Evaluation of “Hints and Helps in Pastoral Theology” by William Plumer - by C. Matthew McMahonA Fabulous Work on the Pastoral Ministry Which is Often OVerlooked
Often neglected, this work by William Plumer (1802-1880) is a gem on pastoral theology. The work comprises 32 chapters, and runs almost 375 pages. Plumer was the minister of a number of churches, from 1834–1867. Plumer moderated the General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church of the United States in 1838 (Old School) and 1871 (Southern). He had a long standing ministry in the pulpit and in pastoral work overall. He wrote a number of great works such as Vital Godliness, The Grace of Christ, The Rock of Our Salvation, The Law of God, and Earnest Hours.
Chapter 1: Sources of Information in Pastoral Theology
All the great truths of Pastoral Theology are drawn from God’s Word. Most of what we gain in practical pastoral theology comes from the New Testament Epistles of Paul, such as in 1 Timothy and Titus.
Plumer takes time in this chapter to list all the sources of pastoral books which would be a help to the minister from such writers as De Pastore Evangelico, by Oliver Bowles, Burnet’s Pastoral Care, Baxter’s Reformed Pastor, James’ Earnest Ministry and the works of Doddridge, Flavel, and Fuller.
Chapter 2: The Importance of the Ministry
Christ ordained that the preaching of the Gospel, and the Gospel ministry, shall continue until the end of the world. No other office can be compared to it. Ministers have no right to lord anything over men’s consciences, to announce any truths, or prescribe any rules for the government of men’s faith or practice, unless they have clear and precise warrant from Scripture for so doing. He is not to be domineering over his brethren in the sacred office, nor does the sacred office confer any right or power to control any matter beyond its own prescribed functions.
The names and titles given to God’s ministers give great evidence of the high character of their office, for they are about fifty times called men of God. They are even sometimes called angels, ministers, shepherds, pastors, bishops, watchmen, ambassadors, and the like. Another great design of the ministry is to hold forth just sentiments respecting the government of God in the life of the church. God has ordained, then, for ministers to teach the word, preaching, “the Gospel to every creature.” Paul said, “I magnify mine office.” Erasmus rightly said, “The minister is then in the very height of his dignity, when from the pulpit he feeds the Lord’s flock with sacred doctrine.”
Chapter 3: A Call to the Ministry
All men are not called to the sacred office. Only God can call a man into ministry. The greater part of mankind are not called. Consider, first, that half of the human race are women, and they are not called, (1 Tim. 2:12). Wicked men are not called, (Psalm 50:16). Young converts are not called, (1 Tim. 3:6). Those guilty of infamous crimes are not called, (1 Tim. 3:2). This cancels out most people in history.
The Scriptures require and teach that the minister is called of God to the office; Numbers 18:7; Deut. 18:20; Isa. 6:8, 11:2-3, 61:1-3; Jer. 1:4-19, 23:30-32; Ezek. 13:3; Matt. 4:18-20; Acts 13:2; Romans 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Titus 1:6; Heb. 5:4. This is also corroborated by the judgment of the early church fathers.
It is a great and undeserved honor to be put into the sacred office. Yet, we know that bad men, very bad men, have entered the ministry. What, then, does it mean to be called to the sacred office? A call may be extraordinary and miraculous, like that of Paul; or ordinary, as is that of all God’s ministers since the days of miracles. An ordinary call may be as clear and satisfactory as one accompanied by a great wonder. 1) The first element of a call is a strong and abiding desire for the work, springing from a supreme love to Christ, (1 Tim. 3:1). Another element of a call is a deep and abiding sense of personal weakness and unworthiness, (cf. 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:15). One part of a call is a comfortable persuasion that, weak and unworthy as we are, we may yet hope for needed grace and strength, (Jer. 1:7-8). There is a high estimate of the office itself, and of its appropriate labors, pleasures, and consolations. Plumer says, “Another part of a call to the ministry is the possession of the necessary learning and power of explaining and enforcing truth, or the means and desire of acquiring them. No man is called to teach what he does not know, and cannot or will not learn.” A minister must also possess the power of communicating knowledge in such a way as is likely to promote the great objects of preaching, viz., the enlightening, conviction, conversion, and edification of souls. There is also needed a consent of the approval of God’s people, and the right discernment of providence. Lastly, there must be a conviction to the duty, (Gal. 1:16; Acts 26:19; 1 Cor. 9:16).
Even a good man may mistake his calling, and may enter the sacred office when he does not by this please God. Yet, it is very dangerous to resist God’s call to preach his Word and feed his flock. See how the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses when he hesitated to accept the office to which God called him, (Exod. 4:14). And Isaiah says, “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker,” (Isa. 45:9).
Chapter 4: The Character of a True Minister
In this chapter Plumer gives a few basic ideas about how the minister should conduct his person. For example, a minister should be tidy in his personal habits, punctual, grave in his disposition (not a buffoon or jester), industrious, prudent, wise, one who practices self-denial, kind, one of genuine and fervent piety, and a true and real Christian.
Chapter 5: Benefits of Genuine Piety
What will real Christian piety do for the minister? Such piety will make a minister charitable in every good work, and will give him important knowledge which is only derived from Christian experience. Piety will make a minister a man of prayer, and constant in their profession of the Gospel. Plumer says, “Where piety is genuine and growing, there will be a symmetry in the character which will otherwise be lacking. Doctrine and morals, precept and practice, study and pastoral labor, closet and pulpit work, will thus be likely to have due proportions.” Such piety will make men truly happy. The joy of the Lord will then be their strength. They will be anointed with the oil of gladness, and will enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise.
Chapter 6: Other Good Fruits of Piety
One of the benefits of genuine and fervent piety is that it leads a minister to preach to his own soul. Vinet says, “Our first business is to be our own pastors.” Unction will be created by a hearty devotional piety. Bridges says, “The most mighty eloquence and the most devoted diligence will be utterly inefficient, without the unction that is brought down from heaven by frequent and fervent supplication.” Plumer gives an historical account of John Welch, “John Welch often in the coldest winter nights rose for prayer, and was found weeping on the ground and wrestling with the Lord on account of his people, and saying to his wife, when she pressed him for an explanation of his distress, “I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, while I know not how it is with many of them.”” Bunyan said, “In my preaching I could not be satisfied, unless some fruits did appear in my work.” In this exercise of piety, ministers are kept from that laborious idleness which fritters away life on matters quite aside from their calling, and of comparatively little importance to the interests of mankind. Plumer says, “Let us not seek for an idle, or even for an easy life.”
Genuine piety will foster that tender pity and generous love for perishing men, without which the most sacred duties will be irksome, and the sweetest messages be delivered in a dull, or, possibly, in a harsh and severe tone. Cowper says, “If a man has great and good news to tell me, he will not do it angrily. It is not easy, therefore, to conceive on what ground a scolding minister can justify a conduct which only proves that he does not understand his errand.” Harshness never becomes the minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.
Chapter 7: Ministerial Education
Those who teach must first learn. Scripture and reason declare that knowledge is essential to a minister. Otherwise he cannot, “speak unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort,” (1 Cor. 14:3). The true object of learning is not to veil truth, but to bring it to light. One minister said, “Brethren, it will take all our learning to make things plain,” for such learning must be sound and true. Learning should be extensive, and not merely elementary. It should be various, and not confined to one or a few things. Robert Leighton said that there could not be too much learning, if it were but sanctified. And John Owen says, “The cursory perusal of a few books is thought sufficient to make any man wise enough to be a minister. And not a few undertake to be teachers of others who would scarcely be admitted as tolerable disciples in a well-ordered church. But there belongeth more unto this wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, than most men are aware of…The Gospel, the dispensation and declaration of which is committed unto the ministers of the Church, is “the wisdom of God in a mystery;” and so their principal duty is to become so wise and understanding in that mystery as that they may be able to declare it to others, without which they have no ministry committed unto them by Jesus Christ.” A few hurried weeks or months of study will never do.
The minister’s study must be conducted with humility. It should include a wider range of study than simply divinity, and should also include the study of biblical languages.
Chapter 8: A Minister’s Studies
Scripture and the general sense of mankind agree in requiring ministers of religion to be men of study. The New Testament enjoins hard study on ministers of the Gospel. Yet, the constitution of most ministers may be easily worn out with too much study. “Of making many books there is no end.” He who reads all, or reads without selection, will find his mind often unsettled, and then seldom satisfied. To skim in a book is as unprofitable as that often heard in conversation. Besides the heavy works on dogmatic and polemic theology, it would be a great matter if the clergy would study with care works on practical and experimental religion. Plumer says, “For the improvement of their own piety they will do well to study the practical writings of Owen, Flavel, Baxter, Doddridge, and others. Such writings will also be of great service in showing them how to bring the truth to bear on others.”
In study, earnest prayer is a great help to success. Philip Henry in this way wrote on a studying day, “I forgot when I began, explicitly and expressly, to crave help from God, and the chariot-wheels drove accordingly. Lord, forgive my omission, and keep me in the way of duty.”
Chapter 9: The Right Temper for a Theologian
Plumer says, “The study of religious truth, conducted in a wrong temper, will be productive of little or no profit, is a truth commonly admitted by serious people.” The theologian must be impartial, and relieved of prejudices. Plumer says, “There is not a more important qualification of a student of divine things than profound reverence for all that is sacred. Seriousness is not enough. Solemnity is necessary, and that united with holy fear.” Of all the dispositions requisite to success in the study of religious truth, none is more important than a sincere, constant, and ardent love of truth. This must be linked to patience. Patience produces caution and deliberation, for haste is wholly unfriendly to sound learning. Yet, there must be the spirit of diligence to commend daily study of the word of God. And, all this study must be soaked in prayer. McCheyne says, “Turn the Bible into prayer.” Plumer says, “Let the theologian never forget that religious truth is not merely to fill a niche in his system, nor to furnish the means of entertainment to himself and his friends. It is all intended for practice. It must first be proposed to our minds, then loved, embraced, and finally reduced to practice.”
Chapter 10: A Minister’s Difficulties
Men are commonly ignorant of the trials of their minister. Minister have the same passions of other men, and are bound carefully to perform all the relative duties of other men. Their Sabbath is anything but rest, though it may be a spiritual refreshment. They are exposed to the influences of pride, and the duties that surround the office are not few nor light. They are often discouraged. And they are in desperate need of continued prayer.
Chapter 11: Various Suggestions
In preaching for other denominations, be careful to select such topics as you and they are agreed on. In preaching in strange places, avoid singular texts and out-of-the-way topics. Always avoid personalities in the pulpit. Never engage in a system of proselyting from other denominations, nor from other congregations of your own denomination. The minister will often be slighted and this should not dishearten them. Keep habitually in view the awful importance of the office before you. Never despise any thing that may increase or lessen your influence. And be a good listener. Take good heed of temporary affairs, and be frugal in your use of money. Those who write must beware of plagiarism. Be sure to have a good tailor, to be well groomed.Avoid egotism, be of good health and avoid fanatics.
Chapter 12: Public Worship — Reading, Singing, Praying
The exercises of public worship usually embrace the reading of God’s Word, singing the songs of Zion, praying, reading the scriptures and preaching. Before the minister reads the Scriptures, he should study the passages he intends to read. A mere study of the words does not bring out the meaning. Imagination must work. Plumer says, “In reading, the first requisite is to be distinctly heard; the second is, to give the right emphasis, so as to give the true meaning; and the third is, to impress the truth thus taught on the minds of those who hear.”
Psalm singing should be accomplished in worship. To aid singing in the congregation, singing should be done in the worship of the family. Whenever it can be done, singing in family worship should be encouraged. Great attention should be paid to the children and young people in this matter. Philip Henry says, “Those do well that pray morning and evening in their families; those do better who pray and read the Scriptures; but those do best of all who pray, and read, and sing psalms.”
Praying is an important part of public worship. It embraces adoration, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, intercession, and filling our mouths with arguments before God in behalf of our requests. A scriptural phraseology is usually the best. It is desirable that there should be fluency (not flippancy) in prayer. Hesitancy distracts or diverts attention from the substance of what is offered. Nor should prayers be tedious. The longest prayer in the bible recorded is in 1 Kings which runs 51 verses. It generally takes eight to nine minutes to read aloud. Consider this in your prayers.
Is it best to study our prayers, and even at times to write them? The answer to this question may easily be abused. The minister ought not to be hasty to utter any thing before God needlessly. His words should be few and well ordered. This requires thought and care. And as some men do not know how loose and disconnected their thoughts are until they see them in writing or in print, so the rambling character of many addresses to the Almighty would be cured if it had been written down with care. Dr. Chalmers wrote many of his prayers even for his class-room.
Chapter 13: Public Worship — Who shall Attend?
Who ought to attend the house of God? Christians, the learned and unlearned alike, the lost and also children. When the assembly comes together, all acceptable worship must be sincere, intelligent, divinely appointed, hearty, and spiritual.
Chapter 14: The Matter of Preaching
In the New Testament are five words sometimes rendered preach. One of these, found in Mark 2:2, is commonly rendered speak, or talk, or tell. Another is found in Luke 9:60, rendered declare, or signify. Another is found in Acts 4:2, rendered show, speak, teach, and declare. Another is found in Luke 3:18 rendered declare, preach the Gospel, bring good tidings, show glad tidings, and declare glad tidings. The other word, commonly rendered preach, is sometimes rendered to publish or proclaim; Matt. 3:1; Luke 8:39, 13:3. Its cognate nouns are always rendered preacher and preaching. It occurs more than fifty times in the New Testament. It is found in each of the Gospels, in Acts, in ten of Paul’s epistles, in the First Epistle of Peter, and in Revelation. It primarily and strictly means heralding. Plumer says, “A messenger might be sent to one man or one family; but a herald was to make loud and indiscriminate proclamation of the business on which he was sent.”
The preacher is not to preach on heathen morality, or fine spun theories of virtue, or on any human inventions. They are not to preach in a dry, heartless orthodoxy, or on natural religion, or to set forth how learned they are. They are to preach the word of God. Great prominence should be given to the person, work, sufferings, offices, and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says, “We preach Christ Jesus the Lord;” “I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” (2 Cor. 4:5; 1 Cor. 2:2). We should also give great prominence to the person, grace, work, and power of God’s Spirit, and give to faith and works their due place. We should also place emphasis on the world to come.
Chapter 15: The Manner of Preaching
Preaching may be expository, textual, topical, hortatory, doctrinal, practical, alarming, consolatory, on a long passage or on a short text of Scripture, and yet it may be an excellent sermon. Before he delivers his sermon, the preacher ought to know the meaning of his text, and be able to give the sense to his hearers. Plumer says, “We must preach God’s Word not only soberly, but solemnly. All good preaching is solemn, not gloomy, but piously grave; not filled with whining cant, but far from levity and vanity. He who speaks of God, eternity, sin, salvation, death, judgment, heaven, and hell in a frivolous manner is a contemptible trifler. With a buffoon for a preacher, no place is as the house of God or the gate of heaven. The Bible is not a jest-book; heaven is not a fiction; hell is not a dream; damnation is not a chimera. It is a solemn thing to die: it is a solemn thing; to live. It is an awfully solemn thing to preach or hear the Gospel. He who “woos a smile” when he should “win a soul” is a charlatan, not an ambassador for God.”
Preaching should be lively. Everything the minister says should be well enunciated. One of the errors producing poor preaching is the impression of some that it is an easy thing to speak well on sacred subjects. The old writers talk much of ministers doing their painfully. The word must be preached plainly and simply. The great object of preaching is the manifestation of the truth so as rightly to impress it on every heart.
Preachers must preach didactically, and controversially as need arises. Yet, at all times the truth must be preached boldly. Joseph Hall said, “The moment we permit ourselves to think lightly of the Christian ministry, our right arm is withered; nothing but imbecility, and relaxation remain.” The word of God should be spoken tenderly and affectionately. Henry Venn said, “Look upon your people as prisoners under condemnation, for whose pardon and recovery you ought to feel as the tender mother does for the child at her breast. Lament an unfeeling heart in yourself as well as in them; beg earnestly that you may long after their salvation in the bowels of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Plumer says, “The preacher ought to remember that in disclosing the doom of the impenitent, he is, perhaps, pronouncing his own. How few even of the best men are assured of their own safety.”
Preaching should be earnest, which combines boldness and love.
Chapter 16: Manner of Preaching — Continued
We must preach to the consciences of men, not to their fancies or tastes. It should not be sensational or theatrical. It should be done in diligence. George Whitefield died at the age of fifty-six years, yet he set the world on fire by his eighteen thousand sermons, before he breathed out his great and gallant soul into the hands of his Maker. The office of a bishop is not a device for spending an easy life.
On the length of a sermon, the preacher should know when to stop. Philip Doddridge said, “Know when you are done.” Lamont said, “Nothing can justify a long sermon. If it be a good one, it need not be long; and if it be a bad one, it ought not to be long.”
Preaching should be faithful to the word and experimental in order to reach our hearers. A religious character formed without experimental preaching is almost sure to be feeble and sadly out of proportion. Preaching should also be discriminatory, in that when ministers rightly divide the truth, there is a difference made between saints and sinners. Preaching should be, then, done with authority, but not arrogantly. Rather, it is with divine sanction.
One neglected point in today’s ministerial culture is that ministers should preach to get better and better. There should be a manifested improvement in the way they preach and handle the sermon. If the sermon is rote, and the same over a period of years, then, it is a sad thing when a man preaches no better at forty-five than he did at twenty-five, especially where there was ample room for improvement.
Chapter 17: Earnest Preaching
To speak to a congregation of eternal things as if they were trifles is monstrous. All proper earnestness must be based in a deep religious experience. Robert Leighton said, “It is a cold, lifeless thing to speak of spiritual things upon mere report; but they that speak of them as their own, as having share and interest in them, and some experience of their sweetness, their discourse of them is enlivened by firm belief and an ardent affection; they can not mention them but their hearts are straight taken with such gladness as they are forced to vent in praises.” Some have greatly erred by relying on their natural temperament, on their youthfulness, or on the excitement produced by the presence of an audience; but these are wholly insufficient to the ends of fervent preaching. Baxter said, “I’ll preach as though I never should preach again, and a as dying man to dying men.” Jonathan Edwards says, “Two things exceeding needful in ministers, as they would do any great matters to advance the kingdom of Christ, are zeal and resolution.” Dr. Adam Clarke says, “While you are engaged in the pulpit in recommending the salvation of God, endeavor to feel the truth you preach, and diffuse a divine animation through every part. As the preacher appears to the people, the people hear and believe. You may set it down as an incontrovertible truth that none of your hearers will be more affected with your discourse than yourself. A dull, dead preacher makes a dull, dead congregation.” Frozen discourses will never set on fire the souls of the hearers.
Plumer exhorts the following: It then becomes a matter of importance that we should know how we may secure and maintain proper ardor of feeling as preachers of righteousness. The following suggestions may be of use. 1. All true, proper ardor has its seat in a renewed heart, and in a blessed experience of the precious truths of religion. 2. A very high estimate should be placed on this ardor, and we should earnestly covet it as one of the best gifts. It is the fire from heaven that should kindle every sacrifice, that should glow in every sermon. As the body without the spirit is dead, being alone, so all our ministrations will be but poor things without this heavenly animation. 3. We should pray much for this invaluable blessing. 4. We should meditate much on those truths which are of a melting, tender nature, and labor to fill our hearts with glowing zeal for him who bled and died for us. 5. We should carefully study the lives and characters of those men who have been models of earnestness and tenderness in preaching the Gospel.
Chapter 18: Popular Preaching
What is the best style of preaching for the pulpit? It is plainness. Richard Sibbes said, “Divines should take heed likewise that they hide not their meaning in dark speeches, speaking in the clouds. Truth feareth nothing so much as concealment, and desireth nothing so much as clearly to be laid open to the view of all; when it is most naked, it is most lovely and powerful.” Preachers must know and learn how to preach well. William Tennent is reported to have said, that if a man knew he had but three years to live, and must preach, he should study two of them. Robert South says, “Nothing in nature can be more absurd, irrational, and contrary to the very design and end of speaking, than an obscure discourse; for in that case the preacher may as well leave his tongue and the auditors their ears behind them; as neither he communicates, nor they understand any more of his mind and meaning, after he has spoken to them, than they did before. And yet, as ridiculous as such fustian bombast from the pulpit is, none are so transported and pleased with it as those who least understand it. For still the greatest admirers of it are the grossest, the most ignorant and illiterate people, who, of all men, are the fondest of high-flown metaphors and allegories.”
Chapter 19: Mooted Points About Preaching
If a man would habitually preach well, he must habitually make special preparation for the pulpit. All good preachers write out their sermons and preach from their manuscripts. When it becomes “reading” this is to be condemned. It must be lively preaching. Dr. Hall said, “How to preach effectively, and with the least wear and tear of mental and physical strength, do the following. 1. Have thorough knowledge of your subject. 2. Be deeply impressed with its importance. 3. Open the discourse with an earnest enunciation, in concise language, of some striking truth; this will inevitably wake up attention. 4. Then plunge with the fervor of a man who is speaking for the last time as to himself, or as to some one or more hearers, and upon whose skirts hangs the blood of immortal souls. 5. As soon as the burden of the discourse is delivered, sit down, even if you have been speaking but twenty minutes, but fifteen, but ten! The value of a discourse is not its length, but the nailing home of some great truth on the understanding and the conscience; and be assured that such a truth is there for life. Thus you will preach easily for yourself, profitably to those who hear you.”
Chapter 20: The Use of Proverbs
This was an excellent chapter that ought to be read by every minister. It traded the use of “stories” for the use of “proverbs.” A proverb is a short sentence frequently repeated by the people as an adage, or some common observation received or uttered. The Hebrew word translated proverb signifies a maxim of high value or authority. An advantage of this mode of instruction is that it is easily remembered. The chapter gives the reader a number of examples of these useful one-liners that convey a truth in simple terms. An example would be Idleness is the devil’s workshop, (Melancthon), or a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, (Solomon).
Chapter 21: Religious Excitements
Religious excitements can be dangerous, in that a fervor shows itself to replace true spiritual zeal. However, the human mind has been constituted that in order for it to act, it must get excited. These excitements rely on the stirring of affections. Yet, is there nothing to be dreaded more than a spirit of wild fanaticism. Plumer says, “All religious excitements are to be dreaded, which make men careless or loose in their self-examinations, or which make them neglect the duty of watchfulness, or cause them to cease their jealousies over their own hearts.”
An anonymous writer in this way gives his views on religious ultraism: Its sources are, 1. An ardent temperament. 2. Mistaken views of religion. 3. A restless desire of change. 4. The love of distinction. 5. The force of external circumstances. Its elements are, 1. Self -righteousness. 2. Censoriousness. 3. Disingenuousness. 4. Inconsistency. 5. Fanaticism. It manifests itself, 1. In respect to that which is wrong, by opposing it with an improper spirit. 2. In respect to that which is comparatively indifferent, by urging it beyond its real claims. 3. In respect to that which is right, by promoting it at the expense of integrity and charity. It has a tendency, 1. To throw open the flood-gates of error. 2. To drive many into the opposite extreme of inactivity and formality. 3. To weaken the moral energies of the Church. 4. To supply to the careless world an apology for the neglect of religion. 5. It tends to absolute infidelity. The remedies for it are, 1. Careful discrimination. 2. Moral courage. 3. Eminent piety. Cold and heartless indifference never cures religious errors or follies.
Chapter 22: Means of Promoting Revivals
Revivals should be scriptural, marked with a simplicity of the Gospel, shown and conducted with kindness, and done in good order. In the use of all means to promote revivals, we should not chiefly regard present results, but permanent effects. At the outset it may be stated that if we would enjoy extensive and powerful revivals of religion, we must put a high estimate on their value. The Holy Spirit is the sole author of genuine revivals. Would we secure his presence? Let us prize it above all earthly good. His love is better than wine. He is the true oil of gladness. Interestingly, Plumer says, “Alms-giving is a great means of reviving religion.” This is a demonstration that the church was and is in one accord. Another great means of reviving religion is found in liveliness, thankfulness, and praise to God for his mercies, will all prayer.
Chapter 23: Pastoral Visiting
Visits ought never to be long. Keep in mind that to slight the pulpit and visit is to neglect duty. The minister should be keenly aware of the aged in his church, and special attention is to be given to them, as well as the young. With the old, teach them, with the young, catechize them, but do not take away the responsibility of the parent to teach their children.
Chapter 24: Visiting the Sick
One of the most solemn, delicate, and difficult duties of ministers of the Gospel is visiting the sick. See James 5:14-17. The sick are to call upon the elders of the church. They should send for their pastors.
While a minister of the Gospel ought not to interfere with the medical treatment of his parishioners, yet he may publicly discourage the use of opiates to the dying. In some places this is becoming a serious evil. Not a few Christian people have their reason well-nigh destroyed before death by powerful narcotic drugs. Every right-minded man must approve the wish of Summerfield that he might enter eternity with an unclouded mind. He refused all drugs of a stupefying tendency when he was near death. So have many others. So did Jesus on the cross.
Among those sick, the minister must deal with burden consciences, skepticism, and conviction for sin. See this chapter for a helpful example (at length) on a pastoral visit.[The final chapters of the work were, in my estimation, a bit short and light overall.]
Chapter 25: Care of the Poor
What is to be done for the poor? Often we can show no greater kindness to the poor than by giving them good advice. This is a weighty matter, and should never be done for the purpose of getting rid of them. A great state of poverty in the United States is due to idleness. All the poor should be encouraged to work, and to save.
Chapter 26: Sabbath-Schools
Beyond all doubt the Scriptures do solemnly enjoin marked and early attention to the religious instruction of children and youth. A good Sunday School can promote an intellectual culture among the people. It promotes scripture, and personal piety.
Chapter 27: Doing Good with the Pen
The minister in writing out his sermons has the ability to affect his present generation, and if he is a good writer, generations to come. To be able during a lifetime to bring out one such volume is a great honor to any man; and, if he does it with right motives and to a right end, he shall not lose his reward. Some aged men among the living, and many pious men who have departed this life, have unquestionably done more good by their writings than by their oral addresses, though they were abundant in preaching and exhortation.
Chapter 28: Should I Become a Foreign Missionary?
The basis of a call to preach the Gospel among the heathen must be a call to the work of the ministry in general. It is also true that no man ought to he sent by the Church on a foreign mission who feels an unconquerable unwillingness to go. In ascertaining a call to the field of foreign labor, reference must undoubtedly he had to the leadings and actings of God’s wonderful providence.
The following two chapters were more or less relevant to Plumer’s day than to ours.
Chapter 29: The Duty of Americans
Chapter 30: The Relations of America to Other Lands
Chapter 31: The Sure Success of Evangelization
Evangelism relies on the sure preaching of the word of God centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are not called to preach salvation to a world for which Christ neither cared, nor wept, nor died. This doctrine of the death of Christ lies at the foundation of all that brings hope to man. Nor should we forget that as the blood of Christ shall never lose its power, so neither shall the doctrine of Christ’s death. Having died for us, Christ left not our cause, but became our intercessor in heaven. The absolutely certain success of missions is learned from the covenant of redemption. In the covenant of redemption, the Father and the Son are the equal parties. In the covenant of grace, God and man are the unequal parties. The covenant of redemption was made in eternity before all worlds. The covenant of grace was made in time after the creation and fall of man. The parties to the covenant of redemption had in each other infinite confidence, and so no surety was required. The parties to the covenant of grace had no confidence in each other, and therefore a Daysman, that could lay his hand upon them both, was indispensable. The Father and the Son had the same glorious nature. They were one in essence. They needed none to reconcile them. God is one. God and man possessed natures wholly different. God was angry with man every day, and man was in a state of enmity against God. To reconcile them there must be a mediator. In the covenant of redemption, God promised the subjection of all flesh to Christ. Christ died not to make his Father merciful, but to enable him to be just in justifying the ungodly.
Chapter 32: Sayings for Ministers
This last chapter is a compilation of quotes by Plumer for the aid of the minister. For example, Bishop Burnett (1643-1715) says, “That is not the best sermon which makes the hearers go away talking to one another and praising the speaker, but which makes them go away thoughtful and serious, and hastening to be alone.” Thomas Brooks said of bad preaching, bad sermons and a minister’s sins, “The murder of souls is the most horrible murder.”
 Plumer, William, Hints and Helps in Pastoral Theology, (Harrisburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2003) 7.
 Both Baxter’s work and James’ work I have written evaluations on.
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