May 4: A Charge to the People

Good Words for Any Congregation

In this charge to the congregation, there is as well something to pray about for our pastors and for our churches. It was on this day, May 4th, in 1860, that the Rev. Thomas Smyth brought the pastoral charge to Rev. James H. Thornwell and Rev. Francis Mullaly, who were to serve as co-pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina. In God’s providence, Thornwell did not remain at this post long, dying on August 1, 1862. Rev. Smyth died in 1873, and Rev. Mullaly served as pastor of ten different churches before he died in 1904. In addition to his pastoral charge, Rev. Smyth also presented the charge to the congregation of First Presbyterian, the text of which is provided below. It is brief, but full of good wisdom for any congregation. To read Smyth’s pastoral charge to Thornwell and Mullaly, with a link to a PDF version, click here.

These protracted services should now be properly closed by a charge to the people, and as, in the failure of both the brethren appointed, it has been made my duty to carry out this requirement of our church, you will bear with me, dear brethren, in very briefly addressing you.

And the very first thing I would impress upon you is, that in this eventful scene you are not spectators merely, but participants—not merely eye-witnesses to an interesting pageant, but partners to a solemn compact.  The relations and responsibilities now constituted are mutual, and cannot be separated. Have these Brethren now become your pastors?—you have become their people. Are they under obligation to preach, to reprove, to rebuke, to make known God’s will and your duty?—you are bound to hear, to obey, and to perform.  Are they, in conscious impotence, to undertake a work

                    Which well might fill an angel’s heart,
                    And filled a Saviour’s hands?—

They are to be strengthened with all might, obtained through your prayers on their behalf. Are they to give themselves wholly to the things which pertain to your spiritual welfare?—you are to provide all things needful for their temporal comforts; to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake; to count them worthy of an adequate and honorable maintenance; and to consider it a small thing to impart freely of your carnal things in return for their spiritual gifts.

You perceive, therefore, Brethren, that the solemnities of this occasion involve you not less than those who are set over you in the Lord.  For weal or for woe you are now joined together. The relations and the responsibilities are mutual.—

You must be helpers or hinderers of each other’s prosperity and progress.  Like priest like people, is not more true than like people like priest.  It is in the power of any people to paralyse or to put life and energy into their pastor, and to make him not only a lovely song and as one that playeth well on an instrument, but the power of God and the wisdom of God, to the salvation of souls.  And for all that they might do, and ought to do, they must give account when they shall stand confronted at the bar of Him who judgeth righteous judgment.

May you so live and labour together as that this account shall be given with joy, and not with grief. Yours, I have said, is a model pulpit.  May you be a model people.  Model preaching will demand model practice, model piety, liberality and zealous devotion to every good cause. I congratulate you, Brethren, upon the present occasion and your future prospects. I rejoice with you in your joy. I remember your kindness to my youth, and your appreciation of my early ministrations, when you so cordially invited me to live and labour among you.  Allow me, with all my heart, to pray that peace may be within your walls, and prosperity within your borders. May you go forward prospering and to prosper—a city set on a hill, a burning and a shining light, provoking all around you to love and liberality. May strength go out of this Zion, and may you arise and shine the glory of the Lord having arisen upon you.

This occasion must now close, but we who are now assembled must meet in review all the issues of this rehearsal. Oh, my friends, realize and lay to heart the hastening hour. Pray, oh, pray earnestly, that when pastors and people shall meet face to face, at that awful tribunal, instead of mutual upbraidings and reproaches—you accusing them of unfaithfulness or negligence, and they accusing you of coldness, formality, and refusal to come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty—you may be able to congratulate each other; you blessing God for them as helpers of your faith, and they presenting you to God as their joy and crown of rejoicing.

The time is short. These earthen vessels cannot hold out to any of us much longer, though the riches they contain may never fail. For myself, especially, the time of departure must be near at hand. And oh, my beloved Brother, (looking towards Dr. Thornwell), if permitted to become an indweller in the new Jerusalem, how shall I long and look for your coming! And when intelligence of your approach shall be conveyed by ministering spirits, with what alacrity and ardour of love shall I ascend to the loftiest heights of its projecting battlements, and as the seraph minstrelsy announces your approach, how shall I exulting spring to catch you by the hand, and welcome you to the kingdom and the crown prepared for you; to the white robe, and the palm of victory; to the harp of melody; to everlasting joy; to communion of soul, as well as communion with saints and angels; to the river of life and the tree of life; and above all, and beyond all, to Jesus the light and life of all, and Himself the heaven and happiness of all His faithful followers!


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