Wooing to Christ

Puritan Richard Sibbes on the end and aim of gospel preaching (Works, 2:232):

When the beauty of Christ is unfolded, it draws the wounded, hungry soul unto him. The preaching of the word doth that that shows the sweet love of God in Jesus Christ. This makes the ordinance of the ministry so sweet. The ordinance of the ministry is that that distributes the portion to every child of God. The ministers of God are stewards, as it were, to distribute comfort and reproof to whom it belongs. Now where there is a convenient distributing of the portion to every one, that makes the ordinance of God so beautiful, when the waters of life are derived from the spring of the Scripture to every particular man’s use.

The word, in the application of it, is a sweet thing. For good things, the nearer they are brought home, the more delightful they are. This ordinance of preaching, it lays open the ‘riches of Christ.’ There may be a great deal of riches wrapped up in a treasury, but this opens the treasury, as St Paul says, ‘ to lay open the unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Eph 3:8). The ministry of the word is ordained to lay open the treasure to God’s people, that they may know what riches they have by Christ; and the end of the ministry is to win the people’s love to Christ.

Therefore they come between the bride and bridegroom to procure the marriage; therefore they lay open that that procures the contract here, and the consummation in heaven; so to woo for Christ, and ‘beseech them to be reconciled to God’ (2 Cor 5:20). This is the end of the ministry. This makes the church of God so beautiful, that it hath this ordinance in it [preaching], to bring God, and Christ, and his people together: to contract them together. There be rich mines in the Scripture, but they must be digged up. The ministry serves to dig up those mines.

Pray For Your Pastor

John Newton, in a letter dated July 26, 1776 and published in The Christian Correspondent (1790), pages 131–132:

How fast the weeks return—we are again upon the eve of a Sabbath. May the Lord give us much of his own Spirit on his own day. I trust I have a remembrance in your prayers. I need them much—my service is great.

It is, indeed, no small thing to stand between God and the people—to divide the word of truth aright—to give every one portion—to withstand the counter tides of opposition and popularity—and to press those truths upon others, the power of which, I, at times, feel so little of in my own soul. A cold, corrupt heart is uncomfortable company in the pulpit.

Yet in the midst of all my fears and unworthiness, I am enabled to cleave to the promise, and to rely on the power of the Great Redeemer. I know I am engaged in the cause against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. If He died and rose again, if He ever lives to make intercession—there must be safety under the shadow of his wings: there would I lie. In his name I would lift up my banner, in his strength I would go forth, do what he enables me, then take shame to myself that I can do no better, and put my hand upon my mouth, confessing that I am dust and ashes, less than the least of all his mercies.

“To be laughed at is no great hardship to me”

What does it look like when a preacher implores sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20)? Perhaps it resembles something like this excerpt taken from the conclusion to a sermon by Charles Spurgeon (The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 4, sermon 171):

Preaching, you see, takes away my voice. Ah! it is not that. It is not the preaching, but the sighing over your souls that is the hard work. I could preach for ever: I could stand here day and night to tell my Master’s love and warn poor souls; but ’tis the after-thought that will follow me when I descend these pulpit steps, that many of you, my hearers’ will neglect this warning.

You will go; you will walk into the street; you will joke; you will laugh. …

To be laughed at is no great hardship to me. I can delight in scoffs and jeers; caricatures, lampoons, and slanders, are my glory; of these things I boast, yea, in these I will rejoice. But that you should turn from your own mercy, this is my sorrow.

Spit on me, but oh! repent!

Laugh at me: but oh! believe in my Master!

Make my body as the dirt of the streets, if ye will but damn not your own souls!

Oh! do not despise your own mercies.

Put not away from you the gospel of Christ. There are many other ways of playing fool beside that. Carry coals in your bosom; knock your head against a wall: but do not damn your souls for the mere sake of being a fool, for fools to laugh at.

Oh! be in earnest upon an earnest subject. If there be no hereafter, live as you like; if there be no heaven, if there be no hell, laugh at me!

But if these things be true, and you believe them, I charge you, as I shall face you at the judgment bar of the Lord Jesus in the day of judgment—I charge you, by your own immortal welfare, lay these things to heart.

HT: JT

On Legalistic Preaching

Yesterday I spent the day researching in the main reading room at the Library of Congress. Reading there is really one of the coolest experiences a nerd could ever blog about. Mainly I was there to kick around some ideas I have for a potential book project and the purpose of my trip was really not much more than acclimating myself to a number of 18th century writers that I am only vaguely familiar. One of those writers is Ralph Erskine. Erskine wrote a book, indecisively titled Gospel Sonnets, Or, Spiritual Songs (Edinburgh: 1755). One of the chapters in the book is comprised of several sonnets that slap legalistic preachers around. This sonnet was too good not to post (pp. 49-51):

Hell cares not how crude holiness be preach’d,
If sinners match with Christ be never reach’d;
Knowing their holiness is but a sham,
Who ne’er are marry’d to the holy Lamb.
They mar true holiness with tickling chat,
To breed a bastard Pharisaic brat.
They woefully the gospel-message broke,
Make fearful havoc of the Master’s flock;
Yet please themselves and the blind multitude,
By whom the gospel’s little understood.

Rude souls perhaps imagine little odds
Between the legal and the gospel roads:
But vainly men attempt to blend the two. …
The fiery law, as ’tis a covenant,
Schools men to see the gospel-aid they want;
Then gospel-aid does sweetly them incline
Back to the law as ’tis a rule divine.
Heav’n’s healing work is oft commenc’d with wounds,
Terror begins what loving-kindness crowns.

Preachers may therefore press the fiery law,
To strike the Christless man with dreadful awe.
Law-threats which for his sins to hell depress,
Yes, damn him for his rotten righteousness;
That, while he view the law exceeding broad,
He fain may wed the righteousness of God.

But ah! to press law-works as terms of life,
Was ne’er the way to court the Lamb a wife.
To urge conditions in the legal frame,
Is to renew the vain old cov’nant game.
The law is good when lawfully ’tis us’d,
But most destructive then it is abus’d.
They set not duties in the proper sphere,
Who duly law and gospel don’t sever;
But under lassy chains let sinners lie,
As tributaries, or to DO or DIE.
Nor make the law a squaring rule of life,
But in the gospel-throat a bloody knife.

The Thermopylae of Christendom

C. H. Spurgeon, as recorded in Lectures to My Students: Second Series (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1877), page 146:

The pulpit is the Thermopylae of Christendom: there the fight will be lost or won.

To us ministers the maintenance of our power in the pulpit should be our great concern, we must occupy that spiritual watch-tower with our hearts and minds awake and in full vigor. It will not avail us to be laborious pastors if we are not earnest preachers.

We shall be forgiven a great many sins in the matter of pastoral visitation if the people’s souls are really fed on the Sabbath-day; but fed they must be, and nothing else will make up for it.

The failures of most ministers who drift down the stream may be traced to inefficiency in the pulpit. The chief business of a captain is to know how to handle his vessel, nothing can compensate for deficiency there, and so our pulpits must be our main care, or all will go awry.

How to NOT Listen to Sermons

John Newton penned a brilliant letter on how to profit from sermons [Works, 1:224–225]. First, Newton explains how one should listen to sermons:

As a hearer, you have a right to try all doctrines by the word of God; and it is your duty so to do. Faithful ministers will remind you of this: they will not wish to hold you in an implicit and blind obedience to what they say, upon their own authority, nor desire that you should follow them farther than they have the Scripture for their warrant. They would not be lords over your conscience, but helpers of your joy. Prize this Gospel liberty, which sets you free from the doctrines and commandments of men; but do not abuse it to the purposes of pride and self.

Then Newton explains how not to listen to sermons:

There are hearers who make themselves, and not the Scripture, the standard of their judgment. They attend not so much to be instructed, as to pass their sentence. To them, the pulpit is the bar at which the minister stands to take his trial before them; a bar at which few escape censure, from judges at once so severe and inconsistent.

Excellent balance.