A PASTOR'S SKETCHES: Conversation's with Anxious Souls Concerning the Way of Salvation: Two Volumes in One
The following Sketches have no necessary connection with those formerly published, and contained in another volume. Each volume is complete by itself, though the two are fit companions for each other.
The favorable reception which the former volume met with from the public; the numerous testimonials of its usefulness to private individuals, which have been received from many different parts of the country; and more especially the similar testimonials received from many of his ministerial brethren, have induced the author to believe it to be his duty, to issue this additional volume. The former one has a thousandfold more than realized every expectation that was ever entertained by the author respecting it; and although this volume may be less interesting in tender and affecting incidents, it is believed there are some reasons to hope, it will not prove less useful.
The author has aimed to present here such sketches as are unlike those of the former publication; so as to avoid, as much as possible, the needless repetition of the same ideas and arguments, and to make the volume a fit companion for the one which preceded it.
In these volumes, the author is not to be understood as professing to exhibit all the phases of Christian experience. To the varieties of such experience there is no assignable or conceivable end. Experiences are varied and modified by a thousand circumstances, which no pen can describe; by age, by condition, by illness, by peculiarities of mind and disposition, by the kind of preaching which has been heard, by associations, by habits of life, and perhaps, by the sovereign and infinite wisdom of the Divine Spirit, in His enlightening and saving influences. Sometimes one doctrine, or class of truths, and sometimes another, will take the lead in the reflections of an anxious mind, and so varied will these reflections become, that (it is believed), no wise man will ever attempt to describe religious experiences, which shall embrace all possible varieties. The circle of religious experience is immense, if not infinite. But this fact need discourage no inquirer, need embarrass no minister of the Gospel. The truth of God, after all, is simple: there never was a soul to which it is not applicable, and it is the sole instrument of the Spirit in the sanctification of the soul; and therefore there will be points of very distinct resemblance in all the saving experiences of men. And if what the author has written upon this subject tends to show, that the same truths are applicable to all souls; his work may not be valueless in illustrating the simplicity of the Christian religion, in conducting bewildered minds to the path of truth and salvation, and in showing, that the power and excellence of the Gospel lie in the great doctrines of grace, doctrines applicable to all souls who would find the way to Christ and eternal life.
The purpose of this book is not sectarian. It is confidently believed, that nothing here written can give any offence to evangelical Christians of any denomination. Not willingly would the author wound the feelings of any human being; and he has aimed here, to deal only with the religion of the heart, and the truths which promote it.
It is not probable, that all readers of this book will entirely approve the mode of the author's conversations with the inquiring. He has only to say, that his reliance has been placed upon the truth alone, as the instrument of the Holy Spirit in leading sinners to heaven; and consequently his aim, in these conversations, was simply to cause the truth to be understood, felt, and received, as the sole and sure guide. The matter of his teaching can be better judged of, by this book, than the manner of his teaching. The propriety of manner has respect to the person, his age, state of mind, and other things; and to give such a minute description of all these personalities as to justify the manner in which he spoke, the author knew full well would make the book too large, and diminish the power of its truth. But he has always been unwilling to utter a single sentence, which could would the feelings of an anxious inquirer after truth, aiming to find his way up to the Cross, and perplexed and harassed with the doubts, and difficulties, and darknesses of his own troubled mind. And he may be permitted to say, that some of the expressions contained in this book, (and the former one also), which, to a mere reader, will probably sound abrupt, and perhaps severe, are expressions which assumed their peculiar style, from the supposed propriety of it in the case. It was felt to be an important thing to condense the truth, to make it plain, and pointed, and incapable of being misunderstood; but he hopes and trusts there are no expressions here which will be found offensive to refined taste. Christianity, certainly, is kindness, and good manners, and good taste; and the author is confident, that he never uttered an unkind expression upon the ear of any inquirer, and never unnecessarily wounded the feelings of any one, who ever did him the favor to come to him. And the mode of conversation, men will entertain opinions somewhat unlike: the author can only say, he aimed to impress the truth upon the mind in the most effectual manner; and he feels fully satisfied with the kind regards towards himself which are entertained by those who have been led to Christ under his ministrations. They both prize and love him far more than he deserves.
Some of the conversations recorded here, (as well as those contained in the former volume), have a character which they could not have possessed, had it not been for an advantage, which the author always strove to improve. Whenever it was practicable, he studied the subjects beforehand. Having met an individual once, and expecting to meet him again, he carefully considered his case, aimed to anticipate his difficulties, studied the whole subject intensely, and, in many cases, wrote sermons upon it, the substance of which afterwards came out, to a greater or less extent, in the conversation. Thus, the conversations aided the sermons, and the sermons aided the conversations. If he might be permitted to do so, the author would commend this mode of ministerial action to younger ministers of the Gospel.
What is here presented to the public, has been submitted to the inspection of some of the author's ministerial brethren, in whose judgment and taste he has great confidence; and, without their approval, these pages would never have been printed.
If this humble volume, by the blessing of God, shall be the means of aiding sinners in the way of salvation, and of any little assistance to the younger ministers of the Gospel, in directing anxious, and guiding the perplexed, and comforting the broken in heart, the author's hopes will be realized.
Dr. Ichabod S. Spencer