Mr. Booth on Village Preaching

A valued correspondent has favoured us with the following article, the production of the late venerable Abraham Booth, which we readily insert to give such sentiments all the circulation in our power.

“It is very affecting to think, that in this country, though highly favoured with civil and religious privileges, the inhabitants of many Villages are destitute of an Evangelical ministry: because it is apparent from Holy Scripture that the Gospel of salvation by grace is of the highest importance, to enlighten the minds and relieve the consciences, to sanctify the hearts and reform the lives, of the ungodly and the profligate.

The Gospel, though contained in the Bible, and though that best of books lies open to every one that can read his own language, must, according to the appointment of Heaven, be exhibited in a public ministry. Preaching the Gospel, or publishing salvation by Jesus Christ, is an ordinance of God, and the grand mean of converting sinners, in order to their present peace, their greater usefulness, and their final happiness. Preach the Gospel to every creature, was the high command of our sovereign Lord to his disciples, just before he ascended to the throne of universal dominion. This divine order is yet in force; and its obligation extends to all that are invested with the ministerial character. Nor ought private christians to consider themselves as unconcerned in the execution of an order so authoritative, and so beneficent; for without their co-operation by affording pecuniary assistance, the ministers of Christ are not able to make those exertions which, in the common course of providence, are necessary to the diffusion of spiritual knowledge, by itinerant preaching, in the darker parts of any country. Thus private Brethren become fellow-helpers to the truth, and to the public ministers of it.

It is with peculiar pleasure that we contemplate the recent formulation of societies in the country, not only among the particular Baptists, but also among our congregational brethren, for the spread of the Gospel in this land by Village preaching. A design so important, and a conduct so laudable, that we cannot but earnestly recommend them, as worthy to be adopted by all those Pastors and Churches, in the different counties, who love the doctrines of divine grace, and, especially, to those of our own denomination.

As private Brethren, though not endued with abilities for the public ministry, may nevertheless, possess a well-informed understanding, a gift for prayer, a talent for edifying conversation, and be conspicuous in the churches to which they belong, for steady piety, for benevolence, and for a well regulated zeal; so it is very desirable that such characters were selected and encouraged, by those churches of which they are members, to use their pious endeavours in adjacent villages. By benevolent, prudent, and gradual efforts, one or another, in each circumjacent village, might admit a few neighbours into his house, to hear a person of the preceding description read the scriptures, converse on sacred subjects, and pray; whether on Lord’s-days, or at other times, as opportunity presented. By such means the cause of Christ might be greatly promoted; for experience and observation unite in attesting, that a similar line of conduct has been owned by God, to the spiritual benefit of many.

Though real Christians ought always to consider themselves as lying under indispensable obligations, to use every scriptural means in their power, to diffuse the savour of knowledge of Christ in the several countries where they reside; yet, the varying aspect of divine providence may more loudly call for exertions of this kind at one time than at another. Such is the present season. For who that seriously reflects on those scenes of distress which are in the world, but must exclaim, Behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth! God, in the language of prophecy, is manifestly come out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquities, and to shake the earth with terror! The great and alarming events, which have recently taken place, are pregnant with new and powerful motives to strenuous endeavours for the spread of divine truth, by a conscientious and practical regard to which motives, it shall be apparent, that our hearts are in unison with that comprehensive petition.–Thy kingdom come.

While we rejoice in the spirited and laudable exertions of our Christian brethren, under different denominations, to propagate the Gospel among the Heathens in foreign climes, we should not forget the many myriads at home, who have scarcely any thing pertaining to Christianity besides the name–who are profoundly ignorant, if not notoriously profligate and profane.

The spread of infidelity is now uncommonly great. Multitudes of people in this country, being unacquainted with the true principles of Christianity, have no experience of their salutary tendency to relieve the distressed conscience, to sanctify the depraved heart, or to meliorate the conduct: and consequently, there is no reason to wonder, that many of this description fall an easy prey to the artful insinuations, and the blasphemous assertions, which so frequently proceed from the lips or the pens of Deists. Many, indeed, are the judicious defences of Christianity which have appeared in our language. These, however, being seldom read by the lower classes of people, can have but little effect in preserving them from the contagion of infidelity. Besides, reading the inspired volume, and the preaching of divine truth, are the grand means, appointed of God, to excite serious reflection and earnest prayer: to produce conviction of sin, and interest the conscience in what the scriptures reveal: to renew the heart, and give an holy bias to the whole soul. Now, persons who are thus affected by what the divine writings contain, will revere the Bible, and be far from renouncing christianity.

Amidst all the improvements in Philosophy, in Science, and in useful Arts, there is the highest reason to lament the neglect of that inspired volume, which is able to make us wise to salvation. A serious attention to the sacred contents of which must lead us to conclude, either that the New Testament does not give a just representation of Christianity, or, that incomparably the major part of those who profess the religion of Jesus are no Christians. For Christianity, as delineated in the Apostolic writings, is the religion of rectitude, of love, and of peace. Evangelical truth, which is the great instrument, in the hand of God, for promoting real Christianity, is the doctrine of divine benevolence to man–the doctrine of pardon, of reconciliation, and of salvation by Jesus Christ. This doctrine, by whomsoever sincerely believed, never fails to produce a cordial veneration for God, and an unfeigned benevolence to man. That veneration is expressed, by a conscientious regard to holy worship, according to scriptural rule: by habitually observing the divine precepts, and by devout submission to the orders of providence. This benevolence is manifested by a series of truly virtuous affections towards our own species, in order to promote individual and social happiness; or, in other words, a prevailing disposition to treat others, as we might reasonably wish them to treat us. To profess the religion of Jesus, while habitually destitute of that veneration, and of this benevolence, is to insult Christianity, and to libel the New Testament.

Let us then, christian brethren, regard these considerations as emphatically inculcating the uncertainty of all temporal enjoyments; the necessity of spiritual mindedness: and a practical attention to that divine precept, Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. Nor is much reflection required to convince us, that there is no object of equal important with that of promoting the genuine cause of Christ. To this, therefore, let pious and prudent exertions be directed. Let suitable persons, for itinerant preachers, be therefore engaged; and let stated pastors in the country, according to their abilities and opportunities, employ themselves in village preaching. Let reading a portion of the sacred scripture constitute a part of their public devotions; that those who cannot read, who have not Bibles, or who suffer them to lie neglected, may hear the Lord himself speaking in the old and new testament.

In these labours, let them keep the great object constantly in view; which is not merely to propagate a set of theological sentiments, though ever so true: much less, either in public or private, to disseminate political opinions, or to canvass the affairs of State: for this we absolutely disavow: but, in the fear of God, with much prayer, circumspection, and self-denial, to warn sinners of the wrath to come–to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to render their ungodly fellow creatures truly wise, holy, and happy. Then, happy Christians indeed–by exemplary piety in the several churches with which they may be connected–by domestic religion and good order in the families to which they belong–by integrity and benevolence in all their private connexions–and, by a peaceable behaviour, as members of civil society at large–they shall adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.