The Pastor in the Mirror

“Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine, and lest you lay such stumbling-blocks before the blind, as may be the occasion of their ruin...Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn” (Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, pp. 63, 67.

Few remember that Joseph Ruggles Wilson, the father of President Woodrow Wilson, was a Presbyterian pastor in 19th century America. In an article in The Southern Presbyterian Review entitled "In What Sense Are Preachers To Preach Themselves," he discusses the power and importance of the individual in the act and ethos of preaching. A snippet:

"[The agency of preaching] is, so far as it possesses visibility, entrusted to men, who are to wield it, in God's name, each according to his own idiosyncracies of mental and moral character. The preacher's power over those to whom he addresses the word of salvation,(whilst, indeed, it could be nothing—certainly nothing very valuable—were he not sent and sustained by the Almighty, whose servant he is yet,) greatly depends upon what he himself is. That is, there is a sense in which the preacher preaches himself. He is more than a mere instructor. His work does not terminate in the mere act of imparting information, of opening up truth, and causing people to know what they were before ignorant of. If he stopped here, there might be no necessity for his office; books could convey instruction as well, or better, and a general distribution amongst men of plain treatises upon religious subjects, might probably take the place of the living teacher. Indeed, the inquiry has been started in certain quarters, where now is the use of so much public preaching, seeing that the press is so active in sending forth ever-increasing multitudes of cheap printed volumes, whose pages teem with all the knowledge of Scripture that is needed by the reading masses? The answer to this query is not alone to be found in the fact that there are many who cannot read, and therefore must be orally taught; or in the very different fact that God having instituted preaching as the means for drawing souls to himself, will own only his own ordinance in effecting this great result. The truer and profounder answer is, that they who favor this suggestion altogether mistake the nature of a preaching office; regarding it as nothing more than a teaching office. They leave this entirely out of the account, viz.: that the preacher is a man who employs sacred truth as a vehicle through which he brings his own peculiar distinctive self to bear upon his fellow-men. That truth is with him not mere knowledge, but this knowledge woven into his own experiences, and it is these experiences which he seeks to impress upon others in a way that shall make them their experiences as well. He publishes salvation as he himself understands it, and as he has come to understand it thoroughly by having imbibed it into his own soul. Hence he says, "I believe, therefore I speak.'' From the storehouse of his own convictions he strives to convince. It is these convictions that constitute him a preacher at all; and in proportion to their warmth and strength is he a mighty preacher."

You can read the entire article here.

(You will also see on Wilson's page an unfortunate sermon advocating the righteousness of American slavery; as with many of our Presbyterian forefathers, Wilson believed that slavery was a Biblical institution. Log College Press in no way affirms or advocates these views, but includes these writings in an attempt to collect on our site all the 18th-19th century American Presbyterian writings that are available digitally, for historical reference, and as a humbling reminder that all men have feet of clay.)

[The majority of this post was first published on July 29, 2017.]