3. While in general scholarship and theological training the Congregational clergy, as a body, are probably unsurpassed by any equally numerous clerical body in the world, it is quite plain that they are but partially meeting the spiritual necessities of our advancing population. Even in New England, where our churches originally had the ground, and where it would seem that they ought to have kept pace with the social growth, there are now great numbers who are not reached in any effectual manner by the stated means of grace. Not only in the large cities and manufacturing towns into which many of foreign birth have gradually introduced themselves, but also in the country towns and villages where the people are still chiefly of native Puritan descent, it is undeniably true that a very considerable, and, it is to be feared, an increasing portion of the whole population are not reached by the ministry so as to feel the power of the gospel of Christ. Many such are relapsing into religious ignorance and spiritual death in the very sight of Christian sanctuaries.

4. There are to be found, in New England itself, not a few towns and villages in which Congregational churches were once planted and had full possession of the field, but in which such churches have become nearly or quite extinct, and the ground has been occupied by others, sometimes by unevangelical churches or congregations, and sometimes by churches whose ministry has been far inferior in educational culture to our own. While, in the largeness of our liberality, we have supplied to one branch of the Presbyterian Church no inconsiderable portion of its clergy, and even a greater portion, probably, of its laymen; while we have sent forth multitudes of Christian missionaries, and of pioneers, who, in the newer parts of the country, have planted churches, established colleges, and laid the foundations of a Christian civilization, and have given our hearty support to all forms of Christian effort; we have yet, with all our advantages, failed to hold and to strengthen, in the interest of our Lord, positions that once were ours. We have lost them for want of care to sustain the weak, and of fidelity and zeal in relation to the unimposing details of Christian duty.

5. In our statistical tables, a great number of feeble churches are reported, which for the larger part of the time are without pastors, or any regular supplies, and so are becoming more and more feeble. Less than one-third of our churches have pastors settled over them. Something more than another third have only stated supplies; leaving something a little less than a third of the whole with no steady supply at all. Most of these are unable to procure any, unless it be for brief and uncertain periods; and often, for years together, suffer a dearth of the Word of Life. They are in the sad condition of sheep without a shepherd.

6. While such a state of things exists even in New England, the case is still worse, much worse, beyond these limits. The newer States, including the vast regions of the West, now extending to the Pacific and opening to receive the floodtide of population, present almost innumerable points at which churches have been planted and are yet in a feeble state, or must be planted to struggle up from feebleness amidst the embarrassments and hardships of a forming social condition. To these illimitable fields are now added the Border and Southern States, in which, as the result of our great contest, society is to a great extent to be reorganized. Over these extensive regions are to be scattered, for a long time to come, a great number of churches which will not present inviting parishes, nor afford a liberal ministerial support. Yet it is of the utmost importance to the cause of evangelical religion, and to the future well-being of our country, that these positions should be taken and held by faithful Christian ministers, and that the Church should grow up side by side with other institutions from the first.

7. From various parts of the foreign missionary field, there are soon to be heard the most earnest calls for efficient re-enforcements. For the last four years, no enlargement of operations has been attempted. To avoid disastrous curtailment, to weather the financial storm without a wreck, has been the grand anxiety. But four years, in which little more has been done than just to hold our ground, will render imperative a vigorous advance, so soon as circumstances will permit. The day is now at hand. The missionary brethren, who have uncomplainingly borne excessive burdens, and have patiently endured the troubles arising from straitened means, must speedily see others coming to their aid. Where the seed has been sown through tedious years, the harvest that at last has ripened must be reaped ; and at many a new post must the banner of our Lord be planted. The educational institutions must be manned, the work of translation and of creating Christian literatures must go forward, and the presses must be kept effectively at work. For men to go forth and enter into all these labors, in every quarter of the world, we shall very soon hear strong appeals. They come, indeed, already.

Such are a few of the material facts that meet us at the threshold, in the consideration of the subject now before us.


It is of the utmost importance that these acknowledged facts should be set distinctly before both ministers and churches, and should be carefully and seriously considered. We, as a denomination, have sought to disencumber Christianity of the machinery of a sensuous ecclesiasticism. We have had faith in its spiritual power, and so have returned to the simple forms and usages of the primitive Church. We have believed that the gospel, in the naked simplicity in which Christ and his apostles originally proclaimed it, is the divinely appointed means for the renewing of individual man, and for the elevating and purifying of the social and religious condition of the world. We have understood that Christ has given his followers solemn charge to apply it faithfully for the accomplishment of these great ends, and that he has pledged himself, so far as this is done, to make it effectual by his coöperative providence and grace. In the full enjoyment, as a people, of civil and religious freedom, we have nothing external to embarrass us in so applying it. Never, on the face of the earth, has there been offered a fairer opportunity than here exists for the direct and thorough preaching of the gospel to the masses of the people, and the infusing of its peculiar influences into all the relations and institutions of social life. It would seem, therefore, that here there should be furnished to the whole world an instructive and stimulating example of what a pure, free gospel, preached by a learned and godly ministry, can do to renovate and exalt a people, and to adorn society with the charm of general intelligence, refinement, and virtue. If evangelical Christianity fail here to fulfil its mission, where is it likely to succeed? What, then, is to be said in view of the facts to which we have referred ? What, in particular, are the wants, as regards the Christian ministry, which they forcibly suggest ?


PRESENT WANTS AS REGARDS THE MINISTRY. 1. First of all, there is wanted for the general needs of our Congregational churches a ministry in the ranks of which shall be found the broadest and most thorough scholarship; a scholarship nowhere to be surpassed. It is indeed not necessary that every individual minister shall attain, or attempt to attain, the highest eminence of learning. But surely it would ill become us, who, from our earliest denominational history, have set so high a value on clerical education, and whose form of Church organization and government supposes intelligence and free thought, to lack in our pastors and educators the best learning, the most finished culture, which the present age in any country can produce. At a time when the most momentous questions in theology, in philosophy and morals, in philology and criticism, in science and in social and civil economy, are engaging constantly the popular as well as the educated mind, we must have men to fill the more important positions in our institutions and our churches, who can bring to the discussion of these questions, not only the highest power of thought, but the most ample wealth of knowledge. We have such men. We have always had them. Not only some of the ablest thinkers, but some of the most accurate philologists and most comprehensive scholars, living, may probably be found among our clergy. The higher periodical literature among us, and other publications connected with sacred learning, the result of the labors of such men, compare well with the best of other countries. But it must be admitted that such men are by far too few. Many more such are called for by the exigencies of the time. We want them to repel the assaults so confidently made on critical, scientific, and speculative grounds, on the very foundations of the Christian faith. We want them for many and rapidly multiplying positions, which none but the best scholarship can creditably fill. We want them at the head of all our collegiate and theological institutions. We want them in our pulpits, and on our platforms, to teach pretentious error to be modest. We want them in the newer portions of our country, where the foundations of learning for many generations must be laid, and the forming thought of society be shaped. We want them abroad where translations of the Scriptures must be made, and many difficult tasks be performed with the nicest scholarly care. Without such men in our ministry, we can neither maintain our ancient prestige, nor meet the necessities of the educated and thoughtful mind with which we have to deal.

2. A much larger number of men are at the present moment wanted in the ministry; and this want is sure to become every day more pressing. The carefully arranged statistical tables in the Congregational Quarterly for January, 1865, abundantly justify this statement. The total of Congregational churches is there given at twenty-eight hundred and sixty-five; the whole number of nominal ministers, at twenty-eight hundred and sixty-two. Of these ministers, seven hundred and fifty-six are known not to be in the pastorali work. Besides these, there are reported one hundred and forty whose status is not ascertained. Probably the greater part of these are not actually engaged in the work of the ministry. Adding say one hundred of these to those known not to be so engaged, we have eight hundred and fifty-six who really have no relation whatever to the supply of the churches, to be deducted from the total of twenty-eight hundred and sixty-three given in the tables; leaving but two thousand and six persons who are in the pastoral work for the supply of the twenty-eight hundred and sixty-five churches. If, therefore, every minister, better or worse, who is at this time engaged in preaching, were to-day placed over a Church, there would remain eight hundred and fifty-nine churches for whom no minister could be supplied. The fact that many of these churches are feeble, so far from weakening the force of this statement, only gives it greater force, by showing that their need of pastors is most urgent. The duty of providing these eight or nine hundred churches with pastors, and aiding them, if need be, to sustain them, is clearly pressing now upon us. To this we must also add, that for the exploring of the vast regions in which churches ought to be formed at once, or

[blocks in formation]

must speedily be formed, and also for the various departments of the foreign missionary service, many, very many, more ministers are urgently demanded.

3. But, further, the want which is becoming every day more pressing extends beyond mere numbers. We want men, who, by their natural endowments and their special training, are adapted to the work that now is not accomplished.

We are not now called upon, it is conceived, as churches, to make any special efforts and sacrifices to raise up pastors for the well-paying and prosperous parishes. These will of course need a steady succession of thoroughly educated, able, and earnest ministers. But the supply of the pulpits of such parishes may safely be left to take care of itself. With due care to supply the proper facilities for education, and in view of the number of Christian young men who are coming forward, it is quite certain that those positions in the ministry, which are in themselves pleasant and desirable, will be desired and sought. It may occasionally happen that a particular Church, though every way attractive, will have some temporary difficulty in finding the man it wants; but this may arise from unreasonable expectations, or from the number of candidates proposed, or some such incidental embarrassment. In general, however, it may safely be calculated on, that, as regards the more eligible places, the supply will keep pace with the demand. In saying this, we are casting no reproach on either the churches or the ministry. The prosperous churches are not to be blamed for desiring the best pastors they can obtain. Ministers, when called by the churches to responsible charges, where, though the labors are great, the circumstances are congenial, are not to be blamed for undertaking those charges. The simple fact to be noticed is, that the law which holds in all other departments of social life is likely to hold here; viz, that what is in itself worth seeking, somebody will certainly be found to seek. It is not in this direction that the attention and the efforts, especially the charitable efforts, of the churches should now be turned. It is not about the men required for these positions that there is occasion specially to concern ourselves.

We are specially called on to bring forward into the ministry, as soon as possible, from eight hundred to one thousand young ministers who are fitted to the particular work of raising up the feeble churches of New England, and the new churches in other parts of our wide country, that must be feeble for a time. It is plain, that, for this service, men of a certain type are needed. It is not disparaging the ministry, as a class, to say, that, on all ordinary principles of calculation, it must be expected that out of a given number who enter the sacred office there will be a certain per cent who cannot be successful. It is so in all other pursuits in which men are accustomed to engage, and without a perpetual miracle it will always be so in this. Some will lack in part, and some almost wholly, after all the processes of educa. tion, the peculiar powers and qualities which give influence over men.

It has probably been one of the practical errors of the past to imagine that this class of ministers might meet the wants of the churches that are suffering from chronic weakness, and of those that have been newly planted. On the contrary, inasmuch as the work to be done for these is peculiarly difficult, the men to do it must be men of special force and tact. Only men of physical energy, of gristle, nerve, and pluck, men whom hard work, hard fare, and hard usage of all sorts, will not kill, can be expected to meet the exigencies of such a service. There must be also an intellectual adaptation not less positive and marked. We live in stirring times. All the pulses of social life beat quick and strong. The minds of people of remotest places are reached by all sorts of stimulating influences, and thought and feeling are intensified to a high degree. Whoever is to exert a moulding influence on a people in such a state must be himself alive, flexible, vigorous, sympathetic, human, as well as scholarly, intellectual, and pious. He must have quickness to plan, and enthusiasm to execute; must know how to find access to the hearts even of the prejudiced and hostile ; and be sagacious in discerning, and prompt in meeting, the exigencies that every day will bring. It is young men who have the capacity for all this that are demanded. What we here say in regard to the kind of men demanded for the missionary work at home is not less true in respect to those wanted for the missionary work abroad. They must be men whom God, by their natural endowments, has fitted to face and grapple with the arduous and peculiar difficulties which that work of necessity involves.

4. But we must go still farther. The men now wanted in the ministry must be men who, along with force of natural character, possess also the higher force which eminent faith and the deepest Christian earnestness supply. With the facts of the case before us, it is plain that ministers are demanded who will be willing to enter, and willing to stay in, the most trying and difficult fields, if so the Master in his providence directs. To go into obscure and feeble parishes, or into destitute regions to plant new churches, or into the isolation and trials of a home among Pagans, and to be able and willing patiently to labor there, requires a vigorous hold on things unseen, and a deep baptism into the spirit of self-sacrifice. To do these things, men must be had to whom the pleasures of filling a conspicuous position, of preaching to refined and appreciative hearers, of being surrounded by agreeable society, and even of having a comfortable support, will hardly be taken into the account in accepting a field of labor. They must be men who, not in some highly figurative sense, but literally, count all things but loss in comparison with the privilege of imparting the knowledge of Christ to those whose need of it is greates:; who feel that a woe is on them if they preach not the gospel, and are deterinined to preach it, paid or unpaid, with comforts or without comforts, and have even a holy ambition to work in the darkest and most cheerless places where work is to be done. Is it doubted whether it can be the duty of Christian young men to give themselves to the preaching of the word at such a cost ? Paul and the first preachers of Christianity did. There have been those in all ages of the Christian Church who have done it. If Francis Xavier, and Ignatius Loyola, and others like them in the Romish Church, could rise to such a heroic self-devotion as they exhibited, is it too much to hope, that, under the clearer light and higher inspirations of spiritual Christianity, men may be raised up to emulate, in doing the work of Christ, their zeal, their self-denials, their patient endurance of suffering ? Without such men to meet the present and prospective need, it is clear that our own country cannot be brought fully under the power of Christ's religion, still less can the world ever be won to God. It will be of little use to increase the number of young ministers, or even to bring the most gifted and energetic of our sons into the sacred office, if, after all, they have not the sublime self-devotion which will make them willing to go anywhere, and to face any discouragements whatever for Christ's sake. Without this in the ministry, the work that now lies undone will still lie undone; moral wastes will multiply; churches will become extinct; and we as a Christian denomination shall appear to have lost the spirit of our godly fathers, whose faith and polity have come down to us as a goodly heritage. Apostolic faith and zeal, and unflinching readiness to do or suffer, - nothing short of a ministry possessing these high spiritual endowments will meet the present want.

5. We want likewise, it must be added, men for the ministry who understand and heartily approve the system of faith and the ecclesiastical principles of the Fathers

« VorigeDoorgaan »