(The following pages are taken from my work, “Practical Suggestions for Primitive Baptists.” This work is out of print, but I have so many calls for it yet that I republish these pages here in response to the demand.)
Having briefly noticed some things pertaining to pastoral work and the preaching of the gospel, I will make this appeal to my brethren in the ministry. I trust that I feel the responsibility of the work, and think I know something of its weight and the sacrifices it requires.
There is no such thing as retiring a minister because of his age—he must wear out in the harness. He ought so to live that when he comes to the close of life it could be said of him that he had fought a good fight, that he had kept the faith. The memory and influence of this kind of a life should be esteemed a richer legacy than a fortune in this world’s goods. To have faithfully devoted a life to serving the Lord’s people is to have spent it well. It would be better to be remembered among the humble poor of the flock as a loving, firm and helpful pastor than to have one’s name enrolled among the great of the earth. Preaching the gospel, and the pastor’s ministrations, are like giving cold water to the thirsty, and the Master has said to give one cup of water in His name shall be rewarded.
The minister of the gospel is not promised wealth nor ease, and none of us certainly could have entered upon the work with these in view. Then if wealth and ease fail to be our lot we should not feel disappointed. The Lord called all His disciples to follow Him and we ought not to complain when the Lord Himself has gone before us. Self-servers have no business in the ministry. The minister of Christ must serve his Lord and his brethren, and sacrifice himself (2Co 12:15). Personal interest must not be allowed to dictate to him what he shall do. He should ask with a prayerful heart what the Lord will have him to do, and when this has been decided there should be no appeal from it, either to serve self or to please men. This will not mean that one must be harsh with those who differ from him, or that he shall try to force them to the right way, for he must be “patient,” willing to contend earnestly for the truth in love, bearing the weaknesses of the brethren for Christ’s sake, not being overcome of their evil or wrong ways, but overcoming them with good. This is not a pleasant prospect to one who knows what human nature is, yet a minister should take this course. He should do so, feeling that the Lord can strengthen him and enable him to endure all things.
Brethren, what a great responsibility there is in leading the flock. In ancient times the leaders of the people caused them to err; and are they not as liable to do so now? One can but think of Israel when they were afflicted for David’s sin, and apply the same words to the churches which are led astray by their pastors: “What have these sheep done?” It is not infrequently the case where pastors blame churches that they themselves are the cause of the disorder in the church. It may be the pastor’s example has led them astray; or it may be he has not preached to them the whole counsel of God and has left them uninstructed on many things; and on some things that they knew to do, they have not been stirred up to diligence, and have fallen into fault; or seeing they were in a wrong practice he did not reprove them, or having reproved them once became passive and did not insist that they should follow the right. This course, though not generally considered as actually wrong, is perhaps as blameworthy as to go wrong and suffer others to follow, for it is the duty of the pastor to reprove and rebuke when necessary. If he shall fail to do this the Master will not hold him faultless.
It is, perhaps, too often the case that pastors do not feel proper responsibility for the churches and members. It would awaken pastors to greater diligence if they felt they were accountable in a great measure for disorder and declension in the churches. When John was directed to write to the seven churches he addressed the reproofs, admonitions, etc., to the “angel” or minister of each church. Can a minister feel that he will not be held to account for his stewardship, when the Holy Ghost has given him oversight of a church to feed it and care for it?
Brother minister, as you look about you, do you not see many things in the churches that ought to be corrected? And not only in the churches but in the lives of the members. All these you should strive to correct, but especially in the church you should see to it that it is after the divine pattern. It is not merely a difference of opinion between you and the brethren, in which they are as likely to be right as you are, for then it would not be right to consider the matter as very serious. But what the Bible teaches, you are not at liberty to surrender because some do not have the right view of the matter, for if you were, a preacher would not have to study what God’s word teaches, but he would need to ascertain the mind of those to whom he was preaching and then either preach to suit them, or upon points where they were at variance with the word of God, if his conscience would not permit him to go with them, simply keep silent upon those things. Would such a course be characteristic of a true servant of God? O, no, he must never, never, never give up the right! He must ever have it in view and be striving, not only to go toward it himself, but to bring others to it as well.
It should strengthen him in this struggle to know, and have full confidence in the fact, that God will be on the side of the right to bless and strengthen it. But you will “have need of patience that after you have done the will of God ye might receive the promise.”—Heb 10:36. We should not expect to receive the promise while still in disobedience.
The church our blessed Redeemer gave us should be preserved in form, and doctrine, and practice. How will you do this ? By preaching on doctrine when you know that practice ought to be preached? When you go to a church should you not ask, “What does this church need?” If a servant went out to care for sheep and there was plenty of corn in the troughs, but no water, and some were sick and needed attention, yet he poured in more corn and went away, would his course be approved? The Shepherd would say, “You should have given the thirsty (poor souls needing encouragement) water (spiritual instruction), and the diseased (erring ones) should have had medicine (correction).”
Will you deliberately withhold from the erring what they need because you think it will not be well received? When you know that no member of the church is infected with Arminian ideas, but that covetousness is keeping members away from the church meetings, and forcing the pastor to carry on the warfare at his own charges, and keeping him from receiving of the fruit of the vineyard, or eating of the milk of the flock (See 1Co 9:7), will you then preach a sermon against Arminianism or against covetousness, which? If you preach against Arminianism under such circumstances why do you do it ? Do you do it to please God or men ? Is this considering the matter as it should be? Or would it not be best to remember that to his own master a man standeth or he falleth, and then tell the church what you think they ought to know, and insist on their returning to such scriptural practices as you know they have departed from?
I sometimes hear a minister say, “I know that is right, but you would not dare to preach it at my church.” Is it possible that a church can get so far away from the right that it will not do to preach to it the right way without giving serious offense! That is the spirit that put our Lord to death, and ought it to be fostered in the churches? Any of us ought to be shamed that would educate a church in that direction. My dear brother, let us be honest with ourselves and obedient to God, for if “God be for us,” why need we care who is against us? But God will be against us if we are not faithful in our ministry, and the more friends we make by perverting the gospel, or keeping back part of it, will only add that much to our shame and confusion when we are brought to realize our standing before Him.
As ministers of Christ we all ought to be working for one end, the advancement of the church, and all should be walking together in harmony. True, men of different temperaments may not be able to get together as companions, but they need not try to destroy each other, because they are not congenial in dispositions. We ought to realize there are places where one minister can do no good, when another might work successfully and accomplish much good. So, instead of standing in the way of others, let us help them all in our power, and make it manifest that we pray the Lord’s blessings on their labors. See Mr 9:38-42.
Nothing so ill becomes a minister of Christ as jealousy. He would make his own poor efforts a limit for efficient and acceptable labor for the Lord, and object to any having grace to surpass him. How little and contemptible such a spirit! Brethren, if you find such a disposition growing in your heart, strangle it; allow it not to live another day. It will dwarf your life and make you miserable to see anyone receive blessing and approbation. He is happiest who rejoices most in the uplifting and enjoyment of others. I have in mind a once able minister of the gospel who is today separated from brethren and cut off from the church, because he could not bear to see a growing affection among his churches for other ministers for their work’s sake.
Paul feared lest he might become a “castaway” (1Co 9:27), and a jealous disposition is as likely to bring about this condition as anything else, for “jealousy is cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.”—Songs 8:6. Let us be brethren, not only in faith, but in deed and in truth, all working lovingly together for the good of the cause that ought to be so precious to us all.
I appeal to you, my brethren, not to leave to those who shall follow in your field of ministerial labor, churches in all manner of disorders and ignorant of the duties imposed by the scriptures on the members. It will work a hardship on those who follow you, it will cripple the churches and be disregarding your obligations as ministers of Christ. Study to know the New Testament pattern and then let all the efforts of your life be directed to shaping the churches after the pattern. This do persistently. Sometimes you will grow discouraged and you will feel inclined to give up the struggle and simply drift with the course such things take if not prevented. But think what drifting means, my brother. It means to be getting farther and farther away from the right. Do not make spasmodic efforts to stop the “drifting” and then fall again into non-resistance; this will do more harm than good. It is the steady, determined efforts that accomplish something. Keep on preaching, and talking, and working for godliness in the lives of the members, and to set in order all things connected with the church, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” —Eph 4:13-16.
O, my brethren, let us contend earnestly for all that is taught in God’s word. I give these “suggestions,” not as embodying all that is written, nor speaking as one who has attained to all things. “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended ; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”—Php 3:13-14. I feel that I would like to see, “The church our blessed Redeemer saved, With His own precious blood,” shake off the traditions which bind her people and rise to the high privileges promised to the obedient and humble followers of the Lamb. “It is high time to awake out of sleep.” “Let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” “Wherefore He saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore, be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”
I would not presume that I know more of the “will of the Lord” than those to whom I write, but I am moved to bring these things to your minds, and appeal to you to move forward as one man, crying as did the prophet, “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.”—Isa 62:1.
I know hundreds of you feel as I do about these matters. Should we not “cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins.”—Isa 58:1. “Bring you all the tithes into My storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open to you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”—Mai. 3:10. We believe all these things. Shall we act as God directs and as His spirit prompts? Those who have not investigated the subject of practical duties have the scriptures, and they can and should do so.
But as I have before said, ministers may know the Lord’s will and yet not insist on its observance in the churches. “And that servant which knew his lord’s will and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”—Lu 12:47. If a minister accepts the pastoral care of a church, it is equivalent to covenanting with the church that he will deal honestly with it and give all needed instruction. He cannot keep this agreement and remain silent while the church is neglecting any important matter. And it will be better for himself and the church, for him to resign rather than to keep silent where God speaks, permitting the church to ignore God’s rule and way.
I repeat that I do not ask anyone to accept these suggestions unless they be found to agree with God’s word; but if they are in harmony with the truth, what reason can a pastor give for not following out the spirit of them? I hope, brother ministers, that you will determine whether they are right or wrong; and that you will join with all our ministers in advocating the practices in harmony with the New Testament teachings.
Particularly do I ask that you take a stand in regard to the office of the deaconship in the churches and enter a life-long protest against doing away with the office, for the discontinuance of that work has seriously crippled the ministry until the churches are deprived of the service they ought to have. I invite your careful and prayerful attention to the positions taken in the following article on “The Deaconship.”
Editor's Note: The article on "The Deaconship" can also be found on MarchtoZion.com in our article library.