Truly earnest men are few in our world, but they are greatly needed. The example of an energetic person is far-reaching; he has an electric power over others. He meets obstacles in his work; but he has the push in him, and instead of allowing his way to be hedged up, he breaks down every barrier.
Especially should those who are engaged in teaching the word of God cultivate a steady, unyielding energy in their labors. There are thorns in every path. All who follow the Lord's leading must expect to meet with disappointments, crosses, and losses. But a spirit of true heroism will help them to overcome these. Many greatly magnify seeming difficulties, and then begin to pity themselves and give way to despondency. Such need to make an entire change in themselves. They need to discipline themselves to put forth exertion, and to overcome all childish feelings. They should determine that life shall not be spent in working at trifles. Let them resolve to accomplish something, and then do it. Many make good resolutions, but they are always going to do something and never get at it. About all their resolutions amount to is talk. In many cases, if they had more energy and accomplished something in spite of obstacles, they would have far better health.
Every one should have an aim, an object, in life. The loins of the mind should be girded up, and the thoughts be trained to keep to the point, as the compass to the pole. The mind should be directed in the right channel, according to well-formed plans. Then every step will be a step in advance. No time will be lost in following vague ideas and random plans. Worthy purposes should be kept constantly in view, and every thought and act should tend to their accomplishment. Let there ever be a fixedness of purpose to carry out that which is undertaken.
Success or failure in this life depends much upon the manner in which the thoughts are disciplined. If they are controlled as God directs that they shall be, they will be upon those subjects which lead to greater devotion. If the thoughts are right, the words will be right. If the dreamings of the mind are of great purposes in which self figures largely, self and self-exaltation will be revealed in the words and actions. Such thoughts do not lead to a close walk with God. Those who move without thoughtful consideration, are almost sure to move unwisely. They make fitful efforts, striking out here and there, catching at this and that; but their efforts amount to nothing.
The true minister of Christ should make continual improvement. The afternoon sun of his life may be more mellow and productive of fruit than the morning sun. It may continue to increase in size and brightness until it drops behind the western hills. My brethren in the ministry, it is better, far better, to die of hard work in some home or foreign mission field, than to rust out with inaction. Be not dismayed at difficulties; be not content to settle down without studying and without making improvement. Search the word of God diligently for subjects that will instruct the ignorant, and feed the flock of God. Become so full of the matter that you will be able to bring forth from the treasure-house of His Word, things new and old.
Your experience should not be ten, twenty, or thirty years old, but you should have a daily, living experience, that you may be able to give to each his portion of meat in due season. Look forward, not backward. Never be obliged to tug at your memory in order to relate some past experience. What does that amount to to-day to you or to others? While you treasure all that is good in your past experience, you want a brighter, fresher experience as you pass along. Do not boast of what you have done in the past, but show what you can do now. Let your works and not your words praise you. Prove the promise of God "that those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; and they shall be fat and flourishing; to show that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him."
Do Not Borrow Productions of Other Men's Brains
Keep your heart and mind young by continuous exercise. If you have the quickening grace of Christ to energize your movements, you will put earnestness into your sermons. Your subject will be clear and well-defined in your mind. You will not be lengthy in your remarks, neither will you speak hesitatingly, as though you did not yourself believe what you were saying. You must overcome slow hesitation, and undecided, sluggish movements, and learn to be minute men.
The subjects which many of our ministers present before the people are not half as connected and as clear and strong in argument as they should be. They profess to be teachers of the Word, but they sadly neglect to search the Scriptures for themselves. They are content to use the arguments which are prepared in pamphlets and books, and which others have labored earnestly to search out; but they are not willing to tax their minds to study them out for themselves. In order to make full proof of their ministry, those who open the word of God to others should search the Scriptures diligently. They should not be content to use other men's thoughts, but should dig for truth as for hid treasures. While it is perfectly right to gather ideas from other minds, they should not be satisfied to take those ideas and repeat them in a poll-parrot manner. Make these ideas your own, brethren; frame the arguments yourselves, from your own study and research. Do not borrow the productions of other men's brains and pens, and recite them as a lesson; but make the most of the talents, the brain power, that God has given you.
Those who teach the Word should not shun mental discipline. Every worker, or company of workers, should by persevering effort establish such rules and regulations as will lead to the formation of correct habits of thought and action. Such a training is necessary not only for the young men, but for the older workers, in order that their ministry may be free from mistakes, and their sermons be clear, accurate, and convincing. Some minds are more like an old curiosity shop than anything else. Many odd bits and ends of truth have been picked up and stored away there; but they know not how to present them in a clear, connected manner. It is the relation that these ideas have to one another that gives them value. Every idea and statement should be as closely united as the links in a chain. When a minister throws out a mass of matter before the people for them to pick up and arrange in order, his labors are lost; for there are few who will do it.
Penetrate Beneath the Surface
Many of our young men might to-day be intellectual giants, had they not been content to reach a low level. Those who do not love to study, are ever in great danger of becoming dwarfs in spiritual and mental growth. They consider that they have a moderate understanding of Scripture subjects, and they cease to investigate, cease to plow deep that they may obtain all the treasures of knowledge possible. Instead of cultivating studious habits, they yield to inclination, and are content to skim the surface, without going with energy to the bottom of the question under consideration. Those who have this superficial manner of study would not be prepared to meet an opponent in discussion should one oppose them. They penetrate only deep enough into a subject to meet the present emergency, and to conceal the real ignorance of their lazy minds. Gradually this course causes hesitancy, dwarfs the comprehension, and bars the way to successful effort.
Some of our ministers have a run-way of discourses which they use year after year, with little variation. The illustrations are the same, and the words are almost the same. Such persons have ceased to improve, ceased to be students. They think to prevent mental decrepitude lay not taxing the mind' with too much study! Mistaken idea! It is only by being taxed that the mind gains vigor and acuteness. It must work, or it will lose its strength; it must have fresh subjects to feed upon, or it will starve. Unless it is made to think regularly and systematically, it will surely lose its power to think.
The perusal of works upon our faith, the reading of arguments from the pens of others, while an excellent and important practice, is not that which will give the mind the greatest strength. The Bible is the best book in the world for intellectual culture. The grand themes presented in it, the dignified simplicity with which these themes are handled, the light which it sheds upon the mysteries of heaven, bring strength and vigor to the understanding. The mind must be made to penetrate beneath the surface. This is compared to digging for the truth as for hid treasures.
There are those in the ministry who have been readers of the Bible all their lives, and who think themselves so well versed in its teachings that they do not need to study it. Here is where they mistake. To the diligent Bible student new light, new ideas, new gems of truth, will constantly appear, and be eagerly grasped. Even through eternal ages the truths of this wonderful book will continue to unfold.
Our ministers are too well satisfied with themselves. They need intellectual discipline. They seem to feel that their education is finished. But this is not the case; indeed, it will never be completed. Education is the work of a life-time; and when this life ends, the same work will be carried forward in the future life. As they advance in years, many become worthless as preachers, and cease their labors, at the very time when their experience would be of most advantage to the cause, and when they can be illy spared. Had these disciplined their brains to work, they would have been fruitful in old age.
The gospel is not properly represented by those who have ceased to be students, who have, as it were, graduated in Bible study. If men would reach the ears of the people in these days when pleasing fables are presented by eloquent lips, their minds must be disciplined and richly furnished with the imperishable truths of God's Word.
To you who have ceased to be Bible students, and who have become intellectually lazy, I would say, Begin now to redeem the time. You may not be able to do this entirely, but you can to a certain degree accomplish it. Begin at once to harness up the mind for effort. Say in the strength of Jesus, I will study for eternity; I will overcome my sluggish temperament. And then engage with greater earnestness than ever before in the work of God and in the study of his word.—"Diligence a Necessary Qualification in the Minister," Review and Herald, April 6, 1886.