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MR. ASHTON came an hour before dinner. After the necessary introduction, and some desultory conversation, they sat down to a table spread with the comforts of life, and ate with gladness and singleness of heart, as fearing the Lord.
When dinner was ended, a conversation took place concerning the duties of ministers and their people to each other
. Mr. Ashton being a man in years, and dignified by the office of the ministry, was desired to take the lead. He began as follows :
I have often had occasion to regret my own backwardness in duty, and pray earnestly to God for quickening grace, that I might be enabled to perform it with greater diligence and activity. I have also seen, with pain, the backwardness of some of my brethren, as well as the sinful negligence of others. It ought to be expected of us, who have undertaken so great a work, and whose work is so nearly connected with the salvation of never dying souls, that we should be unremitting and fervent in our endeavors.
To such a man, the study of the scriptures becomes a duty. He is to understand the gospel system, and to be able to explain it to others ; to defend it against the malice and arguments of cavillers and infidels. The writings of the pious and learned, may be used as helps, and all suitable means employed for the purpose of acquiring a deep acquaintance with the scriptures.
Such studies greatly contribute to the performance of pulpit duties. Without them, his subjects can have but little interest, to engage the attention of his people. Public prayer should be fervent, devout and unaffected. In preaching, he is to endeavor to awaken the supine, reclaim the wander. ing, establish the wavering, instract the ignorant, comfort mourners, and build up believers in faith and holiness. These require the united exertions of the powers of nature, learning and grace-under a view of which, I have often adopted the language of the apostle-Who is sufficient for these things?
Visiting from house to house, and maintaining a right spirit and conversation in friendly circles ; so as to keep at an equal distance from a stifforbidding reserve, and light, trifling discourse, are duties diligently to be performed, and require a great deal of grace and wisdom. The conversation
must be rightly timed, suited to the condition and capacity of such as are to hear it.
It is sometimes more than the most skilful minister can do, to perform the duty of visiting, so as to give offence to none. The rich are apt to suppose they have large demands, and the poor that they are slighted. It is necessary, therefore, that he avoid the appearance of partiality, so far as to keep his conscience in peace.
If he be partial any where, it must be in visiting the sick and afflicted. The social circle, the houses of the rich may be passed by, to visit and administer comfort in the apart. ments of the distressed. He is unworthy of the name or office of a minister, who prefers his ease or pleasure, to wiping the falling tear, suppressing the rising sigh, and pouring the balm of comfort into the wounded soul.
The youth and children of his charge, are to be cared for and instructed. These are soon to come forward to fill our places in suciety ; and it is in early life that persons usually lay the foundation of that character, on which they build in their more advanced years. And being exposed to many evils, which may lead them astray, and having little judgment or experience, how to avoid them, it becomes the duty of a minister to aid their parents in giving that bias to their minds, which may have a tendency to render them virtuous and useful.
The church is to be governed, and brought under suitable discipline, so that the faithful may keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace; the unruly reproved, and thein. corrigible expelled. No part of a minister's work requires more wisdom and moderation, more impartiality and firmness, more grace and patience.
These are the principle duties of a gospel minister; and to perform which, he ought to feel himself bound by his high vocation, by the glory of God, and the good of souls. The duties of his people are not less numerous, nor less necessary in their place.
If it be the duty of a minister to preach, it is the duty of his people to come and hear; and to hear with serious and prayerful attention. It is a trial to preach to empty seats, and naked walls, while his people are either strolling about, paying Sabbath-day visits, or excusing themselves at home by bad weather, fancied or slight indisposition, or the fa. tigues of the past week, which they must repair by sleep, or
taking up their time to post accounts, or plan business for the week to come.
If such negligence were known only among those who make no profession of faith in Christ, it would not bring so great a burthen on the mind of a pastor, who cares for his flock. But when members of the church are so often ab. sent, they may well suppose themselves pointed at by an apostle, when he said-“ Forsake not the assembling of your selves together as the manner of some is.”
It is the duty of a people to pray for their minister. In no part of their devotions should they forget this. It is hard to preach to a prayerless congregation; but a faithful minister of Christ, will always feel, that the prayer of faith offered up by a loving people, is availing. Paul and others requested the prayers of their brethren, as well knowing God is a prayer hearing, and prayer answering God. And if Paul, with his extraordinary gifts and inspiration, needed the prayers of his brethren to God for him, and found assistance by them, how
oes an ordinary minister need them?
It is also a direction of Paul, that a people should love him who labors among them in the gospel, and esteem him highly for his work's sake. He did not, however, intend that they should make bim-their idol, and forget their obligations to God; yet an affectionate return of conduct may prevent the necessity of saying with pain and regret, “ the more abundantly I love you, the less I am beloved."
One method of shewing affection, is to see he has the nex cessaries and comforts of life. A good minister will not desire to live above his people, but with them; and this privilege he certainly ought to enjoy. If they neglect this, they neglect what is necessary to give him confidence in them; because he has reason to suspect their affection, when it is in their power to render him comfortable, and yet they neglect to do it. If he sees their own stores filled, their tables loaded, property increasing, superfluities abounding, and a loathness, or entire negligence in this duty, it must sink bis spirits, and curtail his usefulness.
Some people are so prone to be jealous, and say hard things, if their minister has, a better house, or better furniture than themselves, it is difficult to go clear of censure ; and they wish to keep him poor, lest he should be proud.
I have, however, no great reason to complain of my peo
ple. My lines have fallen to me in pleasant places ; few men are more happily situated. But I am acquainted with many parishes and ministers, and have seen much more than I think it proper now to relate.
What method of supporting the ministers of the gospel, said the Gen. do you think the best?
Any method, answered Mr. Ashton, which best pleases the people, and is best calculated to answer the end designed.
Do you, said the Gen. approve of taxing a town for this purpose ?
Certainly, provided the town are unanimous in their choice of a minister. But if there be a minority, who choose some other mode of worship, it would not be congenial with my views, to tax them; unless they have liberty to appropriate their proportion of the money to whom they please. My conscience would not allow me to coerce money from such, and put it to my own use, any more than to rob on the highway. In such a case, I should judge it best for those to unite, who had made choice of their minister, and tax themselves, leaving out such as dissented. Or the seats they occupy, may be taxed in proportion to their value; or contributions may be made, where circumstances are likely to render this effectual; though I think this the least efficient way.
But whatever method be taken, let no one be oppressed or persecuted. For I cannot find any thing in the gospel, to justify such a procedure. Violence, in such matters, is calculated to beget ill blood, and hinder the usefulness of him for whom it is done.
An evil exists in our denomination, said Charles, in regard to the support of ministers, which has been long seen by some, but is difficult to cure. We bave reprobated every other method, but that of free contributions; which is found to operate very unequally, and to be very deficient. Some neglect to prepare for the time of contribution; and if they have it not by them at the time, they seem to think they are under no obligation to give at all; and so it may happen with them from year to year, and they bear no part of the burthen. Others excuse themselves by being always in debt for extra farms, houses not needed, fine clothes, rich furwiiure, &c. and imagine that a few cents bestowed occasionally, is all that can be required of them. Another class alledge, their minister lives better than they do; and they will give nothing till he is poor and distressed; and suppose tbat promises of assist
ance made in reference to his poverty, is their proportion of the burthen. And we shall find others, who are so afraid of letting their left hand know what their right hand doeth, that their right hand is under an interdict to do little or nothing. Such refuse to contribute publicly, under pretence of bestowing in private ; but they keep up so great a degree of privacy concerning it, that neither God or their minister, seldom knows of their giving any thing. Among the deficient may also be found, such as say their minister should work for a living; and that he is as able to maintain himself, as they are to maintain bim. And yet no people are so ready to find fault, if they are not visited; for they expect he will visit them and their sick, attend all their burials, and work six days as hard as themselves for his own maintenance, and the seventh the hardest of all, to preach to them; and as it would seem, to afford them a better opportunity to lay up treasure on earth.
Most of these excuses grow out of covetousness; yet we shall often hear these persons say, if others give as much as they do, the ministry would be well maintained. This is said for a cloak; for few are willing to acknowledge they are covetous. Yet it must be owned, that we have some among us, both rich and poor, whose liberality does honor to their profession and the christian cause. But the burthen comes heavy on them, because so many others are unwilling to help bear it.
I am utterly opposed to obliging an individual, or minority to pay, where they do not wish to hear; and am a strong advocate for liberty of conscience, in faith and modes of worship; but have been of opinion, that every member of the church and congregation, ought to be admitted among us, under the express impression, that he shall pay to the support of the ministry, in proportion to what he possesses ; and on habitual failure, should be admonished, and without amendment, should be disowned for breach of obligation; and members of the church in particular, should be expelled from the coinmunion.
I think, said Mr. P. some of your own ministers are as much in the fault as their people. Though in what I am about to say, I am far from intending any thing disrespectful of the ministers of your order; for I am free to own, that some of them, who have age and experience, for spirituality and abilities, are behind none; and some of your young meb,