The singleness of spirit and the candor, with which you have written to me, please me much. You are about to preach the gospel of Christ. In answering your letter, I will avail myself of the confidence you have placed in me, and endeavor to make one or two suggestions.
And in the first place, I would observe that a person in the responsible and solemn situation to which you are called, should never preach ostentatiously. In other words, be careful never to preach with the purpose of showing your intellectual power, your learning, and eloquence. Preach in a plain, simple manner; and let me add, that the matter is still more important than the manner. Be careful what you preach, as well as how you preach. Preach nothing but the gospel – the gospel of the kingdom of God. And permit me to say further, it is exceedingly desirable, that you should preach it as a kingdom near at hand; as something, not a great way off, but to be received and realized now. Aim at the heart. If men seek the kingdom of God within them, in the exercise of faith and in right dispositions instead of seeking it in outward ceremonies and practices, they will not fail to find it.
Another remark I have to make is this: Always remember that the soul of man was designed to be the temple of the living God. In that temple, framed for eternity, He desires to dwell much more than in temples made with human hands. He Himself built it. And when, in the exercise of faith, we permit him to enter, He exercises there a perpetual priesthood. God, therefore, is ready to come and take up His abode in the heart, if men are desirous of it. But men themselves have something to do. Teach those to whom you preach to disengage their minds from the world, to be recollected and prayerful, and with sincerity and uprightness to seek, in the language of the Psalmist, “the Lord and His strength, to seek His face evermore.”
Again, to render your preaching truly effective, it must be the product of love, and of entire obedience to the Spirit of God, flowing from a real, inward experience, from the fullness of a believing and sanctified heart. And, if this be the case, your sermons will not, I think, partake of a controversial spirit, which is much to be avoided. Man who are controversial, led away by strong party feelings, are apt to utter falsehoods, when they think they are uttering truth. Besides, nothing, so far as I can perceive, so much narrows and dries up the heart as controversy.
Shall I be permitted to make one other suggestion? It is very desirable, in the earlier part of your ministry, especially that you should spend a portion of your time, and that perhaps not a small portion, in communion with God in retirement. Let your own soul first be filled with God’s Spirit; and then, and not otherwise, will you be in a situation to communicate of that divine fullness to others. No man can give what he has not; or if a man has grace, but has it in a small degree, he may, in dispensing to others, impart to them what is necessary for himself. Let him first make himself one with the great Fountain, and then he may always give, or be the instrument of giving without being emptied.
How wonderful, how blessed are the fruits, when the preacher seeks the divine glory alone, and lets himself be moved by the Spirit of God! Such a preacher can hardly fail of gaining souls to Him who has redeemed them with His blood. Preach in this manner, and you will find that your sermons will be beneficial to yourself, as well as to others. Far from exhausting you, they will fill you more and more with God Who loves to give abundantly, when, without seeking ourselves, and desirous of nothing but the promotion of His own glory, we shed abroad what He gives us upon others.
And on the other hand, how sad are the effects, when men preach with other views, and on the other principles: – men who honor God with their lips when their hearts are far from Him. And they are not more injurious to others than they are miserable in themselves. God has created them on purpose to make them infinitely happy by possessing Him, but they make themselves utterly miserable by striving to possess all things out of Him.
I close with simply adding my supplication, that God may not only instruct you in the things which I have mentioned, but moreover, may place you in a situation which will be most accordant with the divine glory and your own good.