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Love, The Central Element of the Christian Ministry

I am doing personal study on emotion in the life and effectiveness of the preacher, particularly the emotion of love. I shared about my own journey in what I called the “school of love” this morning in my message. But God led me to a three-volume set of lectures on preaching. They are the first three volumes of the famed Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale University Divinity School. The first three years were delivered by Lyman Beecher’s son Henry Ward Beecher, the famous social reformer and abolitionist preacher.

Amazingly (i.e. providentially) there was an entire lecture in the first series (1872) entitled, “Love the Central Element of the Christian Ministry” (p. 238-263). [All page numbers are from the 1881 compilation of the first three lectures–all given by H.W. Beecher and published by Fords, Howard, & Hurlburt of New York]. I am going to make three posts out of this material. I have taken notes/quotes from this lecture. They are really too long for one post (they may actually be too long for two posts). In addition I want to put in a biographical sketch of Beecher. So, here is the first set of notes/quotes. It will be followed by the biographical sketch of Beecher. Tomorrow I will finish posting the notes from this terrific lecture.

p. 254-255

LOVE, THE KEY-NOTE OF PULPIT WORK

There are also, some specialties in this true Christian love and sympathy that bear upon the pulpit. In the first place, the whole case of your thought and the subjects with which you deal are to bear the impress of this good news—that God is Love, and that God so loved the world that he gave his son to die for it; and that Christ so loves the world, that having died for it, he now sits at the right hand of God, a risen Saviour to live for it.

If you preach justice alone, you will murder the gospel. If you preach conscientiously, as it is called, if you sympathize with law & with righteousness as interpreted by the narrow rule of a straight line; if you preach, especially, with a sense of vindictive retribution, –I do not care who the criminals are,–you will fail of your whole duty. There must be justice and punitive justice, of course; but, after all, “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord. It is a quality so dangerous to handle that only Infinite Love is safe administering it. No mortal man should dare to touch it, for it is a terrible instrument. You are to administer all the great truths, the most rugged truths, in the spirit of the truest sympathy, benevolence, and love.

p. 239

I purpose…to speak to you on the love-principle as the central power in the work of a Christian minister. “Speaking the truth in love” is the expression, and it is still stronger in the original than in our version, because we have no word signifying “to truth.” We say “to speak the truth.” Literally, it is truthing it in love.

p. 242

I do not believe that any other temper than that of love will carry a minister through his whole work with so little wear & tear, with so much inward satisfaction. Indeed, it is the element by which he interprets at once God and man.

A minister who has pure intellection only to offer to his people is like one who would in winter drag a plow over the frozen ground. He marks it, but he does not furrow it. He who has to make the seed of truth grow in living men into living forms must have power to bring summer to men’s hearts, –light and heat; and then culture, whether it be by the plow or the harrow, by the hoe or the spade, will do some good.

pp. 243-244

A great many persons, when you say such things as these, feel at once, “That is my doctrine. I do no believe in these always dry, metaphysical men, arguing and arguing and arguing.” Another man says, “That is my idea about it. I do not like these men who are always combative. I like a mild, meek and lowly man.”

But I do not mean any such thing as that. I do not mean these lazy sunshiny, good natured men, who have no particular opinions and who would about as soon have things go one way as another; who are without sharp and discriminating thought, have no preferences, no indignation, no conscience, no fire. I do not believe in any such men. I like to see a man who has got snap in every part of him, who knows how to think and to speak, and to put on the screw, if that is his particular mode of working.

This sweet and beneficent heart-quality that I am speaking of is the atmosphere in which every other faculty works, and which is generic to them all. It is Christian sympathy, benevolence and love. Do you not suppose that love has anger? There is no such anger as that which a mother’s love furnishes. Do you suppose that when se sees the child that is both herself and him whom she loves better than herself, the child in whom her hope is bound up, the child that is God’s glass through which she sees immortality, the child that is more to her than her own life, doing a detestable meanness, that she is not angry and indignant and that the child does not feel the smart of physical advice? Do you not suppose that the child knows what anger is? I tell you that there is no such indignation possible as the indignation that means rescue, help, hope and betterment. You might as well say that a summer shower has no thunder as to say that love has no anger. It is fully of it, or may be. Has love no specialty or discrimination in removing error, nor any continuing intense regard for specific and exact truth? God has it, and we are like him. We are his children, and know it by that. Love is simply that which overhands all those powers, which gives them quality and direction, and gives to us a larger power through these lower instruments.

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