Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 19, 1970
NUMBER 45, PAGE 6-7a

Advice From A Presbyterian Preacher To His Son, 1791

(No. 2)

Walton Weaver

In a former article some portions of a letter from John Mason, a preacher in the Secession Church in the eighteenth century, to his son who was about to enter the University at Edinburgh were given because of their practical value to preachers. Other excerpts from that letter are given here.

Preparation And Delivery Of Sermons

"If God shall be pleased to put you into the ministry, prepare your discourses with great accuracy. Let this be the principle business of the morning of every day. Do not put it off till the end of the week. This would be to trifle with the Gospel and the souls of men; persevere in accurate preparation till the 40th or 45th year of your age. Superficial study and writing, in youth, make a poor old man. Be not however a slave to your compositions; exercise, but do not overcharge your memory. Go to the pulpit so far possessed of your notes, as to be able to speak with dignity, propriety, and ease.

"Fill your discourses with useful matter. A multitude of words without sentiments, or with sentiments not adapted to the pulpit, insult a grave worshipping assembly. Let the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel be your principal subjects. Do not however neglect morality, but see that you enforce it chiefly by arguments drawn from redeeming grace. Give faith and obedience their proper places. Reason closely, but with as little appearance of reasoning as is possible for you: give a practical turn to your arguments, and never abuse those who are of a contrary opinion.

"Have short introductions. State the sense and connation of the text with great precision. Let your method be natural, arising out of the subject. Be concise in the doctrinal part, that you may not be hurried in the application. Never depart wantonly from our translation, and if at any time you shall find it necessary to alter it, do it with great modesty, and without amusing the hearers with Latin, Greek, or Hebrew words. Do not meddle with the exposition of the Scriptures, which we commonly call lecturing, for two years at least after you have appeared in a public character. Meanwhile prepare yourselves for it, by a diligent reading, and close attention to the conations of Scripture. When you begin it, select such passages as have a peculiar fitness for fixing impressions upon the consciences of the hearers. Let this be your practice for one year. After that you may expound a chapter, or a book, as you shall think will be most for edification.

"Endeavour to acquire the command of your voice.

Never speak louder than is necessary, unless some Divine impulse lay a necessity upon you. Screaming and brawling disgrace the pulpit. Despise theatrical airs. Let you actions be easy and natural. Hate affectation.

"Rise above the frowns and applause of men. Consider your hearers as your fellow sinners, and your fellow mortals, and realize the presence of the searcher of hearts. Be serious and pointed, and you will command attention. Preach to yourself, and you will preach well to others.

Local Work

"When settled in a congregation, begin your ministry with great modesty, affection, and faithfulness. The first days of a man's ministry have frequently been found to be his best days. Endeavour to grow, that your profiting may appear to all.

"Be very circumspect in your life. Let your conversation on all occasions proclaim the sincerity of your heart, and exemplify the salutary tendencies of the doctrine you deliver to others.

"Never attach yourself to any party in your congregation, nor suffer any differences among the people to come before the Session till every previous means of composing them shall fail. Whatever unfavorable opinion you may have of any of your hearers, keep it locked up in your own mind. If any of them shall treat you in an unbecoming manner, take no notice of it, but pray for them, and do your duty to them, as though they had not displeased you. Discourage tale bearers, and never point your discourses at individuals.

"... When differences happen among ministers, be a peace maker. Never be a party man.

"Thus I have given you a few advices. I wish my time had permitted me to polish and extend them. Receive them as they are. They are an effusion of an affectionate parent. More will be occasionally sent to you, if life and health are preserved.

"I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace; may His good spirit instruct you, and you will be happily directed. Your best interests are near the heart of your father, JOHN MASON

"Read these advices once a month, carefully preserve them as a memorial of me. They may be of use to you, even in old age. Don't be discouraged when so much work is cut out for you. Method, perseverance, due exercise, and above all, Divine assistance, will enable you to do much more, with great ease."

J. M.

(Jacob Van Vechten, Memoirs of John M. Mason, 1856 pp. 31-38)

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