The Practical Study of the Soul by our Ministers: Or, Pastoral Psychology

Berry Street Lecture, 1857, A.M.

Samuel Osgood


Note:  The following is a report on the 1857 A.M. Berry Street Lecture, found in the Christian Inquirer, May 30, 1857.  The full text has not been located.


"Dr. Osgood’s Address Before the Ministerial Conference:  The Practical Study of the Soul by our Ministers: Or, Pastoral Psychology”


            Dr. Osgood began his Address by saying that although the soul of man is as old as creation, the nature of it is the newest problem of time.  Although the Christian clergy have for so many centuries devoted themselves to the care of the soul, and summoned to their aid all the learning and philosophy of the world, the science of psychology is yet in its infancy, and Christian teachers have shed far less light upon its constitution by elaborate treatises upon its nature, then by pastoral discipline and nurture of its affections and powers.  It was desirable that we, as pastors, should study the topic practically, alike as regards the method to be followed and the essential principles to be learned.


            I.  He maintained that the method of the study should be practical in its object and subject.

            Its object should be to enable man to live truly, and as within the kingdom of God.  The materialism that denies the soul’s existence and worth, and the superstition that banishes its work from the living world, both err, and tend now, as in the days of the Sadducees and Pharisees, to rob humanity of its due.  The glory of the Gospel is in the present salvation—in its present redemption of the soul into the true life that is, and is to be eternal.  The soul is the truly practical power, and gives existence its best comfort and energy. 


            The study should be practical in its subject, and should consider the soul in itself, and in all its great relations with nature, man, and God.  It is the inner man, the human personality, and as such it has been regarded by the great sages of philosophy, and by the common instincts of this race, as well as by the faith of Christians.  Being the inner man, the soul is to be studied in all that developes [sic.] and expreases [sic.] him.  Its being is manifested only by its passions and actions, or by what is done to it, and what it does.  Its functions appear in all its practical relations, and should be studied in connection with them.  The body should be more sacredly regarded in its relation to the mind.  The whole constitutions, and habits, and history of man should be explored, to show the sources from which human experiences spring, and the channels in which they flow.  The being and attributes of God should be sacredly meditated upon; and all revelations of him in creation, human life, especial dispensations and spiritual influences, should be reverently surveyed.  Christianity, as the fullest development of humanity in reconciliation with God, crowns the whole study, and helps us to the best knowledge of the soul, by exhibiting its most complete life.


            Especial interest attaches to the study in this country, and America is more likely to care for discussions of the nature and destiny of man, than for the old topics of controversy.  There is more popular interest among our people in the study of man, than in the old topics of the Trinity, Original Sin, Church Government, and Justifying Faith, which in turn, have divided the old ages of Christendom.  Some of our most popular excitements have a psychological turn, and Phrenology and Spiritualism, from opposite sides, are teaching multitudes to think about the relations between matter and spirit, and are calling for better teachers.


            II. The study of the soul should aim to show and apply the essential law of its life.  This law should be sought upon the same principles as other laws of creation, and would be found in analogy with them.  All existence shows the combined play of two functions in a certain round.  The earth combines its centripetal and centrifugal tendencies in its revolutions upon its axis, and about the sun.  Plants fulfill their periods by absorptions and secretion.  Animals feed and digest, and so continue their circulation.  The nervous system, which is peculiarly near to the soul, fulfils its course by alternate sensibility and irritability, or passive impression and active expression.  The soul follows the same ruling law, and its life consists in combining sensibility and will in a certain round of habits.


           1.  The first leading function of the soul is sensibility, or its power of feeling and perceiving impressions upon its peculiar senses.  This sensibility should be studied in all its compass and application, as a sense of what is beautiful, true, and good, and in its application to the impressions that come from nature, man, and God.  The Christian pastor should regard every moral and spiritual sense as peculiarly sacred, and give each its true nurture, that he may follow the Good Shepherd’s commission, "Feed my sheep.”

            The sensitive side of the soul was then considered in connection with mysticism, and with all those influences that act upon us without our will, and belong to the night side of nature and life.  Modern Spiritualism came in for a few raps, and some important discriminations.  The doctrine of Divine grace, in its relation to human freedom, was considered, and the fact of gracious influence from God was declared essential to the true development of the will.  The soul’s interior power is awakened by impressions, as the eye is awakened by the light, and it is idle to talk of the will being wholly independent of influence.  The aim should be to bring the will within the true impressions, and through the spiritual senses awaken the working powers.  The identity between the doctrine of Divine grace and of the true dignity of man was shown.


            2.  According to the compass of the sensibility of the soul, its power of volition must be.  As it receives, the soul must give, and its working force rises with its recipient capacity.  Every sense demands its peculiar work in its peculiar sphere.  The idea of what is beautiful, true, and good must show itself by shaping the gifts of nature, humanity, and God according to its own standard, and thus the soul, which, in its sensibility, is a learner, in its will is a worker, and the workshop ever opens upon its school.  The work of the soul was then reviewed in the natural, social, and religious spheres, and the importance of vigorous will was shown.

            The mysterious side of the will was considered, and some hints were given as to the rise of purposes and the result of conscious effort, and the connection of volition with Divine influence.  The freedom of the will was declared to consist in its character, not its circumstances—in its character as a living power amid the circumstances of its position, alike receiving influence from them and giving it.  The union of rationality and freedom in all the best states of the soul was maintained.  When man is truly himself he is a living spirit, at once rational and free, conscious of being moved by God’s truth and love, yet moving in a subjection which is perfect freedom.  Rationality and freedom are the two wings of Psyche, that rise and fall with the pulses of the same spirit, and waft her toward her sovereign Eros.


            3.  The combination of sensibility and will was illustrated in the law of periodicity of habit, and the need was urged of so ruling the life as to give its courses the variety and continuity of God’s creation.  The law of habit was considered in its connections with individual and pastoral life.  The evils of fickleness and monotony were shown.  Hints were given as to certain forms of mental irregularity that sometimes end in positive insanity.  The need of a more various and genial administration of religion was maintained in connection with the Christian year.


            The Address closed with summing up the ideas of the discourse in the portraiture of a true man’s life in its sensibilities, purposes, and habits.  As in his sensibility he most deeply feels the worth of Divine grace, and in his will he is most impelled by the Divine law, in his habitual career, or characteristic orbit of service, his is most tenderly conscious of the Divine Providence.  To him God is not only a presiding, but also an indwelling, power, and the great cycle in which a true soul moves is guided by the Almighty hand, and inspired by the Eternal Spirit.  The immortal life thus begins, and the soul, from a twofold witness, confirms the Gospel of Christ.  The conviction of capacities for inexhaustible peace and usefulness joins with the inextinguishable sense of God’s goodness and power to give assurance of immortality, and so life here begins the life everlasting.  They who give this experience are the most practical students and teachers of the constitution and use of the soul.