Bridges first discusses the sheer overwhelming difficulty of the ministry. He does this by quoting to another, earlier work – which itself was a biography of an earlier minister. I, in turning, quoting Bridges’ quotation of another. That fact is telling: the work is difficult. Indeed, it is overwhelming – when a man realizes truly the extraordinary weight laid upon his shoulders.
The weight comes from the importance of the ministry, for either this work is of supreme importance, or it is a positive evil. This weight has various aspects: (1) Does the minister live up to the majesty of proclaiming the Gospel and explaining the Bible? (2) Does the minister have the ability to care for the people who come to him for help (exegeting the people and ministering to them)? If one is not certain of God’s call, who would undertake this work:
‘He looked upon the conduct of a church,’ as his biographer (Cotton Mather) informs us, ‘as a thing attended with so many difficulties, temptations, and humiliations, as that nothing but a call from the Son of God could have encouraged him unto the susception of it. He saw that flesh and blood would find it no very pleasant thing to be obliged unto the oversight of a number, that by a solemn covenant should be listed among the volunteers of the Lord Jesus Christ;J that it was no easy thing to feed the souls of such a people, and of the children and the neighbours, which were to be brought into the same sheep-fold with them; to bear their manners with all patience, not being by any of their infirmities discouraged from teaching of them, and from watching and praying over them; to value them highly as the flock which God purchased with his own blood, notwithstanding all their miscarriages; and in all to examine the rule of scripture for the warrant of whatever shall be done; and to remember the day of judgment, wherein an account must be given of all that has been done. It was herewithal his opinion (as the great Owen expresses it) that notwithstanding all the countenance that is given to any church by the public magistracy, yet whilst we are in this world, those who will faithfully discharge their duty as Ministers of the gospel shall have need to be prepared for sufferings; and it was in a sense of these things that he gave himself up to the sacred Ministry.’
This need for certain of God’s call lies behind Spurgeon’s famous quote in Lectures to My Students:
“The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work. In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling to others what God has done for our own souls; what if I call it a kind of storge, such as birds have for rearing their young when the season is come; when the mother-bird would sooner die than leave her nest . . . ‘Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,’ was the deeply sage advice of a divine to one who sought his judgment”
What Bridges does not emphasize is how hard the congregation is on the pastor. There is a hint of that in the reference to “patience” and not being discouraged by any of their “infirmities”. However, he does not dwell on that point in this essay. Rather, he speaks of the difficulty in knowing how fallible ministers are and how easily a minister can be a bane rather than a blessing to the congregation:
Perhaps, however, the heaviest weight of trial consists in the awful apprehension of eventually becoming an occasion of aggravated condemnation to our people.* How affecting is the thought that our Ministry hardens and kills, as well as softens and quickens; that we are set, like our Divine Master, “for the fall and rising again of many in Israel!” To the one we are “the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life.” It was the recollection of this fearful responsibility, that forced from the Apostle the exclamation—(and what Christian Minister but sympathizes in the burden ?)—” Who is sufficient for these things ?” Who that has not realized the terrors of hell, and the glories of heaven, can be duly furnished for a work so deeply connected with the eternal world?
David Brainerd’s journal is filled with this question:
“Thursday, Aug. 12. This morning and last night I was exercised with sore inward trials: I had no power to pray; but seemed shut out from God. I had in a great measure lost my hopes of God sending me among the heathen afar off, and of seeing them flock home to Christ. I saw so much of my hellish vileness, that I appeared worse to myself than any devil: I wondered that God would let me live, and wondered that people did not stone me, much more that they would ever hear me preach! It seemed as though I never could nor should preach any more; yet about nine or ten o’clock, the people came over, and I was forced to preach. And blessed be God, he gave me his presence and Spirit in prayer and preaching: so that I was much assisted and spake with power from Job xiv. 14. Some Indians cried out in great distress,  and all appeared greatly concerned. After we had prayed and exhorted them to seek the Lord with constancy, and hired an Englishwoman to keep a kind of school among them, we came away about one o’clock, and came to Judea, about fifteen or sixteen miles. There God was pleased to visit my soul with much comfort. Blessed be the Lord for all things I meet with.”
When one sees truly the weight of Christian ministry and obligation laid upon one by the work, it should frighten one. However, Bridges notes that God has provided a means to preserve us from sinking into despondency:
We need scarcely remark, what dexterity of application, diligence of labour, “discerning of spirit,” how large a portion of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” of his yearning compassion, and persevering self-devotedness, is here required! Except we realize a high estimation of the Church, the constraining influence of the Saviour’s love, and the upholding prop of Almighty grace, what is there to preserve us from sinking in despondency?
This is a good thing. Without the sense of the weight, we could easily be arrogant and think the power in us. But God, in his goodness, saddles us with a weight we could never bear – then, when we are meek and seek his help – he bears the greatest weight in our place. Blessed be God for his mercy in Christ Jesus.