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1875: Manhood in the Ministry

1875:

MANHOOD IN THE MINISTRY.

Brethren Of The Graduating Class :— All earthly things come to an end, and we have reached the end of our work together. It is not simply custom which bids me address to you this parting word. You have been faithful students, and we believe you to be good and true men. Three years of mental contact and of harmonious intercourse cannot be terminated without regrets, and these regrets I express not only for myself but for the whole faculty, including that instructor whose ill health and absence is so great a source of grief both to himself and to us. It is little we can now do for you. I trust our best lessons have been already learned too well for time's effacing fingers ever to blot them from your memories. Yet one word more — this it is — be true men in order that you may be true ministers of Christ,— regard the culture and maintenance of your own manhood as a prime condition of successful service.

There is a sense in which I would not have you follow this exhortation. It is possible to seek self first and Christ last — to identify Christ with true manhood rather than true manhood with Christ. It makes all the difference in the world whether we make Christ or man the centre of our system — whether we take the law of Scripture, or become a law to ourselves. Our nature is perverted; we cannot wholly trust its impulses. Only in Christ do we find the true humanity — the archetype and standard and source of true manhood for us. It is not then a self-centered development, with the distant aim of honoring Christ, to which I exhort you. What I do urge upon you is a development of Christian manhood, after Christ's model and by the help of his Spirit, as prior both in order and importance to the mere official work and outward service which you have been called to do.

True manhood in the ministry,— the very notion is a negation of several ignoble conceptions of ministerial life and character. You are not hired caterers to popular amusement, or special policemen to ferret out public or private delinquencies ; you are not expounders of an abstract system or creed, or creatures of a different mould and order from your fellows to deal out salvation to them by any external appliances or ordinances. You are to be men among men, meeting men on their own level, aiming directly at their understanding and sympathy, and therefore putting away as one of Satan's devices every peculiarity of dress or tone which savors of mere professionalism and which turns men's thoughts to the minister rather than to the man.

The more obvious elements of true manliness, such as moral thoughtfulness, decision of character, and resolute courage, I do not need to mention to you. I wish to emphasize two or three of the less commonly noticed characteristics of true manhood,— and one is openness. Openness of mind and heart; openness to receive — openness to give. It has been called a chief element of greatness, and if greatness is a growth, it must be so; for, only where there is the openness of true sympathy, the entering into the mind and life of others, the readiness to take in good of every sort, can there be real growth of mind or heart. The narrow prejudice and egotism that shut men up in their own dignity and opinion bar out the very material of which greatness is made, and they equally bar out that which is greater than greatness, namely, this true manhood of which I speak. Openuess to give also — the openness that gathers in all treasures of nature and art, literature and life, only to melt them in the fires of Christian love and send them forth new-stamped, with Christ's image and superscription marked upon each coin, so that every fact of the world becomes a witness to God and his salvation — this openness of receiving and giving is necessary to make us men. You have a mind and heart and will of your own. God has renewed these powers of yours, and has given you experience of his grace. Now let what is in you come out. Away with that shamefacedness and timidity and suspiciousness that are born of unbelief and vanity and supreme care for self. Cast yourselves upon God, and then tell out your very souls to men. You will not only be true men yourselves, but you will make true men of others; for it is the law of progress of God's kingdom that mind should answer to mind and heart to heart, and that the openness of true manhood should be solfcommunicating.

I have another element to add which is hard to name, but which seems to me specially important, — let me Call it spontaneity of movement. I mean by it a self-determined activity of all the powers. That is a true notion of our relation to God's Spirit which holds that we are to be possessed by God and used by God just as really as if we were inert instruments or machines, but that is a very false notion of the relation which holds that therefore we are nothing more than inert instruments or machines. Would that we could utterly rid ourselveH of the notion that God's working in the human soul makes us any the less truly men, or supersedes in any degree our own activity. Christianity is not passivity,— it is new life and energy and will. The preacher who idly waits for his sermon or his audience to come to him, instead of working out his sermon and gathering his audience, needs to be taught the first principles of Christ's work. There is a sense in which a man is to have no will of his own, but there is also a sense in which he is to be all will. He is to do God's will with all the power of his own will. He is to be irrepressible in his invention, his enterprise, his onset. Like water running down hill, if he is checked in one direction, he is to find his way downward in another. Men are to be reached, something is to be accomplished. The preacher is to be all things to all men, if by any means he may save some. The strongest thing in the universe that we know anything about next to God, is a living human will, and it is God's purpose that this human will shall serve him. There are quite enough ministers who fancy that their whole work for God is that of suffering God's will. The great trouble with the ministry of our time is that there are so many in its ranks who have to be supported — mere hangers-on and camp-followers, instead of soldiers and leaders in the fight. I pray you, if no place comes to you, make a place for yourselves. Strike out some new path into the moral wastes of city or country or world. Such were all the early laborers of the church of Christ. Serving an apprenticeship of this sort, beginning at the lowest round of the ladder, proving the power of the gospel upon the least promising subjects and in the least promising conditions, will make men of you, and will give you a power and influence in the future w hich now you cannot measure. Use your wills, then; determine upon success; hew your way toward it. Be sure that Christ your Master would have you no waifs upon the surface of the stream, but active and original powers to turn the current of the world's history into the channel of his purposes. He has sent you to make your mark upon society and the church, and to summon up resolve and determination and daring to fullfil this calling is not pride or arrogance or overweening ambition, but is that very working out of your own salvation which proves that God is working in you to will and to do.

Openness — spontaneity — these are two. But there is one more — I mean concentration. This is an age of division of labor. Specialties in study and work rule the day. No man can now be, like Michael Angelo, painter, sculptor, architect, poet, man of society, all in one. No man can make himself a lawyer without devoting himself to law — and to some department of the law. So with medicine — so with trade. And yet many a minister of Christ fancies that he can be an investigator in science, and a writer for reviews, and an amateur in art, and a popular lecturer, and still do justice to the pulpit. Dr. Chalmers thought so in his youth. It was only when Dr. Chalmers changed bis mind and gave himself body and soul to preaching, that he began to stir Scotland. Of all things essential to true manhood this is behind none, namely, unity of purpose; and of all pitiable spectacles this is one of the most pitiable — a universal dilettante in the ministry. To move men in masses by the power of Christ's gospel — is not this enough to stir one man's pulses with enthusiasm? The cry about decline of the pulpit means simply this, that preachers have sometimes been ashamed of their work, and have ceased to make full proof of their ministry. Preaching has not lost its power, where men put all their power into preaching. The pulpit is a very throne for the man who will spend himself in it. I do not disparage broad studies. I say the preacher must be open to every whisper of the world, but I do say that the pulpit must be the focus of the whispering gallery where all sounds converge. The homiletical habit must be the dominant habit of the preacher's soul. In that pleading with men on behalf of the living God, all endowments and all culture may have part, and all themes in heaven and earth may be laid under tribute for argument or corroboration; but none of these endowments and none of this learning will be worth a straw to one of you, if they be not made wholly subservient to the one purpose of making you able ministers of the New Testament and good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Be true men, then, in order that you may be true ministers,— men of open mind and heart, men of will and spontaneous energy, men devoted to a single aim. But every review of this sort inevitably leads us back to the point from which we started. You cannot be true men — men of the stamp I have indicated — without being true ministers. The man makes the minister, but the minister also makes the man. Only as you know Christ and love Christ and obey Christ, only as you live in him nnd are ruled by him, can you really be any of these things. But you know all this. This has been the staple of our teaching and talk and prayer for three years past. Only in Him who is the perfuct flower and embodiment of true humanity — the head and source of a new human nature answering to the divine idea —can we find again the true manhood which was lost in the fall. But there, in the risen and glorified Jesus, it is, for us and for all.

You go forth on different errands, some to teach, some to preach,— some to carry the torch of salvation out into the heathen darkness, some to keep the lights burning at home. But your work is one, and your Lord is one. Alike you aim to bring men to the comprehension and attainment of Christian manhood. You can do this, only as you yourselves grow up into the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus, only as the minister becomes in the highest sense the man. I commend you to that perfect man who is God also, and who is able to make you like himself. I bid you depend wholly upon him. But, as my last word to you, I urge you not to satisfy yourselves with passive trust and waiting, but with open soul and vigorous resolve and unity of purpose, to "quit you like men" in this one and only life that is given you to live, and which from this moment opens before you.