The Minister's Care of Himself
Editorial Note: The following material is taken from John Watson's book, The Cure of Souls, published by Hodden and Stoughton in 1896.
As it is the will of God that the Church should be fed and guarded by a human ministry, there is no man on the face of the earth who has such responsibility, and who ought to take such care of himself, as the minister of Christ. And first he must see to his health, for the spiritual prosperity of a congregation depends very largely on the minister's being not only sound in doctrine but also sound in body. It is not merely that a valetudinarian is a source of endless anxiety to kind-hearted people who have enough concern in their own homes without the burden of the minister's weakness, and that the work is certain to be crippled with a leader that is afraid of breaking down, but, what is much more unfortunate and injurious, the invalidism of his body will certainly creep into his teaching, for, as a rule, one can only get robust sermons from a robust man.
One ought indeed to be thankful that Christ chose as His first apostles men not only of conspicuous spiritual genius, but also of a hardy, natural, wholesome habit of life — fishermen, and such like, — and that of the four Gospels that must remain for ever the authoritative documents of our faith, three proceeded, directly or indirectly, from those weatherbeaten Galileans, and the fourth from a physician. Whatever may be said of later Christian literature, there is nothing sickly, unreal, mawkish, or gloomy in the Gospels. They are sober, sensible, downright, manly books, such as able-bodied men would write and real men like to read. The body is a factor in thinking, as well as in pulling ropes and forging iron. Suppose two men be both saints, you need not expect equally good stuff from each in the way of thought if one be sound in body and the other unsound. As a rule, any one who has inherited an inferior constitution, or whose nervous system is overwrought, or whose body is deformed, or who is a chronic dyspeptic, or who is in any way below the working average of strength, will be peevish in temper, inclined to useless argument, fiercely intolerant of other people's views, a slave to crotchets, and pessimistic in the extreme. It is his misfortune, and allowance ought to be made for it. He may live above it, but the chances are he will not. One ought to extend to him every consideration, as to a crippled man, but it is wise to make some discount from his opinions. Unless he be singularly assisted by the grace of God, they will be less than true; he is sub-normal, and his views are apt to be subnormal too — deficient in balance, sobriety, charity. When a minister is untouched in wind, sturdy in limb, clean in blood, you have a certain guarantee of bright, honest, manly thinking. He is not likely to be falsetto, hysterical, garrulous, simply because he is sound in body as well as in mind.
[It is, however, possible to be exasperatingly healthy, and one can understand a much tried woman being driven away from a minister whose radiant unlined face showed that he had never known pain, and who had married a rich wife, and taking refuge in a church whose minister had a liver and preached rampant Calvinism. 'Was yon a man' — so she put it — 'for a widow with seven children to sit under?' Invalid ministers have a certain use and do gather sympathetic congregations — becoming a kind of infirmary chaplains. But their ecclesiastical and theological views must be taken with great caution.]
It is not extravagance to say that the physical health of theologians has affected the religious character of nations . . . During long centuries it was the custom of Christendom for a baron to send his able-bodied sons to the field and any deformed or sickly lad to the Church. Was it wonderful that theology and religion got out of touch with life, and became fantastic and unreasonable? Human life has now more doors for the infirm, and the Christian Church has ceased to be a home for incurables, but it is not as a rule the strong, stirring, full-blooded boys of a family who enter the ministry, but the lad who is half-alive, who plays no games, who is painfully composed. This is a public misfortune, since, if any other man be out of sorts, his wife suffers, but if a minister be below par a thousand people have a less successful life for a week. His business is to put heart in them for six days' work and trial, but for that enterprise a man's pulse must beat high and his own heart be buoyant. If his digestion be bad, then he goes into the pulpit and hits viciously at some heresy or mourns the decay of morals. The people, who had been expecting a glimpse of heaven, go home in despair . . .
Every church should have a physical examination at the entrance to the theological college, and only admit those men who would have passed as first-class lives with an insurance company. And the working minister should have his own rules of health — to have his study re-charged with oxygen every hour, to sleep with his bedroom window open, to walk four miles a day, to play an outdoor game once a week, to have six weeks' holiday a year and once in seven years three months—all that his thought and teaching may be oxygenated and the fresh air of Christianity fill the souls of his people.