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THE SECRET WALK WITH GOD (i.).
Pastor, for the round of toil
See the toiling soul is fed;
Shut the chamber, light the oil,
Break and eat the Spirit's bread;
Life to others would'st thou bring?
Live thyself upon thy King.
Let me explain in this first sentence that when in these pages I address "my Younger Brethren," I mean brethren in the Christian Ministry in the Church of England. Let me limit my reference still further, by premising that very much of what I say will be said as to brethren who have lately taken holy Orders, and are engaged in the work of assistant Curacies.
AIM OF THE BOOK.
Day by day, for many years past, my life has lain among men preparing themselves for just that work. As a matter of course my thoughts have run incessantly in that direction. Many a lecture in the library where we work together, and many a conversation in dining-hall, or by study fire, or in college garden, or on country road, has given point to those thoughts and enabled me, I trust, better to4 understand my younger Brethren, and with more sympathy to make myself, as an elder brother, understood by them. What I here seek to do, with the gracious aid of our blessed Master, is somewhat to extend the range of such talks, and to ask a friendly hearing from younger Brethren in the holy Ministry with whom I have never had the opportunity of speaking personally.
I have not the least intention of writing a treatise on the Christian Pastorate. To talk to young Christian Ministers about some important details of pastoral life and work, but above all of life, inward and outward—this is my simple purpose.
THREE LINES OF PRAYER.
One day in each week, at Ridley Hall, we unite in special prayer, without liturgical form, for those members of the Hall who have gone out into actual ministry. As I lead my dear younger Brethren in that supplication, the heart feels itself full of many, very many, well-remembered faces, characters, lives. It seems to see those many old friends scattered abroad in the Lord's work-field; and it sees, of course,5 a very large variety among them, in the way of both character and circumstances. But, with all this consciousness of differences, my thoughts and my petitions always, by a deep necessity, run for all alike along three main paths. The first prayer is for the young Clergyman's inner and secret Life and Walk with God. The second is for his daily and hourly general Intercourse with Men. The third is for his official Ministrations of the Word and Ordinances of the Gospel. And in all these directions, after all, one desire, one prayer, has to be offered, the prayer that everywhere and always, from the inmost recesses of life to its largest and most public circumference, the Lord and Master may take, and keep, full possession of the servant. I pray that in secret devotion, and in secret habits, Jesus Christ may be intensely present with the man; and that in common intercourse, in all its parts, He may be the constant and all-influencing Companion, to stimulate, to control, to chasten, to gladden, to empower; and that in the preaching of the Word the servant may really and manifestly speak from, and for, and in, his6 Lord; and that in ministration of the sacramental and other Ordinances he may truly and unmistakably walk before Him in holy simplicity, holy reverence, and full spiritual reality, "serving the Lord," and serving the flock, "with all humility of mind." [Acts xx. 19.]
My present talks on paper will take very much the lines of these prayers. Secret walk with God, common and general walk with men, special ministrations—I desire to say a little on each and all of these points, and more or less in this order, though without attempting too rigid an arrangement, where one subject must often run over into another.
SECRET WALK WITH GOD.
Let me take up the first great topic of the three for a few preliminary words in this chapter: The Secret Walk with God of the young Pastor of Christ's flock.
My brotherly reader will not need any long explanation or careful apology from me here. He knows as well as I do, on the one hand, that a close secret walk with God is unspeakably important in pastoral life, and, on the other hand, that pastoral life, and not least in7 its early days, is often allowed to hinder or minimize the real, diligent work (for it is a work indeed in its way) of that close secret walk. He finds all too many possible interferences with the inner working on the part of the outer. Such interferences come from very different quarters. The new Curacy, the new duties and opportunities, if the man has his heart in his ministry, will prove intensely interesting, and at first, very possibly, encouragement and acceptance may predominate over experiences of difficulty and trial. Services, sermons, visits to homes and to schools, with all the miscellanies that attend an active and well-ordered parochial organization—these things are sure to have a special and exciting interest for most young men who have taken Orders in earnest. And it will be almost inevitable that the Curate, under even the most wise, considerate, and unselfish of Incumbents, should find "work" threatening rapidly to absorb so much, not of time only but thought and heart, that the temptation is to abridge and relax very seriously indeed secret devotion, secret study of Scripture, and generally secret8 discipline of habits, that all-important thing.
Then, on the other hand, there is a risk and trial from a region quite opposite. The Curate comes to his new work, and takes up his abode in lodgings—alone. Only a few months ago, perhaps only a few weeks ago, he was in rooms at College, amidst all the social as well as mental interests of University life, and (so it is, thank God, for many University men now) feeling on every side the help of Christian friendship and fellowship of the warmest and truest sort. And now, socially and as to fellowship in Christ, he is, to speak comparatively, alone. I say, comparatively. Very likely he has found in his Incumbent a friend and elder brother, perhaps a friend and loving father, in the Lord. And most probably he will find among his people, and that very soon if he is on the watch, friends in Christ, gentle or simple. He may be associated with a brother Curate or Curates; and if so, the inmost aim of both or all ought to be, and in most cases will be, not only to work in the same parish but to work heart to heart as "in Him." Nevertheless, the Vicar or Rector, though a9 friend, is a very busy friend; and so is the brother Curate; and the Christian friend in the parish is after all only one of the many souls to whom the man has to minister, and he must not forget those who perhaps need him most just because they are least congenial to him.
So the sense of change, of solitude, in such part of his life as is spent indoors, may be, and, as I know, very often is, real and deep, sad and sorrowful, and in itself not wholesome, to the young Minister of Christ. Possibly my reader knows nothing of all this; but I think it more likely that at least he knows something of it. And it needs his prompt and watchful dealing if it is not to hurt him greatly. Solitude will not by itself, if I judge rightly, help him to secret intercourse with God. A feeling of solitude, under most circumstances, much more tends, by itself, to drive a man unhealthily inward, in unprofitable questionings and broodings, or in still less happy exercises of thought. Or it drives him unhealthily outward, quickening the wish for mere stimulants and excitements of mind and interest. Aye, let me not shrink from saying it, it sometimes10 quickens a wish for "stimulants" in the most literal sense of the word. Exhausting and multifarious parochial work, and the lonely bachelor quarters at the day's end, have brought to many a young man sore temptations of that sort, and sometimes they have won the battle, to the wreck and ruin of the work and of the worker.
HINDRANCES ARE OCCASIONS.
Well, all these facts or possibilities are just so many reminders that the new Curate's life will not, of itself, greatly help him to maintain and quicken his Secret Walk with God, that vital necessity for his work. It certainly will not do so directly; it will, directly, be a problem, not an aid. But on that very account, dear Brother and reader, your new conditions of life may prove indirectly a most powerful aid, by being a constant and urgent occasion. As you are a Minister of Christ, your life and work will, in the Lord's sight, be a failure, yes, I repeat it, a failure, be the outside and the reputation what they may, if you do not walk with God in secret. But therefore your life and work are a daily and hourly occasion for the positive resolve, in His Name, that walk with Him you will. Recognize the risks, right11 and left, the risks brought by pastoral activities and interests, and those brought by pastoral loneliness and uncheerfulness. Remember the vital necessity amidst those risks. And then you will the more deliberately purpose and plan how to guard your secret devotions, and how to order your secret hours even when devotion is not your direct duty, so that your Lord shall be indeed there, at the centre, "a living, bright Reality" to you.
Let me plunge into the midst at once, with a few simple suggestions on Secret Devotion.
LET IT BE DELIBERATE.
I ask my younger Brother, then, to keep sacred, with all his heart and will, an unhurried time alone with the Lord, night and morning at the least. I do not intrusively prescribe a length of time. But I do most earnestly say that the time, shorter or longer, must be deliberately spent; and even ten minutes can be spent deliberately, while mismanagement may give a feeling of haste to a much longer season. Do not, I beseech you, minimize the minutes; seek for such a fulness of "the Spirit of grace and of supplications," [Zech. xii. 10.] as shall draw quite the other way. But if the time, any12 given night or morning, must be short, let it nevertheless be a time of quiet, reverent, collected worship and confession and petition. One thing assuredly you can do: you can, if you will, secure a real "Morning Watch" before your day's work begins. I do not say it is easy. Young men very commonly sleep sounder and longer than we seniors do; they are not always easy to rouse in a moment. But they can direct some of their energy to contrive against themselves, or rather for themselves, how to secure a regular early rising to meet their Lord. Most ingenious, not to say amusing, are some of the devices which friends of mine have confided to me; schemes and stratagems to get themselves well awake in good time. But after all, in most lodging-houses surely it must be possible to be called early, and to instruct the caller to show no mercy at the chamber door. Anyhow, I do say that the fresh first interview with the all-blessed Master must at all costs be secured. Do not be beguiled into thinking it can be arranged by a half-slumbering prayer in bed. Rise up—if but in loving deference to Him. Appear in the13 presence chamber as the servant should who is now ready for the day's bondservice in all things but in this, that he has yet to take the day's oath of obedience, and to ask the day's "grace sufficient," and to read the day's promises and commands, at the Master's holy feet.
A PRACTICAL SUGGESTION.
I do not recommend an unpractical physical mortification as the rule for such early hours with God. Fully believing that there is a place for definite "abstinence" in the Christian (and certainly in the ministerial) life, I do not think that that place is, as a rule, the early morning hour. Very many men only procure a bad headache for the day by beginning any sort of earnest mental effort without food. Such men should take care accordingly to eat a chotee házaree (as old Indians say), "a little breakfast," however little, before they pray and read. There are appliances, simple and inexpensive, by which the man in lodgings can, without giving any one trouble, provide himself with his cup of cocoa or coffee as soon as he is up; and he will be wise to do something of this sort, if he is a man whose work by day is14 heavy for both body and spirit, and who is thus specially apt to find the truth of what doctors tell us, that "sleep is, in itself, an exhausting process."
But at any cost, my dear friend and Brother in the Ministry, we must have our Morning Watch with God, in prayer and in His Word, before all the day's action. Not even the earliest possible Church service can rightly take the place of that.
GOOD HOURS AT NIGHT.
It is obvious to add that punctuality and early hours in the morning will bring into your life another rule; that of punctuality and reasonably good hours at night. No temptation is greater, sometimes, for the man alone than to ignore or break such a rule. And no doubt the exigencies of pastoral life, sometimes, but surely not often, make it hard to keep it. But it is extremely important, for the man who would walk closely and humbly with his God, to end the day deliberately at His feet. And here accordingly is another occasion for watchfulness, and for method, and for will. Do not drift into the night. Have a settled hour when, as a habit, you lay interests and intercourse15 of other sorts down, and turn unhurried to the holy interview, spreading open your Bible by the lamp, the Bible marked and scored with signs of past research, and then kneeling, or standing, or pacing, for your prayer—your prayer which is to be the very simplest (while most reverent) speech with the Lord.
PRAY AS A PRIVATE CHRISTIAN.
In such acts of worship, morning and night, thought for others, for dear ones, for parishioners, for colleagues, will have its full place of course. Let it be so, with an ever-growing sense of the preciousness of the work of intercession. But I do meanwhile say to my Brother in Christ, take care that no pre-occupation with things pastoral allows you to forget the supreme need of drawing out of Christ's fulness, and out of the treasures of His Word, for your own soul and life, as if that were the one and solitary soul and life in existence. We Clergy are in danger of becoming too official, too clerical, even in our prayers. We are the Lord's Ministers; we have a cure and charge of souls as the unordained Christian has not; and let us daily remember it, humbly and reverently. But also we are, all the while, sheep of16 the flock, absolutely dependent on the Shepherd, men who for their own souls' acceptance, and holiness, and heaven, must for themselves "live at the Fountain." We have to serve others, and "lay ourselves out" for them, daily and hourly. But on that very account, that "our selves" may be, if I may say so, worth the laying out, we must see that "our selves" are, in their own innermost life and experience, filled with the Spirit of God, filled with the presence of an indwelling Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit. And so we must worship Him, and draw on Him, and abide in Him, and acquaint ourselves with Him, just as if there were no flock at all, that we may the better be of use to the flock.
LIVE BEHIND YOUR MINISTRY.
I am sure that this is an important point for the thought and practice of the young Clergyman. While never really forgetting his ordained character, let him, for the very purposes of his ordained work, continually "live behind" not only the work but the character; living in the presence, in the love, in the life, of his Lord and Head, simply in the character of the redeemed sinner, the personal believer, the17 glad younger Brother of the glorious Firstborn, the living Christian with the living Christ; "knowing whom he has believed," [2 Tim. i. 12.] and walking by faith in Him.
FOR THE MINISTRY'S SAKE.
Do you so live, by His grace and mercy? Is the sitting-room and the bedroom of your curacy-lodging the place where you habitually hold intercourse in this holy simplicity with Him who has loved you and given Himself for you? Then I venture to say that all the more for this, by that same grace and mercy, you shall be enabled to "lay yourself out" for others, in your pastoral charge. You shall understand other men better, by thus securing for your own soul a deeper understanding of the Lord Jesus and a fuller sympathy (if the word is reverent) with Him. I hardly care to analyze how, but somehow, you shall more readily and closely "get at" men through this direct, simple, unofficial, unclerical drawing very near indeed to God in Christ. The more you know Him thus at first-hand the more shall you understand alike the needs of the human heart (of which all individual hearts are but various instances), and the supplies that are18 laid up for all its needs in Him. And so you shall go out among your people armed, equipped, with a truly heaven-given sympathy and tact. True personal intercourse with the Lord, the very closest and deepest, is the very thing to open the whole man out for others, and to teach him how, with a loving intuition, to look into them and "upon their things." [Phil. ii. 4.]
In the next Chapter I shall speak a little more about the young Clergyman's secret devotion, and secret study of the heavenly Word. But enough for the present. And let me close with the quotation of a hymn,11 By G.M. Taylor: Hymns of Consecration and Faith (Second Edition), No. 349. a new friend of mine, but already a very dear one, and thankfully added to the treasures of memory. It puts in the simplest form possible, while in a form most beautiful, the vital truth that "intercourse with God is the power for holy service." Happy the young Clergyman whose secret daily life, from its beginning in the "Morning Watch," on19 through the intercourse and energies of the day, up to the evening hour of weariness and repose, is a translation into experience of that blessed hymn.
"TELL HIM ALL."
"When thou wakest in the morning,
Ere thou tread the untried way
Of the lot that lies before thee
Through the coming busy day;
Whether sunbeams promise brightness,
Whether dim forebodings fall,
Be thy dawning glad or gloomy,
Go to Jesus—tell Him all!
"In the calm of sweet communion
Let thy daily work be done;
In the peace of soul out-pouring
Care be banish'd, patience won
And if earth with its enchantments
Seek thy spirit to enthral,
Ere thou listen, ere thou answer—
Turn to Jesus—tell Him all!
"Then, as hour by hour glides by thee,
Thou wilt blessed guidance know;
Thine own burthens being lighten'd,
Thou canst bear another's woe;
Thou canst help the weak ones onward;
Thou canst raise up those that fall;
But, remember, while thou servest,
Still tell Jesus—tell Him all!20
"And if weariness creep o'er thee
As the day wears to its close,
Or if sudden fierce temptation
Bring thee face to face with foes—
In thy weakness, in thy peril,
Raise to heaven a truthful call;
Strength and calm for every crisis
Come—in telling Jesus all."
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