Great care is required in the discussion of so delicate a subject, lest on the one hand we give countenance to the popular notion of manufacturing our own ministry, and offering inducements for ungodly and covetous men to crowd themselves into the work, uncalled of the Lord, and for filthy lucre's sake. Or, on the other hand, in avoiding that disorder, we run so far into an opposite extreme as to overlook, and thereby fail to obey such instructions as are clearly laid down in the Scriptures.
We would observe first, that no man is to take this work on himself unless called thereto of God, as was Aaron to the priesthood. We can find no authority in the Word for human interference in offering inducements to draw out young or old men into the work, until such gifts are developed as afford satisfactory evidence to the church of God that they are called of God to that work. When such evidences are obtained, the church is required to consider them carefully and prayerfully, in the light of the Scriptures. Then it becomes us to inquire, first, Has God by his Spirit made them willing to serve in that calling? For they must enter the work, not for filthy lucre's sake, but of a willing mind. Paul says to Timothy, "This is a true saying, If any man desire the office of a bishop (or pastor) he desireth a good work." Finding in the church a brother entertaining this desire, we are taught to examine closely to see if he possesses the following indispensable qualifications, (for some may have a desire to render themselves conspicuous in the church, and my covet the ministerial work from very improper motives, and such have given the churches great trouble. Some have been licensed to the work to get rid of their clamor, or as the easiest way to dispose of them, instead of saying to them that the church lacks the evidence of their calling. But in all such cases the church has suffered from their disregard of the divine rule.) Let them first be proved, and here is the rule: "A bishop MUST be blameless, the husband of one wife: vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach." These are put down as indispensable qualifications, and the church of God is to be the judge whether the proposed candidate, or volunteer, for the work is in possession of them, as positive and indispensable qualifications. If in all these particulars all is satisfactory, we are next to consider the negative, or the disqualification's: not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous, one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity. (For if a man know now how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil. (1 Tim. iii. 1-7)
There are many other portions of the New Testament which treat upon the qualifications of the ministers of Christ, but our limits will not allow us at this time to present them. From the above established rule we learn that the brother to be recognized as a minister of Jesus Christ must sustain an unblemished reputation in the church, and his walk and conversation before the world, (those that are without) must also be irreproachable. Of course we are not to understand that the world are to speak well of his doctrine, or allow him to escape reproach and persecution such as Christ and his apostles bore. But he is not to be known in the world as a brawler, a striker, a man given to wine, or greedy of filthy lucre, not covetous, or, like the daughters of the horse-leech, crying, Give! Give!!
Next in importance to the unblemished character sustained by the candidate for the christian ministry is, Is he apt to teach? Many men of intelligence and of grace are destitute of this qualification, and the church would starve under their ministry, if they were not otherwise fed with knowledge and understanding. And if the minister cannot command intelligible language, how can he be apt to teach? We would not insist upon eloquence of speech, as these terms are used by men, for Paul, who as a learned man could have commanded it, refrained from it in his ministry, and came not in the excellency of speech, or of wisdom, but he was with them in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, and his speech and preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that the faith of the saints should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Still there may be, and unquestionably is, a fault with at least some of our brethren in the ministry, and an inexcusable carelessness in regard to their language. If to be apt to teach requires that the instructor should, like the wise man, search out suitable words, and if, as he has by the spirit of inspiration told us, that "words fitly spoken are like apples of gold in pictures of silver," it must be proper and right that preachers of the gospel should at least make themselves familiar with their mother tongue.
To do this we presume there are very few cases, if any, where anything more is necessary than a trifling effort on the part of the preacher himself. If the church be at fault, it is that they do not urge upon their preachers who are deficient, the necessity and importance of spending some of their leisure hours in studying their grammar and dictionaries. We have known young men to enter the ministry whose opportunities had been very limited, and consequently were very deficient in their language, who have grown to be old men, without any perceptible improvement in that particular, but it would be hard to find a case where a good practical knowledge of the rules of grammar might not have been acquired by them in that time without in the least restricting their ministerial labors, or detracting from their opportunities to labor for the support of their families. There certainly can be no good reason why a young preacher should idle away time which might be employed in the attainment of profitable knowledge, and in mental improvement.
No brother is at liberty to construe our remarks as intending any reflection upon our aged brethren in the ministry, who have been never privileged with opportunities which are common in our day. Many of our aged fathers in the ministry were raised amid the turmoil and strife of the Revolutionary war, or in parts of our country where the country was new, and opportunities were very limited for mental improvement, still their usefulness has been realized very extensively, and their praise is in all the churches. We only design to call the attention of the young to this subject, and not only ministers, but all others, would realize an advantage by applying themselves as opportunity presents, to the attainment of useful knowledge.
To secure all the advantages which we recommend, we see no need of building or establishing Theological Seminaries, or of waiting one moment after being called to the work of the ministry. The most stupidly dull and clownish preachers we ever met with have been among the students sent forth from Theological Schools. One from Hamilton Seminary, in our State, once edified the people in our vicinity, by informing them that the Ganges, where pagans sacrifice their children to its waters, was located in the Canadas. But aside from their deficiency in geography, they are uniformly, so far as our acquaintance with them extends, by no means in advance of pagans in the knowledge of divine and spiritual things. The things of the Spirit of God can only be taught by the Spirit, and all our spiritual preparations for usefulness in the church of God most come from above. Still public speaking requires the articulation of sounds, by which ideas are expressed and conveyed, in order to which our natural and physical organs are employed, and our natural understanding is brought into requisition. Hence the propriety of correct language. "How forcible are right words." Some have betrayed an unwillingness to take the trouble to learn the proper use of words, and their precise meaning, lest it should encourage pride and vanity, either in themselves or in their hearers, but that very class of speakers are more frequently than any others found straining to use highflown words that they do not understand themselves, and very incorrectly imagine that their hearers are as ignorant of as themselves.
Our impression is that the most simple language we can possibly command, if well understood by the speaker, in public preaching, is by far more suitable and instructive, and to our ear, it is the most eloquent and forcible. None but coxcombs, and vain, conceited fops, will strain to use terms in public speaking which they imagine their hearers do not generally understand.
While on the subject, the reader will permit us to say, that there are many disagreeable faults into which preachers are very liable to fall, such as speaking with a sing-song tone, or with affection, in an unusual key, with unbecoming and awkward gestures which a little care on their part with some occasional hints from faithful brethren, would serve greatly to relieve them from, and render them far more acceptable and pleasant to their hearers. But we have pursued this part of our subject as far perhaps as is profitable at this time, especially as we are conscious that the writer has very many faults to correct in himself, as well as to point out in his brethren.
The improvements suggested can be acquired without money, or exemption from labor. We know a precious brother who has attained a high elevation in literature without the aid of schools, or exemption from labor. He told us that he had often carried a book in his bosom when ploughing, and while his team were resting, he would employ the moments in study until he had acquired the education which he now finds of priceless value to him as a minister of Jesus. There are many other important requisitions for a preacher of the gospel, which we have not time nor space to dwell upon in this article; and our remarks on the duty of the church to the preachers of the word, must also be deferred for the present.
Middletown, N. Y.,
May 1, 1857
Elder Gilbert Beebe