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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VII. PASTOR IN PARISH (i.).

To My Younger Brethren by Handley C. G. Moule

CHAPTER VII. PASTOR IN PARISH (i.).

Master, to the flock I speed,
In Thy presence, in Thy name;
Show me how to guide, to feed,
How aright to cheer and blame;
With me knock at every door;
Enter with me, I implore.

We have talked together about the young Clergyman's secret life, and private life, and his life in (so to speak) non-clerical intercourse with others, and now lastly of his life as it stands related to his immediate leader in the Ministry. In this latter topic we have already touched the great matter which comes now at once before us, the man's work amongst his neighbours as he approaches them in his proper character, as a Pastor.

|THE PULSE OF THE MACHINE.|

How shall I speak of |parish-work|? It would be a boundless subject if treated in detail and in the style of a directory of methods. But such a treatment is far from my purpose. To undertake it, I should not only need to be a widely experienced Pastor, which I cannot claim to be, for my life for many years has been mainly devoted to academic teaching; I should need to be several widely experienced Pastors bound up into one living volume. So let no one expect to find here a prescription for the right plans and right practice of the many departments of the rural pastorate, or of the urban, or suburban; directions how to organize work, and how to develop it; how to deal with the Sunday School, or the Day School, or the Institute, or the Guild, or the Visitors' Meeting, or the Missionary Association. My hope is rather to get behind all these things to the pulse of the busy machinery; to offer a few hints to my younger Brethren |how to do it,| from the point of view of their personal and inner preparedness for the multifold work, and to state some plain general principles which may run through all the doing.

VISITING.

I set before me then the Curate, and the Parish, with its demands for pastoral labour, and particularly for Visitation. Well do I know how immense the differences are between place and place in this same matter of visitation; how the parish of a few hundreds, or even of two or three thousand, is one thing, and the parish of ten, or eighteen, or twenty thousand is another. I know that there are parishes, in London for example, where all the efforts of a staff of devoted Clergy seem to fail to do more than touch the edges of the work of domestic visitation. Yet surely even in such cases that work must not, and will not, be quite given up as hopeless. A little, where only a little is possible, is vastly better than none; even if it be only the visitation of the sick, and of those who immediately surround them, and with whom the sick-visit gives the Clergyman an opportunity. Such efforts, where nothing more of the kind is possible, if only done in an unmistakable spirit of love and self-sacrifice, must carry good to the people. And do not forget that they must, quite as necessarily, carry good to the Clergyman. For they are a means, for which nothing else can be quite the substitute, of bringing him into contact with the people's thoughts and lives in ways which will tell usefully (as we have seen in an earlier page) upon his whole ministry, particularly upon his work in the pulpit, and at the mission-room desk, and in the open air.

But, to be as practical as possible, I will assume that the Curacy is of a more normal kind than that just supposed. The parish, whether in country or in town, is not so large as to make visitation from house to house impossible. And the Curate has had his work of this kind assigned him, and is setting out upon it. A good portion of every day (though I hope it is possible to give a part of one day each week to some sort of wisely managed holiday) is devoted to |the district|; now for a steady round of calls, door by door; now, in an irregularity not without method, for visits to special cases of sickness, or sorrow, or other need.

PREPARE FOR VISITATION WITH PRAYER.

What shall be my first suggestion? It shall point to the Throne of Grace. Preface the pastoral round with special secret prayer. Sermons are usually (I wish it were always so now) prefaced with prayer in the pulpit that the heavenly blessing may rest upon the ordinance. Is it less fitting, less necessary, to prepare for the afternoon's or evening's visitation with a secret petition in your own room that the apostolic ordinance of domestic visitation [Acts xx.20, 21.], to be administered now by you, may have the special grace of God in it? Pray for yourself, my younger Brother.

*PRAY FOR SPIRITUAL READINESS AND SPIRITUAL FULNESS.

Ask that you may go out well furnished with the peace, and patience, and wisdom laid up for you in your Lord; that you may have |by the Holy Spirit a right judgment in all things|; that you may have |the tongue of the taught, to speak a word in season to them that are weary|; whatever sort of weariness it is. Pray for that secret skill of discernment which can see the difference of spiritual states, and allot warning or comfort not at random but |in due season.| Pray for that readiness for the unexpected which is best secured and best maintained in a close and conscious intimacy with your Saviour. The man |found in Him| will be found ready in spirit (and that is after all the essential in spiritual work) for the sudden question, whether anxious or captious, for the sudden rudeness of ignorance or opposition, and again for the chronic and so to speak passive difficulty of indifference. |The tongue of the taught,| while the |taught| man is found in Christ, will ever be sweet, wise, and truthful, as the owner of it goes his round. But we must seek for it; |He will be enquired of for this thing.| [SN: Ezek. xxxvi.37.]

Isai. l.4. Obviously the word |learned| in our Version is there used in its old English sense, |instructed, taught.| No slight on |book-learning| is ever conveyed in the Scriptures. But the man in view here is not the highly-educated person, but the believer who has listened with the ear |of the taught| (see the end of the verse), as a disciple at the Master's feet; and so goes forth to speak with |the tongue of the taught,| as a messenger who has learned sympathy, insight, holy tact and truthfulness, from the Master's heart. The whole passage is full of the blessed Messiah Himself, I know. But it has its reflected reference for all His true followers, and above all for all His true Ministers. May He give us, in His mercy, for every act of our messenger-work, both the ear and the tongue of His |taught| ones.

Then, as you pray for yourself, you will pray also for the people you are about to visit. Perhaps they are as yet strange to you, and you can ask for them only in general. But if you know anything at all about them it will be worth while to individualize your prayer, however briefly. Special, detailed prayer is a power with God. And it is a power with man too. To be dealing with one for whom you know you have prayed is already to have a foothold there. Perhaps you may have an opportunity to say, quite naturally, that you have been praying for him; and this may very possibly be a direct vehicle of blessing.

You will go out then, as directly as possible, from the secret place of heavenly intercourse. That is a bracing atmosphere:

|Fresh airs and heavenly odours breathe around
The throne of grace;|

and those airs can quicken the young Pastor's spirit for the heaviest hours of a sultry afternoon or evening, till he comes back weary to his rooms, |tired in the Lord's work, but not tired of it,| as dying Whitefield said.

So you go forth with real prayer. It is your wonderful privilege, thus going to carry nothing less than the blessed |Fulness of the Holy Ghost| for your inmost equipment. I say deliberately, nothing less than the heavenly Fulness -- a far different thing from a mere stir and lift of the emotions. That most divine gift is a |calm excess| of tranquil power, received humbly by the prayer of faith. It is not meant to be a rare luxury; it is a daily and hourly offer, a provided viaticum for every stage of walk and duty. Can we work aright for God while any corner of our being has no room for God, and is not possessed by Him?

METHOD.

Then, for true prayer and true practicality are the closest and most harmonious friends, you will of course aim with forethought and persistency at method in the pastoral work. The visits will be arranged as far as possible with economy of space; no difficult task in most town parishes, while in the country, of course, the matter is often much less easy. And you will study also economy of time. Your round is a work of sacred business. The minutes, the quarters of an hour, are never to run loose and unobserved. Who that has ever visited in a parish does not know the need of remembering that point, so easily forgotten? Here we visit a pleasant, welcoming neighbour, and it is all too easy to stay on, perhaps to little real purpose, with the secret satisfaction of knowing that the next and much less attractive call must be shortened in proportion. Here, less willingly, we are detained by one of those ingenious tongues which make it so difficult to get in a word, or to stop the unprofitable continuity of topics. All these cases, and endless kindred ones, need a little foresight and firmness, and a little of the skill which is soon learnt by open heart and open eyes.

ECONOMY OF TIME.

Obviously this line of caution is more needed by some men than by others. But it is needed by not a few; particularly in respect of the temptation to lengthen out unduly the visits that are pleasant to the visitor. One young Clergyman known to me, an indefatigable and devoted visitor, needed a strong reminder in this direction in the early days of his ministry. He would visit a sick person, who proved more or less responsive to his efforts, and would allow himself to over-visit, to an unwise extent, going often more than once a day, and long after the state of the invalid made such attentions urgent. And other work of course suffered in proportion. Wesley's precept to his workers needs our remembrance often; |Go not where you are wanted, but where you are wanted most.|

BUT AVOID HURRY.

But a risk on the other hand must be remembered. Economy of time must never mean hurry of manner, a thing which is nearly if not quite fatal to the usefulness of a visit. It is perfectly possible to combine promptitude with quiet; to come manifestly on business, and yet not in a bustle. We Clergymen may learn many valuable lessons in this, as in some other parts of our work, from our medical friends. Observe how a wise and kindly doctor visits his parishioners. He knows exactly why he comes; he knows that other patients are wanting him, in long succession; he knows that he must observe and advise as promptly and as much to the point as possible; and he knows that all must be done with a quiet, strong, untroubled manner, if it is to be done aright.

I spoke in a previous chapter about the sacred duty of watching and regulating manner. This is to be done at all times of intercourse, but above all in pastoral visits. To speak only of this point of hurry or calm of manner; it is most important. The right manner will make a visit of five minutes practically longer than a twenty minutes' visit which gives all through it the impression that the Clergyman must be off. One of the most admirable Pastors I have ever known, the late Rev. Charles Clayton, of Cambridge, did much of his work by five-minute visits. But they were always visits in which the whole thought was given to the case before him, and the word in season came from full knowledge of his flock and from an unmistakably pastoral heart.

Afterwards Rector of Stanhope and Canon of Ripon.

IMPARTIAL COURTESY.

A duty which you will carefully remember throughout your round is that of quiet Christian courtesy; impartially shown to rich, to middling, and to poor. I say impartially, with a view to both ends of the scale. Some men (perhaps not many, but some) seem to think that ministerial courage and fidelity in dealing with well-to-do parishioners demand a certain dropping of the courtesies of life; a very great mistake. Many more men are tempted to forget that their visits to the poorest should be, in the essence of the matter, as courteous as when they go to the portal which carries a brass knocker. At the door of the dingiest cottage, or dingier lodging, never forget that you ask for entrance; it is your neighbour's castle-door; and you are not a sanitary inspector. If you happen to come in at the meal-time of the roughest and dirtiest, apologize as naturally and honestly as you would if you intruded on the wealthy churchwarden's well-set luncheon. Among the very lowest, do all you can to honour parents before their children (I know it is nearly impossible in some sad cases); and always honour old age.

BE NATURAL.

Surely one good maxim on manner with our poorer neighbours is to aim to address them very much as we would address our neighbours of our own class. A patronizing manner is most certainly a very great pity, and almost sure to be resented. But so, too, is the ostentatious |hail-and-well-met| manner which is sometimes assumed; an over-drawn imitation, perhaps, of the workman's manner with his fellows. This is a mistake, because it is almost always unnatural. Few gentlemen get better at others by ceasing to act and speak as gentlemen. Let us talk quite quietly and pleasantly, as just what we are, and as those who most unaffectedly |honour all men,| [1 Pet. ii.17.] and we shall not go far astray; always supposing that the matter of our talk is sensible, true, and to the purpose.

THE SICK-ROOM.

To turn aside for a moment to the special and sacred work of Visitation of the Sick. It is not to be lightly done, as if it were an easy part of our duty, quite obvious in its aims and methods. The greatest judgment is often needed in the sick-room. We need quickness to perceive how much conversation the invalid can bear, if the case is one of great pain, or (what often makes undue length even more irksome) great weakness. We need an insight into the best side of approach to conscience, or to will. We need the skill which knows how to question enough, but not too much, not as the inquisitor but as the helper. Many another matter will call for sanctified common-sense in the sick-room; a restful voice, easy, quiet movements, and the like. And let me say that where you are visiting a chronic case, and need to call again and again, if a day and hour for the next visit is mentioned it should be kept to with jealous punctuality. Nothing is more trying to the suffering and weary than uncertainty and suspense. I have known of much harm done to good men's influence by their neglect of punctuality with sick people.

PUNCTUALITY.

Of punctuality generally I can (and surely need) speak only in passing. It is a primary duty of the busy but patient work of the pastorate. To be neglectful of it is to set up and keep up a needless and mischievous friction in our intercourse with others, and indefinitely to injure our influence in many ways. |No man ever waited five minutes for me in my life, unless for reasons quite beyond my power;| such was a remark of Charles Simeon's in his last days. We may be for ever unable to say this of our own past. But if so, shall it not be true for us also from this day forward?

USE OF THE BIBLE IN VISITING.

Thus prepared by secret and special intercourse with God, and recollecting some simple maxims about practical points, you go out into the parish. But no; let me suggest one other preliminary, which, before most rounds of pastoral visiting, cannot be out of place. You will take in your pocket two books, if not more; one, your visiting register and diary, the other -- your Bible. Of the use to be made of the note-book I need not speak. About that to be made of the Book of God let me say a very few words.

I do not mean at all that you will make the reading of the Holy Scriptures a matter of form or routine; a thing which must be done, as an opus operandum, wherever there is a chance. But I do mean that you should have the Book always ready for use, and be prompt to sow the |incorruptible seed| [1 Pet. i.23.] from house to house as God gives opportunity. Remember, it is a Book sadly little known by the very large majority of your people; so that every natural and naturally-taken occasion to |let it speak,| in private as well as in public, is a contribution to that urgent need of our modern world, Bible-knowledge. Remember again that, despite all the wretched unsettlements of belief amongst us, the Bible is still the Bible, for untold multitudes; it is owned by them, whether or no it is used, as the Oracle of God. Let us let the Book speak at the open ear of such a conviction, however dimly the conviction is entertained. And then remember that the Bible, whatever be the state of current opinion about it, is as a fact the Oracle of God, and its immortal and life-conveying words have a mysterious fitness all their own to be the vehicle of the Spirit's voice to the human heart. Offer it, as often as you can, to be that vehicle.

CHOOSE A PASSAGE BEFOREHAND.

Two simple expedients for effective use of the Scriptures in a parish round are presented to me by my own past experience, gathered from several years of regular parochial work. One is, the choice of some short pregnant passage which shall be, for that round, the passage to be read not once only but in house after house, unless, of course, there is special reason to the contrary. Such a reiteration, so I have often found, is a great help to the visitor, who probably feels on each new occasion that a new power and point appear in the passage, and that it seems each time easier to speak from it, however briefly, to the soul. The other expedient which my experience recommends is to be prepared, whenever a hopeful opportunity occurs, to leave a Scripture message visibly behind you as you go. I used to carry with me a little sheaf of slips of paper, on each of which was printed the request, Please read this passage, and think about it. A short message from the heavenly Word would be written on the slip in pencil as I was about to go; and this visible and personal invitation to |read and think| proved often a real remembrance from the Lord.

THE VISITING PASTOR AT WORK.

But now you are actively engaged from door to door. If you are a new-comer, and particularly if it is also a district (in the great City perhaps) where visitation has been an unwonted thing, you must be prepared of course for very various sorts of reception. But assuredly in most districts by far, and at most doors, the man who exercises common tact and courtesy, and is plainly trying to do his duty in a loving and earnest spirit, and is known already, or now introduces himself, as the Clergyman, will be civilly and often gladly met.

*OUR ADVANTAGE AS MINISTERS OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH.

Let me pause for a moment to remind you of one great and valuable advantage which is ours as the Ministers of the National Church and the servants of the parochial system. All honour to devoted servants of God in the Ministry of other denominations; in numberless instances they have done in the past, and are doing now, work which the National Church has either neglected, or has been unable to overtake; and the power of the Lord has been and is present with them to bless. But nevertheless I for one thank God for a National Church, and recognize in that Church's historical and practical position a unique opportunity and an immense advantage, so it be used faithfully and in loyalty to the Lord and His Word. And one feature of that position of opportunity is this, that it is the popularly (and rightly) recognized duty of the Church of England Clergyman to ask admission at every door, so far as he can go to every door, within his portion of the national vineyard. To a large degree this is understood to be our duty, our business, as it is not understood to be that of other Ministers of religion; and this is a fact which for the man who will use it with good sense and unobtrusive diligence is an invaluable introduction. A |younger Brother| of my own, whose work began in a Liverpool Curacy, told me of his experience in this matter. His district contained a very miscellaneous population; almost all the great dissenting Churches were represented, and there were many Roman Catholics, and not a few Jews. But the Curate went to every door, as in duty bound; as a friend, a neighbour, a Christian, but distinctly as one of the Clergy of the parish. And with one solitary exception, an instance in which a Jew repulsed him, he was not only admitted but welcomed everywhere in his character as the Clergyman.

Of course there are, as I have said just above, streets and lanes where it is not quite so. Another friend of mine, labouring in East London, found that his black coat and white tie suggested to some of the people only the guess that he was -- the undertaker; so strange to them was the presence of a Clergyman, or the idea of his duty. The same friend, by the way, found that there was one sure prescription for securing a welcome on a second visit -- to make the people laugh before the first visit was over. He was no careless Pastor, who forgot that he was in quest of souls, and that the message of the Lord is no jest. But his experience was that in that strange |lapsed| population the rapport between man and man set up by an honest laugh was important as the first step to something very different which was to follow.

COME TO THE POINT.

In the ordinary pastoral round no such ingenious merriment will be necessary; though you will of course aim not only to be but to be seen to be happy in your work, and in your Master; bright with a light which is as natural in its influence as it is divine in its origin. In the ordinary round one great principle to be remembered, if I am right, is that you should come to the point as soon as possible. Some earnest men greatly shrink from this, and aim at the souls of their people by very circuitous routes. As a rule, I am sure, there is little need to do so; we are |expected| to be about our Master's business, and to deliver His messages without needless delay. I would not counsel the general verbal adoption of one good country Parson's salutation, who always opened the cottage door with, |How are you? How is your soul?| But I have no doubt it was a good greeting for many a parishioner of his; and the principle of it is good for almost every pastoral visit. Yes, we shall do well to take people very much for granted, coming before them as we do (unless we quite forget our true character) as the Lord Jesus Christ's messengers and delegates, whatever else we are.

KEEP IT ALWAYS IN VIEW.

Most certainly and obviously the Pastor will often allude to common human interests, and should indeed know something and have something to say and do about temporal problems, things of body and estate. But then I do hold that he should |draw all things this| supremely important |way.| All his pastoral intercourse should bear somehow upon the question of the state before God of the person or persons visited; upon conviction of sin, or comfort in grace, or Christian conduct; upon Christ and the soul, upon holiness and immortality, as the Gospel |brings them out into the light.| [2 Tim. i.10.]

A DIFFICULT CASE WELL MET.

There are cases most certainly where this has to be done with peculiar tact and caution unless quite obvious mischief is to be done instead of good. But let the man be always lying in wait, and he will very seldom do so quite in vain. An instance occurs to me, in the work of a most honoured veteran in the Ministry. He called on a new parishioner, a lady of his own class, and soon found out that she was politely but resolutely arranging to keep Jesus Christ out of the conversation; so cleverly that he fairly failed to break the fence. Just as he was leaving, for he could not go without one mention of his Master, he said, as the last word of his courteous farewell, |The Lord bless you.| That was all; but it was enough to carry in it the Spirit's message. The utterance stayed in the parishioner's soul, sounding solemnly on. It was impossible to be offended; it was impossible not to think. And the issue was, in God's time, a real and deep conversion.

A HAPPY REBUKE TO COWARDICE.

But, I repeat it, such difficulties in |the daily round| need not be very frequent, if we do not create them for ourselves. How often the very persons to whom we think it wiser not to speak openly about the Lord Jesus Christ (remember, it is about HIM, even more than about themselves, we are to speak) are longing to hear us do so! In the early days of my ordination I remember visiting an invalid gentleman, who had known me (for it was my Father's parish) all my life; and I was very cowardly in his case about coming to the point of Christ and the soul. Several visits, let me confess it with shame, were paid before I found myself able to propose that we should open the Bible together, and then pray. I was moved to the inmost heart by the actual tears of delight with which the proposal was welcomed.

And not seldom, if we do not come to the point, our people will bring us to it. A very dear friend of mine, a few years ago, was going his first circuits in a large London parish, and paid one among many first visits. He allowed it to be a mere visit of introductory civilities; but he need not have been so cautious. As he rose to go the good woman on whom he had called said to him, |You will have a word of prayer with me, will you not? The Vicar always does.|

|Go, labour on, spend and be spent;
Thy joy to do the Father's will;
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?

|Go, labour on while it is day,
The world's dark night is hastening on;
Speed, speed thy work, cast sloth away;
It is not thus that souls are won.|

BONAR.

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