As an addendum to this post on Shedd’s argument that a preacher must be diligent in the work of learning how to construct and deliver a sermon (https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/william-shedd-why-one-should-study-and-train-before-preaching/), I would add these notes from Bridges’ Christian Ministry to the effect that an effective ministry must be a man of study:
It is of great moment, that the habit of study should as far as possible be maintained through life. For the most part—the ground work only has been laid. Let our early attainments excite, not satisfy, our thirst for information—divert not bound, our investigations. If useful habits are gained, they are probably far from being matured. St. Paul’s instructions so often alluded to, were given (as we have hinted) to an Elder of some years’ standing in the church. Mr. Scott to the last combined the Student with the Minister.8 ‘If we live only on old stores,’ (as a beloved brother has observed)—’ we shall never enlarge our knowledge.’ It is allowed, that it is not easy diligently to pursues course of persevering study. Our families and our daily duties must not be neglected. It requires fixed plans, vigorously followed up. Our natural indolence, and the love of society, must be broken through. Cecil says—’ Every man, whatever be his natural disposition, who would urge his powers to the highest end, must be a man of solitary studies
Bridges offers a great deal of advice on which books to study. It is interesting that this chapter relies so heavily upon the reflection and advice of other men, demonstrating Bridges’ own study and understanding.
He particularly commends studying with depth and focus, not merely study which offers a superficial array of quotations from various authors without understanding any:
This has always been the view of the most judicious masters of study. Dr. Watts again observes,—’ A well-furnished library and a capacious memory are indeed of singular use toward the improvement of the mind; hut if all your learning be nothing else but a mere amassment of what others have written, without a due penetration into its meaning, and without a judicious choice and determination of your own sentiments, I do not see what title your head has to true learning above your shelves.’ On the Improvement of the Mind, ch. i. Thus again Mr. Locke—’Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections.—There are indeed in some writers instances of deep thought, close and acute reasoning, and ideas well pursued. The light these would give would be of great use, if their reader would observe and imitate them—but that can be done only by our own meditation.’ Conduct of the Understanding, § 43.
It may be important to add to this Section the course of study for proficiency in the Christian Ministry, pursued by one of the most profound Theologians of his or of any age. ‘My method of study’ (President Edwards informs us,) ‘from my first beginning the work of the Ministry, has been very much by writing; applying myself in this way to improve every important hint; pursuing the clue to the utmost, when any thing in reading, meditation, or conversation has been suggested to my mind, that seemed to promise light in any weighty point; thus penning what appeared to me mv best thouzhts on innumerable subjects, for my own benefit. The longer I prosecuted my studios in this method, the more habitual it became, and the more pleasant and profitable I found it. The further I travelled in this way, the more and wider the field opened; which has occasioned my laying out many things in my mind to do in this manner, (if God should spare my life,) which my heart hath been much set upon.’ Edwards’ Life, Works, pp. 79, 80.”
Yet, since the duty of study may seem difficult and many other matters may seem more pressing, Bridges gives insists upon the importance of study to the work. He uses the example of one who performs physical tasks (say an athlete or a mechanic): no one would expect one to be proficient without substantial effort and training. Why then would we expect one who undertakes an intellectual activity to do well without substantial investment of time?
If we concede the need for exertion to do well with physical tasks, we must surmount that belief that such work does not warrant more effort. Bridges’ shames the lazy ministry:
Bickersteth’s Christian Hearer, pp. 243, 244. The whole chapter is replete with valuable thought upon Christian study. ‘How few read enough to stock their minds! and the mind is no widow’s cruse, which fills with knowledge as fast as we empty it. Why should a clergyman labour less than a barrister? since, in spiritual things as well as temporal, it is “the hand of the diligent which maketh rich.” Does the conscience, in fact, never whisper upon any topic in theology—” Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things ?”‘ Christian Observer, 1828, p. 420.
Yet, in the end, Bridges is careful not to lay the ultimate success upon human effort, but rather notes that human effort is always and ultimately dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit through the human effort:
Yet, after all, the solidly-learned, the studious, and well-furnished man is but the unshapen mass, from which the Christian Minister is formed. The plastic energy—the quickening influence of the Almighty Spirit, is still needed to put light, life, and motion into the inert substance, to mould it into the Divine image, and to make it a ” vessel of honour meet for the Master’s use.”
REV. CHARLES BRIDGES,. “THE CHRISIAN MINISTRY; WITH AN INQUIRY INTO THE CAUSES OF ITS INEFFICIENCY: WITH AN ESPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE MINISTRY OF THE ESTABLISHMENT.”