But the primary concern of this young divinity student was how to “fill up his outlines”. To this Newton advices the young man to learn people. Speak a word to each:
The tempted and distressed will be most probably relieved by opening the various states and exercises of the heart, and by showing, from scriptural and other examples, that no new thing has befallen them. The careless and backsliders, who have made a profession, should be reminded of that blessedness they once spoke of, and warned of their danger. Those who are now upon the mount, should be cautioned to expect a change, and to guard against security and spiritual pride. To the dead in trespasses and sins (some such will be always present), it is needful so preach the spirituality and sanction of the law, that they may be stirred up to seek to Jesus. Of him all awakened souls love to hear much. Let Jesus therefore be your capital subject. If you discuss some less essential topic, or bend all your strength to clear up some dark text, though you should display much learning and ingenuity, you will probably fall short of your main design, which I dare say will be to promote the glory of God, and the good of souls.I love how Newton (aware of a divinity students temptation to discuss a “less essential topic) sum his point up by saying preach Jesus—he will fit them all. You must forgive me for the length of this, but I cannot allow any of these gems to remain on page without highlighting them for your attention:
Your inquiries respecting my own experience on this subject, must be answered very briefly. I have long since learned, that if I was ever to be a minister, faith and prayer must make me one. I desire to seek the Lord's direction, both in the choice and management of subjects; but I do not expect it in a way of extraordinary impulse, but in endeavoring to avail myself, to the best of my judgment, of present circumstances. The converse I have with my people, usually suggests what I am to preach to them. At first, my chief solicitude used to be, what I should find to say: I hope it is now, rather that I may not speak in vain. For the Lord has sent me here, not to acquire the character of a great speaker, but to win souls to Christ, and to edify his people. As to preparation, I make little use of books, excepting the Bible and a concordance. Though I preach without notes, I most frequently write more or less upon the subject. Often when I begin, I am at a loss how I shall proceed; but one thing insensibly offers after another, and, in general, I believe the best and most useful parts of my sermon occur de novo while I am preaching. When I can find my heart in frame and liberty for prayer, every thing else is comparatively easy.
The sum of my advice is this: Examine your heart and views. Can you appeal to Him who knows all things, concerning the sincerity of your aim, that you devote yourself to the work of the ministry, not for worldly regards, but with a humble desire to promote the Redeemer's kingdom? If so, and his providence has thus far concurred with you, trust him for your sufficiency of every kind, and he will not disappoint you, but will be near to strengthen you according to your day. Depend not upon any cisterns you can hew out for yourself, but rejoice that you have liberty to come to the fountain that is always full, and always flowing. You must not expect a mechanical sufficiency, such as artificers acquire by habit and exercise in their business. When you have preached well nineteen times, this will be no security for the twentieth. Yes, when you have been upheld for twenty years, should the Lord withhold his hand, you would be as much at a loss as at first. If you lean upon books or men, or upon your own faculties and attainments, you will be in fear and in danger of falling continually. But if you stay yourself upon the Lord, he will not only make good your expectations, but in time will give you a proper confidence in his goodness, and free you from your present anxiety.
But if it is our business, and our pleasure, to contemplate Jesus, and to walk in his steps, he will bless us: we shall be like trees planted by a constant stream, and he will prosper the work of our hands.