Medicine or medical lectures?

“Like a good physician, who is watchful for the effect of his medicines upon his patients individually, according to their specific varieties of diseases, he will endeavor to ascertain the impression which his sermons have produced on particular persons. He will aim to attract to him the anxious inquirers after salvation, and for this purpose will have special meetings for them, will invite and encourage their attendance, will cause them to feel that they are most welcome, and by his tender, faithful, and appropriate treatment of their cases, will make them sensible that they are as truly the objects of deep interest to him as lambs are to the good shepherd. And though he will very naturally wish not to be too frequently broken in upon in his private studies by those to whom he has appointed set times for meeting him, yet a poor burden trembling penitent will never find him engaged too deeply or delightfully in study, to heal his broken heart, and to bind up his wounds. It is really distressing to know how little time some ministers are willing to give up from their favorite pursuits, even for relieving the solicitudes of an anxious mind. They read much, and perhaps as the result, preach well-composed, though possibly not very awakening, sermons; but as for any skill, or even taste, for dealing with convinced sinners, wounded consciences, and perplexed minds, they are as destitute of them as if they were no part of their duty. They resemble lecturers on medicine, rather than practitioners; or they are like physicians who would assemble all their patients able to attend, in the same room, and then give general directions about health and sickness to all alike, but would not inquire into their several ailments, or visit them at their own abodes, or adapt the treatment to their individual and specific disease.

It is admitted that some men have less tact, and still greater destitution of taste, than others, for this department of pastoral action; but some skill in it, and some attention to it, are the duty of every minister, and may be acquired by all: and no man can be in earnest without it.

He who can only generalize in the pulpit, but has no ability to individualize out of it; who cannot in some measure meet the varieties of religious perplexity, and deal with the various modifications of awakened solicitude; who finds himself disinclined or disabled to guide the troubled conscience through the labyrinths which sometimes meet the sinner in the first stages of his pilgrimage to the skies, may be a popular preacher, but he is little fitted to be the pastor of a Christian church.”

– John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Banner of Truth, 1847/1993) p. 150-151.

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