This letter is found in “The Evangelical Magazine” for January 1799, page 26. It is entitled, “On the Exemplary Behavior of Ministers”.
In regard to mankind in general, you must labor to be not only unblamable and unreprovable in all things, but, also, of good report. Study the most rigid equity in all your dealings. Cultivate the most engaging humility of spirit; preferring others to yourself; condescending to persons of low degree; never esteeming yourself too much, nor reaching beyond your station or ability.
Above all things, put on charity, the most tender and loving affection, and about in it’s delightful and winning exercise; ardently loving good men, in proportion to the appearance of Christ’s image in them; highly esteeming them, delighting in their persons and company; readily assisting and supporting them; truly and heartily loving all men, wishing in promoting their real good; pinching yourself to supply the poor; forgiving injuries though often repeated; pitying and praying for malicious and inveterate enemies and rendering them good for evil; being hospitable to strangers, especially to such as are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, or who appear to be extremely destitute.
Let your moderation be known to all men; and readily bearing with, and overlooking there moroseness, passion, imprudence, or the like; interpreting their words and deeds in the best sense which they can bear; yielding from your right to prevent contention and offense; overlooking and forgiving what reproaches and injuries you meet with.
Show yourself to be apt, ready, and inclined to things spiritual. Let your speech be always seasoned with salt; not merely innocent, but edifying. Seize every opportunity of introducing, or maintaining, spiritual converse. In order to this, furnish your mind with an extensive stock of interesting anecdotes and striking hints. In imitation of your Divine Master, Study to draw something serious and instructive from everything you see or hear.
Prudence is no less necessary and guarding against advances of designing men, who hypocritically pretend to esteem and love you; in avoiding the unbridled rage of enemies; and attending, not only to that which is lawful, but also to that which is expedient; and keeping within the limits of your station, while you were endeavoring to extirpate evil, and promote what is good; and never correcting evils by that which will prove as hurtful or more so; and studying to suppress the fame of your good deeds, if it be likely that it will be perverted to a bass use; and a never meddling with, or even inquiring into those things which do not concern you.
By the earnest study of the above duties towards God, yourself, and your neighbor, you will promote your own delightful fellowship with God; you will cherish and maintain the abundant influences of the Holy Ghost, who dwells in you; you will make God delight to honor and bless your ministrations; you will prevent your falling into much sin, snares, reproach and the like; you will increase your fitness for your office; you will render yourself and family noted examples to your flock; You will procure the affection of good men, the help of their fervid prayers, and the esteem of all, on their readiness to attend without prejudice, to instructions, reproofs, and exhortations; you will adorn your ministry, and promote the usefulness of it and the salvation of your hearers; you will highly glorify god, and acting answerably to his nature, his oracles, law or gospel, ordinances or worshipers, with which your ministry is connected; All of which require holiness and virtue in all manner of conversation.
Whereas by unholiness and vice, ministers render themselves unfit to study, understand, or declare the ministers of God’s Kingdom; and are exceedingly hurtful to the church, exposing her ordinances to neglect and contempt. They’re bad example spreads far and wide among the people. Their wickedness introduces manifold errors in corrections into the church. The corrections expose them to the most fearful judgments of the Most High.
It is odd that many young men emerge from seminary the worse for their education. In three or four years they have acquired knowledge of languages, history, theology and some practical skills. If the end of our instruction is love that issues from a pure heart, one should expect that such an education would produce such a heart. And yet, many young men exit into the ministry more like wrecking balls than graceful agents of godliness.
It seems this trouble is nothing new. John Newton wrote to a young divinity student (letter 2 in his collected works) and discusses this very thing.
The interesting aspect of the letter lies in the cause of arrogance:
Though I am no enemy to the acquisition of useful knowledge, I have seen many instances of young men who have been much hurt by what they expected to reap advantage from. They have gone to the academy humble, peaceable, spiritual, and lively; but have come out self-wise, dogmatical, censorious, and full of a prudence founded upon the false maxims of the world. I have been ready to address them with that line of Milton:
“If thou art he—But ah! how fall’n!”
I do not mention this as the necessary fault of the institution, but as the frequent effect of notions too hastily picked up, when not sanctified by grace, nor balanced by a proportionable depth of spiritual experience. I am therefore glad to hear, that, notwithstanding the advantages you have had in the pursuit of your studies, you feel an inward conviction, that you still need something which you cannot receive from men or books, in order to complete your fitness for the ministry: that you may be “a workman that needs not to be ashamed,” and enabled rightly to divide (to distinguish and distribute) the word of truth.
The effort to be eloquent will produce a rhetorician; the concentrated purpose to move men to live for God in Christ, will produce, in the end, an orator, and the two are as far from each other as the poles.
Young men, “covet earnestly the best gifts, yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” Seek men, not the reputation of eloquence or the incense of applause. Let your motto be the words of McAll, “I do not want their admiration, I want their salvation;” and as you labor thus for their best interests, wrestling with God for them, and with them for God, you will be led to the best methods in a natural way, and eloquence will come before you are aware of it, bringing its attestation with it in the persons of those who have been, under God, transformed and transfigured by your instrumentality.
Thus again, we come round to the truth which I wish to strike as the key-note of these addresses, that SELF-RENUNCIATION IS THE ROOT OF EXCELLENCE. It is told of Pousa, the Chinese potter, that, being ordered to produce some great work for the emperor, he tried long to make it, but in vain. At length, driven to despair, he threw himself into the furnace, and the effect of his self-immolation on the ware, which was then in the fire, was such that it came out the most beautiful piece of porcelain ever known.
So in the Christian ministry, it is self-sacrifice that gives real excellence and glory to our work. When self in us disappears, and only Christ is seen, then will be our highest success alike in our own lives and in the moving of our fellow-men. We get near to the secret of Paul’s greatness, when we hear him say, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope that Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death; ” and in the measure in which we imbibe his spirit, we shall rise to his efficiency. The worker, equally with the work, must be offered up in sacrifice to Christ, if at least the work is to be worthy of Him and of His cause.
William M. Taylor, The Ministry of the Word
1876, Yale, Lyman Beecher Lectures
But that is not precisely the point which I wish at this time to make out of His words. I want you to mark that this willinghood to sacrifice self in the service of others is the distinctive feature of ministerial greatness. The people are not for the minister, but the minister is for the people; and he is to lose himself in their service and for their benefit. See how Paul had learned this lesson,when he says,” We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus, the Lord,” i.e., supplying the ellipsis “we preach not ourselves lords, but Christ Jesus, Lord, and ourselves your servants, for Jesus’ sake.” f Nor was this a mere momentary outfiashing of sentiment with the apostle, for we find him describing it as the principle of his life that he made himself servant unto all that he might gain the more ; and even when he was explaining what seemed to his readers to be a dereliction of duty towards them, he said, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy.” f So also Peter in exhorting the elders is careful to warn them to exercise their oversight “not as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”
Now I put this in the forefront, because, as it seems to me, misunderstanding here, goes very far to account for the ministerial failures over which the churches mourn, and for the partial character of the successes which have been made by many who were otherwise admirably adapted for the work. I can never forget the impression made on me in the early portion of my Liverpool ministry, when a brother who had just come with me from the study of a neighbor, where we had heard him railing for a long time against his people, said to me, “The truth is, he seems to think that the congregation exists for him, but the right-hearted minister recognizes that he exists for the congregation. Depend upon it, his work will be a failure.” And a failure it was. But all unconsciously to himself, the brother who predicted that, preached a most powerful sermon to me, for if I have been blessed with utmost harmony between my people and myself, and if, in any measure, I have been useful to them, it has been because I have tried to remember and lay to heart these simple words.
The office of the preacher is that of a helper of his fellows. His special duty is to lead them to Him who is their Helper and Redeemer, and to assist them in the understanding of His word, and in the application of its principles to their daily lives. He is not in the ministry, in order that he may be feted and flattered, and made the altar on which the adulation and incense of his people are to be laid. He is not set to receive the sacrifices offered by his hearers, but rather ought he to make himself a sacrifice on their behalf, aye, even though sometimes his devotion to them may be met with ingratitude; yet, none the less is it to be continued by him. Hardly can we find a more sublime spectacle in itself, or a more appropriate model for the Christian minister, than that presented by Paul, when he says, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.”
William M. Taylor, The Ministry of the Word
1876, Yale, Lyman Beecher Lectures
Spurgeon took as his text, “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” — 1 Thessalonians 3:8. This text presents a potential problem, because it refers to Paul’s joy in seeing other Christians steadfast. The trouble comes in that the most direct application would be the joy of a pastor seeing a congregation steadfast. Why should the congregation care? The hearer could easily think, That is all well and good, but none of this is about me. How is this useful?
Sermon introductions tend to fall into two categories: Most common are introductions which are short illustrations of the main point. Less common are introductions that set out a problem which the sermon resolves.
In this sermon, “A Pleading Reminder for the New Year”, vol. 30, no. 1758, Spurgeon sets out the problem that the sermon will resolve. Notice that this problem is not a problem for the pastor alone but it is a also a problem for the hearers. Their lives and concerns are bound up in one another:
Dearly beloved, I have often rejoiced in God as I have seen the work of the Spirit among you. It is no small joy that for many years we have never been without an increase to the church. With few exceptions we have never gathered at our monthly communions without receiving a considerable number into our membership. During these years some have turned back, to our great sorrow, and some have flagged, to our solemn grief; but others have persistently carried on the work of God, and have developed gifts and graces which have made them qualified for larger spheres; so that at this day those at home come behind in no gift, and those abroad do not forget the hallowed training of Zion. In every part of the earth some are engaged in holy service who have gone out from this church. For all this our heart must be grateful. But these are evil times; these are times the like of which I have not before seen, in which the foundations are removed, and “what shall the righteous do?” The winds are out. The tacklings are loosed. The mariners reel to and fro. Everything seems drifting. Men know not where they are. Half the professing Christians of the present day do not know their heads from their heels, and the half that do know seem inclined to take to their heels and run, rather than stand steadfast in the faith and wait till evil days are over. It is time that we spoke to you concerning steadfastness, that you be not like idle boys, that leap hedges and ditches after every nest that silly birds may choose to make; but that you keep to the King’s highway of holiness and truth, and hold fast to the doctrines and the practices which are taught us in the word of God. I say to you by this discourse, “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” It is a matter of life and death to us that you should be rooted, grounded, and settled.
The answer will come in three parts:
Notice first, that some are not in the Lord; secondly, some appear to be in the Lord, but they are not standing fast; and thirdly, that some in the Lord stand fast in the Lord, and these are our life: “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”
For the first section he lays out two propositions: There are those who will reject the Gospel. This proposition contains a temptation for the hearer to think I am better than my neighbor. Spurgeon turns the temptation on its head and raises a second point: Therefore we must seek the salvation of our fellows. He does this by describing his own desire to see salvation and the sorrow when Christ is rejected:
If there be a deadening influence about the thought that some few among us are not converted, think of what the effect must be upon a minister’s mind if he shall have labored long and seen no fruit. There may be instances in which a man has been faithful, but not successful, places where, for a time, the dew falls not, and the softening influences of the Spirit are not given. Then the soil breaks the ploughshare, and the weary ox is ready to faint. I began to preach while yet a youth, scarce sixteen years of age, but before I had preached half a dozen times I saw persons affected by those sermons. I pined to find some heart that had looked to Jesus while I had preached him; and I have photographed upon my eye-balls at this very moment a very humble clay-walled cottage which seemed to me to be a sacred spot, for I was told by a venerable deacon that it was the house of a poor woman who had sought and found the Savior through my ministry. I did not let the week conclude till I had seen her, for I hungered for the joy of meeting with one whom I had brought to Christ. If I found one soul converted I took heart and looked for more. Brother, are you working for Jesus? Then you know what it is to feel the shadow of death when you do not win a soul. Does it not seem hard to be knocking for Christ against a door that never opens, but has fresh bolts put to it to keep it closed? Be not ashamed of yourself because you feel distressed; it proves your capacity for being used. By-and-by God will bless you, and then you will understand the text “Now we live.” You will find that your pulse is quickened, your heart’s blood warmed, your filled with a diviner life as you rise nearer to the dignity of a saviour of men, and taste the joys unspeakable for which Christ laid down his life.
Next he goes onto those who are not steadfast. This section works through types of failure. There are those who completely apostatize. Yet, others “do not behave in such a way that we could remove their names from the church-roll; but they decline in grace.” They may be diverted from their work or begin to believe contrary doctrine.
He makes an interesting observation about one sort:
We know some who are not steadfast in their service of Christ. When a man claims to be perfect he is wholly useless to us: he is sure to leave his work. He wants all his time to admire his own perfections.
The only right and steady motivation will be a desire to serve God for God’s glory.
In the final section Spurgeon writes of the encouragement he finds in those are steadfast:
They are our life, because their holy conduct fills us with living confidence. I tell you, brethren, when I have seen the holy generosity of members of this church, making sacrifices to serve the Lord; when I have seen the holy courage of brethren standing up for Jesus, and bearing reproach for the sake of principle, and speaking out the truth in defiance of ridicule; when, in fact, I have seen many things that I will not mention now — I have said to myself these are fruits that could not have been produced except by the truth and by the Spirit of God. Then have I felt very confident in the gospel which has been so adorned by your actions. Certain of our beloved elders and deacons passed away, to our deep sorrow, not very long ago, and when I came down from their death-chambers I did not require any further argument to prove the religion of the Lord Jesus: the Holy Spirit set his seal upon the truth by their joyful departures.
August Franck begins his Treatise on the Fear of Man with a strong exhortation to ministers. Here are three excerpts:
My soul hath been grieved many a time, in the sense of the apparent corruption, not only of all men in general, but also of our order in particular. More especially hath my heart been touched to the quick, when from innumerable instances I have been convinced, that the fear of man is become the epidemical disease of our teachers. For when I reflected on one hand, with what spirit, with what joy, with what undaunted courage and boldness, the servants of God, in the Old and New Testament, set aside all regard and fear of man, delivering, as the Lord’s ambassadors, their message plainly, and without mincing the matter, though it exposed them to the apparent hazard of their lives; and, on the other, how gently and how softly we go about it now-a-days; and how little we manifest the truth to the conscience of every one: when I moreover considered how much they suffered with Christ their Lord, for the sake of their testimony; and how the most of us take care to preach so smoothly, as not to incur the least shadow of their sufferings; all this made the difference between us and them appear so exceedingly great to me, that I could not but be amazed and astonished at it. Pardon me, beloved brethren, if you think me to speak with too much plainness and simplicity; for I am not at all ashamed to become a “fool for Christ’s sake,” that I may be wise indeed
sure it is, that the greater concern we have for our own profit, ease, and honour, the less we shall have for promoting the real good of our neighbour. And as long as our minds are not wholly conformable to the mind of our great Shepherd, whose servants we are, it is impossible he should be well pleased with us. For he searcheth our very hearts, and regards all our doings and intentions, whether we feed the flock, or ourselves; whether we seek every one his own, or that which is His: and if he be not well pleased with us, whence can we expect a blessing upon so sacred a function as ours, since we cannot have it but from his grace? This I take to be the true cause why we are so strongly possessed with the fear of man; for did we desire nothing in the world, we should not fear it.
It appears also, that we are very little concerned about what the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, represent to us, namely, that our order hath been always most in fault, whenever a general corruption hath overspread the people. Do we consider what a thundering lecture is read to pastors and teachers in Jer. 23; Ezek. 34 and Matt. 23? If we did, should we not apply ourselves to our duty with another kind of fervour than hitherto we have? Should we not be more solicitous about the state of our own souls in the first place; and in the next, about the souls that belong to our charge? Should we not break loose from the transitory amusements of this world? Should not we enter into greater familiarity with Christ our Lord and Master, by prayer? Should not we, in many things, give a more edifying and shining example to our flocks? Should not we more effectually clear ourselves from all suspicion of covetousness, and other vices reigning among the clergy? Should not our preaching be composed with more plainness and simplicity, and delivered with greater power and demonstration of the Spirit? Should we not be more careful to examine those that we admit to the communion, whether they be worthy receivers, and whether they grow better by receiving it? Should we not be more fervent and earnest to admonish every one in particular? Should not we strive and wrestle more, in prayers, for the welfare and salvation of their immortal souls? Should we not, as soon as any desire and love to God’s word appears in our hearers, more readily lend them our helping hand, that the sparks of grace kindled in their hearts might not be extinguished, but increased and blown up into a flame? Should not we, by frequent catechizing, endeavour to put a stop to the overflowing of ignorance and vice? Should not our outward conversation with men be more holy, and consequently more successful and edifying? Verily, my brethren, I fear we have good reason to be ashamed, when we read what Taulerus* saith, in his exposition of the Gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent: “A spiritual person ought to be so enkindled and all-flaming with divine love, and both inwardly and outwardly so conformable to God, that whenever any one came to him, he might hear nothing from him but God; and his heart and mind ought to be fixed on him by burning love, and so ready in all things faithfully to obey his will, that such as visited him, though with cold and lukewarm hearts, might be heated and set on fire by him; as we see that cold and dead coals are kindled, when they are put to glowing ones, which soon impart their light and heat to them.”
In Jeremiah 12:5, we read the words of God to Jeremiah: “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”
Philip Ryken explains these verses as follows:
The point is that Jeremiah hadn’t seen anything yet. The troubles he was having in Anothah were nothing compared with the troubles he would later have in Jerusalem, Babylon, or Egypt. Things were bad but not the worst. If Jeremiah thought he had trouble today, he needed to wait until tomorrow. Anyone who gets discouraged downtrodden and defeated over many little things will never fulfill his divine calling. If even little disappointments tempt Jeremiah to leave his calling how will he cope with real persecution?
God has great things in store for Jeremiah but he would never achieve that unless he was willing to persevere in the little things. He had to be willing to race with men before he could compete with horses. The same is true for every Christian. If you complain about the simple things God has already asked you to do, then you lack the spiritual strength to do what he want you to do next. If your troubles keep you from doing the Lord’s work now, you will never have to strength to do it later. If you want to do something great for God and you must begin by doing the little things for God, and the only way to do the little things for God is to do them by the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Philip Ryken, Jeremiah & Lamentations, “How Can You Run With Horses?” 222.
As an addendum to this post on Shedd’s argument that a preacher must be diligent in the work of learning how to construct and deliver a sermon (https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/william-shedd-why-one-should-study-and-train-before-preaching/), I would add these notes from Bridges’ Christian Ministry to the effect that an effective ministry must be a man of study:
It is of great moment, that the habit of study should as far as possible be maintained through life. For the most part—the ground work only has been laid. Let our early attainments excite, not satisfy, our thirst for information—divert not bound, our investigations. If useful habits are gained, they are probably far from being matured. St. Paul’s instructions so often alluded to, were given (as we have hinted) to an Elder of some years’ standing in the church. Mr. Scott to the last combined the Student with the Minister.8 ‘If we live only on old stores,’ (as a beloved brother has observed)—’ we shall never enlarge our knowledge.’ It is allowed, that it is not easy diligently to pursues course of persevering study. Our families and our daily duties must not be neglected. It requires fixed plans, vigorously followed up. Our natural indolence, and the love of society, must be broken through. Cecil says—’ Every man, whatever be his natural disposition, who would urge his powers to the highest end, must be a man of solitary studies
Bridges offers a great deal of advice on which books to study. It is interesting that this chapter relies so heavily upon the reflection and advice of other men, demonstrating Bridges’ own study and understanding.
He particularly commends studying with depth and focus, not merely study which offers a superficial array of quotations from various authors without understanding any:
This has always been the view of the most judicious masters of study. Dr. Watts again observes,—’ A well-furnished library and a capacious memory are indeed of singular use toward the improvement of the mind; hut if all your learning be nothing else but a mere amassment of what others have written, without a due penetration into its meaning, and without a judicious choice and determination of your own sentiments, I do not see what title your head has to true learning above your shelves.’ On the Improvement of the Mind, ch. i. Thus again Mr. Locke—’Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections.—There are indeed in some writers instances of deep thought, close and acute reasoning, and ideas well pursued. The light these would give would be of great use, if their reader would observe and imitate them—but that can be done only by our own meditation.’ Conduct of the Understanding, § 43.
It may be important to add to this Section the course of study for proficiency in the Christian Ministry, pursued by one of the most profound Theologians of his or of any age. ‘My method of study’ (President Edwards informs us,) ‘from my first beginning the work of the Ministry, has been very much by writing; applying myself in this way to improve every important hint; pursuing the clue to the utmost, when any thing in reading, meditation, or conversation has been suggested to my mind, that seemed to promise light in any weighty point; thus penning what appeared to me mv best thouzhts on innumerable subjects, for my own benefit. The longer I prosecuted my studios in this method, the more habitual it became, and the more pleasant and profitable I found it. The further I travelled in this way, the more and wider the field opened; which has occasioned my laying out many things in my mind to do in this manner, (if God should spare my life,) which my heart hath been much set upon.’ Edwards’ Life, Works, pp. 79, 80.”
Yet, since the duty of study may seem difficult and many other matters may seem more pressing, Bridges gives insists upon the importance of study to the work. He uses the example of one who performs physical tasks (say an athlete or a mechanic): no one would expect one to be proficient without substantial effort and training. Why then would we expect one who undertakes an intellectual activity to do well without substantial investment of time?
If we concede the need for exertion to do well with physical tasks, we must surmount that belief that such work does not warrant more effort. Bridges’ shames the lazy ministry:
Bickersteth’s Christian Hearer, pp. 243, 244. The whole chapter is replete with valuable thought upon Christian study. ‘How few read enough to stock their minds! and the mind is no widow’s cruse, which fills with knowledge as fast as we empty it. Why should a clergyman labour less than a barrister? since, in spiritual things as well as temporal, it is “the hand of the diligent which maketh rich.” Does the conscience, in fact, never whisper upon any topic in theology—” Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things ?”‘ Christian Observer, 1828, p. 420.
Yet, in the end, Bridges is careful not to lay the ultimate success upon human effort, but rather notes that human effort is always and ultimately dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit through the human effort:
Yet, after all, the solidly-learned, the studious, and well-furnished man is but the unshapen mass, from which the Christian Minister is formed. The plastic energy—the quickening influence of the Almighty Spirit, is still needed to put light, life, and motion into the inert substance, to mould it into the Divine image, and to make it a ” vessel of honour meet for the Master’s use.”
REV. CHARLES BRIDGES,. “THE CHRISIAN MINISTRY; WITH AN INQUIRY INTO THE CAUSES OF ITS INEFFICIENCY: WITH AN ESPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE MINISTRY OF THE ESTABLISHMENT.”
“Patient application, is literally, every thing. Without it you may have a number of half-formedldeas floating in your mind ; but deep, connected, large, and consistent views of any subject you will never gain. Impatient haste is the bane of deep intellectual work. If you are investigating any important doctrine, be not ready to leave it. Come to it again and again; seeking light from every quarter; and perusing with attention the best books, until you have entered, as far as you are capable, into its profoundest merits. And, if compelled by any circumstance to leave the subject before you have reached this point, hold it in reserve for another and more satisfactory examination. In short, let your motto, and, as far as practicable, your habit, be, to leave nothing till you have thoroughly mastered it.’ Professor Miller’s Letters, pp. 256—25S.”
REV. CHARLES BRIDGES,. “THE CHRISIAN MINISTRY; WITH AN INQUIRY INTO THE CAUSES OF ITS INEFFICIENCY: WITH AN ESPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE MINISTRY OF THE ESTABLISHMENT.”