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Schenk had just become rector of Harcourt Parish, Gambier, OH. In all, there are 13 separate items of advice. They are chiefly conered with pointing out the best way to lay the foundation for true conversion, how to behave towards those not yet secure in Christ, a warning about too many meetings.
letter, McIlvaine, Schenck, church, Harcourt Parish
McIlvaine, Charles Pettit, "Letter to Rev. Noah Hunt Schenck" (1856). Charles Pettit McIlvaine Letters. 8.
(Extract from “Christ Our Helper: an Anniversary Discourse by the Rev. Noah Hunt Schenck”)
May 26, 1856
Rev. and Dear Sir:
By a very joyful account from Gambier, received the day before yesterday, I have learned still further of the work of the Spirit of God in the College, and I trust elsewhere in Gambier. The Lord be praised his mercies. The Lord give us all faithfulness and wisdom and grace to profit by this manifestation of his power. If I could, I would hasten to Gambier and assist you in the delightful, and yet most difficult, work which you have now to do—in which so much wisdom from above, so much prayer, so much unweariedness of watching for, and with, souls, are needed. But it is impossible. After so much absence, I cannot leave home again till Convention; and even then I fear I must leave it much unprovided for. It is a sad thing for the head of a family to be so much away from it. Not being able to go to you, I can pray for you—and for all under your ministry—and I can write to you such counsel as I trust will aid and comfort you.
In your personal dealings with minds recently affected by the truth and seeking God, I counsel—
That you aim at a deep and broad foundation, in a thorough conviction of sin and ruin and condemnation. “To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much.” He who feels that he is very sinful will feel that Christ is very precious. We see the Saviour through our necessities. We can know him only as we know our need of him. Defective conviction is defective conversion. It is the office of the Spirit to convince of sin—and thus to lead souls to Christ. Seek therefore to bring the mind into such a state of self-abasement and self-renunciation, under a sense of utter sinfulness and condemnation, that the way of the Lord may be prepared, the mountains of self made low, and the preciousness of Christ, as a refuge and only hope, exalted.
Aim at drawing away the mind from seeking comfort and hope in its own experience and feelings, an d at centering it in Christ. Seek such a frame as will desire, not so much to get hope and consolation, as to be a Christian—and to be a Christian simply as that consists in coming to Christ, and being his, and striving to be his more and more. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” Just as we are to lift up Chirst before the world, so must he be exalted in each heart. All affections, hopes, desires, motives must center there.
Display the freeness of Chirst—his tender and boundless love—his perfect salvation—that is the heavenly strain that draws the stony heart, and in which is manifested the power of God unto slavation. “We preach Christ crucified” — nothing else will do. The heart know that preaching to come from God, just as the demoniac could not help recognizing Christ.
Be careful to keep out topics of doctrinal discussion not intimately involving the work of grace in the soul. Satan takes advantage of such side issues to lead the mind from the great question, What must I do to be saved?
Be careful of the proneness of those recently awakened to lay too much stress on obtaining a hope. I mean—not that a good hope is not very precious, but that great care must be taken lest the object be more valued than the evidence—the consolation than the basis. It is good to be self-distrustful—to suspect one’s feelings—to be afraid of self-delusion— to feel how deceitful the heart is, how natural sympathies and emotions, under certain excitements, may easily seem like religious affections. Urge self-examination, walking carefully.
Lay great stress on private exercises of mind, in quietness, in reading, in prayer, in seeking solitary communion with God. Mistakes are often made in having too many meetings. When meetings are so many that they encourage and produce a dependence on them, as if their social excitement were necessary, and religion can get its food no where else, and so private exercises are made subordinate, and seem dull in comparison, and the mind expects nothing till it can be brought under the influence of company—then meetings have got into their wrong place.
Be careful to institute no means which, in case the work should go on as a permanent work, could not be continued. When means have to be given up because they are too many and too exacting to last, the feeling is that the work is declining, and then it does decline, and reaction takes place, and coldness ensues. The less excitement, and the less of extraordinary means, and the more faithful, spiritual, believing use of the great permanent means—viz: the simple use of the World of God and prayer—the less danger of reaction, because of the more reality of life.
Exalt the office of the Holy Ghost. Great is the truth involved in the text, “By grace ye are saved.” Grace to make alive—grace to continue life—grace to consummate life—grace to send a Saviour and a Sanctifier—grace to enable us to receive them—and what else?—all of grace!! beginning and ending, every step of the way;—and in the administration of that grace—the Spirit of God!! We must exalt his work in us, for Christ, just as much as we must exalt Christ’s work for us, with God. The Spirit will enrich the soul that makes much of Him as the author and sustainer of all spiritual life. He testifies of Christ to the soul. He takes of teh precious things of Christ, and shows them to the soul that cries, “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, come.”
Avoid urging or encouraging a profession of religion before time has been had for self-knowledge.
Consider that the duty of watching over, admonishing, exhorting those who hope they have been converted, that they may grow in grace—that they fall not back—that they may walk circumspectly and honor God in their example, is as important and as much needed as that of seeking the conversion of the ungodly.
Avoid whatever may tempt those newly converted, as may be hoped, to a want of humility, to a seeking of notoriety. The shade is the place for tender growths, just transplanted. The roots must make good growth before they can bear the hot sun. The best growth at that age is unseen, in the ground of the heart. What a long shoot the seed of good grain strikes downward in the soil, before it puts out any leaf.
Inculcate the love of the Scriptures.
Seek that the work may reach with great power among all former communicants—to lead them to search their foundations—to begin anew to live to God. I earnestly hope it will reach into the hearts of all students that have previously professed Christ—especially theological, and those seeking the ministry in any degree. I pray they may obtain a measure of life and light and earnestness—a strength and depth of experience in Christ far beyond what they have known before. This I look upon as of the very greatest importance. May God grant it. I have not time for more. The Lord uphold and direct you. The Lord fill your heart with prayer and faith and wisdom. The Lord revive all hearts around you that have ever had life with God.
Yours very affectionately,