A Word for Pastors
James Smith, 1864
"I do try!" exclaimed a discouraged minister of Jesus Christ, as he was walking abroad one Monday morning to cool his burning brow and calm his throbbing temples, after an anxious and earnest Sunday. "I do try to bring sinners to Jesus, and to make the Lord's people a zealous, active, and holy people. God knows, who reads my heart, that the strongest and warmest desire of my soul, is to be made useful in the conversion of immortal souls. I try to warn them most solemnly, to exhort them most earnestly, and to invite them most affectionately; but, alas, I seem to labor almost in vain! Who has believed my report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? Others have large congregations — but mine is small. Others reap much fruit; I have only now and then a convert. Why is it? What can be the cause?
Lord, search me, try me, and show me what it is that makes me unfruitful. Is it in the tongue, the temper, the conduct, or the state of the heart? Whatever it is, Lord, correct it, and make me a vessel unto honor, sanctified and fit for the Master's use."
What does this painful and gloomy experience of God's minister teach us?
1. The true condition of human nature. Man is alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in him. He is without God in the world. He is dead in trespasses and sins. He is altogether indifferent to his eternal concerns, and blind to his best interests. He goes on in darkness. He is like the deaf adder which stops up its ears, refusing to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he ever so wisely. He has . . .
eyes — but he sees not;
ears — but he hears not;
an immortal soul exposed to never ending woe — but he heeds not.
He . . .
silences the voice of conscience,
hardens his heart against fear,
and casts God's word behind him.
He is all life to the vanities of time — but is as dead as a corpse to the things that are eternal. Ministers may teach, warn, threaten, exhort, and invite; but he is still careless and indifferent, and goes on choosing death rather than life; so that every sinner that is saved is a miracle of mercy. It teaches us also,
2. The weakness and inefficiency of human agency. We may choose the fittest instruments, qualify them to the best of our power, use them in the wisest and most prudent manner — and yet sinners remain as obstinate as they were. We may convince the judgment — but the heart needs to be changed. We may alarm the conscience — but the will must be renewed. We may impart light — but the dead need divine life. We try, and try, and try again; but . . .
the dry bones still lie in the open valley;
the sinner still hugs his darling lusts;
Satan still leads captive the multitude at his will.
We may please them — but we cannot convert them. We may be unto them as the voice of a very lovely song, as one that can play well upon an instrument — but they still love the world, and their hearts go after their covetousness. We are like the prophet's servant who ran with his master's staff, laid it on the child's face, and expected it to revive; but had to return and say, "Master, the child is not awaked." We learn, too,
3. The absolute necessity of divine power. Unless God works — all is vain. They will hear no voice, but his. They will acknowledge no authority, but his. It is not the gospel. It is not the minister. It is not the manner. We may preach the truth; we may be solemn, earnest, and affectionate; but without the direct putting forth the power of God — all will be in vain. It is not by the power of argument, or eloquence, or earnestness, but only by the power of God, that sinners are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Unless the Holy Spirit is present, and, being present, works through the truth — no soul will be converted, no sinner will believe on Christ. We are absolutely and always dependant on the Holy Spirit for success, and without his influence and operations — we shall labor in vain! But it is to be feared that we do not sufficiently realize this. Indeed, if our prayers, and the prayers of our people, are to judge us — it is as clear as daylight that we do not. It says to us, also,
4. Aim to please the Lord, and seek his glory, as the first and last end of the ministry. This is, in reality, our one business. If the Lord is pleased with our persons as united to his beloved Son, and if he accepts of our poor services for the dear Redeemer's sake — then this ought to satisfy us. God can glorify himself in us when few souls are brought to Christ by us; therefore while we ought earnestly to seek, and constantly to strive for, the conversion of souls — we ought not to be too much discouraged because we do not see the results we desire. If we keep God's glory in view, and aim to please him in our ministry — we shall no doubt be in a good degree successful; and he will commend our diligence, and reward our faithfulness, when we are not successful.
The greatest thing we can do is to please God; and this we may easily do if . . .
our eye is single,
our heart honest, and
our life consecrated to his service and praise.
He is pleased with us whenever we try to please him. Let us therefore fix the eye on his glory, be willing to do just that work which he has cut out for us, and leave all the results with him. He is not unfaithful to forget our work of faith and labor of love. Loving labors he always approves of — and loving laborers are his especial favorites. Oh, for more love! Love to God as our just and holy Sovereign, to Jesus as our divine Lord and Master, to all the saints as the sons of God and friends of Jesus, and to all poor sinners that we may try by all means to win them back to God and glory.
Still ministers are often discouraged, and they will be, just as long as they look so much at their people, at the result of their labors, and at their immediate success; instead of looking simply to the Lord, and seeking his approbation. We must endeavor to commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God, and in everything strive to please Him who has chosen us to be his soldiers.
There will always be enough to try us, to exercise our graces, and to keep us humble; and there is always enough to stimulate us, to cheer us, and embolden us in the good cause. No man knows the extent of his own usefulness now; God is often working by us when we conclude that nothing is happening, and very likely we shall see by and bye, that what we thought were among the most barren periods of our ministry — have been in reality among the most productive. Of old it was said, for the incouragement of depressed and diligent laborers, "Those who sow in tears — shall reap in joy. He who goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed — shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." And long since then it was added, for the benefit of similar characters, "Let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."
Success is not put in our own power — the Lord keeps that in his own hands. We may be faithful, we ought to be hopeful, we must be industrious — and the results, we may very well leave with the Lord. Only let us so act that it may be said of us, as of the good woman of old, "She has done what she could!" — and then all will be well, and well forever.
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." Then shall it be said unto you by the Master when he comes, to your everlasting joy, and the everlasting confusion of all your foes, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful over a few things — I will make you ruler over many things; enter into the joy of your Lord!"