« PreviousContinue »
and condescending language that ever escaped from his lips, was addressed to such persons, or had a reference to them.
Let me entreat you not only to manifest quite as much alacrity in finding out the hovel of poverty, and the couch of suffering, as the mansion of the rich, and the table of feasting; but also, when you have found the abode of penury and affliction, to enter it in the kindliest manner; to accost every member of the humble circle with Christian respect and sympathy; to seat yourself by the bedside of the sick and dying with affectionate benevolence; to pour the light of instruction, and the oil of consolation into their minds with tenderness and patience; and to accommodate yourself, as your Master would have done, to all their wants, and ignorance, and darkness, and doubts, and trials. Receive their civilities with thanks. Accept of their homeliest fare with cordiality; and study to convince them, by every proper method, that you heartily wish them well, and are ready to do them good. Need I say that such things are grateful to them to a degree not easily expressed? One of the most excellent ministers I ever knew; a man of refinement and polish, as well as of ardent piety, exceeded most of my clerical acquaintance in his incessant attentions to the poor. не would go to the houses of the meanest and poorest, with an ease and freedom truly exemplary; would seat himself on a broken stool or block of wood, and appear to enjoy himself as if he were in the most convenient parlour; and would, with a singular felicity of manner, place those whom he addressed just as much at ease, as if they were conversing with an
equal. It was in reference to him that a poor but eminently pious old woman said —“O, sir, you cannot think how kind and good he is. He's not a bit of a gentleman. He comes in, and sits down in my poor place here, just as if he had been used to being with the like of me all his days." Though I knew the venerable man to be a real and uncommonly well-bred gentleman, I was particularly struck with the old woman's significant language, “He's not a bit of a gentleman;" and thought it one of the highest compliments she could pay him. She had, no doubt, been accustomed to associate, in her own mind, that title with manners of the supercilious, revolting kind ;-an association to which, I am sorry to say, the manners of many,
who would be thought real gentlemen, give too much countenance.
4. Affability. This quality of manners is allied to the last mentioned characteristic, but still it is not the same. An affable man is one who may be approached and accosted without embarrassment or difficulty ;-one who has the happy talent of conversing pleasantly and courteously, and of placing every one in conversation with him perfectly at his ease. The opposites of this quality are coldness, haughtiness, habits of taciturnity, arising from whatever cause, and, in short, every thing in manner that is adapted to repel, or to prevent freedom and comfort of approach. On the other hand, the dispositions which lead to affability of manner, are good-nature, benevolence, and that habitual kindness of feeling, which rejoices in the welfare of all, and especially of those who look to us for instruction, counsel, or any other benefit.
Now it is manifest that all classes of men, and especially of those who are commonly called professional men, would find great advantage in cultivating the affability of which I speak. In fact its advantages in conciliating public favour, and in facilitating social intercourse, are incalculable. But to the minister of the gospel, the importance of this social quality is peculiar. A physician or lawyer may be remarkably deficient in affability, and yet his professional reputation and even usefulness may sustain no material drawback on this account. But when a minister of the gospel is thus deficient, it may be maintained that his usefulness cannot fail of being, in all cases, proportionably diminished. He is not only called to visit “from house to house;" to address all classes of persons on the most important of all subjects; and to study to gain access to the minds of the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant; but all descriptions of persons are in the habit of resorting to him, in private as well as in public, for counsel and aid. The perplexed, the doubting, the timid, the feeble-minded, the tempted, the desponding, are all, it may be, in succession, seeking in him a counsellor and guide. How unhappy, when his personal manners are such as to repel and discourage! How unhappy, nay, in some cases, how fatal to the eternal interests of men, when instead of a manner which invites confidence, and inspires freedom of communication, the ambassador of Christ, by his repulsive mode of address, as it were “breaks the bruised reed,” “ quenches the smoking flax,” or so completely chills and discourages the anxious inquirer, as to deter him from ever making a second visit! It is manifest, then, that by a remarkable deficiency in the quality under consideration, ministers will not only lose much in regard to public favour and acceptance; but what is infinitely more important, by this deficiency, they may be the means of repelling from the church of God many a soul who was on the road to salvation, and who, but for this cause, might, humanly speaking, have reached the blessed goal.
Say not that an affable man, like a poet, must be born, but cannot be made. That constitutional temperament has, in many cases, much to do with this thing, is not denied. But it is utterly denied that the faculty of which I speak is beyond the reach of successful cultivation. Only lay to heart the importance of the attainment, and strive and pray to be enabled to make it, and your labour will not be in vain. But there may be a mistake here. In attempting to be affable, be not fawning. In endeavouring to invite freedom and confidence, do not break down the barriers of the most perfect mutual respect. For, in order to form a complete finish in clerical manners, there must be a proper attention to that respect which is due to the man, and his office, as well as that which is due to those with whom he converses.
5. Reserve. By this I mean, not the opposite of frankness; but a manner standing opposed to excessive and unseasonable communicativeness. This is in no respect inconsistent with any thing which has been already recommended. The most attractive affability is not only quite reconcilable with a delicate and wise reserve ; but really requires it, and
cannot be of the best character without it. There are many subjects on which a minister of the gospel ought not to allow himself, in ordinary cases, to talk with freedom, if at all; and, of course, concerning which, when they are introduced, he ought generally to exercise a strict reserve. Every wise man will see at once the reasons, and the importance of this counsel : especially in reference to one who bears so many interesting relations to those around him as a minister of religion. He ought certainly to be affable. But if by this he should understand to be meant, that he ought to talk freely, at all times, to all classes of people, and on all subjects, which the idle, the meddling, the impertinent, or the malignant may choose to introduce, he would soon find to his cost that he had totally misapprehended the matter. Affability is good, is important; but incessant and indiscriminate talkativeness will soon reduce in public esteem, and entangle in real difficulties, the official man who allows himself to indulge it.
There are many points concerning which every man who wishes to hold a respectable standing in society ought to exercise habitual reserve; but concerning which it is peculiarly important that ministers do so. A complete catalogue of them cannot be given; but good sense and prudence will enable you, for the most part, to see what ought to be considered as belonging to the list. You can be at no loss, however, to decide, that the private affairs of your neighbours; the characters, plans, and conduct of the absent; questions which implicate the principles and views of other religious denominations; the conflicts of party politicians; your own private