‘On your being licensed to preach the gospel, I congratulate you. The office of an ambassador for Christ has, by all invested with it who have tasted of the grace of God, been considered as pleasant and honourable; while at the same time, it has been felt by them to be arduous, l will not enlarge on these things. The apostle of the Gentiles magnified his office, and reckoned it his glory, and a grace given him, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. His heart and delight were in the work; while at the same time, no man knew more by experience, both what he had to do, and to suffer, in the faithful discharge of his office. I pray God, that by the lively state of religion in our own souls, by communications of spiritual consolation from Himself, and by the abundant success of our labours, He may lead us to feel the pleasantness of the office; that by gifts and graces, He may qualify us for honourably transacting the business of reconciliation, between Him and rebel sinners; and that in proportion as He exposes us to the difficulties connected with the office, He may support us under them.
‘A circumstance, or rather quality of the office, to which my attention is directed as much as to any, is the solemn tenure on which we hold it. “Woe unto us, if we preach not the Gospel.” The sinner must receive warning, else his blood will be required at our hand. By faithful dealing with all, we must deliver our own souls. Who is sufficient for these things? You suppose my experience may enable me to suggest something profitable on the subject. I have little experience yet, that I can either call my own, or by which I can profit others; but if I have learned any thing by experience, it is the answer to the foregoing question, namely, “Our sufficiency is of God.” The more we feel our own insufficiency, and are led to God, in Christ, for all things, both to our own and our people’s souls, the more comfort do we feel, the more success are we likely to get.
‘But you will perhaps be thinking that I might say something more, of what I have learned by experience, in preaching the Gospel. In a letter I must be general. I think then, I know, that there is nothing of greater consequence to comfort and success than personal religion. Most difficulties arise, or are increased, either from the want, or the low state of this in the soul – entirely destitute of it, we must be unfaithful, comfortless, and burdened in the work – weak in religion, we are likely to be unskilful, in some degree unsteady, inactive, or exposed to the fear of man that bringeth a snare, ready to be overborne by every difficulty. And the more lively our own souls are, the more comfort do we feel; the more faithful are we enabled to be; and the better do we know, whether to apply for supplies of grace, for strength under difficulties, for ability, and success. All this is to be understood, in consistence with our sufficiency being of God. Personal religion is all from Him; and is the first and fairest means of success.
'I do not know a better way, in dependence on our Redeemer’s grace for encouraging personal religion, than to spend much time at once, and often, in deep meditation, self-examination, searching the Scriptures, and prayer. A person cannot (with a deceitful heart) meditate, examine, or read without prayer. I know because I have felt it, that converse with the world is hurtful; and had I been engaged in the profitable exercise alluded to, when at College, and at home I spent much time idly, or even in reading books that were in themselves useful, too constantly – I would now be more fit for my work. Without intimate spiritual knowledge of the Scriptures also, I must add, we cannot rightly divide the word of truth.
'And as speaking to a brother, I would advise you to study your discourses well. We are accountable for what we say; and not a little care and pains are necessary, in choosing fit passages of Scripture, by which to illustrate or prove our subject. I find most pleasure in delivering my most carefully composed discourses.
'I hope the Lord will direct and bless you and your labours. You will likely get some settlement soon; and it is chiefly in the view of this that I have written the preceding, as your situation then will be similar to mine. – I am, yours truly, John Shaw.’