Advices to Young Ministers at Their Ordination (by Archbishop James Ussher)

A Body of DivinityThe following is an ordination address by James Ussher (1581-1656), found as an appendix in his A Body of Divinity [SGCB, 2007. 453].  His words are experienced, passionate, and pointed.  Think of this as a philosophy of ministry/preaching.  Ministers of our day, whether seasoned, novice, or yet in seminary training, will do well to read and heed Ussher’s instruction:

I. READ and Study the Scriptures carefully, wherein is the best Learning, and only infallible Truth; they can furnish you with the best materials for your Sermons; the only Rules of Faith and Practice; the most powerful motives to persuade and convince the Conscience; and the strongest arguments to confute all Errors, Heresies, and Schisms: Therefore be sure, let all your Sermons be congruous to them; and to this End, it is expedient that you understand them as well in the Originals, as in the Translations.

II. Take not hastily up other men’s Opinions without due Trial, nor vent your own Conceits, but compare them first with the Analogy of Faith, and Rules of Holiness, recorded in the Scriptures, which are the proper Test of all Opinions and Doctrines.

III. Meddle with Controversies and doubtful Points as little as may be in your popular preaching, lest you puzzle your hearers, or engage them in wrangling Disputations, and so hinder their Conversion, which is the main design of Preaching.

IV. Insist most on those Points that tend to effect sound Belief, sincere Love to God, Repentance for Sin, and that may persuade to Holiness of Life: Press these things home to the Conscience of your Hearers, as of absolute necessity, leaving no gap for evasions, but bind them as close as may be to their duty; and as you ought to preach Sound and Orthodox Doctrine, so ought you to deliver God’s Message as near as may be in God’s Words; that is, in such as are plain and intelligible, that the meanest of your Auditors may understand: To which end it is necessary to back all practical Precepts and Doctrines, with apt Proofs from the holy Scriptures; avoiding all Exotic Phrases, Scholastic Terms, unnecessary Quotations of Authors, and forced Rhetorical Figures, since it is not difficult to make easy things appear hard, but to render hard things easy is the hardest part of a good Orator, as well as Preacher.

V. Get your hearts sincerely affected with the things you persuade others to embrace, that so you may preach Experimentally, and your Hearers perceive that you are in good earnest, and press nothing upon them but what may tend to their advantage, and which your self would venture your own Salvation on.

VI. Study and consider well the Subjects you intend to Preach on, before you come into the Pulpit, and then words will readily offer themselves; yet think what you are about to say, before you speak, avoiding all uncouth, fantastical words, or phrases, or nauseous, indecent, or ridiculous expressions, which will quickly bring Preaching into contempt, and make your Sermons and Persons, the subjects of Sport and Merriment.

VII. Dissemble not the Truths of God in any case, nor comply with the Lusts of Men, or give any countenance to Sin by word or deed.

VIII. But above all, you must never forget to order your own Conversation as becomes the Gospel, that so you may teach by Example as well as Precept, and that you may appear a good Divine every where, as well as in the Pulpit; for a Minister’s Life and Conversation is more heeded than his Doctrine.


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