If Jesus Christ thou serve, take heed,
Whate'er the hour may be;
His brethren are obliged indeed
By their nobility.
In the present chapter I follow the general principles of the last into some further details. And I place before me as a sort of motto those twice-repeated words of the Apostle, TAKE HEED UNTO THYSELF.
These words, it will be remembered, are addressed in both places to the Christian Minister. [Acts xx.28; 1 Tim. iv.6.] At Miletus St Paul gathers round him the Presbyters of Ephesus, and implores them to take heed to themselves, and to the flock. A few years later he writes to Timothy, commissioned (whether permanently or not) to be Pastor of Pastors in that same Ephesus, and lays it on his soul to take heed to himself, and to the doctrine. In each case the appeal to attend to |self| comes first, as the vital preliminary to the other. And in each case it takes the form of a solemn warning; not only |remember| but |TAKE HEED.|
TAKE HEED UNTO THYSELF.
I have already tried to emphasize the duty of |heed-taking,| in several directions. But I come in this chapter to some important matters which seem specially to fall under such a heading; matters in which the lack of prayerful heed may, and often does, work great and even fatal mischief in the lives of Clergymen.
RELATIONS WITH WOMAN.
i. Let me first say a little, in brotherly confidence and candour, about the young Clergyman's relations with Woman in ordinary intercourse.
It would be waste of words to talk about the delicacy of the subject; it is self-evident. And it is obvious also that in a book like this the subject can be treated only in the way of general suggestion; no vain attempt shall I make to state and discuss possible exceptional cases of social difficulty. But it is quite necessary to say something on this matter, for it is indeed a pressing and important thing in ministerial life.
I will begin, then, with the assumption that the young Clergyman recognizes, and seeks to practise, the great Gospel principle of a sanctified chivalry. |To the feminine vessel, as to the weaker, give honour,| writes St Peter [1 Pet iii.7.]; words which must be cut large and deep into our ministerial hearts if we are to live as true Ministers and true men. They have a particular reference to married life, I know; but their full scope is far wider. And they are among the most wonderful utterances of the apostolic Gospel, when we read them in the light, or rather under the contrasted darkness, of the contemporary anti-chivalry of the Rabbinic teaching about woman. They are the utterance of Peter, the married man, after his discipleship in the Spirit at the feet of Jesus, the Mother's Son. |Giving honour;| do not forget the phrase. It lifts us into a higher and far healthier region than that of either mere fondness or mere admiration. Indeed, it is all-important to remember what a deep gulph lies between two things which at first sight may be mistaken for one another -- Admiration for Women, Reverence for Woman.
So let apostolic chivalry, unaffected, but watchful and practical, govern your life, by the grace of God. Let it be quite impartial as a principle. You may possibly have to speak with a princess; you are sure to have to speak and deal with very poor and ignorant women. But each and all they are WOMAN, and you must remember the Apostle's word. Courtesy and consideration are due to them all, as you are a man, a Christian, a Minister of God. The expression may vary, and within limits it must, but the principle must be always there. To the poorest woman give the wall in the street, offer the best seat in the train.
WE ARE TRUSTED.
I must here so far anticipate a future chapter as to point out how constantly this call to |give honour| must be remembered in pastoral visitation. We Clergy are trusted to an extraordinary degree in personal intercourse with female parishioners. How often a pastoral call is paid, whether at mansion or cottage, when no man is at home! |Take heed unto thyself| then. The call under those circumstances should be as brief as possible. And the whole interview should be ruled by a heedful while unobtrusive respect and self-respect. Do not think a strong word of caution in this matter out of place and out of scale. Carelessness of even appearances here may wreck a life; it may certainly blight an influence.
WHEN AND HOW TO TAKE HEED.
But I do not forget that we are not yet concerned directly with pastoral visitation as such; we are thinking of incidental social intercourse. The young Clergyman will sometimes, however seldom, find himself visiting in not exactly the pastoral sense of the word. Courteous hospitality will be shown him by neighbours; and while he will very often decline these calls, because his Master's work in other and more obvious forms claims him, sometimes he will accept them, as his Master did. Or his needful holiday has come, and he is staying at a friend's house, or is thrown into new intercourse at some health-resort. And we will suppose that he is a bachelor, and not engaged. In what particular directions shall he take heed?
Below and above all details, he will take heed to remember his always present Lord and Friend, and to live and talk as knowing that |HE is the unseen Listener to every conversation|; a recollection which ought to banish from our talk, whether we talk with man or woman, alike frivolity, unkindness, untruthfulness, and dulness. Then, to come to a few details under that great principle -- the man will need to watch and be heedful in one or more quite different directions, according to his character. And God grant us all such honesty and simplicity before Him as shall teach us to know at least something of our own characters, especially in their weak points. There ought to be no surer prescription for a true [Greek: gnothi seauton] than to |walk in the light| [1 John i.7.] of the presence of Him who sees everything just as it is, and in that light to look at ourselves, and the world, and His Word; aiming every day, not to be thought |nice,| or to be thought remarkable, but to let Him shine out of our lives.
THE DUTY OF RESERVE.
One man, then, will need more than another to cultivate a quiet reserve and restraint of manner in social intercourse with young ladies. It is the way of some men, without thinking about it, to be too demonstratively attentive. It is the way of others to forget that they are not everywhere at home, and to be far too familiarly friendly. |I look on every girl I meet as if she were my sister;| so said one young Clergyman, a very fine fellow indeed, but certainly in this sentiment very much and very dangerously mistaken. Attentions and confidences may be meant as honestly as possible. But if they go beyond a certain line (soon reached) they may most naturally be thought to mean something more; to be a preliminary, however distant, to an offer. And just possibly such a thought may not be unwelcome to the other person concerned. And if so, and if all the while nothing but courtesy was meant, you, my friend and Brother, without knowing it, perhaps without ever knowing it, may spoil the life of one who cannot possibly, as a woman, express herself to you. I have known such a case in clerical life. The man was a true man, but he allowed himself, for the pleasantness of it, to be very agreeable where he meant no more than friendship. Great, while silent, was the sorrow that resulted. Take heed unto thyself.
There are some parochial circumstances where even unusual caution is needed in this direction; for reasons which I allude to with pain. It is a fact, I fear, that in some parishes the Curate is in danger of being rather actively pursued, by here and there a parent, as a possibly desirable son-in-law. I have even heard of a certain Incumbent who was given not indistinctly to understand that the coming Curate would be less welcome if he was a man already married. Such a state of things is of course one of exceptional social risk and difficulty for a Curate, and for a young single Rector or Vicar still more so. Nothing will do but a very real |heed-taking,| beginning always in secret with God, and then quietly carried out with sanctified common-sense. Fatal mistakes, really fatal to future usefulness in the Ministry, may very easily be made otherwise.
But then there is an opposite side to the question. Some young men, not all certainly but a good many, are in great danger of a rather exaggerated estimate of their own attractions and importance. There are some junior Clergymen who are, if I do not mistake, prone to think that most young ladies whom they meet are fascinated by them, or are at least in imminent peril. Such delusions meet sometimes with not very gentle corrections. But it is better to be forearmed against the delusion -- as it most probably is a delusion in the given case. And the best prophylactic is the old one; a secret walk with God |in the light,| and a recollection of the constant need of self-knowledge exactly where such knowledge is least pleasant. I repeat it; may the Lord grant us each and every one His true [Greek: gnothi seauton]. By a blessed paradox it is sure to prove the secret of a true self-oblivion; for it means for certain, among other things, a truer and fuller sight of HIM.
MATRIMONY OR CELIBACY?
The subject thus before us is a very large one. It connects itself with the whole question whether marriage or celibacy is the will of God in the man's ministerial life. Happily I have no need, in the Church of England, to defend |the holy estate of matrimony| as if it were in the slightest measure incompatible with the fullest sanctification of life and of ministry. Personally my belief is that, in the immense majority of cases, the married Clergyman is the more useful Clergyman if (an |if| of extreme importance) his wife is altogether one with him in the Lord. But I distinctly think that there are very many exceptions to the matrimonial rule. There are branches of ministerial work, particularly in parts of the sacred missionary field, where the single man seems to make the better Minister. And no true servant of God will allow himself to think first of an opening for marriage and then of an opening for ministry.
|ONE IN THE LORD.|
Here I pause to say what it lies much on my heart to say somewhere. Let the true man, who is at present free in respect of marriage-engagements, resolve that in the whole question of seeking or not seeking a wife he will consider first, midst, and last his Master's work, his Master's Ministry. Better a thousand times be the most solitary of human beings than choose with your eyes open a married life in which you will not find positive help (not merely no positive hindrance) in your work for the Lord Jesus Christ. Beware of the temptation to seek the mere pretty face, or the mere fortune large or small, or mere accomplishments, or indeed anything short of the truly converted believing heart and dedicated will.
*MARRIED LIFE AS IT SHOULD BE.
The Clergyman and his Wife are sacredly bound to live their united life wholly for Christ. They are to help one another on in Him, to stimulate one another in work for others in Him, to give each other always mutual aid towards a constant growth in faith, hope, and love; towards an ever better use of means, and time, and tongue, and everything. If their Lord gives them children to train for Him, those children are to see their parents so living, not only individually but together, as to glorify and commend the Gospel to them, from the very first. And the wider family of the parish, sure to be observant, is to see the same sight in measure. Happy the married Pastor whose home and its life respond to such a description. Alas for the man whose passion, blindness, hurry, self-will, or whatever else it is, has betrayed him into a condition of things which cannot be so described.
I may be writing for some readers to whom such a |take heed unto thyself| may be in point even as they read. If so, let me seize the occasion. With not a few very sorrowful illustrations in my mind I lay all emphasis on this earnest word of affectionate warning. And let me add to it another word, as in duty bound, and with the utmost solemnity, knowing that the thing is vitally important. I appeal to you not lightly to seek marriage, not lightly to make engagement, even where you have good assurance that all would be spiritually well, if there is a real probability of a married life clogged with pecuniary perplexities.
You observe that I do not speak absolutely on this point; I dare not. I do not say, Do not do it; I say, Do not lightly do it. Faith is one thing; |light-heartedness| is another. And sometimes light-heartedness means nothing better than a vague expectation that |something will turn up.| Perhaps what does turn up is a weary and distracting struggle with debt, and a gradual habituation to a not very creditable life upon the means of others, who very likely can spare only with difficulty what comes at length to be taken without gratitude. I beseech my Brother to |suffer the word of exhortation.|
RISKS OF DEBT.
ii. I touch thus already on the second point about which I would fain cry, Take heed unto thyself. That matter is Money. A few words here will sufficiently convey my appeal, but those few must be pressing. I appeal to my younger Brethren to be watchful day by day in the matter of money. At this moment there rises in my memory the face and name of a Clergyman with whom, long years ago, I became acquainted about the time of his ordination. He was unquestionably in earnest; I believe that he truly knew his Lord and Master, and was truly desirous to serve Him in His flock. But I am perfectly sure that he must have forgotten, almost from the first, to take heed unto himself in the matter of money. [SN: PECUNIARY INTEMPERANCE.] Perhaps he had brought with him from the University that fatal habit of pecuniary intemperance which sometimes gets a hold upon a man second in its grasp only to that of intemperance commonly so called. Unhappily the ways of modern college life too easily generate such a habit, as University men are led more and more by their surroundings into a dread of appearing to be poor, and are almost expected to cost their fathers more for the academical year of eight or nine months than they will earn in the clerical year of twelve. But however it was, my poor dear friend had about him the tendency to debt. And not all his earnestness and his devoutness could maintain his influence when that tendency began to tell. One post of duty had to be soon quitted for another, and so again and again, under this ever-recurring failure. Let us take heed unto ourselves.
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE MONEY.
In dealing with money which in any sense is public, no care can be too great. In a case well known to me, a Clergyman imperilled his whole influence, to the verge of ruin, by the simple but effectual process of allowing money collected for a church-object to be mixed and |muddled| with his private funds. He was not business-like, and he was not at all well off. And somehow, when the time of reckoning came, the money had melted, he knew not whither. Strenuous exertions on the part of friends replaced privately the missing collection; but it was only just in time. I have often heard our Indian Missionaries say how great and frequent is the difficulty raised by the apparent incapacity of some otherwise excellent native Pastors to keep public and private money apart. They mean all that is honourable; but a friend comes in begging for a loan, and there is the church fund at hand, and of course the sum taken shall be soon repaid, and of course it is not repaid. But such difficulties are not confined to India. The native Pastors of England have great need to take heed unto themselves.
THE ACCOUNTS IN GOOD ORDER.
If possible, let us make our lay parochial friends our secretaries, and above all our treasurers. But if it must be otherwise, and often it must be, let us take heed, at any cost of pains. To do so may be overruled to win a positive influence for the Clergyman. I well remember a dear friend of mine telling me, with loyal pleasure, of his holy and devoted Vicar's care in this direction, and its power over the keen-sighted and not always friendly members of the school-committee in his great parish. Every item of the books was accurate; every halfpenny of receipts accounted for. Men could find no fault in that Clergyman save concerning the Law -- and the Gospel -- of his God.
Perhaps I need only allude in passing to that crude sort of temptation put so freely before us Clergy, the circular advertisement of the mine which is to pay twenty per cent., or of the company just formed (I have such a circular in my possession, and keep it sacredly,) to promote the construction of a new projectile which shall make war more horrible than ever; one condition to the success of the Clergyman's investment being, of course, that war, thus made more horrible than ever, shall also be as frequent and continuous as possible. But the schemes announced in these circulars are very various in character; good, indifferent, and bad. Need I say that, as a very safe rule, they must all be viewed as bad from the point of view of the young Clergyman's (or indeed of the Clergyman's) purse? It is a truism to remark that high interest means low security; but even a truism can bear occasional repetition when it has to do with a good man's whole life and work, and when the oblivion may mean acute or chronic misery. Such investments are for us a form of gambling, almost as much so as the shameless circulars which we sometimes receive from foreign cities, announcing the possibility of clearing a fortune at one stroke by a turn of the lottery machine. Does the sending of such missives to the English Clergy mean that English Clergymen sometimes answer them? If so, I say that it is strictly impossible that the man who so answers, whether he loses or wins, can also be walking with God, and so working that the Lord works with him. So far as such acts go, he is acting an awfully untrue part, and his Master knows it. Let us take heed unto ourselves.
In conclusion, I turn another way. The whole question of the increase and investment of money is a very solemn and searching one for the Christian, clerical or lay. There are holy men who say that we ought in no degree to |lay up.| While I reverence their meaning, I do not agree with them. Yet I do most deeply feel that their warnings raise a danger-signal in a direction opposite to that which we have been viewing, but equally important. Some of my younger Brethren have already a private competency; others may be expecting one.
*|WHEN RICHES INCREASE.|
To others, gifted in one way or another for marked acceptance in the Church, posts are, or will be, offered which even in these days bring a good income, perhaps a growing one. Take heed unto thyself. It is with deep significance that the Word of God bids us not set our heart upon riches when they increase. [Ps. lxii.10.] It is often observed, I fear, that a man's readiness to give diminishes in proportion to his power for giving. There is a subtle fascination for many minds, and among them for minds generous at first, in an access of possessions; the thirst for more sets in, however imperceptibly, and perhaps the Christian, perhaps the Pastor, has become -- before he knows it -- covetous; caring a good deal for money. Let us take heed unto ourselves.
I cannot help relating a pathetically amusing remark I once heard in a Dorsetshire cottage. I had looked in on the good housewife in the course of a long walk, and she was telling me about the needs and straits of a recent time of illness. The aged Vicar of the large and thinly-peopled parish was a well-to-do man, and not at all unkind in meaning and manner. But he never gave alms, or indeed material help of any kind. |Poor Mr -- -- ,| said the cottager, with the kindliest naivete, |he never do give away anything. There, I suppose it be his affliction.|
|LAY NOT UP FOR YOURSELVES.|
I am sure that the Gospel has no censure for modest comforts and for simple refinements. I am sure that it bids the Christian, whether Pastor or not, |provide,| look beforehand, with a view to save needless anxiety and disadvantage both for himself and yet more |for them of his own house.| [1 Tim. v.8.] But I am equally sure that it commands us even more emphatically not to lay up treasure upon earth; not to make the sad mistake of thinking that the work of life is to get. Rather may ours be the spirit of a noble-hearted friend of mine, now at rest for ever, early called away from heroic Missionary work. He had found himself rapidly getting richer in a successful school-enterprize; and recognized in this a summons to give it up, and volunteer for the foreign field.
But I say no more. Probably to the great majority of my readers these last paragraphs seem little to the purpose, at least at present. But there are few lives in which, sooner or later, such reflections may not find a corner for application.
Meanwhile, whether our call is to avoid debt or to avoid gathering, we will look up for new motive power into our Master's face. Him we love; Him we long to commend; and to Him we belong with all we have. In His Name, and for His sake, we will take heed unto ourselves.