In keeping with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, which began meeting this past Tuesday, and will have concluded either late on Thursday, or not later than noon on Friday. The following charge brought at the ordination of a young minister, here concluded, seems quite appropriate to the occasion of a General Assembly. There is some wonderful wisdom in this charge. I pray you will be edified.
[As a reminder, it was the Rev. Dr. Aaron Whitney Leland, 1787-1871, who served as the first professor at the Columbia Theological Seminary, Columbia, SC. The Rev. John Francis Lanneau, 1809-1867, who was being ordained on this occasion, later served as a missionary.]
REV. DR. LELAND’S CHARGE, Part 2
[excerpted from The Charleston Observer 7.20 (18 May 1833): 77.1-4]
At the ordination of the Rev. J. F. Lanneau, in this city on the 1st of May, the following charge was given by the Rev. Dr. [Aaron Whitney] Leland; and it is now published at the earnest solicitation of may who heard it.
Dr. Leland continued:
Permit me to warn you, my brother, against those hostile influences by which you will be surrounded. If you are a devoted, active servant of Christ, be assured you will encounter opposition. When it comes, be not surprised. Be meek and patient towards open adversaries, cautious and courteous towards secret foes, and doubly guarded against flatterers. If you happen to be popular, your danger will be imminent. You will be placed in the fore-front of the hottest battle. For in that case saints and sinners will unite, and make common cause with the powers of darkness, to destroy you—all vying with each other in presenting to you deadly poison in the most alluring disguise—and all furnishing weapons to the enemies in your own bosom, to pierce you through with many sorrows. If such a hazardous eminence should be allotted you, I charge you to cast yourself down in deep humiliation, at the Saviour’s feet; lay fast hold of the Cross, and cry mightily to God for grace to help you in such a time of pressing need. Clerical popularity is a formidable foe. It has despoiled many a Christian soldier of his armour, and cast him down wounded; and many a proud sun of Levi it hath hurled from the battlements of Zion, down to the depths of perdition. Of this insidious, murderous enemy, I charge you to beware, as you prize your usefulness—as you value your own soul, or the souls of others. Nor would I fail to warn you of an opposite danger, less formidable indeed, but by no means to be disregarded. I allude to the trials and temptations to which you will be liable if you should be unpopular. And unpopular you may be, though you prove a devoted, able, faithful Minister of the New Testament. So was Edwards, the master spirit of his age—the mighty leader of American Theologians; and so was Scott, the excellent Commentator. Should this evil befall you, guard your heart against its influence,. It will prove a severe trial of your graces, and you need all the fortitude and self-denial you can obtain, to sustain with calmness the neglect, or unkindness, or opposition of those fro whom you are laboring and praying continually. Be assured that all the secret and open enemies of religion, will gratify their hatred of the Gospel by pouring the vials of their wrath upon you, and trampling your feelings in the dust. Should this ever be your lot, you will be able to judge whether you have a heart to love your enemies, to bless them who curse you, and to pray for those who despitefully use you. You will also be liable to ascertain whether you possess the spirit of Him, who when he was reviled, reviled not again—who prayed for his persecutors and slanderers, and who laid down his life for those who cried away with him from the earth—not this man but Barrabbas—crucify Him.
While you labor as an Evangelist, you will find your sphere of action attended with many dangers. Among these permit me to mention the neglect of study, and mental discipline, and deficient, desultory preparation for the pulpit. Wherever you are, and whether you feel the necessity or not, it is necessary for you to give yourself to reading and composition, as well as to exhortation and doctrine. I charge you not to neglect the gifts which have been bestowed upon you, but to study to approve yourself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
If you are called to a pastoral charge, new difficulties and new trials will be experienced. When you are preaching as a candidate, with a view to settlement, beware of exciting too high expectations, by giving specimens of ability, which you cannot habitually equal. In his way, many young Ministers fatally impair their usefulness, and prepare for themselves a bed of thorns. They have a few sermons, most elaborately prepared; containing all the ornaments and treasures they have accumulated during their whole preparatory course. These are delivered with great spirit to vacant congregations, and are heard with admiration.—The result is a speedy settlement. But mark the grievous disappointment. When the regular pastoral labors commence, it is evident that the stock is exhausted; and the idol of popular favor, and the prodigy of talent and erudition, sinks down into a very ordinary preacher.—Such a course every wise man will carefully avoid. Let not the preface to your book be greatly superior to all the rest of its contents. Begin no loftier flight, than your strength of pinion can sustain. Always husband your mental resources, and reserve your noblest efforts, to stem that current of reaction, which you will be sure to meet, after a spring-tide of popularity; and which may require all your resources and energies to withstand. And when the excitement of a new pastoral union thus subsides, and the ordinary labours of a parochial charge have really begun; when the people find that their new favorite is a mere mortal man, compassed with infirmity; and he makes a similar discovery in relation to them; then come the real labours, and trials, and temptations of a Minister of the Gospel. Make up your mind to fail in satisfying all your hearers. You will certainly find unreasonable demands, which you cannot gratify. When some require you to speak louder, and others lower—when some expect you always to be in your study, and others always visiting—when some cannot endure to hear a sermon read, and others are disgusted at preaching extempore—amid such conflicting demands, what can you do? Evidently your only course is to go straight forward in the conscientious performance of your duty, and leave the event to God. But I will not, on the present occasion, enter the field of your pastoral duties. That may more appropriately claim attention at your future installation.
I feel it important, however, to give you one or two directions as to your course in relation to this subject. In view of a permanent settlement, I counsel you never to accept a call, when there is an opposing minority, unless you are well assured that such opposition is directly solely against the essential doctrines of the Gospel, and is wholly unmingled with personal dislike. A settlement in a divided Church, with the hope of future reconciliation and harmony, is about as wise, as a marriage between parties mutually offensive to each other, formed with expectation that affection will spring up in after life. On one more point I offer you my counsel. Should you be settled in the ministry, and find dissatisfaction arising, and symptoms of a desire of change exhibited by any considerable portion of hearers; I advise you to demand a separation without delay.—Any five men in a congregation, who resolve to oppose a Minister, and to create dissention, always succeed. A Pastor’s change of success, in such a conflict, is about as great, as that of a man bound hand and foot, against the attacks of half a score of well armed assailants. And even if there be no open opposition, if you perceive that your usefulness has declined, that your preaching is attended with listless indifference, and that, some how or other, your influence is evidently diminished—your path of duty is plain—seek another field of pastoral labour. Immense injury is done to the cause of religion, by the perseverance of Ministers in situations where they cannot be useful, because they find it inconvenient to remove. I beseech you never to be of the number of those who, to preserve a support, or avoid the pain of separation, continue to occupy ground they cannot cultivate, and thus prove an actual obstacle to the prosperity of churches they profess to love. Most evident is it, that there are in our land scores of Pastors, who would do more good, by a change of location, than they ever did in their lives. I charge you, my young Brother, never to hold a pastoral office, after you are convinced that the spiritual interests of the church are not promoted by your ministry.
In maintaining the discipline of the house of God, I charge you to be vigilant and faithful. Entrusted with the seals of the covenant, see to it that you do not desecrate them by an unworthy appropriation.
Ever bear in mind, that it is an important part of your duty, to attend regularly the judicatories of our church, and to fulfill, if possible, all presbyterial appointments. Whenever you are called to examine candidates for the ministry, I charge you to act impartially and conscientiously. Lay hands suddenly upon no man, neither be partaker of other mens sins, keep thyself pure.
With these directions and cautions, and with most affectionate wishes and fervent prayers for the success of your ministry, I bid you God speed. Go forth, my Brother, into the vineyard of the Lord, to watch and labour, to live and die in His service. Work while the day lasts—the night cometh when no man can work. The more laborious and indefatigable you are, the more welcome and delightful will be the rest which remaineth to the people of God.—Adopt as your own, that illustrious motto—“expect great things—attempt great things.” Set your standard high, and press towards the mark to secure the prize of your high calling. Commissioned to watch for souls as one who must give account, cherish a severe conviction that you have one great business in this world—to persuade perishing rebels to be reconciled to God. Wherever you go, let your desires, and prayers, and efforts be concentrated to one point—a revival of religion, an ingathering of souls into the fold of the good Shepherd.—Failing in this, you labour in vain. Whatever else you may accomplish, however high your reputation, or overflowing your assemblies, be assured, that, unless you rouse Christians from apathy, and pierce the hearts of the impenitent with the arrows of conviction, you utterly fail in effecting the great purpose of your ministry. Fix then your heart, with unconquerable desire, upon witnessing a mighty work of grace, a glorious effusion of the Holy Spirit, wherever you are called to labour. Let this be the leading object of all your sermons. Get your whole soul under the influence of eternal things, and address perishing men, as if the judgment bar was full in your view. Strive to realize that Christless souls are on the brink of everlasting burnings; and then you will be in earnest in urging them to escape for their lives, and flee from the wrath to come. And take heed, my brother, when you denounce the terrors of the Lord, and warn the wicked of approaching wrath, that your language and manner be such as to convince them that you are constrained thus to address them by love to their souls, and by a full conviction, that, unless they repent, they must perish. Beware of a reproachful, vindictive manner of uttering such awful truths, as if you loved to utter them. It has a most hardening, injurious influence. Let it be evidently your delight, to beseech men to be reconciled to God.
And now, my dear young Brother, having given you these instructions, and delegated to you this spiritual authority; in the name of the great Head of the Church, and as the official organ of this Ecclesiastical Judicatory, I solemnly charge you to take heed to this ministry which thou hast received, that thou fulfill it. Let no man despise thy youth; but be an example to believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Meditate on these things—give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed to thyself, and to thy doctrine, for in so doing thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. Be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus. Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works—in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity—sound speech that cannot be condemned, that opposers may be ashamed, having no evil things to say of you.
Finally—I charge thee before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearance—preach the word—be instant in season, out of season—reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine.—Watch in all things—endure afflictions—do the work of an Evangelist—make full proof of thy ministry. I give the charge before God who quickeneth all things, and before Jesus Christ who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession, that thou keep this commandment, without spot, unrebukable, until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be thou faithful unto death, and thou shalt receive a crown of life.