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REPLY TO “A LAYMAN” ON PASTORAL VISITATION,
To the Editor of the Christian Herald. SIR_Your last number contained some remarks on Pastoral Visitation, which have appeared to me liable to exception. I do not condemn them in the gross, nor can I, on the whole, regret that they have appeared on your pages; but the subject itself, besides being a delicate one, is of so practical a nature, as to require the pen of an experienced Pastor to illustrate it. On this account, I was sorry to observe, that the general tenor of the piece exhibited much of the air of personality. The writer would have accomplished his object, (which I shall not doubt was benevolent) with equal certainty, had he confined himself strictly to principles and duties. It is often hazardous to select a particular neglect, which does not necessarily involve some positively vicious habit, and pronounce it one that renders a minister of the gospel unworthy the confidence of his charge. If all this is not asserted in any single sentence or paragraph of the Layman's letter, I fear it will be inferred from the general tenor of his remarks. But as ministers as well as their hearers, are fallible and sinful men, this sentiment would exalt the duty of Pastoral Visitation above every other. That particular obligation must be singularly momentous, which, if not promptly met, would completely or nearly destroy the usefulness and character of a minister, who is in all other respects acceptable and faithful to his people. Sir, I am conscious of too many sinful defects in my own endeavours to preach and exemplify the gospel of the grace of God; and my intercourse with the most devoted servants of God, has made me acquainted with too many failings in them, not to possess a considerable measure of charity on this subject. My own decision and practice are indeed entirely with those, who consider Pastoral Visitation an important and most interesting item in the active duties of the settled minister. I love to slip unceremoniously into the families of my congregation, and pass a few moments in cheering the heart of the good old pilgrim, with some familiar talk about the grace and power and faithfulness of our common Saviour, and the blessedness of those who are destined soon to be with bim in glory. I take a sort of painful satisfaction, even in warning the backslider, and affectionately beseeching the careless sinner to consult the future happiness of his soul. I find it comparatively easy to administer suitable reproof to the intemperate, the sabbath breaker, and the profane, in private. But then, I recollect the time when the act of doing all this, to my own satisfaction, was, with me, a greater desideratum than it now is, and the cross, a most oppressive burden. I cannot, for a moment, place myself above any of my brethren in the ministry, on the ground of my having given a more practical attention to this part of my duty, than some others have done ; nor do I certainly conclude, that had circumstances given a different mould to my official labours, my mind would have been less solemnly impressed with the momentous character of my charge.
The writer of this article has said thus much of himself, to convince the reader, that he speaks from experience and observation, when be declares, that he cannot subscribe to the idea suggested in
the last paragraph of the “ Layman's" remarks. He does believe, that there may be many Christian ministers in our land, whose daily walk and conversation prove them to be godly men, men of prayer, earnestly devoted to their work, and heartily concerned for the salvation of their people, who do not visit and “ teach from house to house.” Such a minister was President Edwards, during his continuance at Northampton, (Mass.) of whom his biographer says, “ He did not make it his custom to visit his people in their own houses, unless he was sent for by the sick, or he heard that they were under some special affliction.” It is known to the writer, that very extensive revivals of religion have occurred under the ministrations of Pastors, who have followed Mr. Edwards' example. He could easily specify men and places, did a sense of propriety allow it.
The inference from these remarks is, that there exists or may exist, among the clergy of this or any other section of the country, a great diversity of opinion on the subject of Pastoral Visitation, and it would be presuming, to say the least, if not manifestly uncharitable, to impute a disposition and habit of some to neglect their official duties. No excuse can indeed be framed for such ministers (if such there be) as excuse themselves from this service, on the ground, that they cannot find sufficient time for its performance, while they lounge away the week till Thursday or Friday, and then begin the great labour of preparation for the pulpit. But it is the fact, that some very industrious ministers among us, have too large a share of their time necessarily occupied with cases, which do not immediately pertain to their pastoral relations. The public calls made upon the time and attentions of some among us, are extremely numerous and altogether indispensable. And such is the habit which this Christian community have fallen into, of intrusting every public concern of the church to the more popular part of the clergy, that it seems determined on preventing both their future popularity and their usefulness. Few persons, besides clergymen, can fully appreciate the obstacles which in some cases, lie in the way of regular Pastoral Visitation. The writer might specify not a few, with which the Layman may have been but imperfectly acquainted. But it is far from being his object, to justify the neglect in question, nor has he time for a more ample discussion. The subject is deserving a thorough investigation. And he will indulge the hope, that these strictures, together with the remarks by which they are occasioned, will give to some candid and practical pen, this very employment. Your obedient servant,
REMARKS. We have most cheerfully given a place to “ Clericus" in reply to “A Layman," claiming however, the Editorial right of making such remarks as in our opinion, the state of this important discussion requires
We do not hold ourselves responsible for every expression of our correspondents, nor feel ourselves at liberty to mutilate and debilitate their communications, by a vain endeavour to make them speak exactly our own sentiments. We willingly admit some variety, and difference of opinion, so long as there is no departure
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from Christian kindness and courtesy, so long as we perceive in the midst of variety, a uniform tendency to what is useful, and amiable, and of good report.
We certainly do not approve of setting up the duty of “ Pastoral Visitation," as a test of ministerial piety. Though we consider it a duty, and one exceedingly important, far be it from us to say, that a minister may not otherwise give evidence of even great eminence as a Christian; or that even failure in this duty, accompanied by a general negligence, may not consist with that slumbering piety, of which we, as well as our readers, may have had frequent experience.
The latter alternative is all, we suppose, which the “* Layman" intended to assert, not as the universal accompaniment of the censured neglect, but as in point of fact, the accompaniment in that section of the Church, which was the scene of his observation. Unquestionably, he had not his eye fixed upon such men as JONATHAN EDWARDS, who spent the hours redeemed from one branch of ministerial duty, in such an urgent use of the press, as made him, instead of a mere parochial minister, rather a minister to his country, and to mankind.
While we thus give this great and good man his due honour, we feel it just to remark that we have always considered President Edwards' omission of pastoral visitation, as an evidence of human weakness, rather than as one of his eminent virtues : rather to be avoided as the foible of a very great and good man, than to be ad. mired and imitated. We believe that President Edwards would have found more comfort, more usefulness, and especially less opposition, had he systematically visited his charge, though it had been with a very economical expenditure of his valuable time, and that he would have made no real encroachment upon his useful studies. We make these remarks, because we fear that the example of President Ed. wards, as quoted by “ Clericus," has had an extensive influence,-and an influence most unjustifiable, upon those individuals, who are not as earnestly, if less ably, en. gaged in making the pen and the press, preach the Gospel of the grace of God.
We admit that one general rule on this duty, cannot be made to apply to all ministers. It has pleased God to furnish to his Church, and to the world, a great variety of talents, and to connect each individual with labours and duties peculiar to his own particular station. Hence, while pastoral visitation is unquestionably the duty of those ministers, whom God has placed over particular congregations, that duty may be (oot omitted,) but accommodated to those other duties which devolve upon the minister, whom God in his providence, inclines and enables to enter upon a larger sphere. Such an one may be excused, if like “ Clericus," he " slip unceremo. niously" in, “and spend a few moments," as he passes annually, and regularly through “ the families of his congregation;" while those whose labours are princi. pally limited to their own flock, should make a more formal and complete pastoral visitation. Let then those, who restrain in any measure their pastoral labours, make ameuds by their more public exertions, and those who restrain their public exertions, makc amends by the constancy and fidelity of their pastoral labours; and let it be long the happy lot of the CHRISTIAN HERALD to proclaim abroad the progress of the Redeeiner's cause, by the harmonious exertions of Botu.
The sixth anniversary of this society was celebrated in this city on Thursday the 9th inst. The Officers and Managers of the Society and
the delegates from Auxiliary Societies met at nine o'clock at the NewYork Institution, where the meeting was opened with reading the cxxxiii. Psalm by the Rev. Dr. Ripley, of Fairfield, Conn. A procession was then formed and moved to the City Hotel in Broadway, where the Society were convened.
Gen. MATTHEW CLARKSON, Vice President, in the absence of the President, took the chair precisely at 10 o'clock, supported by Col. Richard Varick and John Bolton, Esqr. Vice Presidents. The meeting of the Society was opened with reading the lx. chapter of Isaiah, by the Rev. Benjamin Mortimer, of the Moravian Church in this city; after which the following Address of the Hon. John Jay, President, was read by his son, Peter A. Jay, Esq.
Address of the President. Our late worthy and munificent President having, since the last anniversary of the Society, been removed to a better state; the Board of Managers were pleased to elect me to succeed birn, and that the state of my health might cease to be an objection, they also have dispensed with my personal attendance. For the honour they have done me by both these marks of attention, it gives me pleasure to express my sincere and grateful acknowledgements. With equal sincerity I assure the Society that, although restrained from actual services by long continued maladies, and the increasing infirmities of age, my attachment to this Institution, and my desire to promote the attainment of its great and important objects, remain undiminished.
Those great and important objects have, on former anniversaries of this and similar Societies, been so comprehensively and eloquently elucidated by gentlemen of signal worth and talents, as that it would neither be a necessary nor an easy task to give them additional illustration. So interesting, however, are the various topics which bear a relation to the purposes for which we have associated, that it cannot be useless, nor, on these occasions, unreasonable, to reiterate our attention to some of them.
There is reason to believe that the original, and subsequent fallen state of man-his promised redemption from the latter, and the institution of sacrifices having reference to it, were well known to many of every antediluvian generation. That these great truths were known to Noah, appears from the divine favour he experienced, from his being a preacher of righteousness, and from the time and the description of the sacrifices which he offered. That he carefully and correctly communicated this knowledge to his children, is to be presumed froig his character and longevity.
After the astonishing catastrophe at Babel, men naturally divided into different associations, according to their languages ; and migrating into various regions, multiplied into distinct nations. Tradition doubtless continued to transmit these great truths from generation to generation, but the diminution of longevity, together with the defects and casualties incident to tradition, gradually rendered it less and less accurate.
These important truths, thus became in process of time, disfigured, obscure, and disregarded. Custom and usage continued the practice
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of sacrifices, but the design of their institution ceased to be remembered. Men “gought out many inventions,” and true religion was supplanted by fables and idolatrous rites. Their mythology manifests the inability of mere human reason, even when combined with the learning of Egypt, and the philosophy of Greece and Rome, to acquire the knowledge of our actual state and future destiny, and of the conduct proper to be observed in relation to both.
By the merciful interposition of Providence, early provision was made for preserving these great truths from universal oblivion, and for their being ultimately diffused throughout the world. They were communicated to Abraham. He was also favoured with additional information relative to the expected redemption, and with a promise that the Redeemer should be of his family. That family was thenceforth separated and distinguished from others, and on becoming a nation, was placed under a Theocratic government. To that family and nation, the divine oracles and revelations were committed ; and such of them as infinite wisdom deemed proper for the future instruction of every nation, were recorded and carefully preserved. By those revelations, the promise and expectation of redemption were from time to time renewed, and sundry distinctive marks and characteristic cir. cumstances of the Redeemer predicted. The same merciful Provi. dence has also been pleased to cause every material event and occurrence respecting our Redeemer, together with the Gospel he proclaimed, and the miracles and predictions to which it gave occasion, to be faithfully recorded and preserved for the information and benefit of all mankind..
All these records are set forth in the Bible which we are distributing; and from them it derives an incalculable degree of importance, for, as every man must soon pass through - his short term of existence here, into a state and life of endless duration, the knowledge necessary to enable him to prepare for such a change, cannot be too highly estimated.
The Gospel was no sooner published, than it proceeded to triumph over obstacles which its enemies thought insurmountable ; and aumerous heathen nations rendered joyful “ obedience to the Faith.” Well known events afterwards occurred, which impeded its progress, and even contracted the limits of its sway. Why those events were permitted, and why the conversion of the great residue of the Gentiles was postponed, has not been revealed to us. The scriptures inform us that the coming in of the fulness of the Gentiles, will not be accomplished while Jerusalem shall continue to be trodden down by them. As a distant future period appears to have been allotted for its accomplishment—so a distant future season was doubtless assigned for its effectual commencement. Although the time appointed for the arrival of that season cannot be foreseen, yet we have reason to presume, that its approach, like the approach of most other seasons, will be preceded and denoted by appropriate and significant indications. As the conversion of the Gentiles is doubtless to be effected by the instrumentality of Christian nations, so these will doubtless be previ. ously prepared and qualified for that great work, and their labour in it be facilitated by the removal or mitigation of obstructions and diffi