Sources of Supply for the Ministry



I wish to call attention to the fact that the proportion of our thoroughly trained young men who enter the ministry is gradually but seriously diminishing. The deficiency of which I speak is not confined to our own denomination. A few months ago I collected the latest triennial catalogues of our leading colleges, and constructed an elaborate table of statistics, in order to discover the precise proportion of college graduates that chose the ministry as a calling in the earlier and in the later decades of their history. The result was surprising. Yale College in the first years of its history gave seventy-two per cent. of its graduates to the ministry. Fifty years ago, the proportion had already become reduced to thirty-one per cent. During the last ten years of which the triennial gives professional statistics, the proportion is only eleven per cent. Fifty years ago, Williams College gave fiftynine per cent, of its graduates to the ministry,—now it gives only fifteen; Amherst College shows a reduction during the same half-century from sixty-one per cent. to twenty-six per cent.; Hamilton College from thirtyeight per cent. to twenty-three per cent.; Brown University from thirty-two per cent. to seventeen per cent.; and the University of Rochester, which in the first ten years of its history sent forty-six per cent. of its graduates into the ministry, during the last ten years of which we have a record, sends a proportion of only twenty-two per cent, t

It is evident that we have before us a general fact of our times which ought to interest us, not only as Baptists, but as Christians. What we see of decline in this respect cannot be due to any special defects of method or administration into which our Baptist colleges have fallen. The evil is common to all our Christian colleges. The greatness of it may be partially appreciated wheu we consider that the result of averaging the statistics of the six colleges mentioned is to show that, while fifty years ago forty per cent . of our college graduates entered the ministry, we have now reached a time wheu only seventeen per cent. of those who have received a complete college training devote themselves to the ministry of the gospel. We may

* An Address before the Rhode Island Baptist Social Union, Providence, May, 1877; printed In the Watchman, Boston. October, 1878.

+ An article by Rev. Geortre P. Morris, of Montclair, N. J., in the Independent of January 12, 1888, brings these statistics down to the date of the present publication, and adds much of Interest. The proportion of ministers aiming the alumni of Harvard College, from 1842 to 1650, Whs 55 per cent.; it has regularly diminished, until from iNK) to 1870, it was 8 per cent., and from 1870 to 1876, it was 1. 2 per cent. At Princeton, from 1748 to 1760, it was 40 per cent; from 1870 to 1877, it was 18 per cent. At Yale College, •from 1870 to 1880, the proportion was 8 per cent.; at Williams, from 1880 to 1883, it was 12. 7 per cent.; at Amherst, from 1880 to 1882, it was 13. 5 per cent. These facts demonstrate that, since the above address was written, the decline has steadily continued.

appreciate it yet more fully when we consider that while the absolute number of students in these colleges has increased fifty per cent, during the half-century, the absolute number of their graduates entering the ministry has decreased thirty-three per cent. In other words, while our population has grown immensely in numbers and culture, the supply of ministers fitted by thorough training to meet the intellectual and spiritual demands of the time has not half kept pace with our growth in other respects, and is absolutely one-third smaller than it was fifty years ago.

The instances I have cited are typical instances of our old and large institutions. Have other sources of supply been opened which might render these unnecessary? New colleges have certainly been founded, and of their graduates some have chosen preaching as their profession in life. But the new colleges have not made up for the lack of the old ones; they have had all they could do to secure a foothold; have not graduated any comparatively great number of students; above all, have not sent into the fields covered by the old colleges enough men to make any perceptible difference in the result. And in the West and South, the graduates of the younger colleges show no more inclination to devote themselves to the gospel ministry than do the graduates of those which have been longer established,— in fact, I think it will be found that the influences which have led at the East to the results I have detailed, have operated yet more powerfully at the West, so that the facts I have stated fairly exhibit the real condition of things throughout the country.

It would be some alleviation and comfort if we could believe that, as the supply has decreased in numbers, there had been a counterbalancing increase in the native and acquired ability of those who enter upon the sacred office. But I fear it cannot be argued that better quality has made up for diminished quantity. The average amount of talent in a hundred or a thousand young men is a pretty constant quantity. When you diminish the number, you diminish your chances of finding among the number men of superior -ability. We have better schools, better methods, better training, than we had fifty years ago, but these do not compensate for the lack of the best sort of raw material. No amount of grinding or polishing will give a good edge to a tool of soft iron. Schools, however excellent, cannot transform secondrate men into first-rate ministers. And it seems to me that I perceive a marked and increasing disposition on the part of the ablest and most influential men in our college classes to turn away from the ministry to other pursuits, so that the proportion of talent entering the ministry is even less than the proportion of numbers.

But are there not a multitude of ministers who can find no pastoral charge? I am reminded of an anecdote of Daniel Webster. He was asked by a young man who proposed to study law, whether there was any room at the bar. "O, yes," said Mr. Webster, "plenty of room, high up!" So there might be a minister at every cross-road, and yet a thousand churches be begging in vain for pastors thoroughly fitted for their work. Of this last sort there is no overplus, but a great and constantly increasing dearth. The culture of our communities has proceeded faster than the culture of our ministry. We must provide a more advanced culture, and we must give the best brains of our sons to receive it, or the civilization of the age will run away from the .church.

Let us face the problem. We have before us a phenomenon of our times — a continually growing tendency among our educated young men to enter upon other vocations rather than the ministry. I wish, if possible, to assign some of the chief causes of this tendency, that we may wisely labor to counteract it. It seems to me that we shall not reach the root of the matter unless we grant that for this general phenomenon of our Christianity, which manifests itself in Germany and England as well as in the United States, we must find a subtle, potent and pervasive cause in the philosophical spirit of our time. Every generation has its philosophy. Man knows two things, body and soul, matter and mind ; and according as one or the other absorbs his attention, he becomes a materialist or an idealist. But neither materialism nor idealism by itself can long content the thinker, and so the pendulum of philosophic thought swings between the two extremes. Not half a century ago the idealistic transcendentalism of Germany was the great danger against which we had to guard. But this generation of Germans has seen the lecture-rooms of the Hegelian philosophers deserted. Physical science is taught in them now. The pendulum has swung to the materialistic extreme. The current philosophy in scientific circles is a philosophy of the senses. Matter is all and in all. Or if mind and matter be distinguishable, they are both but the opposite sides or manifestations of an unknowable force, which is conceived of under physical analogies, so that the priority of spirit is practically denied.

The late lamented President Talbot used to say that he liked metaphysics, because they had to do with realities. Our age denies the very existence of those realities with which intellectual and moral philosophy has to do. A mist has risen from the low grounds of physical research, and has obscured the great spiritual facts and existences in presence of which the human spirit used to rejoice and tremble. Our literature is full of evolution and natural law,— but the God who works miracles, and has personal dealings with the soul, is far away. The young men in our colleges get ideas from Herbert iSpencer, as well as from the Sabbath sermon. They may be Christian young men, and their faith may not be absolutely destroyed,— the Christian college is the best of all places to meet the infidel reasoning, and to overcome it. Yet these young men breathe the atmosphere of their time, and it is an atmosphere of doubt and questioning. Is it a wonder that the unseen and eternal should become so dimmed to their vision, that a lifo devoted to teaching about these invisible things should seem hardly substantial enough to attract them?

And while the hold of spiritual realities is weakened, the material progress of the age strongly impresses the youthful mind. Commerce and invention have opened many a new world to the enthusiastic adventurer. Years ago there used to be only three learned professions — law, medicine, and theology. But there are a dozen to-day. Architecture, the fine arts, literature, journalism, chemistry, banking, mining, offer brilliant prizes to the capable and industrious — prizes compared with which the returns of the pastorate seem very meagre and precarious, aud the life of the pastorate very narrow And confined. The world has shot forward along the line of industrial discovery and achievement. Railroading and manufactures require a very high order of genins and discipline to organize and conduct them, and these pursuits offer pecuniary compensations which the ministry cannot. The stylo of living in which cultivated people indulge has advanced in elaborateness and expeusiveuess much faster than the minister's salary has increased. All these things our young men see. To the best of the Christian students in our colleges,. Satan offers, as he offered to Christ, all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, if they will but choose a secular calling rather than the ministry. I almost wonder that, in this age of materialistic thought and of physical progress, any are found to give themselves to Christ's service as preachers of His gospel. I should actually wonder, if I did not know that young hearts are not always sordid and selfish, and that the Spirit of Christcan touch them with the fire of self-sacrificing love. Let us appreciate the nature of the decision, when the spirit of the age yields to the Spirit of Christ, and our young men give up their hopes of worldly preferment to engage in a service so self-denying as that of the average ministry.

The second cause of the diminishing supply of educated men for the ministry is to be found in what I may call the secularization of our colleges. That I may not seem to use this phrase in any invidious sense, let me explain my meaning. It is a fact we need to consider, that even our Christian colleges, as distinguished from State institutions, have been more and more becoming places of secular, rather than religious, training. This is partly an incident of their general advance in methods. In early days the college was looked upon chiefly as a feeder for the ministry; it was indeed a college and a theological seminary combined. If others than incipient preachers studied in it, they were those who had in view one of the other learned professions, law or medicine. Now it is a mark of progress, upon which we ought to congratulate ourselves, that all classes of the community are coming to feel the advantages of a thorough education, and the farmer, the manufacturer and the merchant desire their sons to have a liberal training, even though they are to follow the calling of their fathers. The colleges have felt this demand, and have opened their doors to all. They give a broader and more varied culture than they gave fifty years ago. They have widened the range of their curriculum to embrace the new science of the day, at the same time that they have widened the compass of their halls to take in the candidate* for every conceivable human calling.

The results of this are easily seen. The colleges have now a smaller proportion of Christian students. Much of the instruction formerly given in Biblical studies and in Christian doctrine is given no longer. The theological seminary has sprung up to give a specifically theological training, and as the college and the seminary have become more and more differentiated, the work formerly done by the one is relegated to the other. No college that I know of has any such course of sermons on the Christian evidences and on the Christian doctrine, as Dr. Timothy Dwight preached in the chapel of Yale College a hundred years ago. The young collegian who proposes to study law has no such instruction in theology as legal fledglings had then. Then many a lawyer had tastes for Biblical and theological study awakened in college which afterwards led to theological authorship, and reacted powerfully and beneficially upon the work of his chosen profession. It would be well if the men of other professions could have some such training in theology now\ Why is it that all other sciences are supposed to form a necessary part of a liberal education, while no place can be found in a college curriculum for the most important of all, the science of God?

So the college has become more collegiate, and the theological seminary more theological. It is the old principle of the division of labor. But it has its disadvantages. With a greater proportion of students bent on secular pursuits, there has been a natural diversion of thought from religion itself. Instructors being chosen not so much for their religious spirit as for their competence in special departments of teaching, there is naturally a less regard on their part for the religious welfare of the students under their care. The days of wide-spread revival in our colleges, those days of struggle and prayer when the college world was shaken to its foundations, and universal awe was felt at the manifest presence of God, are almost things of the past. Those were the days when young men felt the claims of Christ and his ministry, and in submitting themselves to God, gave themselves also to the preaching of the gospel. Now the secular element is so dominant that a strong public sentiment in behalf of religion is difficult to arouse. The Christian element among students and professors holds its own, but it does little more. I am perfectly aware that the old curriculum and the old methods can never be restored, but I trust in God that the day will come when the old revival spirit will fall upon our colleges, and when each of them may have for its motto the old legend upon the seal of Harvard, "C'hristo et eccleaice." The studies of the colleges may be secular, but their spirit may be religious. These colleges were all founded in prayer and tears, by men of God who felt that education without religion was not only no true education, but was a curse to those who received it. I cannot believe that the spirit of the founders has spent itself aud is gone. But it greatly needs to be revived, aud for this every Christian should devoutly pray, for the future of the Christian cause is bound up with the religious condition of our colleges.

I wish now to speak of a third and last cause for the disinclination of our educated young men to enter the ministry, namely, a gradual change of view among the members of our churches with regard to the ministry itself as a divine calling. I do not now refer to the disappearance of that adventitious dignity of ecclesiasticism which once surrounded the minister and separated him in the popular regard from all others of human kind. We who live in this generation can hardly picture to ourselves the solemn sanctity that invested his office in old New England days. That was a tune when, the moment the minister and his family left the parsonage to walk to the church on Sabbath days, every parishioner, young and old, stood still by the road-side with uncovered head until the procession passed. When the minister's family filed into the meeting-house two by two, the whole congregation rose to receive them, and remained standing until the minister had taken his seat in the pulpit, and his family had taken their seats in the pew. That old ecclesiasticism often bolstered up a miserable sloth and formality, and though it originated in real reverence for sacred things, it tended to withdraw the minister from the sympathies of his people and to hinder his real influence. Rather than have those days return, it were better that the minister should stand wholly upon his merits, and that he should have no influence but that which his personal character and his faithfulness in preaching the word of God might give him.

All this is true, and yet I fear our people have gone too far to the other extreme — I mean the extreme of holding that there is no sacredness att.iching to the office of Christ's minister, and no divine calling except that which consists in gifts. In our revulsion from the theory of apostolic succession and from the error of supposing grace to be transmitted through human fingers, some have gone to the opposite extreme of denying that any grace is bestowed by God. In short, there is a theory of the minister's vocation which would deprive the word '' vocation " of all its proper meaning. Instead of being a calling, the ministry is regarded as a mere pursuit or profession, like any other pursuit or profession in which men employ themselves. The only calling is gifts, and these gifts are self-given. The minister ceases to be an ambassador of God, separated from his birth unto the gospel of God, endowed with special helps, and clothed with special authority from God.

See how this change of view affects young men as they contemplate the ministry. All sense of the honor of God's calling, and the solemnity of a relation to God so intimate as that of his spokesman and representative, ceases at once. That great attraction of the ministry, which has led many a lofty-minded young man to prefer its labors and trials to all earthly pleasure and fame and power, is gone forever, so soon as we ignore the fact of a divine call to assume its responsibilities. Only then, when we regard it as a vocation to which God points the soul by his providence and Spirit, does obedience to his will become blessed, and resistance to his will, dreadful. To me, this increasing unbelief in a divine call to the ministry seems one of the most serious signs of the times. When God calls a man, there we may be sure that natural gifts will not be absent; but I protest that, though a man might have the natural gifts of a Fdndlon or of a Paul, we have no right to ordain him, and he has no right to seek ordination, unless beyond and above this possession of natural gifts, the secret conviction has been in some way wrought into his heart that he is called of God to the ministry, and he can say: "Woe is me, if I preach not the gospel?" This belief that the minister of Christ is divinely called to his work, we need to restore to its true place in the minds of the young men of our colleges and of our churches. Only when they appreciate the sublime dignity of God's calling, will they feel that "he that desireth the office of bishop desireth a good work," and that this work is one so surpassing all earthly vocations that they may well desire it for themselves.

I have left but a brief space to indicate certain possible remedies for this sad disposition on the part of our young men of talent and culture to desert the ministry of the gospel. Let this part of my paper take the form of application, first to the ministers, and secondly to the laymen of our churches. It lies in the power of the ministry itself to increase the number of ministers, by simply making the ministry attractive. There is a querulous spirit discernible here and there among our ministers, a jealous, envying spirit, a discontented and ambitious spirit, which has its root in unbelieving forgetfulness of God's promises, and a dimmed apprehension of God's truth. I have heard good men lament, in a way that no struggling lawyer or physician would ever indulge in, their inadequate support, and the small respect that was paid them. But the only way to get respect is to be respectable, and the trials of the ministry are far more easily borne when a manly spirit is summoned Hp to bear them. I have heard ministers complain that they were compelled to hawk themselves about, as slaves at Southern auctionblocks used to cry to this dealer and to that: "Buy me! buy me!" But I have heard also of a certain slave in ancient Greece, who, under similar circumstances, when asked what his strong points were, said proudly, "I can rule men; whoso wants a master, let him buy me!" In the early centuries, Christians sold themselves into slavery, in order that they might obtain access for the gospel to the houses of noble masters, and so bring these very masters into submission to Christ. Let the Christian minister so reverence his calling, that the selling of himself to a church shall seem a small price to pay for this mastery of men!

But above and beyond this high estimate of his vocation, there needs earnest endeavor to walk worthily of it. Men are to be reached by living thought — thought that will waken the intellect and stir the heart. The minister must be a thinking being. He must substitute thought for commonplace. Nothing will so divest the ministry of its attractiveness to young men as cant in the pulpit, or the indolent retailing of the thoughts of other men. If the preacher does his own thinking, he will be apt to be independent in the expression of his thought. He will bo no sycophant to public opinion. And yet his freedom will be freedom in the truth ; not individual dogmatism, but continual reference to the authority of Scripture, and the backing up of what is urged as truth by a "Thus saith the Lord,"— this is the freedom that gives the preacher power. Such freedom as this will be accompanied by humility of spirit. The messenger will be hidden behind his message. His fervor will not be the self-moved enthusiasm of high animal spirits and merely natural sympathy ; it will be that penetrating and irresistible earnestness which the unction and power of the Holy Spirit alone can give. Under God, our ministry have the recruiting of their ranks in their own hands. When they are commanded to commit the gospel to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also, they can with God's help fulfill the commission. And they can do it, by making full proof of their own ministry. Let them be filled with the Spirit and give themselves wholly to their work, and no king upon his throne can wield such influence or win so high regard. Under the hands of such a preacher, young men will come to take his view of the ministry, and will count it their highest honor to enter it.

But my second application of this subject is to laymen. The rank and file of the churches have duties in this matter also. They must call forth the ministers of the coming generation. God's call no more renders unnecessary man's call here, than God's regenerating agency renders human agency unnecessary in bringing sinners into the kingdom. In the first centuries the churches used to feel their duty in this regard, and when pastors were needed, they used to lay the burden of preaching the gospel upon young men of proper native endowments, even when these young men were themselves reluctant to accept the charge. When they fled in order to escape, the churches sent their messengers after them, brought them back, and as it were, compelled them to serve in the ministry. The one great ancient church-orator, Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed, was chosen thus. And in our own day and in our own denomination, Dr. William R. Williams, that prince of preachers, was called after a similar fashion, his church summarily electing him its pastor, when he was in full practice of the law. We must do more than we now do to make our young men feel their responsibility in this regard. We must convince them that the burden of proof rests upon them; what good reason can they give why they should not serve Christ as preachers of his gospel? The putting of this question would oftener than we think reveal the fact that God had already gone before us, and had been stirring the young man's mind, if not with yearnings, at least with apprehensions, that in that direction his duty might lie.

But the layman's responsibility does not cease with the exertion of his personal influence to induce the brightest young men of the churches to enter the ministry; he must also do his part to provide them with proper training for their work. One of the great duties of the laity of the present day is to demand proper qualifications of mental discipline and sound doctrine in those who are to be their teachers. And since the majority of young men cannot make these qualifications their own without long courses of study, it is the additional duty of the laity to see that the means for pursuing these studies are provided. While the standard of preparation is so high, young men cannot, without danger to health and without injury to their scholastic work, support themselves during this preliminary training by the labor of their own brains or hands. When they give up all hope of secular advancement in order to prepare themselves for the ministry, it is only fit that they should be maintained by the churches they expect to serve. Their time is precious, — the churches must economize it, and get them into their work at the earliest possible day. And then comes in the need of institutions where they may be trained under Christian teachers — institutions academical, collegiate, and theological — institutions thoroughly endowed, equipped, manned, and supported. As, in prospect of a famine, Joseph laid up in storehouses the provision for future years, so the churches must provide against a threatened famine of the word of God, by treasuring up the means and instruments of Christian education.

Men and institutions,— brethren of the laity, we look to you for these! But we look to you for something more vitally important still. I mean for that personal faith and prayer which alone can change the tone and spirit of our times, and cause the hearts of our best and noblest youth to turn, as by an irresistible gravitation, to the ministry of the gospel. Our Lord has hidden us pray for laborers. I fear that prayer has been disused of late. While we do our part in urging upon young men the solemnity of the obligation that rests upon them to decide their duty in this matter in the sight of God, let us feel our dependence upon him in whose hand are all the hearts of men, and who turneth them, as the little rivulets of the eastern fields are turned, by the slightest motion of the hand or the foot of the husbandman. The permanent and sufficient remedy for all our needs and dangers is to be found only in a turning of the heart of the church to God, and a turning of the heart of our youth by God. May these insufficient words of mine help us to appreciate the vast importance of the work that is thus laid upon us,—and to this work, as Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, "let us dedicate ourselves."