Thomas Scott (1747-1821) on Redeeming Time in Ministry
One of the hallmarks of the evangelical movement has been its emphasis on active Christian service. Like the Puritans before them, the early evangelicals thought it important to make the most of each day, and doing so required a careful use of time. This care was especially needful for ministers of the gospel, whose very occupation meant tending to both personal and public responsibilities. Some, like the early Methodists, would schedule out basically their entire day into short blocks of time. However, other evangelicals were less rigid. Concerned about how to balance the various demands of ministry on his time, the Rev. Robert Storry of Colchester, England wrote to the prominent evangelical leader Thomas Scott (1747-1821) in 1796 asking for his advise on the matter of time distribution. Scott’s answer demonstrates the importance of planning our time, but his approach combines pastoral wisdom and balance not always evident among some of his contemporaries. Consider the reply:
I should be glad to make my letter worth postage by inserting in it any observations that were made on the way of dividing and spending time: but I fear I cannot ex promptu do much justice to the subject. It was generally agreed that no man can lay down rules which suit another; so much depends on health, circumstances, disposition, and engagements:–that a man should not so lay down rules for himself as to bind himself to them at all events; otherwise he may decline services to which he is called, because contrary to his rule; set up his own will as to the disposal of time in opposition to that of God; lose his temper when broken in upon; and be tempted to harshness and unkindness to the distressed, whose case will not admit of delays. Our Lord suffered even his retired hours to be intruded on, and did not bid the people come at a more seasonable hour.–In order to divide time aright it must be redeemed: we must know its worth and importance and determine not to part with it but for a valuable consideration. A man should have a plan, though he should not either attempt to impose it on others, or bind himself too stiffly to it. Many arrangements in the family, and in every branch of it, are necessary to procure the largest quantum of time to be divided; and a man must know how to rule his own household, as well as to curb his own affections, who would not let time turn to waste. Such visits as are not likely to produce benefit to ourselves or to others, or at least to obviate prejudice and prevent harm, should be shunned: and yet it is sometimes well to lose a little time, as we would a little money, rather than give offence, and preclude ourselves from usefulness. The best hours of the day, and those least liable to interruption, should be chosen for devotion, meditation, and closer studies. One part of our duty should be made a recreation from the weariness of another: especially conversation and social intercourse, or such books as require comparatively little attention. Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost. Have some book at hand, or some employment ready, for the odds and ends, the parentheses of time, which are generally wasted. As little time allotted to sleep and animal recreation, as serves to keep the body in health, is of great use: but, where a man carries this further than his constitution will admit, because others have found that they could do what he attempts, he will in the event find it unfavorable to his grand object. In all cases the care of health and spirits, by air and exercise, & etc., in moderation, is a valuable use of time, and should be considered in the division of it.–Upon the whole, some men ought to spend much time in their study; others will do more good in going among the poor, or in visiting such as are willing to welcome instructions. Some ministers should allot much time to the study of their sermons; others will speak most intelligibly when less elaborate, and may redeem their time for other purposes: but all ought to have stated times for searching the Scriptures and prayer; and to seize occasional opportunities for ejaculatory worship in addition; but not to depend on this latter practice, or be satisfied with it.–The man who loves money finds out how to get and spare it; and he who wants to make it go far finds out how to divide it. We are the Lord’s servants; and if we be employed as he would have us our time is rightly divided, though other rules be neglected.–I have only room to add that I remain yours very affectionately,
Source: (Thomas Scott, The Letters and Papers of the Late Rev. Thomas Scott, D.D., ed. John Scott [Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong, and Crocker & Brewster, 1825], 173-74).