Ministers Must Have God's Help
By Elder F. G. Pitt
|Elder F. G. Pitt|
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.... As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.... Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (John 15:1–8).
When called into the ministry I seemed to possess very little qualification for a preacher. As a young man I was naturally diffident and slow of speech, and therefore had great difficulty in expressing myself in public. I was always so impressed with a sense of my incapability that I frequently failed when trying to occupy in the pulpit. Sometimes I would be able to preach from fifteen to thirty minutes, but more frequently from five to ten, and then disappointed and humiliated, would have to give up the effort notwithstanding my prayers and fastings for God to give me the ability to occupy where he had called me.
Finally Brother Henry Stebbins called upon me one day and invited me to preach in his stead at Sandwich, Illinois. I was then living in Plano. I was both pleased and surprised that he should think of making such a request of me, and the thought it suggested was, "Brother Henry must think that I really can preach a little, or he would never have asked me to occupy in his pulpit." In fact, I felt a little flattered and accepted the invitation and immediately set to work to study, fast, and pray to prepare myself to fill the appointment in a creditable manner, or having been thus honored, I would not fail now for the world.
When Sunday arrived and I started on my five-mile walk to Sandwich, a beautiful line of thought occupied my mind and I was preaching in my imagination all the way. I said to myself, "If the Lord will only enable me to preach before the people what he has given me on the way, I will be able to preach a splendid sermon, and the people will be blessed and I shall feel delighted and encouraged."
Upon entering the church I met Elder Wixom, an aged and lame brother, and immediately the question came to my mind, "I wonder why Brother Stebbins did not invite Brother Wixom to preach instead of me—is it possible that he thinks I can preach better than Brother Wixom?" I invited the brother to assist me, and all went well until I announced my text and began to speak; and then my mind became a blank and in about three minutes I had to give up and take my seat. Brother Wixom arose, took my text and preached a good sermon; but I felt miserable. I was filled with humiliation and shame, and it would have been a relief had the floor opened and I been able to drop out of sight. Now what would Brother Stebbins think of me? I even dreaded to face the congregation in walking down the aisle after the service was dismissed. No wonder Bishop [Israel] Rogers had remarked (as came to my ears after), "Brother Pitt is a good man, but he will never make a preacher in this world." When the benediction was announced I hurried to the door as quickly as possible to avoid speaking to anyone, but Brother Rogers caught me by the arm and invited me home with him to dinner. I declined however, with the remark, "Not today, brother, I am going home."
"Nonsense," he replied, "Not before you have your dinner."
But again I declined with thanks, replying, "Not this time, I am going home."
Once outside the church I breathed a deep sigh of relief to be alone, and then something said to me, although I heard no audible voice, "Well, what do you think of yourself now—how long are you going to imagine yourself to be a preacher? How long are you going to keep this up. Don't you think you have made a fool of yourself often enough to convince you that you cannot preach?"
I immediately answered, "I guess that's right, as it is quite true I am no preacher; and at this rate I never will be and it is no fault of mine, for I have done my best and failed; and at last I am ready to give up; and this I really think will be my last effort at preaching." Then something said to me, "How do you account for your failure—were you not called of God, and ordained by proper authority?"
"Yes, the call came through President [Joseph] Smith [III], and it was he who ordained me."
Then came the question, "Would God have called you for a work for which He knew you could not qualify?"
While I was considering this question, the reply came, "You may have been called and ordained to the priesthood all right, but all God's servants are not preachers—some are called to administer to the sick, some to preside over branches and districts, some to sit in council, etc." My reply was, "Quite true, I never thought of that. I have evidently mistaken my calling. But thank the Lord I have found it out at last and now I am done, for I have preached my last sermon." I breathed a sigh of relief with the thought that the struggle was now over.
By this time I had reached the railroad and was stepping the ties rapidly towards home, when another question was presented to my mind: "Suppose you were called upon to preach tonight, would you try just once more?" I was so surprised that I stood still a moment, and again the question was repeated, "Would you try to preach just once more, if you were called upon tonight?" I felt quite certain that I would not be [asked to preach], for I knew Brother Joseph [Smith III] was home [at Plano] and he would be expected to preach. After some hesitation finally answered, "Yes, if it should so happen that I am called upon tonight, I will try it just once more; but if I fail again that will be my last effort."
Arriving home tired and hungry after my ten-mile walk, I told my wife of my failure, and she tried to console me as best she could. After a good dinner and rest on the couch, I felt better.
Just before time for evening service, in answer to my wife's request, I went for a pail of water—we obtained our drinking water from President Smith's well. Hearing someone drawing water from his well, Brother Joseph came to his back door and called out, "Is that you Brother Fred?"
I answered, "Yes, this is I, Brother Joseph."
"Say, Brother Fred, you will have to preach tonight, for there is a union temperance meeting at the Methodist Church and I am called over there to speak [against the use of alcoholic beverages]."
"All right," was my reply, and as I hurried home I said to myself, "Now for my last sermon. Just this one more effort and my preaching is ended." I felt perfectly indifferent as to the results now, as I made such a hard struggle from a sense of duty and had failed so often, it was with a sigh of relief that I now had reached the end. The church bells were ringing for the opening service. I had no time for preparation, and I went into the pulpit with no idea what would be my theme—I did not care whether I had one or not. The opening service ended and I arose to preach. Instantly a text on the doctrine of Christ came to mind, which I repeated, and began to speak.
The Holy Ghost came upon me in power and thrilled my entire being. I preached without effort this time, for I received the Spirit of my office and calling—even my voice changed and the audience seemed electrified by the Divine power made manifest through one of God's weakest servants. To say that I rejoiced is putting it mildly, and I was then made to realize, as I had never before, that this is truly God's work— and that I, as his servant, should be willing to be used any way the Lord would have me, and that too, without murmuring. I then decided that hereafter I would do my best in whatever work I might be called and leave the result with God. I had also learned the lesson taught by the Master, "Without me, ye can do nothing." (Autumn Leaves, January 1917, pp. 30–34)
Editor's Note: Brother F. G. Pitt served as a renowned RLDS missionary in the United States, Canada, England, Wales, Scotland, Palestine, Egypt, New Zealand, South Sea Islands, and Australia. He served as president of the High Priest Quorum, a member of the Standing High Council, a patriarch, and Kirtland Temple Attendant. He was also noted for composing and singing the hymn, "God Is So Good to Me," as found in Hymns of the Restoration, page 435.)