temper his inter course with even the little children and young people of his flock, as shall produce a feeling of confidence and sweet fellowship which is more agree able than that of any other gentleman. He always enters with a sympathetic understanding into the pleasures and interests of his people, with a freshness which promotes their pleasures and instruction, and stimulates all that is noblest in man in its noblest form and purest Christ-likeness.
Wisdom nor eloquence do not permanently win; but that subtle and invisible power which a man receives from the Holy Ghost and close communion with God. We love those who love us; rather heart work instead of head work. The successful priest is a living power in the Church; his manhood shows the spirit of God is dwelling in him. He will be a man-builder, in the pulpit, on the street, at the picnic, at the marriage, the birthday, or funeral everywhere and under all circumstances and conditions. He will be one whose man hood is itself his strongest sermon and protest against evil. He will live in such close communion with God, in such sincere and live sympathy with men, that it is a benediction to be under the influence of such a good friend. Men's lives are made better, sweeter, by contact with him. Religion is the science of right living; the successful priest is the man who, by personal example and teaching, moulds character in the largest following, and after the best type. He will take the truths of the Lord Jesus Christ's teachings and love of God and make them a part of his own life, so that when he speaks it is God speaking through him to men.
Great preachers are not a product of this age. Its products are critics; and criticism means doubt The success and permanency of the relations between priest and people depend quite as much on the one as on the other. The rise, decline, and fall of many pastorates, is often the result of shortcomings on both sides; and how little reason often times there is for the bitterness with which the relation ends, or even for the idolatry with which it often began. What produces this violent liking or dislike--is it honest?
To be a great preacher his heart must be right, for Love is the prime qualification for a religious leader. If he tries to be helpful the people will prefer to recognize in him a friend, than to know him as a preacher. Men get hold of God from the human side. There should be an entire absence of professional airs, magnifying his office; careful in his oversight of every department of Church work, a tireless visitor, wise and confidential counsellor, sympathizing friend of the afflicted and those in distress, safe guide to the young, efficient helper of the poor and unfortunate. [We assume that the writer would distinguish between that Scriptural magnifying of the sacred office, which flows from a due sense of its essence and dignity, and the offensive magnifying of the officer.--Ed.] He must not expect an ideal people, but must learn to bear and forbear, for if gifted in one direction he is apt to be defective in another.
He will not make the mistake of measuring others by his own foot-rule, nor of counting scalps as a spiritual result He will rather forget that the results of Christian effort can be put into statistics, and will labor on doing the Master's will. He will apply sanctified business methods to Church work, and aim to allow none to stand Idle in the market place and say, "No man hath hired me." He should remember for his encouragement that as the work of the world is done by ordinary men and women, so is the bulk of the Church's work, in its ministry of truth, done by ordinary priests. Abraham Lincoln remarked: "The Lord must like common people; He has made so many of them." He must recognize among men a mutual priesthood; and individuals who have spiritual qualifications and possess in their own souls' experience the secret and promise of the Gospel message; who are in nearer and closer communion with God than their fellows. They may be without marked ability, but have climbed the heights and have drunk deeply of the spiritual plans and promises of God. He must have, the gift of leadership, but not in a worldly sense; and to act on the masses he must be in personal touch with them and carry the Gospel message into the nation's homes. He quietly, devoutly, conscientiously, discharges his duty day by day among his faithful people, not seeking notoriety, but unfolding God's plans of dealing with men.
A strong but attractive personality is necessary to guide; otherwise organizations and institutions will soon lose their novelty and vitality. Respect and reverence for the minister can alone long fill a church, and man alone draws man by reason of human sympathy. He need not be a man of profound scholarship, but he must be a student. He need not be a great teacher, but he must teach.
He must systematically visit his people. "A house-going priest makes a church-going people." The care of souls is the pastor's office, and, alas, that it has fallen into disuse, as a necessary requisite of a successful pastorate! The priest needs to make careful and detailed study of his people. His parish is his assigned field; not mankind in general; and for such he should study the most efficient means of systematic and well-ordered pastoral visitation. He will find each parish has its own peculiarities, so has each person in it. By persistent visiting, by seeking out his parishioners; by seeing them again and again in their homes, he will know them as they are. He must be impartial in his visitations, so that poor and rich, old and young, men and women, may feel that they have a pastor, and one who may be trusted as a safe and honorable friend and adviser.
Pastoral visitations will broaden his sympathies, stimulate him mentally, give him new views of truth and the obligations of related living; new subjects for thought and illustrations for sermons. This will enable him to be direct in his preaching after intercourse with real men and women, and will establish sympathetic relations between minister and people which will add to their interest in his sermons.
Dr. Theo. Cuyler said: "After an effective Sunday's work, go around among your flock as a general does over a battlefield and see where the shot struck and who were among the wounded." Pastoral visitation will interest and reach many whom the pulpit does not--the old, the sick, and the careless. Many embrace this opportunity for spiritual counsel or advice who would not make formal application. Little differences taken in time, before they become public property, are easily adjusted by the counsel of the loved priest. He should enter into the joys and festivities, griefs and sorrows of the household, its birthdays and other anniversaries, as well as visit the sick, and officiate at funerals--duties which belong to the ministry alone. There should be a yearning for spiritual growth; an interest in things pertaining to the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
As the life of the priest in the parish is an expansion of his family life, so will his life in the parish overlap into and become part of the life of the general community. The successful priest be longs to the people. All conditions of life have an inherent right to the priest's sympathy and counsel. To deny any claim of this sort is to belie his high calling, to be false to his ordination vows, and come short, from a human standpoint, of a faithful discharge of the sacred duties of his office. He must be faithful without being mechanical, be sincere without being sanctimonious; and his life must emphasize and reflect his preaching.
His calling must be recognized by the people and received of them without personal appeal. He must make all feel by his personal presence that his is a holy life, and that he lives in closest fellowship with his Lord and Master.
That love is indeed poor and superficial that does not improve our every-day life and influence the lives of others to better living. Beware of your example, it is after all the most effective sermon you preach.
To be a true worshipper of God, you must carry the spirit of the Lord's Day into all the week and make all days alike joyful. No priest can admonish and stir up his people to right living and high ideals on Sunday, and on the same day take a train for his vacation. I need hardly add that he will be a Sunday School man of the most pronounced type; that he will always have a smile and a greeting for the little ones of Christ's flock; and that in the drawing room or in the street his most cordial greeting will be from the little ones. Save the children to lives of righteousness and you save the nation.
Lord Shaftsbury met a criminal just discharged from prison. The good man put his arms around him, saying, "Jack, we will make a man of you yet." Aim to be a Shaftsbury, and you will be in touch with humanity.