Five letters to a young man going into the Christian ministry | Letter 5 – John Newton

Letter 5
July 25, 1772.

Dear Sir,
I am glad to hear you are accommodated, where I hope your best endeavors will not be lacking to make yourself agreeable, by a humble, inoffensive, and circumspect behavior.

I greatly approve of your teaching one of the lessons in the afternoon. You will find it a great help to bring you gradually to that habit and readiness of expression which you desire; and you will perhaps find it make more impression upon your hearers—than what you read to them from the pulpit. However, I would not discourage or dissuade you from reading your sermons for a time. The chief inconvenience respecting yourself is that which you mention. A written sermon is something to lean upon—but it is best for a preacher to lean wholly upon the Lord. But set off gradually; the Lord will not despise the day of small things. Pray heartily that your spirit may be right with him—and then all the rest will be well. And keep on writing. If you compose one sermon, and should find your heart enlarged to preach another, still your labor of writing will not be lost. If your conscience bears you witness that you desire to serve the Lord, his promise (now that he has brought you into the ministry) of a sufficiency and ability—for the work belongs to you as much as to another.

Your borrowing help from others, may arise from a self-distrust of yourself, which is not blamable; but it may arise in part likewise from a distrust of the Lord, which is hurtful. I wish you may get encouragement from that word, “Who makes mouths? Who makes people so they can speak or not speak, hear or not hear, see or not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and do as I have told you. I will help you speak well, and I will tell you what to say.” Exo. 4:11-12. It was a great encouragement to me.

While I would press you to diligence in every rational means for the improvement of your stock in knowledge, and your ability of utterance—I would have you remember, that true preaching is a gift of God. It cannot be learned by industry and imitation only, as a man may learn to make a chair or a table. It comes from above; and if you patiently wait upon God, he will bestow this gift upon you, and increase it in you. It will grow by exercise. To him who has—shall more be given—and he shall have more abundantly. And be chiefly solicitous to obtain an unction upon what you do say. Perhaps those sermons in which you feel yourself most deficient—may be made most useful to others. I hope you will endeavor likewise to beplain and informal in your language and manner (though not base or vulgar), so as to suit yourself, as much as possible, to the minds of the most ignorant people. There are, in all congregations, some people exceedingly ignorant—yet they have precious souls, and the Lord often calls such to be saved. I pray the Lord to make you wise to win souls. I hope he will.

You cannot be too jealous of your own heart. Cry to Him who is able to hold you up, that you may be safe—and you shall not cry in vain. It is indeed an alarming thought, that a man may pray and preach, be useful and acceptable for a time—and yet be nothing! But still the foundation of God stands sure. I have a good hope, that I shall never have cause to repent the part I have taken in your concerns. While you keep in the path of duty—you will find it the path of safety. Be punctual in waiting upon God in secret. This is the life of everything, the only way, and the sure way—of maintaining and renewing your strength.

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