Work on in hope; the plough, the sickle wield;
Thy Master is the harvest's Master too;
He gives the golden seed, He owns the field,
And does Himself what His true servants do.
I take up again the all-important subject of Pastoral Visitation, for the same sort of informal and fragmentary treatment as that attempted in the last chapter, and with the same feeling that the subject is practically inexhaustible.
LET THE VISITOR BE A TEACHER, WATCHING FOR OPPORTUNITIES.
One object which the visitor will do well to keep steadily before him is, to be a teacher as he goes. I have said something of this already, in recommending my Brethren to seize every good occasion for bringing in the Bible, and words about the Bible. But the whole work of instruction needs remembrance in our private intercourse with parishioners. Of course we shall avoid with watchful and willing care the magisterial manner, the too didactic tone. And only when obvious occasions present themselves shall we even seem to set ourselves to teach; as when we are distinctly asked what is the meaning of this doctrine, or that passage of Scripture, or that phrase of the Prayer Book, or how to meet that difficulty of belief. Such moments do come; in some pastoral lives they come frequently; and whether the inquiry is made in a friendly spirit, with a real wish for information, or whether, as sometimes, it is the question of a critic or a caviller, it is an opportunity for which, in the Lord's grace, we should stand quite ready. To be sure we may have sometimes to remember that sensible precept of the Rabbis, |Teach thy tongue to say, I do not know|; the answer, often, of the truest and deepest-sighted wisdom. But even when answering so, instruction may be given, as we state the reasons for the answer. And we shall at least have the opportunity while so doing to bring in that other maxim, which we owe, I think, to the late Archbishop Whately, |Never allow what you do know to be disturbed by what you do not know|; a principle of very wide application.
But I am thinking now rather of the every-day sort of pastoral call and conversation, in which perhaps the parishioner visited may be anything but a caviller, and anything but even a questioner; much too ready, perhaps, to take everything about Christian truths for granted, which, alas, means too often to take them as understood, to take them as believed, when there is little understanding of the matter, or even thought about it. Now it is a great thing when a pastoral visitor has the art (which needs to be considered, and to be acquired) of putting here and there into a quiet and friendly talk, best of all towards the close, some sentence which sets out a great truth clearly, strongly, and in a shape which may wake attention and help remembrance. That is the kind of didactic work which I earnestly recommend.
*THE PASTORAL TEACHER'S TOPICS.
If possible, let no visit close without some such utterance, if only one. It may be about the very foundations of all Christian truth; about the certainty of Christian facts, the Resurrection above all; about the Person of the Lord Jesus; about His finished work of Atonement; about faith, and our acceptance as believers in Him, and our victory and deliverance in temptation by the power of the Holy Ghost through faith; about sin, its true nature, its guilt, its end. Or it may be about the holy practicalities of Christian conduct; about the Lord's call to us to break with everything that is against His will; about that deep, far-reaching truth of the Gospel that, while the sinner is saved by faith only, he is saved on purpose that he may serve, on purpose that he may |walk and please God,| [1 Thess. iv.1.] and that he may do this above all in |the duty that lies near,| in the plain things of the home, the business, the handicraft, the social circle. Or it may be about the mighty claims of the Missionary cause, about the strangely forgotten fact that the Christian Church exists mainly in order to evangelize the non-Christian world. Or it may be about the principles and duties of Church membership and Christian ordinances; the true nature of worship; the sacred duty of united worship; the call to hallow the Lord's Day; the precious benefits of the Sacraments of Christ, explained with the holy reverence and equally holy simplicity and moderation of the Catechism and the Articles.
NEED FOR SUCH WORK.
I need not fill my pages with numberless details. For my plea is that we should rather hold ourselves ready for the natural rise of such or such topics, and for a clear instructive word in season upon them, than that we should propose a theme and deliver a discourse. But I cannot too earnestly remind my Brethren how great the need of instruction is among many of our kindly neighbours, even among our neighbours who go regularly to Church and are constantly to be seen at the Table of the Lord.
CHRIST |A BLESSED ANGEL.|
Let me take one pre-eminent subject as my illustration: the foundation-truth of the Godhead of our Blessed Redeemer. Are you at all aware how widely spread is ignorance and error on that subject, far beyond the limits of the |Unitarian| community? I remember a pastoral visit long ago to a slowly dying parishioner, a labouring man somewhat stricken in years, who had been a church-goer, though not a communicant. I soon fell into a conversation with my friend which took a sort of catechetical shape; my aim was to see where the soul's hopes for eternity really rested. Who and What was JESUS, whose name I know he humbly reverenced? Was He a good Man? Yes. But anything more? There was a long hesitation, and then the dear man expressed a faltering persuasion that the Lord could not be less than |a blessed angel.| That case, I am well convinced, is very much more representative than some of us may think. At a recent Church Congress I heard some remarks in just this direction from Bishop Walsham How, who speaks from a large pastoral experience; his anxiety about the immense extent of popular ignorance or misbelief about the Saviour's Person was at least as great as mine.
A term which I use under protest. If a Unitarian means a believer in the Unity of the Godhead, every orthodox Christian is a true Unitarian. Only, he is a Trinitarian also, from another side. I may venture to refer on this subject to a small book of my own, Outlines of Christian Doctrine, p.20.
|ALL MY SUFFERMENT HERE.|
And so too is ignorance and misbelief about the work of His Cross, and of His Holy Spirit. |I hope I shall have all my sufferment here,| said one poor invalid to me in old days, speaking indeed from a very comfortless bed, in the slow pains of a dire disease. She had been long within sound of clear, bright Christian teaching. But deep in the soul, unmoved and ah, so difficult to dislodge, lay that notion of an atoning value in our own pains which is a radical contradiction to the glorious paradox of the perfect and unique work of Calvary: --
|Thy pains, not mine, O Christ,
Upon the shameful tree
Have paid the law's full price,
And purchased peace for me.
|Thy Cross, not mine, O Christ,
Has borne the awful load
Of sins that none in heaven
Or earth could bear but God.|
Bonar, Hymns of Faith and Hope (First Series).
THE TRUTH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
As regards the Person and the Work of the blessed Spirit, great and general is the oblivion, and manifold are the mistakes. I fear that even in the best instructed congregations, under the clearest public teaching, there are all too many who, practically, |have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.| [Acts xix.2.] The belief in His glorious Personality is faint and vague. The confusion of His Presence and Power with our |better feelings| is very, very common. The solemn questions which the Scripture bids us put to ourselves, [Rom. viii.9.] whether or not we |have the Spirit of Christ| -- not merely |a Christian spirit| in the sense of tone and temper, but the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Son, and uniting the true believer to Him -- are little understood, and rarely used upon the man by himself. And the very thought of such a presence and such a power of the Lord the Life-Giver as shall |fill us with the Spirit| [Eph. v.18.] is not yet existent, I fear, in the minds of many even earnest Christians.
Here are fields, large and fruitful, for the teaching visitor's cultivation. And so are the other possible subjects indicated above; such as the claims of the Lord upon our personal consistency in little things; His solemn call to all His people to be, directly or indirectly, the evangelists of the world; and the nature of His blessed sacramental Institutions.
THE TRUTH OF THE SACRAMENTS.
On that last subject it is not my intention to enter at any length. But a few words I may take this occasion to say, and I will assume that I am speaking to a younger Brother who in the main agrees with me in what are commonly called Evangelical Church principles. Let me first then counsel you to take care that no one shall be able, lawfully, to charge you with making light of the Sacraments, or with leaving uncertain your belief as to their divine purpose and function. A ministry which is silent about them, and indistinct in its teaching on them, cannot in this respect be fully true to either the Prayer Book or the Bible. Let your instructions on this great subject, in public and in private, be definite, reverent, and full of thankfulness and praise for those great gifts of God. Then on the other hand, do not, if I may speak freely, while with all respect, think to honour the Sacraments by exaggeration, by speaking more of them than of that far greater thing, the blessed Grace of God in Christ, of which they are the |sure witnesses and effectual signs.| If I do not mistake, one of the most prevalent tendencies of current thought in the Church now is the tendency to invert, in a certain way, the relations between Sacrament and Grace; to develop a doctrine of the Sacrament such that the doctrine of Grace can be seen only, as it were, through it. And the result is, very often, so at least it seems to me to be, a very poor and attenuated presentation of the glorious things said in Scripture about |the grace of God which bringeth salvation,| [Tit. ii.11.] and about the work of pure and simple, but mysteriously mighty, faith in our appropriation of Christ's merits and our reception of Christ's living power by the Holy Ghost. Let no such inversion mark your teaching. And if I may give one further suggestion, I would say, remind yourself frequently of the very words of the Prayer Book (including the Catechism) and the Articles on these great subjects. And inform yourself to some extent, at first hand, of the views of the men who cast our Services and our Articles into their practically present shape; the views of Cranmer, of Ridley, of Jewell, and, just after them, of Hooker; not forgetting one great foreign theologian, Henry Bullinger, who exercised a special influence on the English divines of Edward and Elizabeth's time in the matter of sacramental doctrine. You will find in him a full measure of holy reverence, and at the same time a luminous clearness and definiteness of exposition. The central idea of his teaching is the idea of the Covenant Seal, the |instrument| of solemn, valid, legal |conveyance.|
I mean of course Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, which alone the Church of England recognizes as Christian Sacraments, Sacramenta Evangelica, |Sacraments of the Gospel| (see Art. xxv., par.2).
Certa testimonia, efficacia signa (Art. xxv.). It is worth the while to point out that a |sign| is |effectual| when it effectually does the work of a sign, not some quite different work. A seal is an effectual seal, not because, conceivably, its matter could be used as a powerful medicine, but because, attached to its document, it effectually seals the document's validity. A seal is in this respect a special sort of |effectual sign.| And so are the Sacraments.
See the Parker Society's collection of authors for Bullinger's Decades, or Doctrinal Sermons; officially recognized as a body of divinity by the Church of England in Elizabeth's reign.
MISTAKES ABOUT CHURCH DOCTRINE.
While on the subject of Church Doctrine, I may go a little further, and remind you how very likely you are to discover in your rounds many mistakes about both the doctrine and the government of the Church of England. I have had considerable experience of such questions in the way of private pastoral ministry; I have found pious dissenters, or church-people whom they had influenced, fully persuaded that the Church of England teaches unconditional regeneration in the hour of Baptism, that she teaches at least a near approach to Transubstantiation, that she entrusts to her priests the power of conferring or withholding the divine forgiveness, and that, officially and in set terms, she |unchurches| all communities not episcopally organized. It is well to be quite sure that these beliefs about the Church are mistakes, provably such, in the light of the Prayer Book and Articles, and of history. It has been my happiness to bring some such questioners as I have described to |sincere and conscientious communion with| the Church of England, in a loyalty which leaves ample room for loving sympathy with all true Christians. And the chief means has been the production of proof that the Church herself, as distinguished from particular teachers and leaders in the Church, does not teach the tenets alleged.
As regards the Scottish and Continental Protestant Churches it is not too much to say that, with the very rarest exceptions, English Church writers of all schools regarded them as |Sister Churches of the Reformation| -- till about 1830.
DEFECTIVE VIEWS OF SIN.
But to come back to matters more primary than even these; I must remind my younger Brother that there is, all around him, in the average circles of even church-going people, a sorrowfully faint insight into the sinfulness of SIN; into the terrible realities of its guilt before God (a point too often absent from even earnest modern teaching), and of its power; yes, and into its true nature, as it comes out, not in outbursts of word or deed, or in practices which public opinion condemns, but in imagination, in desire, in tone. It may surprise us (when we think how very elementary are the spiritual principles involved), but I fear it is a fact, that sin is regarded by vast numbers of church-people (I am not thinking at all of |the lapsed masses| now) as a matter of little importance if it does not come out in some very positive form. Multitudes among us are quite insensible to the spiritual penetration of the law of God, and have never given a thought to the question of a heart-surrender to His will in everything, and the sin of merely withholding that surrender.
Then, to take another primary subject of a different class; there is a wide and general ignorance of the great lines of Christian Evidence, and a large open door accordingly for the active attacks of shallow, or subtle, unbelief. Few have ever been taught in any definite way the supreme significance in this respect of the fact of the Lord's Resurrection, and its mighty walls of proof; and the reasons for our belief that the Bible is indeed not of man but of God; the witness of history to prophecy; and so on.
LET US DROP SEEDS OF TEACHING.
I owe an almost apology for this long talk about subjects of doctrine, and practice, and evidence. But I have kept all along the purpose of this chapter in view. I wish to remind my Brethren how very much they may do, in the course of visitation, to drop seeds of fact, of truth, of principle, in careful, thoughtful words, the product of private reading and reflection, called out by some natural occasion. Undoubtedly, the subjects I have outlined are themes for the pulpit, and for the Bible class, as well as for the visit. But my feeling is that the visit gives opportunities quite of its own for didactic work. We ought to be |natural| everywhere; but we are sometimes suspected, or imagined, to be less so in public than in private; and besides, in private we give and take; we are open to question and answer; and this may give quite special advantage to the word spoken, quietly and pleasantly, but pointedly, in the pastoral interview.
|PURCHASE THE OPPORTUNITY.|
|The priest's lips should keep knowledge.| [Mal. ii.7.] The Clergyman should be ready everywhere to be the teacher on the great subjects which he is supposed to make his own. He will never intrude instruction, or parade it; but he will everywhere be on the watch for the occasion for it, [Greek: exagorazomenos ton kairon], |purchasing the opportunity,| [Eph. v.10.] at the cost of care.
VISITATION OF THE SICK.
And here I may come again to that important branch of visitation, the visitation of the sick. The Church, as we well know, provides a Form of Visitation; most helpful and suggestive in its principles and outline for all. But it is, as you are aware, imposed by the Canon (lxvii.) only on such Clergymen (very scarce personages) as have no licence to preach. As a fact, we Presbyters are left to our own discretion in this sacred part of our work; and that discretion we should seek prayerfully to cultivate. How different are the circumstances in each one of an average series of sick-visits! As I write the words, such a series from my own past days rises up before me; and I transcribe a few recollections from the book of memory.
A SERIES OF VISITS.
W.S. is a retired tradesman, a thoughtful and rather reticent man; brought up a Socinian, and professedly such still. I am trying to lay siege to him, not without merciful tokens of hope from the Lord. And the simple plan is, not to open the controversy between Socinus and Scripture, but to arrange that each visit shall have its short Scripture reading, its friendly talk, and its prayer, all bearing mainly on the deadliness of sin and the wonder and glory of salvation. I happen to know that the married daughter of W.S., a very intelligent woman, was brought from heresy to a divine Saviour's feet by means of a sermon, not on Christ's Godhead, but on the sinfulness of sin.
T.H. is a sturdy old blacksmith, old enough to have been bred in the infidel school of Carlile (quite another person than Carlyle), and steeped in old-fashioned Chartism. He always has the newspaper on his now helpless knees, never the Bible; but he almost always has some Bible difficulty ready for me. It is pleasant to be able this afternoon to show him, holding the page up before his eyes, that his last stumbling-block is one of his own (or his friends') bold invention. He meets civility always civilly, and never resents a natural transition from the last bit of politics to the Gospel. But it is a hard, sad case. The Lord only knows how the apparently motionless conscience fares.
T.G. is a fine, manly artizan, a coach-painter, scarcely yet in middle life; lately the somewhat bitter and very self-satisfied critic of his good and devoted wife's simple faith. I have had rather discouraging talks with T.G. before to-day; but now he is very ill, and a few Sunday afternoons ago he sent across the road for the Curate, who to his own solemn joy found him broken down in unmistakable conviction of sin, asking what he must do to be saved. It is a blessed thing to visit him now, for already the rays of the eternal sun are shining between the clouds of a deeply genuine repentance; and the visitor's task is plain, --
|To teach him all the mercy, while he shows him all the sin.|
Soon it will be my happiness, I hope, to administer to him, as a penitent believer, with his now happy wife and a faithful friend, the precious Communion; and I look forward to see him depart in due time in the peace of God, to be with Christ, for whom already he has learnt to testify.
Then comes another visit, to one of our |bettermost| neighbours; this door bears, or ought to bear, the proverbial brass knocker. But be the door what it may be, there is great need and great mercy inside it. The dear man, W.T., lately in active professional life in the home civil-service, is sinking under the most agonizing of human maladies, and it is very near the close; this is the second visit to-day, in his urgent need. But, blessed be God, grace, once absent, has found its way through the terrible obstacle of pain, and his scarcely articulate utterance -- intelligible to his visitor only because now so familiar -- speaks of the joy and rest of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the sufferer's longing for the salvation of another soul, a soul very dear to him.
Wonderful to say (it is to me very wonderful), I have known more than one bright conversion take place amidst the untold pangs of such an illness.
Such visits tell upon the heart, and upon the head, and perhaps the round among the suffering has been long enough to-day. To-morrow we will try to get a quiet half-hour with W.R., a shopkeeper, sinking in consumption; a man of no common natural refinement and thoughtfulness, but long troubled with that sort of scepticism which is generated (who knows in how many cases?) by the mysteries, not of God's revelation, but of His providence. For him, too, the visitor's business is to lay a gentle siege, |here a little, and there a little,| trying never to lose patience with objections and difficulties, but rather to sympathize with them as to their pains, and then to suggest the answer in Jesus Christ. And oh joy, the Lord is finding the way in, through His Word, and the clouds are passing away from the man's mind, and soul, and forehead, as he is getting to |know WHOM he believes.|
I possess a beautiful little Bible given me by dear W.R., who has now been many years with Christ. Such a gift is a very sacred treasure to a Pastor.
Then we can walk round the corner -- how the beloved streets and lanes rise up in memory before me as I write! -- to see J.F., a young printer, dying in the brightest joy and peace, won from carelessness to a solid faith by the work and witness of earnest dissenting Christians, but glad and thankful to receive the Communion of the Lord from his dear Vicar, or his Vicar's son. And then five minutes' walk takes us to a tiny alley in the denser part of the widespread parish, where a poor life-long cripple, W.G., lies day and year upon his little bed -- little, because though the head is full-sized, and the brain within it is an adult brain, the body has never grown since childhood. Here is a case for steady sympathy, and also for gentle and steady aiming at instruction as well as comfort. And then, not far off, we will take the privilege of a quiet visit to an aged Christian woman, J.N. In long past years loving saints found her pining in extreme poverty, and sunk in a dull, despairing indifference. Now it is a great spiritual help to sit in her little attic beside her, and draw her on to speak (she is no loquacious person by nature, and needs drawing on) about the needs of the soul, and the glorious fulness of the Son of God. She is no common Christian; not only in life but in thought this appears. At the time of her conversion, she could not read a letter. Since then, she has repeatedly read with great spiritual insight and enjoyment Archbishop Leighton's Commentary on St Peter. Here is a room in which the visitor learns quite as much as he teaches. And so he does in a still smaller and much darker room, three minutes' distant from J.N.'s. There lies blind R.W., in his strong days the head-servant of an old farmer of our village, and to all appearance as little capable of spiritual interests as the animals he fed. But on his sick-bed, the comfortless couch of many declining years, a loving visitor, a devoted lady-worker, has found him out, and the Lord has found him out through her. He never knew A from B in his life, and never will. But do you want proof of the power of grace to quicken mind, as well as to convert soul? Come with me up the stairs into dear old R.W.'s darksome room, and in the course of our talk you shall hear his quavering voice saying things, quite humbly and naturally, about the glory of his Saviour, and the way of salvation, and the joy and peace of his heart in God, which are not only loving ascriptions but clear and sound divinity. It is good to be with him.
I have spoken mainly, though not only, of cases of warm interest and encouragement. Of course there are sorrowful and heart-trying visits to the sick. One such, to poor old T.H., I have described. And we might see the much older A.C., a woman of near ninety years, who seems impenetrable to the true light, though grateful and kindly towards the visitor; and B.F., older still, ninety-six, so vain of her age that it is difficult to get her off the beloved theme; and J.G., a steady, self-righteous man; and C.W., clever, and disposed to scoff; and T.B., known to be leading a very evil life, civil, but immovable.
RESOLVE TO BE A VISITOR.
The work is very various, very interesting, and full of the call for |long patience,| while full, too, of blessed encouragements and surprises. But |the time would fail me.| Ah, let me not close without saying to my younger Brother how deeply humbling to me are the memories of those pastoral days, and humbling above all as I look back and wish now, in vain for ever, that I had visited more, among both the sick and the whole. |Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord|; |To Thee only it appertaineth to forgive sins.|
My dear younger Brother, resolve that by the grace of God you will be a visitor, whatever else you are, or are not. And be a visitor who respects his neighbours, who feels with them, whose heart lives with them, and who on the other hand watches over his call to instruct them, to clear up and deepen their thoughts of self, and God, and life, and death, and salvation, and duty, and eternity.
A CONVERSION AT EIGHTY-SIX.
|Go, labour on; spend and be spent.| There is a sure reward, seen or not seen as yet; and often the most unlikely quarter shall prove the quarter of blessing, and the last shall be first. One recollection, drawn out of my earliest childhood, shall close this wandering talk. It is of dear old Mrs E., then aged quite eighty-six. She must have been born under the rule of King George the Second. A farmer's widow, she had been absolutely and perfectly respectable all her life, and was entirely satisfied with her state and her prospects for the next world. My dear Father, and his devoted Curate of those days, the Rev. W.D., not seldom saw her, but without leaving any apparent impression on her conscience. At last that conscience woke. The Curate read a chapter, in her hearing, to her pious invalid daughter, who had sought her mother's conversion for years in prayer, and had lived true Christianity all the while in her mother's home. And on a sudden, something in that chapter (it was the third of Romans) said to the old lady, |You have lived eighty years in the world, and never done a single thing for the love of God.| The conviction was tremendous in its depth and quality, and it lasted long. But a very bright light followed, and shone with holy fulness through what proved to be several remaining years of beautiful old age. She rejoiced in her adorable Saviour with joy unspeakable, a joy meanwhile perfectly sober and full of the good fruits of loving righteousness. She died at last, singing, or rather musically murmuring, Rock of Ages. And my recollection, across seven-and-forty years, is of that dear old lady of the past, sitting upright in her parlour, as my Mother led me in to see her, and wearing a look upon her face which I can only now describe as a remembered ray of light.
My dear Father, many years ago, published a full narrative of Mrs E.'s last days, in a little volume of pastoral recollections, Pardon and Peace.
|I love, I love my Master;
I will not go out free;
For He is my Redeemer,
He paid the price for me.
|I would not leave His service,
It is so sweet and blest,
And in the weariest moments
He gives the truest rest.|
MISS F.R. HAVERGAL.