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can successfully imitate. The true reason, I have no doubt, why religious conversation is so often what it ought not to be, and so often useless, is that it is so seldom the offspring of that unaffected, warm, spiritual feeling, which piety of an elevated characted alone can give.
22. Finally, it will be a stimulus to diligence, and an auxiliary to improvement, in the precious art of religious conversation, if you daily and faithfully call yourself to an account for the manner in which you have performed this duty. We stand in need of something of this kind to quicken us in every department of our Christian work; and in none more than those which consist in frequently recurring details, rather than in single great acts. Never retire from any company, then, without asking yourself, “What have I said for the honour of my Master, and for promoting the everlasting welfare of those with whom I conversed ? What was the tenor of my conversation? What opportunity of recommending religion have I neglected to improve ? From what motives did I speak, or keep silence ? In what manner did I converse? With gentleness, modesty, humility, and yet with affectionate fidelity; or with harshness, with formality, with ostentation, with vanity, and from a desire to avoid censure, or to court popular applause ?” Few things, I believe, would have a more powerful tendency to promote watchfulness, diligence, and unremitting perseverance in this important duty, than the constant inspection and trial of ourselves here recommended.
I taught you publicly, and from house to house.—Acts xx. 30.
MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND:— Ministers are visitors by profession. It is a large and essential part of their official duty to teach and exhort “from house to house.” Of course, every thing which tends to give this part of their work a better direction, and a more happy influence, is highly important to them, and to the cause of religion. Yet I have been constrained seriously to doubt, whether any thing, in the whole circle of ministerial, activity is, commonly, less appreciated, or worse managed. Accordingly, that which might be made a most powerful instrument for conciliating the good will, and promoting, in various ways, the best interests of those who are committed to their charge, many ministers are too apt, from indolence, or want of skill, so to conduct, as to make it of little value, as a source either of pleasure or profit. Allow me, then, with the same freedom with which I have offered you my counsel on other subjects, to suggest a few thoughts on this. My own experience convinces me that there is need of such suggestions, and that they may often do much good. For although I am
conscious of not having accomplished, while I was a pastor, all that I might and ought to have done, in reference to this part of my duty; yet, if I had known as much at the commencement of my ministry, as I now do, of its importance, and of the means of conducting it, I should have pursued, if I do not deceive myself, a very different course.
I shall first speak of those visits which may be called pastoral; and secondly, of those which may be styled social.
I. By the pastoral visits of a clergyman, I mean those visits, of a formal character, which, in his clerical capacity, he pays to the families and individuals under his pastoral care. Of these visits, as distinguished from others, it is desirable that you should have just and appropriate views. In reference to such visits, I offer the following advices.
1. My first advice is, that you by no means neglect them; nay, that you be constant and diligent in making them. If you desire to gain the love and confidence of your people; if you wish to instruct and edify them in a great variety of ways which the nature of pulpit address does not admit; if you deem it important to be well acquainted with their situation, views, feelings, difficulties, and wants; then visit every family belonging to your congregation frequently, systematically, and faithfully. I say frequently. How often, must, of course, depend on the number of families belonging to your charge, and on the number of your avocations. But I should say, in the largest congregation, at least once a year; in one of medium size, at least twice; and, in all cases in which it is practicable, still more frequently. In short, the
oftener the better, provided your visits are conducted in a proper manner.
2. Attend to this duty systematically. Do not leave it to the caprice or the convenience of the moment. If you do, but little will be accomplished. Company, trifles, languor, procrastination, and a host of other obstacles, will incessantly stand in the way of performing what you really wish and resolve to perform. Have your fixed days in the week for visiting; and address yourself to it with the same fixedness of purpose, and the same inflexible perseverance, which you employ in preparation for the pulpit. In most situations a pastor may visit, on an average, from twelve to fifteen, or twenty families in a week; and, where the population is unusually dense, even
If such an average, or anything like it, were carried through a year, what an interesting result would be obtained! The truth is, it is almost incredible what patient industry will accomplish. If any imagine that this is a drudgery to which a man of active mind can hardly submit, and that the time would be better employed in enriching and polishing discourses for the sacred desk, I can only say, all scripture is against them; all experience is against them; nay, all reason is against them. To say nothing of other considerations, one of the best auxiliaries in studying sermons, of which a minister can avail himself, is an intimate and deep acquaintance with the people of his charge. Rely on it, he who hopes to discharge the duties of the pulpit, ably, appropriately, seasonably, and to the greatest advantage of his flock, without being much among them, entertains a hope which is perfectly unreasonable, and will certainly be disappointed.
3. Let every official visit be preceded by prayer. If we believe in the doctrine of a particular Providence; if we believe that the Lord whom we serve, and in whose name we go forth, has all hearts, and all events, even the most minute, in his hands; is it not manifest that we ought to preface every attempt to do good to others, by humble, importunate prayer, that both they and we may be so enlightened, influenced, and guided, and that every thing may be so ordered, as that our effort may be crowned with a blessing ? That minister who does not distinctly and earnestly ask for a blessing upon all his labours, has no reason to expect that he shall receive it.
4. With a rigorous adherence to system in performing this duty, unite habitual, persevering faithfulness. Let it be your study, in the fear of God, to render your visit, however short, as useful as possible to the individual, or the family, of which it is the object. For this purpose, consider, before you enter their dwelling, their situation, their character, their circumstances, their temptations, their wants: and look up to the Giver of all grace for wisdom and strength to perform your duty aright. As to the precise manner in which each interview shall be conducted, I apprehend that no uniform rule can be laid down, which will suit all cases equally well. I would only say, let a word be dropped in season to young and old; parents and children; masters and servants; those who are in the communion of the church, and those who are not. In short, let no time be voluntarily lost in vain conversation. Let there be as much of heavenly wisdom, of solid instruction, and of solemn impressive exhortation, as you can possibly crowd into the time