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ACADEMICAL PREPARATION FOR THE MINISTRY,
LETTER TO A FRIEND.
Quin et piorum mentibus mysteria,
Buch. Ps. XXV.
The wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable.
JAMES, iii. 17.
(FIRST PRINTED IN 1784.]
A PLAN, &c.
I am not the son of a prophet, nor was I bred up among the prophets. I am quite a stranger to what passes within the walls of colleges and academies. I was as one born out of due time, and led, under the secret guidance of the Lord, by very unusual steps, to preach the faith which I once laboured to destroy, Since you know all this, how could you think of applying to me for the plan of an academical institution? Yet I confess the design you mentioned to me, in which some of your friends bave thoughts of engaging, is so important in my view, that I am willing to come as near to your wishes as I can. I must not pretend to dictate a plan for the business which is now in contemplation. But if you will allow me to indulge in a sort of reverie, and suppose myself a person of some consequence in Utopia, where I could have the modelling of every thing to my own mind; and that I was about to form an academy there, for the sole purpose of educating young men for the ministry of the Gospel in this way, I am willing to offer you my thoughts upon the subject with great simplicity and freedom. And, if any of the regulations of my imaginary academy should be judged applicable to your design, you and your friends will be heartily welcome to them.
I should then suppositis supponendis, in the first place, lay down two or three important maxims, which I would hope never to lose sight of in the conduct of the affairs ; expecting that if I should begin without them I must stumble at the very threshold; and that whenever I should neglect them afterwards, all my care, and labour, and expense, would be from that time thrown away.
My first maxim is, That none but He who made the world, can make a minister of the Gospel. If a young man has capacity, culture and application may make him a scholar, a philosopher, or an orator ; but a true minister must have certain principles, motives, feelings, and aims, which no industry or endeavours of men can either acquire or communicate. They must be given from above, or they cannot be received.
I adopt, as a second maxim, That the holy Scriptures are, both comprehensively and exclusively, the grand treasury of all that knowledge which is requisite and sufficient to make ihe minister, the man of God, thoroughly furnished for every branch of his
office. If, indeed no other studies were of subordinate importance, in order to a right understanding of the Scriptures, and especially to those who are not only to know for themselves, but are appointed to teach others also, then academical instruction would be needless, and I might supply my young men with every thing at once, by putting the Bible into their hands, and directing them to read it continually with attention and prayer. But my meaning is, that though there is such concatenation in knowledge, that every branch of science may, by a judicious application, be rendered subservient to a minister's great design ; yet no attainments in philology, philosophy, or in any or all the particulars which constitute the aggregate of what we call learning, can, in the least, contribute to form a minister of the Gospel, any further than he is taught of God to refer them to, and to regulate them by, the Scripture as a standard. On the contrary, the more a man is furnished with this kind of apparatus, unless the leading truths of Scripture reign and flourish in his heart, he will be but the more qualified to perplex himself, and to mislead his hearers.
My third maxim is an inference from the two former. That the true Gospel minister who possesses these secondary advantages, though he may know the same things, and acquire his knowledge by the like methods as other scholars do, yet he must know and possess them in a manner peculiar to himself. His criticims, if he be a critic, will discover something which the greatest skill in grammatical niceties cannot of itself reach. If he be an orator, he will not speak in the artificial self-applauding language of man's wisdom, but in simplicity, and with authority, like one who feels the ground he stands upon, and knows to whom he belongs, and whom he serves. If he mentions a passage of history, it will not be to show his reading, but to illustrate or prove his point; and it will be evident, from his manner of speaking, that though he may bave taken the facts from Tacitus or Robertson, his knowledge of the springs of human action, and of the superintendency of a Divine Providence, is derived from the word of God. so of other instances.
In a word, if a young man was to consult me how he might be wise and learned in the usual sense of the words, I might advise him to repair to Oxford or Cambridge, or to twenty other places which I could name. But if I thought him really desirous of becoming wise to win souls, I would invite him to my New College in Utopia.
From these general observations I proceed more directly to my subject. You are then to suppose that I have taken my determination and counted the cost, and am now sitting down to contrive my plan. As a little attention to the method may not be amiss, I shall endeavour to range my thoughts under four principal heads, concerning,
1. The Place.
1. And first, (as preachers sometimes say,) of the first. If the metropolis of Utopia should be any thing like ours, there are obvious reasons to forbid my fixing upon a spot very near it. I think, vot nearer than a moderate day's journey. Nor would I wish it much further distant. Occasional visits to a great city where there are many considerable ministers and Christians, should not be rendered impracticable ; as they might furnish my young men with opportunities of forming connexions, and making observations, that might contribute to their usefulness in future life. But procul ab urbe will be my maxim. I should not only fear lest they should be contaminated by the vices which too generally prevail where men live in a throng: if they escaped these, I should still have apprehensions, lest the notice that might be taken of them, and the respect shown them by well-meaning friends, should im perceptibly seduce them into a spirit of self-importance, give them
a a turn for dress and company, and spoil that simplicity and dependence, without which I could have little hope of their success. I would wish it may be their grand aim to please the Lord, and under him, and for his sake, to please their tutor. They have, as yet, no business with other people. Their tutor must be to them, instar omnium. Him they must love, reverence, and obey, and accurately watch his looks and every intimation of his will. But to secure this point, or even to have a reasonable prospect of attaining it, methinks it seems necessary to say, Procul, procul, ab urbe, juvenes ! But the difference between a rural and a town situation is so striking at first view, that I suppose it quite needless to say more upon this bead. I therefore proceed,
Il. To the choice of my Tutor. Whoever he may be, when I have found him, and fixed him, I will take the liberty to tell him, that he is called to the most honourable and important office that man, in the present state of things, is capable of. The skilful and faithful tutor is not only useful to his pupils, considered as individuals, but he is remotely the instrument of all the blessings and benefits which the Lord is pleased to communicate by their ministry, in the course of their stated and occasional labours to the end of life. On the other hand, the errors and prejudices of an incompetent tutor, adopted and perpetuated by his disciples, may produce a long progression of evil consequences, which may continue to operate and multiply when he and they are dead and forVol. III.