Condemnation is Easier than Consolation

“A sustaining ministry, a gospel ministry, requires more thought more study, more insight than a condemning ministry. A finger-pointing ministry is easy. Moralism is the default setting of our minds. But it takes divine wisdom to understand God’s grace in a new way, so we can sustain weary people. Jesus gave himself fully to that ministry.”

— Ray Ortlund, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, 355.

Publishing Update: A Legacy of Preaching

Hot off the press today is volume two of Zondervan’s A Legacy of Preaching, which is subtitled, “Enlightenment to the Present Day: The Life, Theology, and Method of History’s Great Preachers.”

I wrote the chapter on Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s preaching. My primary editor, Benjamin Forrest, was a joy to work with; I’m pleased with the chapter’s final form. I hope you’ll grab a copy! All the other chapters I’ve seen are edifying and informative.

Publisher’s Description

A Legacy of Preaching, Volume Two–Enlightenment to the Present Day explores the history and development of preaching through a biographical and theological examination of its most important preachers. Instead of teaching the history of preaching from the perspective of movements and eras, each contributor tells the story of a particular preacher in history, allowing these preachers from the past to come alive and instruct us through their lives, theologies, and methods of preaching.

Each chapter introduces readers to a key figure in the history of preaching, followed by an analysis of the theological views that shaped their preaching, their methodology of sermon preparation and delivery, and an appraisal of the significant contributions they have made to the history of preaching. This diverse collection of familiar and lesser-known individuals provides a detailed and fascinating look at what it has meant to communicate the gospel over the past two thousand years. By looking at how the gospel has been communicated over time and across different cultures, pastors, scholars, and homiletics students can enrich their own understanding and practice of preaching for application today.

Volume Two covers the period from the Enlightenment to the present day and profiles thirty-one preachers including Charles Haddon Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Karl Barth, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, and more.

Volume One, available separately, covers the period from the apostles to the Puritans and profiles thirty preachers including Paul, Origen of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and more.

Covering a broad range of preaching over the centuries, the two-volume A Legacy of Preaching reference set is the definitive reference for experienced preachers who wish to deeper their own preaching as well as aspiring students who want to learn from the masters of the past.

Perils in Pastoral Ministry

Sunday’s coming. The Lord’s Day is on the way. And Christ’s preachers must be ready. We must gird up the loins, go, and proclaim Christ from behind the sacred desk.

It’s my regular practice to spend time every Friday and Saturday reading something that stirs my soul for Christ and for preaching His beauty. Today it was a chapter from J. W. Jowett’s book, The Preacher: His Life and Work. The selection is titled “The Perils of the Preacher.”

Before I summarize them, let’s get to know the old man a bit.

A Grave Preacher

blrudgbgkkgrhgookjqejllmvowobjikfzeqq_35After hearing the great Dr. Fairbairn preach, Jowett told his students at Airedale College, “Gentlemen, I will tell you what I have observed this morning: behind that sermon there was a man.” Although The Preacher provides scant autobiographical information, I always have same sense in reading Jowett’s work—there is gravity in his message.

Jowett was born in 1863 in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Like many great ministers before him, Jowett initially resolved to study law. God soon called him into the gospel ministry. He went on to train at Edinburgh and Oxford before assuming his first pastoral position at St. James Church in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The church held over 1,000 seats, and none were empty during Jowett’s ministry.

In 1911 he became the pastor at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. John Bishop says,

The church was crowded long before the hour of Jowett’s first service. Reporters crowded the side galleries, expecting to find a sensational preacher with dazzling oratory and catchy sermon topics on current events. Instead they found a shy, quiet little man, bald-headed and with a cropped white moustache, who spoke in a calm, simple manner.

He was at Fifth Avenue when he delivered the Lyman Beecher lectures on a pastor’s life and ministry. He stayed in New York until 1918 when he was called to succeed G. Campbell Morgan at Westminster Chapel in London. It was his last pastoral post, as he died in 1923.

The Preacher’s Perils

So, then, what are some common perils threatening pastors? Jowett mentions four.

  1. Deadening familiarity with the sublime. “I think this is one of the most insidious, and perhaps the predominant peril in a preacher’s life. A man my live in mountain country, and lose all sense of the heights. . . . The preacher lives almost every hour in sight of the immensities and the eternities—the awful sovereignty of God, and the glorious, yet cloud-capped mysteries of redeeming grace. But here is the possible tragedy: he may live in constant sight of these tremendous presences and may cease to see them.”
  2. Deadening familiarity with the commonplace. “There is an equally subtle peril of our becoming dead to the bleeding tragedies of common life.” Jowett mentions several things, but focuses mostly on a deadened sense of the tragedy of death. “Familiarity may be deadly, and we may be dead men in the usually disturbing presences of sorrow, and pain, and death. The pathetic may cease to melt us, the tragic may cease to shock us. We may lose our power to weep.”
  3. Possible perversion of our emotional life. “The preaching of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ demands and creates in the preacher a certain power worthy of emotion, and this very emotion becomes the center of new ministerial danger. . . . That is to say, the evangelical preacher, with his constant business in great facts and verities that sway the feelings, may become the victim of nervous depression, and in his nervous impoverishment his moral defences may be relaxed, the enemy may leap within his gates, and his spirit may be imprisoned in dark and carnal bondage.”
  4. The perilous gravitation of the world. “I say you meet that danger everywhere, but nowhere will you meet it in a more insidious and persistent fashion that in the Christian ministry. [Worldliness]  is round about us like a malaria, and we may become susceptible to its contagion.” “In the perilous gravitation of worldliness there is more than an illicit spirit of compromise: there is what I will call the fascination of the glittering.” “We may become more intent on full pews than on redeemed souls.

Jowett’s remedy to such pitfalls is proper: a renewed commitment to Christ through the means of grace. “We must,” Jowett declares, “assiduously attend to the culture of our souls. We must sternly and systematically make time for prayer, and for the devotional reading of the Word of God. We must appoint private seasons for the deliberate and personal appropriation of the Divine Word, for self-examination.”

Brothers of the pulpit, if we do not take heed of our doctrine and practice, we will fall into a perilous condition. And Jowett warns what that will mean:

Our characters will lose their spirituality. We shall lack that fine fragrance which makes people know that we dwell in ‘the King’s gardens.’ There will be no heavenly air about our spirits. . . . We are wordy, but not mighty. We are eloquent, but do not persuade. We are reasonable, but we do not convince. We preach much, but we accomplish little. We teach, but we do not woo. We make a ‘show of power,’ but men do not move.

Persevere in the Precious

Over the last month, Jeremiah has been one of the four books in my Bible reading plan. Jeremiah’s ministry has long captivated my attention and affection. I think it’s because there are some pronounced similarities between his life and mine (and many more dissimilarities, of course). There was a magnificent and undeniable call to the ministry. Big dreams and ambitions flowed from the start. But over the years, the disappointments quickly come to outweigh the delights. There’s also an introspective nature that can cause us to forget the Lord’s work.

How true it is that an inward-looking Spirit can rob one of joy in God’s service.

A Groaning Conscience

I’ve long thought that Spurgeon was something like a modern-era Jeremiah. He knew great highs in ministry, but melancholy was a most-familiar friend. One would assume that the “Prince of Preachers” stepped down from the sacred desk each with glad confidence, but his experience was different. He once said of his world-famous preaching ministry, “It is a long time since I preached a sermon I was satisfied with. You cannot hear my groanings when I go home, Sunday after Sunday, and wish that I could learn to preach somehow or other; wish that I could discover the way to touch your hearts and your consciences.” If you are anything like me, you offer a weary, “Hear, hear,” to such sentiment.

What then are we to do in such a situation? How might we respond when the demands of ministry are like a wet blanket on joy in Christ? We find an answer in one scene from the life of Jeremiah—especially one verse: Jeremiah 15:18.

When Ministry Breaks Your Heart

Let’s remember the context. Jeremiah had reluctantly taken up God’s commission to be His mouthpiece around 627 BC, about five years before King Josiah’s famous reforms. There are two overarching matters worth remembering about his prophetic ministry:

  1. It’s length. The book represents Jeremiah’s forty-plus years in the Lord’s service. The words we find in chapter 15 are not the words of a novice. They are the soul-cries of a man who has ministered for around twenty years.
  2. It’s difficulty. Jeremiah is known as “The Weeping Prophet” for a reason. He experienced the siege and fall of Jerusalem, and Judah’s subsequent exile. He knew profound opposition, discouragement, and affliction.

It’s the second point that I want to meditate. In Jeremiah 15, we find the prophet entering what is likely his third decade of ministry. And he’s discouraged. He’s asked if there is any hope for Judah (14:19). He’s pained by the Lord’s subsequent promise of unrelenting judgment upon Judah in 15:1–9, and so he complains to the Lord in 15:10–18. Jeremiah recalls the original delight of his ordination, so much so that he says in 15:16, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.”

Years of toil and trouble had taken such delight, however. Jeremiah was so pained in ministry that he goes so far to accuse God of having deceived him (15:18). Ministerial sorrows cannot only rob the pastor of joy but can also remove his hope.

How God Breaks Our Complaints

For weeks now, I’ve meditated on 15:19, which represents God’s answer to Jeremiah’s ministerial complaint. Notice what God says, “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.

When God calls us to the gospel ministry, He calls us to an office full of difficulty. Sometimes that difficulty is bearing the burden of grief, as church members suffer and pass on to glory. Sometimes the challenge is unrepentant sinners whose iniquity poisons the body. Sometimes the difficulty is obstinate sheep who continuously demand a surprising amount of attention. Other times it’s the difficulty of constant criticism. These are all in addition to the regular disappointments we encounter: apathy toward the means of grace, complacency toward Christ, and the continual struggle for unity.

The Enemy will tempt us to respond to such difficulty with many sins, perhaps none more consistent than anger and self-pity. Anger looks outward in sin. Self-pity looks inward in sin. Jeremiah commits both trespasses in chapter 15.

Let’s notice two things about 15:19. First, notice the conditions: “If you return . . . If you utter what is precious.” The answer to Jeremiah’s despair that has resulted in anger and self-pity is repentance and renewed obedience. Pastor, could it be that you need to hear the same conditions today? Are you on the brink of preaching this coming Lord’s Day with a spirit of anger or wounded complaint?

Second, notice the promises: “. . . you shall stand before me . . . you shall be as my mouth.” The first promise is one of God’s presence, while the second assures God’s minister of power. What kindnesses from the King!

If we are to minister Christ’s gospel to His people and our community, we will need God’s presence and power—we will need God’s Spirit. According to this text, a Spirit-wrought ministry is one that thrives on repentance and obedience.

A Precious Ministry

One of the greatest preachers of the nineteenth century was Octavius Winslow. He was full of Christ and experiential wisdom. When Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle opened in 1861 none other than Winslow was found preaching behind its pulpit. His most famous work is probably the volume, The Precious Things of God. In it, Winslow meditates on twelve topics the Scriptures declare to be precious:

  1. The Preciousness of Christ
  2. The Preciousness of Faith
  3. The Preciousness of Trial
  4. The Preciousness of God’s Thoughts
  5. The Preciousness of the Divine Promises
  6. The Preciousness of Christ’s Blood
  7. The Precious Anointing
  8. The Preciousness of God’s Children
  9. The Preciousness of God’s Word
  10. The Preciousness of Prayer
  11. The Preciousness of Christ’s Sympathy with our Infirmities
  12. The Death of the Saints Precious

Do these twelve precious things of God saturate your preaching and pastoring?

God tells Jeremiah to “utter what is precious.” The prophet must take out the vile and worthless complaints from his mouth, iso thathe might be once again God’s mouthpiece. Oh, how convicting this is to me. My capability to complain too often drowns my delight in Christ. May the sweet nectar of God’s preciousness be my drink more than the bitter dregs of anger and self-pity.

May the Lord help us all to be faithful ministers of that which is precious.

A Subtle and Dangerous Snare

If we are ever to see a revival in our nation, it will begin with a revival of real gospel ministry. Pastoral paradigms built on pragmatism must fall, and in their place, we will see a renewed passion for prayer and piety. The kind of preaching that the Spirit blesses (and the heraldic ministry that ushers in revival) is that which is saturated in prayer and comes from the mouth of a man consumed with holy love for Christ. Before he ever considers strategic vision, administrative planning, and staffing structure, God’s man must be a man of God—in doctrine and devotion.

Should God grant me many years in ministry, I want to see this kind of renewal visit our ministers. But such a renewal comes with a perennial peril.

Learning a Vital Lesson

As I’ve studied Robert Murray M’Cheyne over the last few years, one of the more noticeable lessons his life teaches is the full-orbed nature of pastoral piety. We need to understand this totality of holiness in two ways. First, for M’Cheyne, piety begins with love for Christ. It then flowers into every area of spirituality: devotion to prayer, God’s Word, the Lord’s Day, evangelism, friendship in the church, dependence on the Spirit, and “unfeigned humility.” Secondly, we must see that an earnest pursuit of piety is a dangerous one. We can make much of godliness—it’s necessity and nature—that people overestimate our actual holiness. It’s one thing to be a holy man, but it’s entirely different to be known, even famed, for holiness.

M’Cheyne was such a minister.

The Snare Exposed

M’Cheyne once wrote, “I earnestly long for more grace and personal holiness, and more usefulness.” Nothing communicates M’Cheyne’s longing more than his Reformation.

Written in late 1842 or early 1843, it is his ten-page resolution for personal holiness. In the first section, he concentrated on “Personal Reformation,” saying,

I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do most for God’s glory and the good of man, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity, by maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood, by being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times, and by attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that it is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world.

M’Cheyne proceeded to delineate a scheme for personal holiness that would enable him to live in increasing communion with Christ. The plan included strategies for confessing sin, reading Scripture, applying Christ to the conscience, being filled with the Spirit, growing in humility, fleeing temptation, meditating on heaven, as well as studying specific Christological subjects.

His devotion to Christ was so renown that almost every epigram after his death referred to him as “the saintly ministry” or “the godly pastor” of St. Peter’s. His friend and biographer, Andrew Bonar, made an astute observation on a common pitfall in pastoral piety:

An experienced servant of God has said, that, while popularity is a snare that few are not caught by, a more subtle and dangerous snare is to be famed for holiness. The fame of being a godly man is a great a snare as the fame of being learned or eloquent. It is possible to attend with scrupulous anxiety even to secret habits of devotion, in order to get a name for holiness. If any were exposed to this snare in his day, Mr. M’Cheyne was the person. Yet nothing was more certain than that, to the very last, he was ever discovering, and successfully resisting, the deceitful tendencies of his own heart, and a tempting devil. Two things he seems never to have ceased from—the cultivation of personal holiness, and the most anxious efforts to save souls.

Examine Yourself

Ever since I first read it, these two sentences in the quote above have been a constant warning: “The fame of being a godly man is a great a snare as the fame of being learned or eloquent. It is possible to attend with scrupulous anxiety even to secret habits of devotion, in order to get a name for holiness.”

I’m not known as a holy man. But I recognize how easy it is to devote oneself to the means of grace and forget that your real motivation is selfish to the core: “I make much of such devotion so people will make much of my devotion.” Thus, the pastor’s pursuit is only in service of self, not the Savior. The Spirit won’t revive His church with such a man.

Pastors then must be wary of their motives in pursuing piety. They must resist the praise of men, and live only for the smiles of God. They must recognize how the devil schemes, even in our noble endeavors, and live for Christ’s honor alone.

True holiness is noticeable. Vital godliness leaves a mark. Paul’s teaching to Timothy demands it: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:15–16).

So, yes, let’s pursue personal holiness with extraordinary vigor. But test your motives. Make sure they aren’t, at the root, just a scheme “to get a name for holiness.”

Danger Lurks Near The Sacred Desk

Temptations fly at preachers as mosquitos swarm in a swamp. Archibald Alexander knew this well. To read his teachings on pastoral ministry is to read not only expert wisdom, but also experienced wisdom. No novice teacher can pen the paragraphs below.

The pulpit is perhaps, the severest ordeal of piety in the world. The man in secret might have felt humbled, on account of his sins, and seriously concerned for the salvation of his fellowmen; but when he rises in the pulpit, and hundreds of eyes are fixed on him, and multitudes are observing his performance, he can with difficult avoid feeling his attention drawn to himself, and a strong desire to acquit himself as to meet public expectation, and at any rate to rise above contempt.

And if a man has acquired already some degree of popularity, he naturally feels a strong desire to preserve the reputation which he has acquired. And these thoughts relating to his own dear popularity, may so get possession of his mind, that with every word which he utters, and every gesture which he makes, the thought may involuntarily occur, ‘How will this be received?’ Or, perhaps, in a form more hateful, ‘that is well spoken’—’that will be admired’—or ‘that will instruct the audience.’

And if he preaches with liberty, and some degree of eloquence, self-complacency is apt to arise in the mind. The deceitfulness and deep depravity of the human heart, never appears more evidently than in the pulpit. If all the thoughts which pass thro’ the preachers mind were exposed in their naked deformity to the view of the people, how would he be ashamed and confounded!

May the Lord enable His preachers to know true humility and vital piety in the pulpit. May the Lord protect us from seeking man’s praise. May He give us hearts that long to proclaim Christ alone.

A New Robe

Yesterday, I preached in my doctoral robe for the first time at Redeemer. It reminded me of a letter I discovered while rummaging through M’Cheyne’s manuscripts last year.

On January 17, 1837, two months after he was installed as the minister of St. Peter’s Dundee, M’Cheyne informed his mother that he had finally received a new Geneva gown. He said,

I was preaching on Sabbath afternoon in my new silk gown which you would have been very proud to see. I daresay it is so large and handsome that you would take me for a Bishop at the very least. I hope it may be like the mantle of Elijah and bring with it a double portion of the spirit from on high

Although no one would confuse me for a bishop, I daresay that M’Cheyne’s prayer for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit is a most worthy request.

Resolutions for Personal Revival

Our sixth child, Boston Stone, is named after the great Scottish theologian Thomas Boston. His work, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State, was the bestselling Scottish book of the 18th century. But my favorite volume from Boston is one he wrote at the age of twenty-two. It was first published after he died and has remained in print for almost three hundred years.

Not long before he entered into glory, he wrote something of the book’s background in his journal. He recorded on January 6, 1699:

Reading in secret, my heart was touched with Matt. 4:19, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” My soul cried out for the accomplishing of that to me, and I was very desirous to know how I might follow Christ, so as to become a fisher of men; and for my own instruction in that point, I addressed myself to the consideration of it in that manner. . . . That scribble gives an idea of the then temper of my spirit.

That “scribble” was A Soliloquy on the Art of Man-Fishing.

8 Resolutions for Personal Revival

I believe one of the most significant needs in our time is a revival of Christ-centered, sinner-saving, and saint-sanctifying piety in the ministry. Perhaps the decline we continue to see in the Church’s spirituality is a direct result of declining pastoral piety. May we not be rash to point the finger outward, however. Let us first deal with ourselves, falling upon Christ’s mercy and grace. Revival in the church begins with a reformation of the ministry.

Thomas Boston knew this to be the case. And so, from the outset of his ministry, he resolved to follow an eight-fold plan for personal renewal, all laid out in The Art of Manfishing. May his purpose stir us to similar schemes and hopes.

  1. “In imitation of Christ and His apostles, and to get good done, I purpose to rise timely every morning.”
  2. “To prepare as soon as I am up some work to be, and how and when to do it; to engage my heart to it; and even to call myself to account and to mourn over my failings.”
  3. “To spend a sufficient portion of time every day in prayer; reading, meditating, spiritual exercises: morning, midday, evening, and ere I go to bed.”
  4. “Once in the month, either at the end or middle of it, I keep a day of humiliation for the public condition, for the Lord’s people and their sad condition, for raising up the work and people of God.”
  5. “I spend, besides this, one day for my own private condition, in fighting against spiritual evils and to get my heart more holy, or to get some spiritual exercise accomplished, once in six months.”
  6. “I spend once every week four hours over and above my daily portion in private, for some special causes either relating to myself or others.”
  7. “To spend some time on Saturday, towards night, for preparation for the Lord’s Day.”
  8. “To spend six or seven days together, once a year, when most convenient, wholly and only on spiritual accounts.”

The Necessary Ingredients

“It is living fellowship with a living Savior which, transforming us into his image, fits us for being able and successful ministers of the gospel. Without this nothing else will avail. Neither orthodoxy, nor learning, nor eloquence, nor power of argument, nor zeal, nor fervor, will accomplish naught without this. It is this that gives power to our words and persuasiveness to our arguments, making them either as the balm of Gilead to the wounded spirit or as sharp arrows of the might to the conscience of the stouthearted rebel . . . Nearness to Christ, intimacy with him, assimilation to his character—these are the elements of a minsitry with power.” — Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls

Eminent Piety

Gospel ministers are meant to be models of holiness. Paul commands us to “set an example” (1 Tim. 4:12). One commentator says on this passage, “The word picture it paints is not so much Timothy is an example that others can emulate but that he is a mold that should be pressed into the lives of others so that they attain the same shape.” Just like a cookie cutter molds the dough into its shape, so is the pastor’s character to shape the lives of his people.

But where can we find encouragement when we realize our mold is not as sharp as it should be?

Noticeable Progress Please

For a variety of different reasons, I’ve been in a three-month-long process of introspection to start 2018. Many things are coming to an end in my life. The dissertation is done. After having our sixth child in December, we are likely done having children. I’m in the midst of a new pastorate and so have reflected on past ministerial experiences in an attempt to discover where I must grow. I’m asking questions about trajectory in pastoral labor, seeking to find areas that need attention.

The self-examination has brought several points of encouragement. But, on the whole, I’ve found myself dissatisfied with my progress in godliness. My life has no small number of places in which I have to grow to be faithful in the gospel ministry: prayer, kindness, trust, and hope for eternity. As M’Cheyne said, “I earnestly long for more grace and personal holiness, and more usefulness.”

My convictions on these matters only increased as I reread a section from W. G. T. Shedd’s Homiletics and Pastoral Ministry.

Eminent Spirituality Demanded

I discovered Shedd’s volume in 2016. Rarely does a week go by without something from his work popping into my mind. Most often, it is his three fundamental properties of sermon style—plainness, force, and beauty. I also remember regularly his chapter titled, “Religious Character and Habits of the Clergyman.”

Let me see if I can encapsulate his argument for you.

Shedd begins with a declaration: “The foundation of influence in parochial life is in the clergyman’s character, and the root of clerical character is piety.” A congregation’s maturity rarely, if ever, exceeds that of its minister(s). Therefore, the pastor’s primary preoccupation is enlarging his soul’s love for Christ. As Shedd says,

The calling and profession of the clergyman demand eminent spirituality. An ordinary excellence is not sufficient. The Christian minister, by his very vocation, is the sacred man in society.

Shedd is careful to tell that a minister is not a member of a sacred caste, but he nonetheless belongs to a sacred profession. His character must reflect his calling:

He is the marked and peculiarly religious man, in the community. His very position and vocation, therefore, make it incumbent upon him to be eminently spiritual.

I’ve found that many pastors today find such demands for holiness grating or even unreasonable. To contemporary minds, Shedd’s assertions may sound inauthentic or sacerdotal. One brother told me that such a view of pastoral godliness tends to promote legalism. Another said it creates a yoke that pastors cannot possibly bear.

Eminent Spirituality Produced

Shedd, however, is more optimistic. My bother pastor, read the following paragraph slowly and be edified:

Not only does the ministerial calling and profession require eminent piety, but it tends to produce it. By his very position, the clergyman is greatly assisted in attaining to a superior grade of Christian character, and if, therefore, he is a worldly and unspiritual man, he is deeply culpable. For, so far as his active life is concerned, his proper professional business is religious. The daily labor of the clergyman is as truly and exclusively religious, as that of the farmer is agricultural, or that of the merchant is mercantile. This is highly favorable to spirituality. Ought not one to grow in grace, whose daily avocations bring him into communication with the anxious, the thoughtful, the convicted soul, the rejoicing heart, the bereaved, the sick, and the dying? Ought not that man to advance in the love and knowledge of God, whose regular occupation from day to day it is, to become acquainted with the strictly Religious wants, and condition of the community, and to minister to them? If the daily avocations of the mechanic have a natural tendency to make him ingenious, and inventive, if the daily avocations of the merchant tend to make him enterprising, and adventurous, do not the daily avocations of the clergyman tend to make him devout? The influence of active life upon character is, in its own place and manner, as great as that of contemplative life. A man is unconsciously moulded and formed by his daily routine of duties, as really as by the books he reads, or the sciences he studies. Hence, a faithful performance of clerical duties contributes directly to spirituality.

Surely Shedd is right to say the gospel ministry is uniquely conducive to noticeable growth in grace. Faithful ministers trade in and thrive on the means of grace. Should grace not tend to flourish in our lives? As the professor also says, “The studies of the theologian and preacher work directly towards the growth of piety.”

The Progress Will Come

Maybe you’re like me; you examine your growth in godliness and find it wanting. Find hope today! Christ has commissioned you as a servant in his house (1 Tim. 4:6). He indwells you through the Spirit—the Spirit of holiness (Rom. 1:4). He’s handed you a job description that requires you to immerse yourself in the means of grace “so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15).

Steadfast service for the King will bring increasing conformity to His image (Col. 3:9–10). Let us repent of our failings and rise assured that the grace which forgives is the grace that empowers.