Heart Talks

By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer

Chapter 26


By Adam Clarke


 My Dear Brethren:

     You are engaged in the most important work in the universe. Commissioned by God Almighty, you are sent to explain and enforce the mystery which had been hidden from former ages; that glorious scheme of salvation, the redemption of a lost world by the incarnation, sufferings, and death of Jesus Christ.

     As you have, no doubt, deeply considered the nature of the work, and counted the cost; and have deliberately chosen your present employment, at the certain loss of every worldly prospect, and at the hazard of your life; permit one who has learned experience on a variety of points connected with a preacher's usefulness, and at no ordinary expense either (having had the pains to be often instructed through the medium of his own blunders), to give you the following advices:

  1. "Be diligent; -- never be unemployed a moment; -- never be triflingly employed, -- never while away time: neither spend any more time at any place than is strictly necessary.

  2. "Be serious. Let your motto be Holiness, to the Lord. Avoid all lightness, jesting, and foolish talking.

  3. "Converse sparingly and cautiously with women; particularly young women.

  4. "Take no step toward marriage without consulting with your brethren.

  5. "Believe evil of no one; unless you see it done, take heed how you credit it. Put the best construction on every thing. You know, the judge is always supposed to be on the prisoner's side.

  6. "Speak evil of no one: else your words especially would eat as doth a canker: keep your thoughts within your breast till you come to the person concerned.

  7. "Tell every one what you think wrong in him, and that plainly, as soon as may be, else it will fester in your heart.

  8. "Do not affect the gentleman. You have no more to do with this character than with that of a dancing master. A preacher of the gospel should be the servant of all.

  9. "Be ashamed of nothing but sin: not of fetching wood or drawing water, if time permit: not of cleaning your own shoes, nor those of your neighbor.

  10. "Be punctual: do every thing exactly at the time: and keep our rules, not for wrath, but for conscience sake.

  11. "You have nothing to do but to save souls: therefore spend and be spent in this work: and go always, not only to those who want you, but to those who want you most.

  12. "It is not your business to preach so many times, merely, or to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can: to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord."

     You preach, not merely to explain God's Word, but to save souls: whenever you forget this you go astray.

     I have known ministers, and of no mean note either, who seldom have a soul comforted under their ministry, merely because of their harsh, austere manner of preaching the gospel. Others, far their inferiors in point of ministerial qualifications, get souls for their hire wherever they come, principally (under God) through their affectionate manner of recommending the gospel of the grace of Christ. Of the former it has been justly said, They make even the promises of God too hot to be held.

     Beware of discouraging the people; therefore avoid continually finding fault with them. This does very great hurt. There are some whose sermons impress nothing but terror; and though they point out the heights and depths of holiness, yet they leave the hearers no courage to follow on to know the Lord. There are others who become censors general of the different societies to whom they preach. This (imperceptibly to themselves) spoils their own tempers, begets a spirit of uncharitableness, and greatly injures their usefulness.

     If you find a society fallen or falling, examine as closely as you can to find out all the good that is among them; and, copying Christ's conduct toward the seven Asiatic churches, preface all that you have to say, on the head of their backsliding, with the good that remains in them; and make that good which they still possess, the reason why they should shake themselves from the dust, take courage and earnestly strive for more. If you ground your exhortations to increasing diligence and zeal on what they have lost) instead of on what they yet possess, and may speedily gain) you miss your way and lose your labor. I tried the former way and it did no good. I abandoned it and adopted the latter, and God blessed it. Mr. Wesley used to give the significant appellation of "croakers," to those who were always telling the people, "Ye are fallen! ye are fallen!" and he observed that such injured the work of God wherever they came. I have in general found that those who are most frequent in the above cry are such as have suffered loss in their own souls; and, taking a prospect of what is without, from a retrospect of what is within, they imagine that all they see are in the same apostate condition with themselves.

     Man is naturally prone to act in extremes; therefore take good heed that while you avoid the above evil, you fall not into that other of slightly passing by the transgressions of the wicked or the backslidings of the people of God. Cases may occur that will require public and cutting reproof, but as I hinted before, in all such cases copy the example of our blessed lord to the seven Asiatic churches. There you have an infallible directory. May God help you to follow it!


     I. Pulpit Manners

     1. Go from your knees to the chapel. Get a renewal of your commission every time you go to preach, in a renewed sense of the favor of God. Carry your authority to declare the gospel of Christ, not in your hand but in your heart. When in the pulpit be always solemn, say nothing to make your congregation laugh. Remember you are speaking for eternity; and trifling is inconsistent with such awful subjects as the great God, the agony and death of Christ, the torments of hell, and the blessedness of heaven.

     2. Never assume an air of importance while in the pulpit; you stand in an awful place and God hates the proud man. Never be boisterous or dogmatic. Let your demeanor prove that you feel that you are speaking before Him who tries the spirit, and to whom you are responsible for every word you utter. Self-confidence will soon lead to a forgetfulness of the presence of God, and then you speak your own words and perhaps in your own spirit, too.

     3. Avoid all quaint and fantastic attitudes. I once knew a young man who, through a bad habit which he had unfortunately acquired, made so many antics, as the people termed them, in the pulpit, as to prejudice and grieve many. A very serious and sensible person who constantly heard him really thought he was afflicted with that species of paralysis termed St. Vitus' dance, and hearing some blame him, entered seriously on his defense, on the ground of its being the visitation of God! As there are a thousand reasons why a young man should not wish the people to form such an opinion of him, so there is all the reason in the world why he should avoid queer nodding, ridiculous stoopings and erections of his body, skipping from side to side of the desk, knitting his brows, and every other theatrical or foppish air which tends to disgrace the pulpit and to render himself contemptible.

     4. Never shake or flourish your handkerchief; this is abominable; nor stuff it into your bosom; this is unseemly. Do not gaze about on your congregation before you begin your work; if you take a view of them at all, let it be as transient as possible.

     5. Endeavor to gain the attention of your congregation. Remind them of the presence of God. Get their spirits deeply impressed with the truth, Thou, God, seest me! and assure them, "He is in the midst, not to judge, but to bless them; and that they should wait as for eternity, for now is the day of salvation." I have ever found that a few words of this kind spoken before the sermon have done very great good.

     6. You may easily find many treatises written on the Gift of Preaching, the Eloquence of the Pulpit, the Composition of a Sermon, etc., both in your own language and in foreign tongues; and he who has a good judgment may profit by them. But I must confess, all I have ever read on the subject has never conveyed so much information to my mind as the original, and in my opinion, the only proper mode of preaching, as Nehemiah 8:8, "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense and caused them to understand the reading."

     First, They read in the book q the law of God. The words of God are the proper matter of preaching, for they obtain the wisdom of the Most High and reveal to man the things which make for his peace.

     Secondly, They read distinctly; they analyzed, dilated and expounded it at large.

     Thirdly, They gave the sense, i. e., showed its importance and utility.

     Fourthly, They caused them to understand the reading; and they understood) had a mental taste and perception of the things which were in the reading, i. e., in the letter and spirit of the text.

     7. Shun all controversies about politics. It is not the bread which God has provided for His children; and from the pulpit, it is neither profitable for doctrine, for reproof, nor for instruction in righteousness. If others will bring this chaff into the house of God, copy them not.

     8. A sentence or two of affectionate prayer in different parts of the discourse has a wonderful tendency to enliven it, and to make the people hear with concern and interest. On this subject, a great foreign orator gives the ministers of the gospel the following advice: "When you have proved the truth of the principles you laid down, you have done but little of the great ministerial work. It is from this point, the proof of your doctrine, that you are to set out to triumph over the passions of your auditory; to strip the sinner of every subterfuge and excuse, that conviction may lead him to repentance. To produce this effect, leave your proofs and divisions behind you; address yourself to the conscience in powerful interrogatives; repeat nothing that you have before said; you have now to produce a new effect, and must use a new language. Employ the utmost energy of your soul to show them that happiness is to be found nowhere but in God. What should I say more? Forget method, forget art itself. Lift up your soul in affectionate prayer to God; become the intercessor of your auditory, that the multitude which withstood your menaces, may be constrained to yield to the effusions of your love."

     9. While I have you in the pulpit, I will give you a concluding advice relative to this part of the business. Never ape any person, however eminent he may be for piety or ministerial abilities. Every man has a fort, as it is called, of his own; and if he keep within it, he is impregnable. The providence of God has caused many of the natural manners of men to differ as much as their persons; and it is nearly as impossible for a man to imitate the peculiar manners of another, as it is to assume his features. It is on this account that no one has ever succeeded who has endeavored to copy another, and as the aiming to do it is easily discoverable, the man who acts thus is despicable in the eyes of the people. And that man is justly despised by others, who has so far despised himself and his Maker, as to endeavor to throw off his natural self in order to act another man's character.


     II. Circuit Manners

     1. Never disappoint a place: this would be contrary to your covenant with God, your agreement with your brethren, and your engagement to the people. Keep your own watch always to true time and begin precisely at the time appointed. Never be a minute later than true time, except in the country, where there is no public clock: then five minutes may be allowed for the difference between clocks and watches. But these five minutes may be as well before as after common time in other places. Do not many preachers of all denominations sin against God and their own souls by not attending to this? You publish preaching for such a time and you do not come in till considerably after; and this is your usual custom. Then (harsh as the saying may appear) you are certainly a habitual and public liar. I never knew a preacher who acted in this way who did not lose the confidence of the people to such a degree as essentially to injure his public usefulness. Add to this that the congregations are ever ruined by such conduct.

     2. Be punctual in getting in proper time to the place where you are to dine and lodge. Do not make a whole family wait upon you. This is both injustice and insolence. While I readily grant, with our blessed Lord, that the laborer is worthy of his meat, yet he should certainly come to receive it in due time; and he who habitually neglects this, disappointing and confusing the families wherever he comes, is not worthy of a morsel of bread. I have known some, of more than common ministerial abilities, lose their importance and ruin themselves in the opinion of the people, by their want of punctuality in this respect.

     3. Never leave any place you visit without reading a portion of the Scripture and praying with the family; and seize the most convenient time for family prayer in the houses where you lodge. Just before they sit down to meat is, in my opinion, the best time. Then the several members of the family are generally present. But I have often observed that one and another, after having hurried down their victuals, have either gone, or have been called away to business; so that before the whole family had finished their meal, one-third of the members of it were not to be found. There are, it is true, some families so well regulated that this secession is never permitted; yet even among these, I have always found it the best way to have prayer before meals and especially at the breakfast hour. Should you be invited to any place where you are not permitted to pray with the family, never go thither again; and give them your reason. An ambassador of God should be transacting the business of his Master whithersoever he goes; and where he is not permitted to do it, there God has not sent him.

     4. If you wish to keep a good conscience you must walk as in the presence of God. Extremes beget extremes. Take heed, then, that while you avoid levity on the one hand, you fail not into sour godliness on the other. There are some who have the unhappy art of making a lest out of everything, and even apply Scripture in this way. Such conduct is execrable. There are others who, being of an unhappy cast of mind, through a kind of natural or factitious melancholy, strip a man of salvation for a smile, and condemn him to the pit for being cheerful. Avoid both these extremes and remember that levity will ape religious cheerfulness, and sourness of temper will endeavor to pass itself off for Christian gravity.

     5. Tell your trials and temptations to very few. Your weaknesses, etc., should be known only to God and yourself. No one should be trusted except that friend whom you know well, and to whom you can at all times trust even your life. I have known some who were telling their trials, weaknesses, etc., everywhere; the consequence was they were despised or pitied without being esteemed.

     6. Wherever you go, discountenance that disgraceful custom (properly enough termed), Biblomancy, i. C., divination by the Bible. I need scarcely observe that this consists in what is called dipping into the Bible, taking passages of Scripture at hazard and drawing indications thence concerning the present and future state.

     7. Never go in debt for food, clothes or anything else; it is no sin to die in a ditch through hunger or cold, but it is a crime to go in debt when there is not the fullest prospect of being able to pay. It is the most certain and honorable way, never to sit down to the food, nor put on the clothes, till the bills for both are discharged. By these means you will keep clear of the world and make most of the little you have. Every word of the old adage is true: "Live not on trust, for that is the way to pay double."

     8. Never choose a circuit for yourself. If you do, and succeed in getting the object of your choice, make up your mind to bear all the crosses alone which you may meet with in it: for how can you look to God for strength to support you under trials which you may reasonably conclude are of your own procuring?

     9. Get a genuine friend whenever you can and prize him much when you have got him. Beware of forming hasty friendships; they are seldom solid. Confide little in the person who suddenly professes uncommon affection for you. He may be sincere; but depend upon it, he will not be steady. Remember the proverb, Hot love is soon cold. Those who form hasty friendships are always fickle.

     If you have a friend who takes offense at trifles break entirely with him, for he is not to be trusted.


     III. Domestic Manners

     1. On your arrival, get as speedily as possible to private prayer; and earnestly beg God to bless your coming -- to bless you -- to the family, and to the congregation, so that you may leave that place with an increase of spiritual life, and with the comfortable satisfaction of having been a messenger of peace to that house and to the people of that place.

     Show yourself satisfied with everything you receive. Be not nice in your food. Do not keep a lordly distance from the family. Be so familiar with them as to gain their confidence that you may the better succeed in talking with them concerning their souls. At the same time keep a due distance, that while you are esteemed as a brother in Christ, you may be acknowledged as His minister.

     2. Give the family where you lodge as little trouble as possible. Never desire any of them, not even the servants, to do things for you that you can conveniently do for yourself. It is an odious thing for a person whose character should be the servant of all, pressing everybody into his service; giving unnecessary trouble wherever he comes; turning a house upside down; and being dissatisfied with everything that is done for him. I have always seen that those who require most attendance are the most difficult to be pleased; for they are generally of a proud or discontented spirit. and such a spirit is never satisfied. A man of a truly Christian and noble mind finds it his highest interest to have few wants, and esteems it a luxury to minister to his own necessities.

     3. Never pull off your boots, shoes or gaiters in a parlor or sitting room. Leave your hat, whip, great-coat, etc., in the hall, lobby or some such place. Do not leave your foul linen, dirty clothes, shoes, etc., about in the room where you lodge. After having left your bed un covered for some time to cool and air, lay on the clothes neatly when you quit your room; and always throw up your windows when you go out. Empty the basin in which you have washed your hands, etc., and leave it always clean. Don't splash the walls nor the floor. Wipe every drop of water off the washstand and spread your towel always to dry; and when dry, fold it loosely up and place it on the head of the water bottle. Never comb out hair in a sitting room or before company; this is unpardonable vulgarity; nor brush your clothes in a bedroom; this spoils the furniture. See that you spill no ink on the floors, table, etc. Leave everything in the place where you found it, and habituate yourself to put every chair you Sit on in its proper place when you rise. Remember, that cannot be considered as a small thing to you which either prejudices a family against you, or is instrumental in acquiring you their good graces.

     4. Shun tea-drinking visits; these, in general, murder time and can answer no good purpose either to your body or soul. Thirty-seven years ago I met with Mr. Wesley's Letter on Tea. I read it and resolved from that hour to drink no more of the juice of that herb till I could answer his arguments and objections. I have seen that tract but once since; yet from that day until now, I have not drunk a cup of tea or coffee. For these things I mostly found a substitute in the morning; and when I could not, I cheerfully went without breakfast; and in their place I never took anything in the evening. By this line of conduct, I have not only joined hands with God to preserve a feeble constitution, but I can demonstrate that I have actually saved SEVERAL whole YEARS of time which otherwise must have been irrecoverably lost; and perhaps my soul with them: for I have often had occasion to observe that tea-drinking visits open the floodgates of various temptations. How can these exclaim against needless self-indulgence and waste of time who go out on such occasions in the evenings! It is a mystery to me which I never wish to be able to unravel, how men can act in this way and preach afterward! I have often wondered that this matter is never spoken of to the young preachers when they are admitted. But who can, with propriety, warn them against this evil? Only those who are guiltless -- and where are they?

     5. Go out as little as possible to eat and drink. Why IS the positive command of Christ on this head so generally disregarded? "Go not from house to house" (Luke 10:7). The acting contrary to this precept has often brought great disgrace on the gospel of God. Stay in your own lodgings as much as possible that you may have time for prayer and study. I have heard pious people (who received the preachers of the gospel into their houses) remark that they always found that preacher to be "most useful who kept most in his closet." Seldom frequent the tables of the rich or great. If you do, it will unavoidably prove a snare to you: the unction of God will perish from your mind and your preaching be only a dry, barren repetition of old things.

     Visit the people and speak to them about their souls as often and as much as you can; but be not at the mercy of every invitation to go out for a morsel of bread. If you take not this advice you will do no good, get no good, and utterly evaporate your influence.


     IV. Concerning Marriage

     1. I feel little encouragement to hazard any advice upon this subject. In general, people do not in this matter consult their own judgment, nor receive the counsel of their friends, but act according to the impulse of their passions. It is almost the only case in the concerns of human life where reason and prudence are obliged to be inactive, and where they are, notwithstanding, most interested. However, a Christian should act otherwise; and a Christian minister who is not delivered out of the hands of his own passions is a disgrace to the sacred character he bears. I was always an advocate for marriage; and as I have tried that state for more than thirty years and have been blessed with a good wife and with twelve children, it is no wonder that I should continue to recommend it.

     I say, by all means get married; for I am satisfied that few men can be truly comfortable who live a single life. But remember, your everlasting all may depend upon the choice you make. Seek for genuine piety -- nothing can compensate for the lack of this: look for sound sense and an agreeable manner -- that while your wife is a help to you, she may not, by her awkward behavior, be disgusting to others. Good natural tempers are of great consequences. Get a wife who possesses these before she was brought to God: and should she at any time lose ground in religion, her good natural disposition will still remain and your comfort will not be materially interrupted. But when a woman who has had bad natural tempers loses that life of God by which they were controlled or kept at bay, she become intolerable. Avoid a person of this character, though as rich as Croesus and as beautiful as an angel.

     Let the person be nearly of your own age. A young man marrying an old woman and an old man marrying a child, are both an abomination to common sense and reason. Your wife should ever be considered as your equal, and therefore should not be of such an age in reference to you as might demand the respect of a mother or the correction of a child.

     Don't seek for money: it is a shocking reproach to a man of God to be hunting after self and getting a wife merely for the sake of her possessions. I scruple not to say that those who marry for money are committing adultery as long as they live. I say nothing concerning beauty, etc., but would just observe that a man who is himself of a homely appearance should not be nice in the choice of a wife; and that a pious, sensible woman of a good natural disposition, be she ever so ordinary, is an inestimable treasure. Beware of a woman that meddles with politics or with the government of the Church of God. Such a one cannot fail to embroil you with the people wherever you go and will be a source of misery to you as long as you breathe.

     Marriage to you can never be an indifferent thing: it will make or mar you; it will be a blessing or a curse to you. It will either help you to heaven, drive you to hell, or be a heart-rending cross to you while you live. Nor will a bad or improper marriage affect yourself alone: it may be the ruin of every child that issues from it. And, dreadful as this evil is, it will not rest there; they may propagate the plague to interminable generations; and millions be injured, if not lost, by your improper or vicious marriage. Add to this, that as far as you are connected with the work of God, it will be a great hindrance, a deep blot, and a leprous curse to the church of Christ. I have heard it asserted by a sensible man, a keen observer of human nature, and one intimately acquainted with religious people, that "some of the direst evils that threaten the present revival of religion are deducible from this source. Young ministers have rushed in shoals into the net; and I cannot add," said he, "For all there are so many, yet is not the net broken.' They are entangled in the meshes; but, alas! [even when] the net is broken! They are neither brought to land, nor are free in the water. They have little domestic happiness; they present no edifying example."

     Think of these possible evils -- examine the circle of your acquaintance, and see them realized. Look before you leap.

     Take this step with that godly fear and scrupulous caution which a man should do who feels he has his all at stake. If God direct you not, you will draw in a fearful lottery, where there are many blanks to one prize. And what I say to young men here, I would say to young women also, were they the objects of my instruction.

     2. I need lay down no rules for your treatment of your wife; for if you do not truly love her, rules would be mere cobwebs to you. One thing I must say, that when you are in company, you should pay as much attention to your wife as to any person present; avoiding at the same time, that puerile monkeyish fooling and toying which is a disgrace to man and an insult to a sensible woman.

     3. Abuel Fazl, author of the Ayar Danish (Touchstone of Wisdom), gives the following advice to a person who was going to marry: "Take (says he) the daughter of a religious, friendly man whom you may make your confidant on all occasions. But have nothing to say to three kinds of women: 1. A widow if she be always extolling her deceased husband. 2. A woman whose relatives have conferred great favors upon you. And, 3, one who, whenever she sees you, speaks in a faint tone and affects a delicate, languid air."

     4. If ever God should bless you with children, see that you dedicate them unreservedly to Him. Never dress them in the fashion, i.e., the unmeaning, unnecessary, and absurd foppery of the times. Give them no red shoes, glaring buttons, &c. This fills them with pride, and debases their minds; for by this mode of conduct they are taught to attach a value to things which are of no intrinsic worth; and false perceptions and ideas, impressed upon the mind in so tender an age, are rarely obliterated through the whole course of life.

     5. Never, or very rarely, take them out with you to dine, &c., for the following reasons: 1. Because they are generally too much indulged by getting food, which in quantity and quality is injurious to their health. 2. Being treated better abroad than at home, necessary domestic restraint becomes irksome to them, and they would rather be anywhere else than in their parents' house. 3. By being too much indulged among strangers, they acquire too great a degree of forwardness; which, for lack of judgment, often degenerates into intolerable impudence. 4. They give great trouble to the families where they come; by which you cannot fail being brought into contempt, especially when you make it a custom to take them where they are neither asked nor desired.

     6. Concerning that abominable and fatal drain of human life, the pipe and the quid, I need here say nothing. My opinion has long since been before the public. I am sorry to say that I know several young men who are to this day murdering themselves in this way

     7. Wash your face, hands and feet often: and neglect not every morning to rinse your mouth with cold water and to cleanse your teeth well with a soft brush. He that begins this custom early and continues in it will never have the toothache nor an offensive breath. If you have a bad digestion, or should your meat lie ordinarily heavy upon your stomach, observe the following rules: Never eat to repletion; leave off while you have an appetite for more; and let not a morsel of any kind of food enter your stomach till you have chewed it as small as possible. This saves the stomach at least one-half of its ordinary labor; and remember, what all should know, and what few properly observe, that it is for this very end that the God of nature gave you your teeth.

     8. These may appear to be small things; but they are matters of the utmost importance. You perceive I have recommended no medicine because I believe nature, if she gets fair play, will require very little medical assistance; avoid all quack medicines as you would the pestilence. Let your moderation in all things be known unto all; the Lord is at hand.

     Finally, live for eternity and be every moment prepared to meet your God. I leave these advices with you and earnestly commend you to God and the word of His grace which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all them who are sanctified; and am affectionately, your companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus.


   Adam Clarke