Heart Talks

By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer

Chapter 28


By Daniel Wilson, Bishop of Calcutta, March, 1829


     To preach aright, is not to discuss coldly a topic, is not to indulge in metaphysical statements, is not to court human applause, is not to move the passions by earthly eloquence it is a much higher thing: it is to give a tongue to prophets and apostles, it- is to make truth intelligible, forcible, triumphant : it is to give to the written doctrine the tenderness and pathos, the authority and force, with which it was first clothed by the inspired authors. Who are the first to reform, if not the ministers of the sanctuary? And in what are they to amend their ways, if not in the preaching of the Word?


     I. Importance of House to House Visitation

     We have confined ourselves to preaching, to ecclesiastical duties, to occasional visits to the sick, to the administration of the sacraments; but what have we done in personal care and direction, in going from house to house, in visiting every family and individual in our districts, in becoming well acquainted with the character, the wants, and the state of heart, the habits, the attendance on public worship, the observation of the Sabbath, the instruction of children and servants, the family devotions of each house? And yet all this ought to have been done, and must be done, if a general revival of religion is to be expected. It is when we come to them in private and individually, and with all the influence which affection and character and official station give, that we touch the conscience.

     And consider, brethren, how many there are, in every neighborhood, who never come to the public church -- consider the masses of people in our larger towns, who must be sought out by the minister of grace -- consider the numbers who are detained at home by illness and infirmity, or by the bad arrangement of family concerns -- consider, in short, that in your churches you collect only the better sort of people, those in whom some good habits, some parental care, some force of conscience operates; but that those who most need your instruction lie hid in the retirement and insensibility which can only be reached by direct and personal inquiry. Every family who will receive you -- and almost all will -- should be visited.

     The immediate good effects of such labor will be incalculable. You will be able to apply and send home your public sermons to the conscience of each person. You will induce them to attend church with more constancy and interest, as expecting to be visited afterward. Then the minister thus acquires knowledge of the human heart rapidly; collects materials -- the best materials -- for his sermons; learns simplicity in his style; is enabled to divide and apportion out the word of truth with more discrimination, and nourishes his own heart and his personal religion -- his private studies and meditations are made more fruitful, more devotional. One half hour's practical study of the human heart in personal visits, gives an impulse to ten hours speculative meditation from books and authors. Nothing will more tend to produce sound and solid success in our ministry. Our estimate of what constitutes a real blessing will rise. Our excessive reliance on mere preaching will be moderated. Our hasty conclusions of good being done, because people will crowd to a popular sermon, will listen to an intellectual and manly discussion, will be moved by fervid appeals, will yield to the affection of a preacher's manner, entertain ministers at their table, admire and defend them in private, follow many parts of their advice, etc., -- these hasty conclusions, from such equivocal marks, will be corrected. We shall estimate success by solid conversion, by a change of heart and character, by the love of Christ, by a regard to eternal things, by a crucifixion of the old man and a consistent obedience to the will of God. These effects have the stamp of heaven; and when the Holy Ghost begins extensively to grant these to us, a revival of religion is begun and all the highest ends of the ministry arc accomplished,

     We live in a day of external peace. We live in a time of much evangelical profession. The gospel is in a certain way fashionable. Our danger, therefore, lies peculiarly on the side of the world, of ease, indulgence, pride, conformity to the opinion of others; display in dress, in furniture, in houses; a life of external propriety, without much self-denial or spirituality. We must, then, maintain a decided superiority to all secular considerations, if we would fulfill the duties already suggested, and glorify Christ. We must despise the frowns, and shun the smiles, and avoid the maxims, and dread the benumbing influence of the world. We must be well aware of the surprising tendency there is in every human heart to lukewarmness, to the love of praise, to secular importance, ant the gratification of the flesh.

     No man can keep his standing without constant prayer and watchfulness. In a day of peace, ambition, love of power, sordid covetousness, the lording it over God's heritage, the complacency of a public situation, the secret delight in considering our works, our congregations, our parishes, our influence, steal upon the heart unperceived. The world in all its forms is in direct hostility with the spiritual church. "Filthy lucre" is again and again condemned by St. Paul, as the especial snare of the clergy. Pride, and dominion over the faith of the people, is again and again held forth by him for our warning.


     II. The Danger of Ease-Taking

     Another peculiar danger of the world arises from its biasing the decisions of the judgment. The practices which we loudly condemned, are tolerated, excused, defended. The resolutions we made in early life appear harsh and impracticable. We are now of the opinion that this and that thing is lawful; we now judge such and such practices expedient; we now conclude and resolve that there is no harm in this and the other indulgence. Thus Satan gains a footing in the heart; earthly things obtain possession, Christ and His doctrine are enfeebled, the pity we once felt for souls has lost its tone, our self-denial is gone, and we are like salt which has lost its savor. Brethren, let us awake to our danger ere it be too late. Let us shake ourselves from the slumbers of a worldly state. Let us dread the magical enchantment of earthly objects. Let us take heed and beware of covetousness and surfeiting and the pleasures of this life. If a revival of religion is our object and our desire, we must begin at home; we must cultivate a spiritual, a retired, a heavenly religion. Never can we call our people to leave that world to which we are looking back ourselves.

     Mere decency, mere kindness of heart, mere common uprightness, in a minister of the gospel, is treachery to the peculiar trust reposed in him. Nothing can be indifferent which he does. He is the instrument and cause of the condemnation of his people, unless he is positively employing all his powers for their salvation. Consider, dear reader, can anything be more opposed to the simple character of a herald of Christ, than a mere taste for eloquent literature, the mere labor of a scientific student, the mere ardor of the philosopher or a historian? Was it for this you undertook the care of souls? Is it for this you desert your closet, your sick chambers, your private devotional duties? Believe it, the pride of human knowledge indisposes more to the humbling truths and precepts of the Christian ministry than almost any other passion. The soul is barren, the heart is filled with vanity, the habits are worldly. A literary spirit in a minister of Christ is direct rebellion against the first claims of his high office. The spirit of the servant of God is not literature, but piety; not vanity and conceit, but lowliness of heart; not idle curiosity, but sound and solid knowledge; not philosophy, but the Bible; not the pursuit of natural discoveries, but the care of souls, the glory of Christ, the progress of the gospel; not science, but salvation.

     The external orthodoxy of the present day evaporates all the life of the divine doctrine, leaves man to his natural powers, fills him with pride and self-conceit, is content with a dead faith and a worldly life, neglects the care of souls, and builds up a proud self-righteousness on the foundation of human merit. This lukewarm temper is an enemy to spiritual religion, and to the revival of it, because such topics condemn the lukewarmness of the age as the greatest provocation that can be offered to God. Oh, if it should please the Almighty Savior to revive His work among the clergy, the very first effect would be the detection of the evils of this self-confident, worldly spirit,

     Remember, finally, dear brethren, for with this admonition I will conclude, that Satan, our great adversary, will peculiarly resist all attempts at a revival of Christianity. It is death to his kingdom. A cold orthodoxy he can bear with. A literary spirit he can turn to his own purposes. A merely decent, benevolent person, with the name of a clergyman, he retains safely in his power. But to arouse a careless age, to sound the trumpet among the teachers of religion, to call on them to awake from spiritual torpor and then arouse their people -- this kindles all the wrath of the wicked one. But be not deterred. "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world."

     Yes, beloved brethren, we must calculate on the bitterest hostility and the most subtle artifices of Satan as we proceed in our holy course. But be not deterred. "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world."