Institution for Improving the Education of Pious Young Men, Called to the Christian Ministry

This very interesting piece is from the Fourth Annual report of the American Baptist Board of Foreign Missions (Triennial Convention) printed in The Latter Day Luminary, May 1818, Vol. I. No. 3 page 125 ff. It shows that the Baptists of the early American republic understood the importance of formal training for men seeking to serve Christ in pastoral ministry and foreign missions.

Institution for Improving the Education of Pious Young Men, Called to the Christian Ministry

Amid the range of interesting efforts recommended by the Baptist Convention to the Board of missions, the education of youth destined for the work of the ministry, is one of the highest importance. It is demanded by the improved state of society; it supplies to the young minister himself numerous and solid advantages, and is, with the blessing of God, in every case useful; but as relates to the business of translation, it is of indispensable value to the foreign missionary. The manner in which this duty was pressed upon the Convention by the venerated President, as its last session, will not soon be forgotten. All that zeal for the honour of God and the prosperity of the churches, all that correct conception, impressive eloquence and decision of feeling could suggest, were employed to arouse the minds of the brethren to this necessary measure.

The Board has felt the weight of the charge that has been to them committed. So far from fearing that in this business they have come forward too early, they apprehend most from their apparent delay. They owe it to truth to avow, that their difficulty has arisen from the want of funds to carry the object, to any considerable extent, into execution. What of late they have observed with reference to the public impression on this point, creates an assurance that to obtain funds competent and ample, nothing is necessary but a direct appeal to the liberality of their fellow christians throughout the Union. To this they were the more inclined, as the Baptist Education Society in Philadelphia, so early as July last, addressed to them a letter, offering their immediate co-operation in accomplishing the objects contemplated by the Convention.

At the late annual meeting of the Board, the subject was fully and in all its various bearings discussed, and a committee appointed to consult with a committee of the Education Society. The Rev. Dr. Staughton has been elected Principal, and the Rev. Ira Chase, A.M. Professor of Languages and Biblical Literature. The Board calculated much on the talents, piety, and devotedness of brother Chase; and it affords great pleasure to announce that he has accepted the appointment.

A suggestion of the honourable Judge Tallmadge, one of the vice-presidents, on his return from the south, has been welcomed and recommended—that a meeting of the Board, as numerous as possible, be called, to put into immediate effect the wishes of the Convention, and to elicit all the aid that can be procured for the accomplishment of the important design. The second Wednesday in July has been fixed upon for this purpose. In the mean-time, brother Rice, the agent of the Board, is instructed to obtain all the subscriptions he can, that may contribute to the supplying of means for the accomplishment of an object so conducive to the prosperity of our churches, the interests of missions, and the glory of our common Lord and Saviour.

It may be thought unnecessary in the present state of society to assign any reasons to prove the utility and importance of education in assisting the minister of the sanctuary in the discharge of the public and solemn duties of his office. When, however, it is recollected that the most valuable principles fail in their effect unless frequently reviewed, “line upon line” may be found advantageous.

The Bible in its popular translation ought unquestionably to engage the laborious attention of the candidate for pulpit labours. The saints of God are accustomed to its phraseology, and find in its words a savoriness which accords with the most gracious exercises of their hearts. It has become venerable for its antiquity, and is received among Christians as their guide to heaven.

It is our happiness that as a translation the scriptures are most excellent; but still they are a translation. They supply the best remedy for the evils which the confusion of tongues has created, but the words are not those which the Holy Ghost first employed in conveying revealed truth to man. An acquaintance with the original scriptures qualifies the minister of Christ for contemplating the sentiments delivered in the sacred volume in a variety of lights. It enables him to correct errours which mistaken friends or avowed enemies of divine truth may have introduced. The Baptists in determining and defending the real import of the term by which they are denominated, and the nature and government of a church of God, are deeply interested in giving to their public teachers an acquaintance with the scriptures in their original tongues.

Besides the oracles of God in their translated and original forms, the public speaker ought to become familiar with the grammar of his own language. Logic will assist him to reason with accuracy, and rhetoric to convey the result of his investigations and the fervours of his heart with acceptance. Without an acquaintance with profane history he can never explain the prophecies which are on record; and ignorant of ecclesiastical, he can never trace to their sources the mischievous errours that prevail. Geography, ancient and modern, is of importance; the former will aid him in his public expositions, and the latter serve to animate and direct the enlarged zeal of his heart, for the extension of the Mediator’s kingdom.

The able minister is made such by the Holy Ghost, and only those who in the judgment of the churches are subjects of grace will be admitted to the benefits of the institution. When science would assume the seat of vital religion, let her be treated as was Hagar when she would become the mistress of Sarah; let her be turned out of doors. But it is certain the Holy Spirit works by means. Who will argue that preaching is unnecessary because God alone changes the human heart? Timothy had received a special gift at the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, and yet he is exhorted by an apostle, who, in zeal for the doctrines of grace and the honour of the Holy Ghost, was by none exceeded, to “give attendance unto reading.”

The same blessed Spirit who assisted the apostles to speak with tongues, employs and blesses human acquisitions to the honour of the divine name. Was not Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost when he quoted from heathen writers the following passages, certain of your own poets have said, for “we also are his offspring”—“The Cretans are always liars”—“Evil communications corrupt good manners.” The divine Spirit in employing our English bible for the conversion and sanctifying of the people of God, condescends to make use of the instrumentality of human learning. Had our translators been ignorant of gender and case, of mood and tense, of syntax and government, the Bible in the vernacular tongue had never been ours. The venerable Carey and his associates are consecrating their learning to the important work of translating the word of life. They translate not from translations, but draw the waters of life from the sacred fountains of original scripture. Some of our young men feel a necessity laid upon them to become missionaries too. Who would not regret dismissing them from their native shores without possessing talents from extended usefulness, such as the bounty of zealous Christians could supply, such as the good Spirit of our God has singularly blessed?

That there are in the church eminent ministers of Christ whose opportunities of mental improvement have been small, furnishes occasion for holy joy. Never let human acquirements be regarded as indispensably necessary for pulpit duties. Should it however be inferred that mental improvement is of no moment, the inference is no more correct than that because sometimes God converts men by a thunderstorm the ministry of the gospel may be laid aside. Ask those excellent men who, without literary aid, have become great in the church of Christ, their ideas of the value of education, and without an exception you will hear them deplore the want of it. If their eminence and usefulness have been great without learning, what would they have been had they possessed it? Who are the divines whose works stand in the world for the defense of the gospel, above all others? It need not be answered they were men signalized for the variety and extent of their erudition, as well as for their soundness in faith, the riches of their experience, and the purity of their conversation.

“But learning makes men proud!” Alas, such is the frailty of the human heart, that pride will spring as a noxious plant, whether the soil in which it grows be cultivated or not. Pride is not the associate of wisdom only. The most unlettered professors may sometimes be classed among the proudest. The preacher may be as proud, while from the pulpit he is inveighing against that learning which he does not possess, as he who before his congregation opens a thousand of its stores. Superficial literature may produce vanity; but sound learning, sanctified attainments, originate and maintain unaffected humility.

It is hoped that the churches of our denomination are becoming more and more convinced of the duty of assisting pious youths in their education; and do we need arguments to strengthen this conviction? Had ancient prophets their schools for the edification of their youth, and shall we not endeavour to have Naioths and Bethels now? Enemies of Christianity are employing learning for its overthrow, and shall not the champions of the Cross be assisted to meet them on equal ground? Did not much of the superstition and folly of the dark ages of the church arise from an unlettered ministry? Has not the reformation, under God, sprung from the intrepidity of men who have been as eminent for learning as for zeal and piety? Is it not the interest of the churches that their spiritual guides possess every possible qualification for advancing their knowledge of divine subjects? Have not the churches, already, realized many important advantages from the literary institutions which exist in our connexion? And ought not such considerations to animate a new and continued exertions?

Youth is undoubtedly the best period for mental improvement; not only because it is a season of inexperience, and freedom from care, but because the memory is then the most tenacious. The habits of study and reflection which are commenced in early life, usually become permanent. Early improvement promises extensive usefulness. Many young men in our churches are anxiously desirous to avail themselves of those advantages which a literary and theological institution supplies. They are not able to support the inevitable expenses of their subsistence, clothing, washing, books, etc. without the aid of their Christian brethren. Let then the churches of Christ zealously exert themselves. How soon their worthy pastors that go in and out before them may be removed they cannot tell. Their liberality may be rewarded, richly rewarded, by obtaining from the candidates they have assisted equal successors in pastoral office. Let generous and pious individuals offer of their substance to the sanctuary of the Lord. Let the rich encourage education societies by their contributions and by their bequests. Such as have duplicates of useful works in their libraries are respectfully and importunately requested to favour this institution with their supernumerary volumes, towards the formation of a library for the use of its students.

This cause is the Lord’s. Its aim is the prosperity of the churches; and its supporters will find ample consolation in the committing the whole to the protection of the Supreme Head of the church, and in a holy and resolute perseverance to expend their talents and substance to the praise of his glory.

Vol. I.—Nº. III.