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Words to Winners of Souls: 5 - Revival in the Ministry

By Horatius Bonar


      "Take heed unto thyself."-- 1 Timothy 4:16.

      It is easier to speak or write about revival than to set about it. There is so much rubbish to be swept out, so many self-raised hindrances to be dealt with, so many old habits to be overcome, so much sloth and easymindedness to be contended with, so much of ministerial routine to be broken through, and so much crucifixion, both of self and of the world, to be undergone. As Christ said of the unclean spirit which the disciples could not cast out, so we may say of these: "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."

      So thought a minister in the seventeenth century; for, after lamenting the evils both of his life and his ministry, he thus resolves to set about their renewal.

      1. In imitation of Christ and His apostles, and to get good done, I purpose to rise timely every morning. (Job 1:5; 2 Chronicles 36:15)

      2. To prepare as soon as I am up some work to be done, and how and when to do it; to engage my heart to it, 1 Timothy 4:7; and at 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 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 special 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 relating either to myself or others.

      7. To spend some time on Saturday, towards night, for preparation for the Sabbath.

      8. To spend six or seven days together, once a year, when most convenient, wholly and only on spiritual accounts.

      Such was the way in which he set about personal and ministerial revival. Let us take an example from him. If he needed it much, we need it more.

      In the fifth and sixth centuries, Gildas and Salvian arose to alarm and arouse a careless church and a formal ministry. In the sixteenth, such was the task which devolved on the Reformers. In the seventeenth, Baxter, among others, took a prominent part in stimulating the languid piety and dormant energies of his fellow ministers. In the eighteenth, God raised up some choice and noble men to awaken the church and lead the way to a higher and bolder career of ministerial duty. The present century stands no less in need of some such stimulating influence. We have experienced many symptoms of life, but still the mass is not quickened. We require some new Baxter to arouse us by his voice and his example. It is melancholy to see the amount of ministerial languor and inefficiency that still overspreads our land. How long, 0 Lord, how long!

      The infusion of new life into the ministry ought to he the object of more direct and special effort, as well as of more united and fervent prayer. The prayers of Christians ought to he more largely directed to the students, the preachers, the ministers of the Christian church. It is a living ministry that our country needs; and without such a ministry it can not long expect to escape the judgments of God. We need men that will spend and be spent***that will labor and pray***that will watch and weep for souls.

      In the life of Myconius, the friend of Luther, as given by Melchior Adam, we have the following beautiful and striking account of an event which proved the turning point in his history and led him to devote his energies to the cause of Christ. The first night that he entered the monastery, intending to become a monk, he dreamed; and it seemed as if he was ranging a vast wilderness alone. Suddenly a guide appeared and led him onwards to a most lovely vale, watered by a pleasant stream of which he was not permitted to taste, and then to a marble fountain of pure water. He tried to kneel and drink, when, lo! a crucified Saviour stood forth to view, from whose wounds gushed the copious stream. In a moment his guide flung him into the fountain. His mouth met the flowing wounds and he drank most sweetly, never to thirst again! No sooner was he refreshed himself than he was led away by his guide to be taught what great things he was yet to do for the crucified One whose precious wounds had poured the living water into his soul. He came to a wide stretching plain covered with waving grain. His guide ordered him to reap. He excused himself by saying that he was wholly unskilled in such labor. "What you know not you shall learn," was the reply. They came nearer, and he saw a solitary reaper toiling at the sickle with such prodigious effort as if he were determined to reap the whole field himself. The guide ordered him to join this laborer, and seizing a sickle, showed him how to proceed. Again, the guide led him to a hill. He surveyed the vast plain beneath him, and, wondering, asked how long it would take to reap such a field with so few labourers? "Before winter the last sickle must be thrust in," replied his guide. "Proceed with all your might. The Lord of the harvest will send more reapers soon." Wearied with his labor,

      Myconius rested for a little. Again the crucified One was at his side, wasted and marred in form. The guide laid his hand on Myconius, saying: "You must be conformed to Him." With these words the dreamer awoke. But he awoke to a life of zeal and love. He found the Saviour for his own soul, and he went forth to preach of Him to others. He took his place by the side of that noble reaper, Martin Luther. He was stimulated by his example, and toiled with him in the vast field till laborers arose on every side and the harvest was reaped before the winter came. The lesson to us is, thrust in your sickles. The fields are white, and they are wide in compass; the laborers are few, but there are some devoted ones toiling there already. In other years we have seen Whitefield and Hill putting forth their enormous efforts, as if they would reap the whole field alone. Let us join ourselves to such men, and the Lord of the harvest will not leave us to toil alone.

      "When do you intend to stop?" was the question once put by a friend to Rowland Hill. "Not till we have carried all before us," was the prompt reply. Such is our answer too. The fields are vast, the grain whitens, the harvest waves; and through grace we shall go forth with our sickles, never to rest till we shall lie down where the Lamb himself shall lead us, by the living fountains of waters, where God shall wipe off the sweat of toil from our weary foreheads and dry up all the tears of earth from our weeping eyes. Some of us are young and fresh; many days may yet be, in the providence of God, before us. These must be days of strenuous, ceaseless, persevering, and, if God bless us, successful toil. We shall labor till we are worn out and laid to rest.

      Many of our readers have seen, we doubt not, a small volume of Vincent, the non-conformist minister, respecting the great plague and fire in London. Its title is "God's Terrible Voice in the City." In it there is a description of the manner in which the faithful ministers who remained amid the danger discharged their solemn duties to the dying inhabitants, and of the manner in which the terror-stricken multitudes hung with breathless eagerness upon their lips, to drink in salvation ere the dreaded pestilence had swept them away to the tomb. Churches were flung open, but the pulpits were silent, for there was none to occupy them; the hirelings had fled. Then did God's faithful band of persecuted ones come forth from their hiding-places to fill the forsaken pulpits. Then did they stand up in the midst of the dying and the dead, to proclaim eternal life to men who were expecting death before the morrow. They preached in season and out of season. Weekday or Sunday was the same to them. The hour might be canonical or uncanonical, it mattered not; they did not stand upon nice points of ecclesiastical regularity or irregularity; they lifted up their voices like trumpets, and spared not. Every sermon might be their last. Graves were lying open around them; life seemed now not merely a handbreadth but a hairbreadth; death was nearer now than ever; eternity stood out in all its vast reality; souls were felt to be precious; opportunities were no longer to be trifled away; every hour possessed a value beyond the wealth of kingdoms; the world was now a passing, vanishing shadow, and man's days on earth had been cut down from threescore years and ten into the twinkling of an eye! Oh, how they preached! No polished periods, no learned arguments, no labored paragraphs, chilled their appeals or rendered their discourses unintelligible. No fear of man, no love of popular applause, no everscrupulous dread of strong expressions, no fear of excitement or enthusiasm, prevented them from pouring out the whole fervor of their hearts, that yearned with tenderness unutterable over dying souls. "Old Time;" says Vincent, "seemed to stand at the head of the pulpit with his great scythe, saying with a hoarse voice, 'Work while it is called today: at night I will mow thee down.' Grim Death seemed to stand at the side of the pulpit, with its sharp arrow, saying, 'Do thou shoot God's arrows, and I will shoot mine.' The grave seemed to lie open at the foot of the pulpit, with dust in her bosom, saying:--

      'Louden thy cry
            To God,
            To men,
      And now fulfill thy trust;

      Here thou must lie--
            Mouth stopped
            Breath gone,
      And silent in the dust.'

      "Ministers now had awakening calls to seriousness and fervor in their ministerial work, to preach on the side and brink of the pit into which thousands were tumbling. There was such a vast concourse of people in the churches where these ministers were to be found that they could not many times come near the pulpit doors for the press, but were forced to climb over the pews to them; and such a face was seen in the assemblies as seldom was seen before in London; such eager looks, such open ears, such greedy attention, as if every word would be eaten which dropped from the mouths of the ministers."

      Thus did they preach and thus did they hear in those days of terror and death. Men were in earnest then, both in speaking and hearing. There was no coldness, no languor, no studied oratory. Truly they preached as dying men to dying men. But the question is, Should it ever be otherwise? Should there ever be less fervor in preaching or less eagerness in hearing than there was then? True, life was a little shorter then, but that was all. Death and its issues are still the same. Eternity is still the same. The soul is still the same. Only one small element was thrown in then which does not always exist to such an extent; namely, the increased shortness of life. But that was all the difference. Why then should our preaching be less fervent, our appeals less affectionate, our importunity less urgent? We are a few steps farther from the shore of eternity; that is all. Time may be a little stronger than it was then, yet only a very little. Its everlasting issues are still as momentous, as unchangeable. Surely it is our unbelief that makes the difference! It is unbelief that makes ministers so cold in their preaching, so slothful in visiting, and so remiss in all their sacred duties. It is unbelief that chills the life and straitens the heart. It is unbelief that makes ministers handle eternal realities with such irreverence. It is unbelief that makes them ascend with so light a step "that awful place the pulpit," to deal with immortal beings about heaven and hell.

      Hear one of Richard Baxter's appeals:***"I have been ready to wonder, when I have heard such weighty things delivered, how people can forbear crying out in the congregation; much more how they can rest till they have gone to their ministers and learned what they should do. Oh, that heaven and hell should work no more upon men! Oh that everlastingness should work no more! Oh, how can you forbear when you are alone to think what it is to be everlastingly in joy or in torment! I wonder that such thoughts do not break your sleep; and that they come not in your mind when you are about your labor! I wonder how you can almost do anything else; how you can have any quietness in your minds; how you can eat or drink or rest till you have got some ground of everlasting consolations! Is that a man or a corpse that is not affected with matters of this importance? That can be readier to sleep than to tremble when he heareth how he must stand at the bar of God? Is that a man or a clod of clay that can rise or lie down without being deeply affected with his everlasting estate? That can follow his worldly business but make nothing of the great business of salvation or damnation; and that, when they know it is hard at hand? Truly, Sirs, when I think of the weight of the matter, I wonder at the very best of God's saints upon earth, that they are no better, and do no more in so weighty a case. I wonder at those whom the world accounteth more holy than necessary, and scorns for making too much ado, that they can put off Christ and their souls with so little; that they pour not out their souls in every supplication; that they are not more taken up with God; that their thoughts are not more serious in preparation of their accounts. I wonder that they be not an hundred times more strict in their lives, and more laborious and unwearied in striving for the crown than they are. And for myself, as I am ashamed of my dull and careless heart, and of my slow and unprofitable course of life; so, the Lord knows, I am ashamed of every sermon I preach; when I think what I have been speaking of, and who sent me, and that men's salvation or damnation is so much concerned in it, I am ready to tremble lest God should judge me as a slighter of His truths and the souls of men, and lest in the best sermon I should be guilty of their blood. Methinks we should not speak a word to men, in matters of such consequence, without tears, or the greatest earnestness that possibly we can; were not we too much guilty of the sin which we reprove, it would be so. Whether we are alone or in company, methinks our end, and such an end, should still be in our mind, and as before our eyes; and we should sooner forget anything, and set light by anything, or by all things, than by this."

      We are not in earnest either in preaching or in hearing. If we were, could we be so cold, so prayerless, so inconsistent, so slothful, so worldly, so unlike men whose business is all about eternity? We must be more in earnest if we would win souls. We must be more in earnest if we would walk in the footsteps of our beloved Lord, or if we would fulfill the vows that are upon us. We must be more in earnest if we would be less than hypocrites. We must be more in earnest if we would finish our course with joy, and obtain the crown at the Master's coming. We must work while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work.

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See Also:
   1 - Importance of a Living Ministry
   2 - The Minister's True Life and Walk
   3 - Past Defects
   4 - Ministerial Confession
   5 - Revival in the Ministry

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