Evaluation of "The Christian Ministry" by Charles Bridges - by C. Matthew McMahon

One of the Best Works on the Pastoral Ministry

“The Christian Ministry” by Charles Bridges

This work is another one of my favorites on the Christian Ministry and highlights important aspects of Pastoral Theology. I especially like that Bridges has taken considerable time to add in citations and references to prove most of what he is teaching from the Bible. He also quotes a considerable number of men in relation to the subject matter. This work is divided into seven parts with multiple chapters in each part. The Banner of Truth edition (1997) only contains part of Bridges’ work (running about 400 pages), where one can find the whole work online (running almost 700 pages). His chapters are relatively short, though extensive overall. Summaries of the chapters are such will only need short reminders of the nature of the material. References will reflect (for the reader), first, page numbers for the Banner of Truth edition to the work, and once the Banner edition is completed, the references will readjust to the online version published by R.B. Seeley and W. Burnside in 1830.

Part 1 Chapter 1: Divine Origin and Institution

The Church is the place God has chosen to reveal his divine character.[1] God ordered his church to set apart officers for the lower degrees of ministration, so elders were “ordained…in every Church,” who were acknowledged to be “made overseers over the flock” by the appointment of the Holy Spirit.[2] Bridges says rightly, that God has ordained three grand repositories of his truth. In the Scriptures he has preserved it by his Providence against all hostile attacks. In the hearts of Christians he has maintained it by the Almighty energy of his Spirit — even under every outward token of general apostasy. And in the Christian Ministry has he deposited “the treasure in earthen vessels” for the edification and enriching of the Church in successive ages.[3] And so, the young minister must acknowledge how solemn is the sanction — infinitely above all human authority — stamped and engraved on the sacred office! And how tremendous the guilt of rejecting its commission![4]

 

Part 1 Chapter 2: The Dignity of the Christian Ministry

The church is to represent the dignity of the Son of God. Ministers, then, are entrusted with the Gospel which reflects the divine glory of the God-Man Jesus Christ.[5] Such entrusting power must be stirred up and worked out in the life of the pastor (cf. 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).[6] Bridges says, “A sense of the dignity of our office — accurately formed, carefully maintained, and habitually exercised — is therefore of the highest importance.”[7]

 

Part 1 Chapter 3: The Use and Necessity of the Christian Ministry

Bridges says, “the sum of our whole labor in this kind is to honor God and to save men.”[8] He notes Thomas hooker in stating, “The Divine purpose respecting the Church most harmoniously combines these two ends, “I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory,” (Isa. 46:13).[9] The general scope of the Christian Ministry is obvious in that it is “the appointed channel of communication from the head to the body in its several members, by which the spiritual life is first imparted, and subsequently maintained with increasing influence of consolation and fruitfulness.” More specifically, as the church is a flock, the Minister is the pastor to “seek that which is lost — to strengthen the diseased — to heal the sick — to bring again that which was driven away; in a word, to shepherd the flock in all the exercises of tenderness, consideration, and care that connect themselves with this endearing character.”[10] Hooker said, “Religion without the help of a spiritual Ministry is unable to plant itself. This assertion does not need any further confirmation. If it did, I could easily declare, how all things which are of God, he has by wonderful art and wisdom soldered as it were together by the glue of mutual assistance, appointing the lowest to receive from the nearest to themselves what the influence of the highest yields. And therefore the church, being the most absolute of all his works, was in reason to be also ordered with the same harmony, that he works might, no less in grace than in nature, be effected by hands and instruments, duly subordinated to the power of his own Spirit.”[11]

 

Part 1 Chapter 4: The Trials and Difficulties of the Christian Ministry

Severe trials will occur, which are not common among all men.[12] It must be anticipated that severe and sometimes overwhelming trials, arising from the professing church, the world, the power of Satan, and ourselves shall attack the minister and ministry. Bridges quotes Henry Venn from his sermons[13] in which he says the minister, “has more to accomplish than others, as well as greater difficulties to surmount.”[14]

 

Part 1 Chapter 5: The Comforts and Encouragements of the Christian Ministry

Bridges says, “The opposition of the world — the inconstancy of the wavering — the inconsistency of the mere professor — the difficulties, that beset the inquirer’s path — our frequent disappointments with the hopeful — combined with the recollection of what we are — what we ought to be — and what we ought to do — all this fearfully acts upon our weakness and depravity.”[15] Ministers do not rest solely alone in the work; they find their sufficiency and strength from God. Otherwise they would fall into depression and much difficulty, knowing the task would be insurmountable. Bridges gives three means of comfort for the minister: first, the work of God in his midst,[16] second, the love of his people for his work,[17] and thirdly, his personal piety.[18] He adds to this the personal faith which the minister exercises in his own ministry.[19] Such service holds eternal ramifications, is difficult and very costly.[20]

 

Part 1 Chapter 6: The Qualifications of the Christian Ministry

Quoting John Newton Bridges says, “Mr. Newton’s important remark may be considered as an axiom. “None but he who made the world can make a Minister of the Gospel.””[21] Ministers must have a spiritual character that corroborates his spiritual ministry.[22] He cites the qualifications in 1 Timothy 4. He says that, “In taking a general view of Ministerial qualifications, we must remark — that, if the Ministry be a spiritual work, a corresponding spiritual character seems to be required in its administrators.”[23] He must be one that knows Scripture well. A church cannot be solid and their work hindered by a Minister’s contracted statements, confined interpretations, or misdirected application of Scripture. The Minister’s mind must include a store of knowledge far beyond a bare sufficiency for personal salvation. Bridges quotes John Owen, “For how can he — without an enlarged acquaintance with his own principles— exhibit them in their true light, or apply them to successive emergencies?”[24] “It is not to be supposed that such an office can be easily filled. It demands not merely some but many…excellencies, in happy combination. A person may, in a general way, be said to be qualified for the Ministry, who has talents for preaching, though not fitted for profitable private intercourse, or the affairs of Church Government. But this is evidently not a complete adaptation to the work. It is, on the contrary, a very imperfect one, and one with which no man should be content.”[25]

 

Part 1 Chapter 7: Preparation for the Christian Ministry

No one should intrude on the office of a minister that is not set and gifted by God for the task.[26] Bridges quotes Hinton,[27] “It will not fail to be objected that if none were to be admitted into [the ministry], except those who are possessed of every necessary qualification, there could not possibly be procured a sufficient number of Pastors for the supply of our Churches. To which I answer, that a small number of chosen Pastors is preferable to a multitude of unqualified teachers.”[28] The minister should be well qualified with general habits of study already ensuing.[29] “Give attendance to reading,” (2 Tim. 4:13), is the Scriptural rule for Ministerial study.[30] Take note reader, that at the Reformation, learning and religion revived together.[31] The minister should not have a superficial knowledge, but in the very least, should be intelligent, comprehensive and competent with the evidences of Christian religion in the Holy Scriptures, and the History of the Church both in history and theology.[32]  His course of reading therefore must embrace a comprehensive view of Scripture in its doctrinal light, practical obligation, and experimental influence.[33] Bridges says that the minister should be reading the material of the reformation, the puritan divines,[34] and as much as he can on pastoral theology (such as in the writings of Chrysostom).[35] Secker said, “A point of great importance to Clergymen is, that they be studious.”[36] That means they must have the proper resources to be a good, studious minister; and the habit of studying good books should be done throughout his whole life. Bridges rightly says, “A Minister should remember, that himself with all his studies is consecrated to the service of the sanctuary. Let everything be done therefore with a view to one great end — and let us pursue every part of science with a design to gain better qualifications thereby for our sacred work.”[37] Bridges here has a prolonged footnote that quotes Jonathan Edwards on the importance of writing because study is solidified by writing.[38] Books that are studied point to Scripture, which in turn fuel the minister’s knowledge for the things of God. There should be, though, a special study made of the Scriptures daily in order to become proficient in their overall content. Bridges comments that the minister should have in his study of the Bible a searching into the Scriptures, the patient investigating spirit of the miner digging into hidden treasure. Why? Some with good intentions and competent capacities, are in danger of becoming crude and inexperienced throughout their course, by substituting warm impressions of Scripture for that close study of its sacred contents, which can alone form a solid and efficient Ministry. Ministers should with such exactness, weigh every expression, and the connection of the text to its whole as if they were about to preach on every verse; and then to apply the result to their own case, character, and experience.[39] Read and study the Scriptures carefully, wherein is the best learning, and only infallible truth. Be mighty in the Scriptures.[40] The science of theology consists in whatever may tend to illustrate, confirm, enforce, or recommend Divine Revelation.

The minister should also be mighty in prayer.[41] A man of special prayer will be a man of special faith: and faith is the power, which enables “the worm to thresh the mountains,” and, in holy confidence, to cast them down before him, “Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain,” (Zech. 4:6). Study stores the mind, prayer infuses a divine influence, and exercise carries out the resources into effective agency.[42] This means that a very rapid transition from the studies of the Seminary to the services of the sanctuary, does not often appear desirable.[43] There should be an eminent piety first associated with the individual before there is an association with the ministry.

 

Part 2: Chapter 1: The Scriptural Warrant and Character of Ministerial Success — Together With the Symptoms of Want of Success.

Divine sovereignty attests to the reality that as a whole, ministerial success is sure. What Bridges means is not that every minister is successful, but that the outlook should be one of success because God’s will is advanced in the world.[44] Success may not always be visible, and the minister must keep his course knowing God’s will is being advanced.[45] Symptoms of success are often mistakenly seen. They are at best but doubtful signs — large crowds of people coming to hear the word, if they love our persons, admire our discourses, and are brought to a general confession of sinfulness, or to a temporary interest in our message.[46] Ministers tend to desire to see success, and so have a difficult time when they don’t see what they hoped to see. They say, “Is the Lord among us or not?”[47]

 

Part 2: Chapter 2: The Withholding of Divine Influence the Main Cause of the Want of Ministerial Success

The Bible presses ministers to have high expectations from their labors in the Christian ministry. Bridges interestingly notes, “Though [Christ’s] doctrine was Divine — though his character was perfect — and though daily miracles attested his mission, yet little appears to have been done; while Peter, a poor fisherman, endued with this Almighty power, becomes the instrument of converting more under a single sermon, than probably his Master had done throughout his whole Ministry.”[48] The success of ministry is at the will of the Spirit of God.  The minister is simply to remain faithful in his duties.[49] John Howe says, “Alas! What would preaching do, if we could suppose it never so general, while the Spirit of the living God restrains and with holds his influences! We may as well attempt to batter strong walls with the breath of our mouths, as to do good upon men’s souls without the Spirit of God.”[50]

 

Part 2: Chapter 3: The Enmity of the Natural Heart a Main Cause of the Want of Ministerial Success

The whole course of ministry is a struggle against the mighty current of sin and depravity. If enmity against God is so great, how can the minister see his job as anything but difficult?[51] However, the struggle against sin is not to be laid at the foot of the minister. The minister is simply to accomplish his objectives and leave the blessing of the work to the Spirit. [52]

 

Part 2: Chapter 4: The Power of Satan a Main Hindrance to Ministerial Success

Bridges says, “The active power and unsearchable subtlety of Satan are always directed against the Christian Ministry, as the engine “ mighty through God to the pulling down of his strong holds.”[53] Satan holds unceasing opposition to the Christian ministry, though it sometimes may be difficult to distinguish his actions among the people. Generally, the source of these hindrances is the subtle working of unbelief in the life of the people.[54]

 

Part 2: Chapter 5: Local Hindrances to Ministerial Success

The overall influence of a city or town may be deeply rooted in certain beliefs or misbeliefs which cater to the overall difficulty of ministry in a certain area.[55]

 

Part 2: Chapter 6: The Want of a Divine Call a Main Cause of Failure in the Christian Ministry

Bridges asks a singular, but difficult question here, “Was the call to the sacred office clear in the order of the church, and according to the will of God?”[56] This question is of vast importance on the subject, for where the call is manifest, the promise is assured, “Certainly I will be with thee.” But what if the minister is not called? His labors cannot possibly be blessed. In this way a heavy argument is set on ministerial ordination.[57] No one can be an ambassador of Christ unless they are expressly charged with instructions from the sovereign God. God is the one who seals his own ordinance. In this there is an external call, and an internal call. Neither is useful alone. They must be seen in combination with one another. As external it is a commission received from and recognized by the church, according to the Scriptural and primitive order: not indeed qualifying the Minister, but authorizing him, whom God had internally and suitably qualified. The external call communicates only official authority. The internal call conveys personal qualifications.[58] This section of the work is exceedingly important and I quote a portion at length,

 

“The external call, though necessary and authoritative in its character — yet, — as being the mere delegation of man, is not of itself a sufficient warrant for our work. The inward call — the work of Divine influence — is the presumptive ground, on which our church delegates her authorized commission. Nothing can be more explicit than the solemn question, which she has put to us — “Do you trust, that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office?” “Certainly, (as Bishop Burnet remarks with his usual seriousness) “the answer that is made to this ought to be well considered; for if any says, “I trust so,” that yet knows nothing of any such motion, and can give no account of it, he lies to the Holy Ghost, and makes his first approach to the altar with a lie in his mouth, and that not to men, but to God.”[59]

 

No one is allowed to make himself the sovereign judge of his own allowance into ministry.[60] There must be both a desire and a fitness to the office which is seen by the church.[61] Matthew Henry brings this point home when Bridges quotes him in the footnote, “We must not be forward to put forth ourselves in the exercise of spiritual gifts. Pride often appears in this, under the pretense of a desire to be useful. If the motive be correct, it is good; but humility will wait for a call.”[62] Yet with this call must be a competent measure of spiritual gifts. Desire and capacity run together.[63] Tools to see this are the providence of God, friends and a specially experienced minister.[64]

 

Part 3: Chapter 1: Want of Devotedness of Heart to the Christian Ministry

1 Tim. 4:13-16 condenses in the smallest compass the most important body of appropriate instruction and encouragement to ministerial devotedness, “Give thyself wholly to these things, that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thy self and unto the doctrine; continue in them ; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”[65] Bridges says, “He who in this state does not apply himself entirely to the service of the church, will be treated as a thief, and a sacrilegious person.”[66] Bridges again rightly says, “As entrusted, therefore, with the Church of God, we have no right “to entangle ourselves with the affairs of this life,” so as to hinder an entire consecration of our services to the cause of God.”[67] We should, like Nehemiah, say, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down,” (Neh. 6:3-4). David Brainard said, “’I longed to be as a flame of fire, continually glowing in the Divine service, preaching and building up Christ’s kingdom to my latest, my dying, hour.”[68] Here the whole heart of the minister should be given over to the Christian ministry.

 

Part 3: Chapter 2: Conformity to the World

There is a certain amount of interaction that the minister may have while he lives in the world, but is not of it. Bridges has a footnote which I think sums up this entire chapter, where he quotes Massillon, “We often persuade ourselves, that we ought to adopt or acquiesce in the taste, the language, and the manners of the world, that we may not be unacceptable companions; but when the world courts, adopts, and is delighted with a Minister of the Gospel, that Pastor gives a decisive proof, that he ceases to regard the decorum of his station, and the respectability of his character…let us not deceive ourselves. To purchase the friendship and esteem of the world, we must sacrifice a certain part of the dignity and gravity of our Ministry. The world does not give up in the smallest degree its baneful prejudice and dangerous maxims, in order to unite itself with us. No! we must give up our consistency of character; to be admitted into its societies.”[69] The Minister  who would not have his people give into worldly conformity such as he disapproves, must keep at a considerable distance himself.[70]

 

Part 3: Chapter 3: The Fear of Man

Ministers are not to be man-pleasers, but God fearers. They are not to have a fear of men, especially in preaching.[71] Bridges calls a man-pleaser a coward.[72] It is, in my opinion, an easy trait to spy out when a preacher in preaching is a man-pleaser, or has a fear of men. They are often short in their sermons, without depth, filled with illustrious stories about their past, and never demonstrate the eternal realities of God’s corpus of divine doctrine. The only One who should be the minister’s focus to please is God himself.[73]

 

Part 3: Chapter 4: The Want of Self Denial

Self-denial must be a constant temper of the minister who is often tempted to fall back in old ways and old habits that would hinder his ministry.[74] Cotton Mather quoted Elliot who says, “become nailed to the cross…study mortification, brother, study mortification.”[75] Massillion again says, “Think not of appropriating any time to yourself, if you can by a different application of it preserve only one soul from perdition.”[76] Bridges says, “No one attains remarkable eminence or success, without a resolute and habitual self-denial in subordinating every secondary point to the favorite object.”[77] This kind of self-denial should be extended to every part of the minister’s life, including amusements and recreation. Secker said, “A Minister of God’s word, attentive to his duty, will neither have leisure for dissipations, public or domestic, nor liking to them.”[78] How can the minister rightly put forth the biblical teaching of conformity to Christ when he is conforming to the world, and yet expects his flock to distance themselves from the same things he gives heed to?

 

Part 3: Chapter 5: The Spirit of Covetousness

Bridges says, “Covetousness in Ministers has almost grown to a proverb.”[79] If ministers would aspire to be employed with success on such high and holy services, they must become detached more than they are from the interests of this life. Being such an example to the flock is seen much quicker than having to deal with the hidden temptations and sins of the people. A minister is more formally outward, and covetousness is more easily spotted in his life than in others.[80]

 

Part 3: Chapter 6: Neglect of Retirement

This particular section, from my own perspective, is a glaring fault. I find balancing this aspect with the idea of idleness to be difficult. In the midst of the incessant, pressing, and active avocations of the Christian Ministry, it is well to recollect the considerate and seasonable advice of our Divine Master, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile,” (Mark 6:31). Bridges says, “the happiness of the Minister’s life, and the effectiveness of his work, depend upon a Judicious combination of retired habits of study with public or social exercises.”[81] This chapter is easily summed up by Burnett’s quote, “To give the studies of the clergy their full effect; a minister that is much in his study ought to employ a great part of his time in secret and fervent prayer, for the direction and blessing of God in his labors, for the constant assistance of his Holy Spirit, and for a lively sense of Divine matters, that so he may feel the impressions of them grow deep and strong upon his thoughts. This, and this only, will make him go on with his work, without wearying, and be always rejoicing in it. This will make his expressions of these things to be happy and noble, when he can bring them out of the good treasure of his heart, that is ever full, and always warm with them.”[82]

 

Part 3: Chapter 7: The Influence of Spiritual Pride

Spiritual pride is the main advantage given to the Devil over the Christian. How much more should the minister guard himself against such pride? Henry Martyn’s quote is telling, “Men frequently admire me, and I am pleased; but I abhor the pleasure that I feel.”[83] Selfishness is the peculiar trait of this sin in the minister.

 

Part 3: Chapter 8: Absence or Defect of Personal Religion

How awful is it for the church to have a minister that looks like a minister without being a Christian? If there is deficiency in the instrument used to fulfill the office for the good of the church, how will the church succeed? Bridges said, “Little fruitfulness can be expected in the pulpit department of our Ministry, in the absence or defect of the principle of heart-felt religion.”[84] There is a rather important footnote concerning Origen which I think is exceedingly important and worthy to consider, “A man who is unable to persuade himself to be holy, can have little hope of succeeding with the consciences of others. I would advise such preachers (says Richard Baxter) to go to the congregation, and there preach over Origen’s sermon on Psalm 50:16-17,” where, then, Bridges makes note of this, “Referring to an affecting incident in Origen’s history,[85] when shortly after his excommunication on account of having sacrificed to the idols, he was requested, and in a manner constrained, to preach at Jerusalem. He opened his Bible, Psalm 1:16, “Unto the wicked saith God; why dost thou preach my law?” and was so overcome by the remembrance of his sin, that he closed the book with tears, and melted the whole congregation in sympathy with his sorrow.”[86] Baxter then says, “To preach of regeneration, of faith, when a man has no spiritual understanding of these things, is to talk of the sweetness of honey, when we never tasted it; or of the excellency of such a country, which we were never in, but know by maps only.”[87] The life of the minister should exhibit such a fair and accurate transcript of our doctrine, as may afford a constant remembrance and a powerful support of our public instructions; not only putting the copy before our people, and leaving them to write; but taking the pen, and showing them how to form each letter.[88]

 

Part 3: Chapter 9: The Defect of Family Religion

Bridges quotes Quesnel to begin this chapter, who says that a family is a small diocese, in which the first essays are made of the Episcopal and Ecclesiastical zeal, piety, and prudence.[89] The family should be an exact representation of the church. It should be a model for the church. Domestic religion should be well-ordered and the minister should have made choice decisions on behalf of his divine family. This means a good choice for a wife is essential in the ministry since the wife is going to be at her husband’s side promoting the work of God.[90] Some at this point believe that the church hires the pastor, not his wife. This is practically speaking impossible, for the wife is to be about her husband’s business as the Proverbs 31 woman and is to support her husband as a help-meet in his endeavors to please God in his vocation as well as create a godly family.

 

Part 3: Chapter 10: Want of Faith

All our failures in ministry may be traced back to a lack of faith.[91] For example, Bridges quotes Calvin in a footnote where Calvin says, “Ministers should go up into the pulpit to preach the word of God in his name, with that strength of faith as to be assured, that their doctrine can no more be overthrown than God himself.”[92] Thus, every work the minister engages in is a work of faith.[93] Such then excites the personal assurance of faith as a spring of the minister’s effectiveness in his work.[94]

 

Part 4: Chapter 1: The Institution and Importance of the Ordinance of Preaching

Heavenly mysteries and the will of God are expounded in the act of preaching. Of all people, Erasmus actually gave a very good definition of preaching when he said, “[the Minister] is in the very height of his dignity, when from the pulpit he feeds the Lord’s flock with sacred doctrine.”[95] Bridges says, “Public and continual preaching of God’s word is the ordinary means and instrument of the salvation of mankind. St. Paul calls it “the Ministry of reconciliation” of man unto God. By preaching of God’s word, the glory of God is enlarged, faith is nourished, and charity is increased.”[96]

 

Part 4: Chapter 2: Preparation for the Pulpit

The pastor who has been charged with the ministry by God is to feed his people with knowledge and understanding.[97] Preaching, Bernard says, is not a labor of the lips, and an idle talk of the tongue from a light imagination of the mind; but is indeed an uttering of God’s truth from a serious meditation of the heart, in sound judgment, acquired through God’s blessing by diligent labor and study to profit God’s people. This preaching is of worth, deserves esteem, procures credit to God’s ordinance, will work upon the hearers, and will pierce deeply, as being spoken with authority.[98] Bridges says in this way or preparation for speaking God’s truth, “God will bless our endeavors not our idleness.”[99]

In the composition of sermons the text is to be preached, and the minister is to study to find out what the text says, not to create or find something new. Edward Reynolds warns ministers against a danger closely allied to this, “the vain affectation of finding something new and strange in the plainest texts, which shows pride and wantonness much more than solid learning or judgment.”[100] Porter said, “All instruction must be considered essentially defective, that is not grounded upon the free and full display of the Gospel.”[101] The duty of the minister is to expound God’s mind on the subject, not his own.[102] The sermon is divided into three divisions, to be clear and precise,[103] with main heads that prompt forth the understanding of the text, doctrine and application found in the text. There should be, to achieve maximum effort in communicating God’s mind to the listeners (to their capacity) maximum effort put forth in study.[104]

Attendance on pulpit preparation is godly meditation,[105] and special prayer.[106]  The mind of the minister should be one where he renounces all dependence on his own efforts, meditating on the will or God for the people, and then relying on the Spirit of prayer for his energy and faithfulness in the act of preaching.[107] Massillon again effectively communicates this when he says, “The Minister, who does not habituate himself to devout prayer, will speak only to the ears of his people; because the Spirit of God, who alone knows how to speak to the heart, and who, through the neglect of prayer, not having taken up his abode within him, will not speak by his mouth.”[108] Bridges gives a sample of how preparation should be done by a demonstration of Mr. Mitchel, an American divine quoted by Cotton Mather, which I quote here in full:

 

When he was going to compose a sermon, he began with prayer; thinking [how might I study this passage well?] He then read over the text in the original, and weighed the language of the Holy Ghost. If any difficulty occurred in the interpretation, he was wary, how he ran against the stream of the most solid interpreters, whom he still consulted. He was then desirous to draw forth his doctrines, and perhaps other heads of his discourse, at the beginning of the week, that so his occasional thoughts might be useful thereunto. And he would ordinarily improve his own meditations to shape his discourse, before he would consult any other authors who treated on the subjects, that so their notions might serve only to adorn and correct his own. Lastly, having finished his composure, he concluded with a thanksgiving to the Lord his Helper.[109]

 

This example aptly illustrates a completeness of pulpit preparation — including careful study, close meditation, and fervent prayer, that we may set aside all crude and indigested matter, and bring forth from our treasure-house solid, and edifying food.

 

Part 4: Chapter 3: The Scriptural Mode of Preaching the Law

Preaching the Law of God is a constituent part of preaching the Gospel well. The Law demonstrates God as holy, and man as sinful, needing to conform to God’s holy measure.[110] The precepts and penalty of the Law demonstrates the work and need of the Messiah and Savior.[111] It brings the hearer up to the point that they see their need of the Savior and his work on their behalf. Later, this same Law serves as a rule for life, demonstrating God’s holy character and the Christian’s need to be “perfect” as God is “perfect.”[112] It supplies the Christian with a daily standard of holiness and sanctification. The Law is the condemning power of God which leads the sinner to Christ and his work, keeping in harmony with the divine statues and judgments against the unconverted, to guide them toward holy repentance and conversion.[113] In this way the Law is a preparation for the Gospel.[114] Augustine said, “The conscience cannot be healed unless it is first wounded.”[115] This, then, shows how those who desire to reject the Law have missed the connection between the Law and the Gospel; all the puritans adhered to this in their preaching and did this in a systematic manner.[116]

 

Part 4: Chapter 4: The Scriptural Preaching of the Gospel

Preaching the Gospel is the one mode of preaching that God has promised to bless.[117] Greenham said, “When the word is administered in any power and sincerity, there doubtless the preaching of the law strikes in, and the preaching of the Gospel bringeth us unto Christ.” This is not the same as using Christ’s name every few seconds.[118] Instead, preaching Christ well will transform and turn the hearers towards a remarkable reformation.[119] Nothing but the truth of the Gospel can be instrumental to the conversion of souls.[120] Christ crucified is the soul of the Gospel.[121] But this is not all of the Gospel. The guilt, corruption, and ruin of man by the fall — his free and full justification through faith in the atoning blood and meritorious obedience of the Redeemer — his adoption by faith into the family of God — the holy nature and evidences of this faith — the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit in the work of regeneration, progressive sanctification, and in all his offices of holy and heavenly consolation — these are cardinal points of a full and explicit declaration of the Gospel.[122] No sermon that the minister produces should not at some point shun any doctrine that lives in connection with the Bible or Gospel.[123] In this the minister should open the whole of their message without reservation.[124] But, in opening the message, his doctrinal points should be made simple,[125] connected,[126] and unfettered and clear,[127] precisely demonstrating the person of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

One of the most neglected aspects of contemporary preaching is experimental preaching. Christian experience is the influence of doctrinal truth upon the mind.[128] But as Bridges warns in this way of preaching, “Much caution and Christian wisdom however is here required to adopt this style of preaching with advantage.”[129] When the minister weaves into the sermon remedies and application using personal acquaintance and experience with the doctrine taught, this excites a personal interest in the privileges of the sermon for the hearer.[130] John Brown said, “Any little knowledge of my own heart, and of the Lord’s dealings with my own soul, hath helped me much in my sermons; and 1 have observed, that I have been apt to deliver that which I had experienced, in a more feeling and earnest manner, than other matters.”[131] What makes this so powerful is that experimental preaching makes practical Christian experience suitable to all alike.[132]

The connection of practical preaching with doctrinal preaching is the bridge between the doctrine taken from the text and the text applied.[133] It is not enough to simply explain doctrinal matters, which in turn make preachers lecturers, but they must have practical consideration. Bridges says, “The practice of religion will always thrive, in proportion as its doctrines are generally understood and firmly received; and the practice will degenerate and decay, in proportion as the doctrine is misunderstood and neglected.”[134] Doctrine cannot be preached without practice. Partial preaching will produce partial hearers who have a great ear to hear doctrine, but it will be useless to them because they do not know how to practice it.[135] In this there must be specific application for the usefulness of the hearer.[136] It is a misuse of preaching to assume the Holy Spirit will in turn apply the Scriptures aside from the preaching which includes application. Bridges says, “We must not expect our hearers to apply to themselves such unpalatable truths.”[137] Bridges says, “The exigency of the case demands this applicatory preaching. Nothing rouses to consideration, but the sight of a man’s own heart lay open before him. Until he feels the Preacher aim the blow at himself, he will continue the customary routine of attendance without uneasiness, and therefore without profit; so important is it to reduce preaching from vague generalities to a real, tangible, individual character, coming home to every man’s business, and even to his bosom.”[138] In this the doctrine of the sermon requires wisdom, and the application requires earnestness.[139] Robinson said to a minister, “You have been preaching a half an hour without one direct word aimed at the conscience.”[140]

Such preaching will also distinguish between varying types of hearers to the sermon. A defect in discrimination in this way can greatly impede, Bridges says, “our success.”[141]

 

Part 4: Chapter 5: The Mode of Scriptural Preaching

There are really only two acceptable modes of preaching: topical and expository. Topical is to gather certain important aspects of a given biblical topic and lay out a sermon or sermons to the end of understanding that topic. Expository is comprehensive and connected running through a book or text in order for the purpose of understanding that text in that locale.

Sermons can be of two kinds, extempore and written. Extempore is to follow a short outline, or a short memorized outline, and fill out the words and body as the sermon progresses on the spot. Written is when the sermon is more fully written down and ordered. Robinson says, “Let no man attempt to preach without book, till he has patiently written all, and the whole of his discourses for seven years.”[142] Bridges says that “we must admit of the advantages of written composition,”[143] which avoids repetition, confusing arrangements, shows precision, and an orderly style. This is of course unless the minister has never been trained in a logical style, and then such won’t matter at all. It will be a mess either way. A note should be made, which Bridges uses,[144] that a written sermon done over and over, and repeatedly read before the delivery, will sound like an extemporaneous discourse.

 

Part 4: Chapter 6: The Spirit of Scriptural Preaching

Scriptural preaching should afford boldness with a fence of warning on one side and encouragement on the other.[145] This should be linked to wisdom profitably directing the hearers to some end.[146] But without a just and connected view of the truth of the bible one cannot preach Christ with wisdom.[147]  This is why there is a difference between Scriptural doctrines and Scriptural statements. One is given in the lecture and the other is given in a sermon. The minister must be aware that in his bold wisdom of preaching, he suits the messages to varying levels of Christian sanctification to be sure not to leave any hearer behind.[148] So, though sermons are to be bold and wise, they are also plain.[149]  Even in the midst of difficult biblical doctrine, the prophets were commanded to “make it plain” (Hab. 2:2) in their pronouncements. Bridges says, “A plain style is most for the expression of plain things.”[150] The vanity of learned preaching is proved by unproductiveness.[151] The most holy preachers are commonly the plainest and the most successful.[152] Preaching should also take on the character which most lack today, besides boldness, which is fervency.[153] This was the spirit of Christ and the Apostles, and many great preachers through history, such as Whitefield.[154] Nothing indeed can be more repugnant to the simple dignity of the Ministerial character, than attempt at theatrical display, or affectation of emotion, that has no correspondence with the heart.[155] Lacking this is lacking spiritual efficiency.[156]

With fervency comes diligence as a trait which embodies Scriptural preaching. Diligence is to preach the word as constantly as possible as Christ and the Apostles did,[157] in singleness of heart to bring forth the glory of God, and not ourselves, in the work accomplished.[158] This in turn should flow from love, both to God and to the flock the minister is over. Love should pervade the entirety of their ministry.[159] Bridges says, “The Christian Ministry bears upon it the grand distinctive mark of love. It exhibits salvation flowing from the bosom of Divine mercy.”[160]

 

Part 5: Chapter 1: The Nature and Importance of Pastoral Work

Bridges well defines Pastoral Work as, “the personal application of the pulpit Ministry to the proper individualities of our people — looking upon them severally, as having a distinct and separate claim upon our attention, cares, and anxiety; urging each of them, as far as possible, to the concerns of eternity; and commending to their hearts a suitable exhibition and offer of salvation.”[161] As Christ cared for the sheep, and sought them out, so the minister does the same caring for them as he is the ambassador of Christ.[162] There lies the Scriptural obligation to prepare for preaching, and yet to have ministry from “house to house.”[163] It serves to have acquaintance with them,[164] and preserve them from schism, and the maintenance of Christian unity among them.[165] It aids to gain their confidence, and draws both the pastor and the people closer together.[166] Bridges even suggests meeting with more wealthy family members once a month to see what can be done for the poor.[167]

 

Part 5: Chapter 2: Treatment of Cases in Pastoral Work

The Banner of Truth edition of the works stops on this chapter, outlining 9 types of people in the church that the minister will need to deal with. First, is the infidel who wants to be persuaded there is no God because he does not want one.[168] Second, is the ignorant and careless, who need to be made aware of their aggravated guilt of rejecting of the Savior.[169] Third, is the self-righteous who need to understand the Law better, and then consequently be brought to the Savior after a measure of guilt is experienced.[170] Fourth, is the false professor, who has heard the story a million times, but has not “embraced it.”[171] Some people, fifthly, have natural and spiritual convictions which need to be fanned into a flame.[172] Sixthly, is the young Christian who needs to be given milk, but needs to be taught the full and explicit exhibition of the Savior.[173] Seventh, is the backslider who must be reminded of his first love and positioned again in the state of continued repentance.[174] Eighthly, is the unestablished Christian who really does not know what he believes to any great extent, and a spiritual inventory must be made with that person to guide them onto the right track.[175] Finally, is the confirmed and constant Christian who needs to be continually taught and fed, and who brings a conscious trepidation to the minister who is looking out for their soul to be sure they do not steer them in a wrong way or direction.[176]

 

At this point the R.B. Seeley and W. Burnside edition of the 1830 version of the work is referenced.

 

Part 5: Chapter 3: The Visitation of the Sick

Bridges says, “We need scarcely remark the importance of this Divinely-appointed work.”[177] Perhaps nowhere are the faith and seriousness of conscientious Ministers more painfully exercised, and no where do they realize more sensibly the importance of “rightly dividing the word of truth.”[178] Ministers take time to prepare their discourses for the pulpit, and yet take so little pains to prepare for what they should say to the sick, or how to conduct their visits to them.[179] The ministerial approach to the sick should be in the garb of a friend, having an aim is often unconnected in his mind with any definite prospect of benefit except godly counsel and encouragement.[180] Such benefit for visitation may not be immediate, and oftentimes takes a long, tedious amount of work.[181] Bridges says, “The importance of Ministerial faithfulness cannot be too highly estimated. This is not a time for common-place topics of trifling, or for “prophesying smooth things.” The emaciated countenance, the symptoms of death, mourning relations around the sufferer, call indeed loudly for tenderness.”[182] Such visitations should be concluded with short, but serious prayer.[183]

 

Part 5: Chapter 4: Pastoral Ministry of the Young

Bridges begins with Baxter and Doddridge in this chapter, where Doddridge has a choice quote, “I will often make it my humble prayer, that God would teach me to speak to children in such a manner, as may make early impressions of religion upon their hearts.”[184] Baxter spent considerable time house to house catechizing children, and families with great success. Brown says, “I lament, that I have not been more diligent in catechizing and exhorting the children in my congregation.” This applies to taking care toward children in teaching in its various administrations such as in Sunday School.[185] Bridges says, “As the immediate result [of Sunday School], the pulpit Ministry becomes more intelligible and interesting.” It is a bridge from one to the other for the young.[186] The lessons should be selected from the simplest parts of Scripture, for nothing is more important in the Sunday School system, than a clear and interesting view of Christian doctrine.[187] The minister should oversee the content, the teachers and the schedule for various classes, and a monthly meeting should be done in order to keep the school on track.[188] The ages may vary, but there is special attention to the very young, or what Bridges calls, “Infant School.” He quotes Wilson saying, “The first seven years are the seed-time of life.”[189] Very young children should be taught according to their capacities. He relies on Wilson for much of the information in this section, as well as the “weekly schools” which can be helpful if the church has the ability to fund such operations.[190] The purpose of all this is to make “hopeful impressions” in the young toward the Gospel and a life of godliness before Jesus Christ.[191]

Equally important as the young are in the church, is considering the young man. The minister must have a plan to engage the hearts and mind of young men in the course of the activities of the church.[192] Bridge counsels the reader to consider Cotton Mather’s “Essays to Do Good” for a plan to engage young men in the church.[193] He also uses the idea of “confirmation” of children into the visible body in order to partake of all the ordinances of the church based on their outward profession.[194] He also warns against a parent’s misunderstanding of confirming a child, being sure to demonstrate their conversion well, and entrance to the Lord’s Supper as a result.[195] Bridges warns, “But we cannot shut our eyes to the lamentable fact, that a vast majority of those, who offer themselves as candidates for Confirmation, are alike ignorant of its nature, and unimpressed with its obligations.”[196] A remedy for this is faithful catechistical instruction.[197] To keep a record of what is transpiring in this aspect of ministry, Bridges recommends keeping a memorandum book to enter minutes of conversation with candidates for confirmation affording many useful and interesting recollections.[198]

 

Part 5: Chapter 5: Sacramental Instruction

The dispensing of the sacraments is considered as one of the most important parts of our ministry, and they are defined as the seal of the righteousness of faith.[199] They are truly called the visible word, as representing to our eyes by visible signs, what in the word is spoken to our ears.[200] They are therefore a most useful confirmation of our faith, as the seal and word of God, that in the exercise of faith we shall as surely be partakers of Christ, and of all the benefits of the covenant, as we are of its outward signs. Parents ought to be sure they understand what they are doing in offering children to be baptized. They should understand what they do, in binding themselves and their children to the service of God — and why they do it — in conformity to the terms of the covenant, and to the will and appointment of God — as the renewal of their own personal covenant; and as their pledge, that their children shall be the Lord’s for ever.[201] In baptism they have entrance into the church, and later, as communicants, they are allowed to the supper for their growth.[202]

 

 

Part 5: Chapter 6: Clerical and Church Communion

The communion of saints was ordained of God for the accomplishment of some of the highest privileges of the Gospel. The neglect of it is consequently connected with the absence or low enjoyment of these privileges.[203] In clerical communion, union in spirit, counsel, prayer, and service among the Ministers of Christ, by every practicable means, will at all times, operate with a most beneficial energy on our work.[204]

The Scriptural idea of a Church is that of one body animated by one soul in the fellowship of the Gospel, (Acts 2:41-47).[205] The full preaching of the Gospel is the grand cementing bond of true communion, and will press the church forward in unity and edification. The minister must guard against opposition to unity. Even in the primitive age of simplicity and godliness, a harvest of tares sprung up, where better seed needed to be sown.[206] The minister should strive to excite the serious members of his congregation towards a particular interest in each other’s spiritual welfare.[207]

 

Part 5: Chapter 7: The Office and Use of Helpers

Bridges says, “It was never intended, that the Minister should sustain the whole weight of the service of God.”[208] The church must rely on each other to see the ministry of the church as healthy and Scriptural.[209] There is no better stimulant to personal religion, than active devotedness to the spiritual needs of our fellow-sinners.[210] Bridges summarizes this section well when he says, “Lay-agency is of incalculable moment. A Minister cannot undertake everything himself. He must not fritter away his time. He must not widen too much his field of personal effort. He must concentrate, he must influence, he must be the center to a hundred hands and minds moving around him.”[211] Bridges suggests a well ordered structure to lay-help having various committees towards the end of making sure the church is successful in all its labors.[212] But he warns, “It must however be remembered, that helpers are not Ministers.”[213]

 

Part 5: Chapter 8: Miscellaneous

He adds into this section the importance of adult Sunday School,[214] a parochial library,[215] and the use of Cottage Readings.[216] He also makes mention of Missionary and Bible Associations for the furtherance and work of the ministry.[217]

 

Part 6: Chapter 1: Recollections of the Christian Ministry

The purpose of this section is to recall a few of the exercises of our mind, and to concentrate them in some fixed and permanent impressions.[218] This is really a section dedicated to a self-examination of sorts for the reader to consider their place, or not, in pastoral ministry. Consider the following questions by Bridges: Do we honor our work?[219] Do we feel the responsibility of our work?[220] He furthers the last question by asking, what is our personal sympathy with this awful sense of responsibility? How do we feel with regard to our talents?[221] How does our example speak as a most responsible part of our office?[222] I find the next question rather important towards those ministers which seem to have a monotonous ministry, do we earnestly desire and expect success in our work?[223] Are we laying ourselves out for our work?[224] Does the Spirit of love characterize our Ministrations?[225] Do we pray for our flock?[226]

Bridges ends with this, “Let us, then, adopt as our own, the words of that most eminent servant of God, Moses, when praying for the display of the Divine power and glory to his people Israel, “Make us glad according to THE DAYS WHEREIN THOU HAST AFFLICTED US, AND THE YEARS WHEREIN WE HAVE SEEN EVIL. LET THY WORK APPEAR UNTO THY SERVANTS, AND THY GLORY UNTO THEIR CHILDREN. LET THE BEAUTY OF THE LORD OUR GOD BE UPON US; AND ESTABLISH THOU THE WORK OF OUR HANDS UPON US; YEA, THE WORK OF OUR HANDS ESTABLISH THOU IT,” (Psalm 90:15-17).[227]

 

 

[1] Bridges, Charles, The Christian Ministry with an Inquiry into the Causes of Its Inefficiency, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 1.

[2] Page 3. See Acts 6:1-6, 14:23, 20:28.

[3] Page 4.

[4] Page 5.

[5] Page 6.

[6] Page 7.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Page 8.

[9] Hooker, book v. 76. Page 8.

[10] Page 9.

[11] Book v. 76. Page 10 footnote.

[12] Page 12.

[13] Venn’s Sermons, volume 1, page 9.

[14] Page 15.

[15] Page 18.

[16] Page 20.

[17] Pages 20-21.

[18] Page 21.

[19] Page 22.

[20] Page 23.

[21] Page 24, quoting Newton’s Works, volume 5 page 62.

[22] Page 26.

[23] Page 28.

[24] Page 28 footnote.

[25] Page 30.

[26] Page 31.

[27] Hinton, John Howard on the Completeness of Ministerial Qualification (1923), pages 11-12.

[28] Page 31 footnote.

[29] Page 33.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Page 34.

[32] Page 36.

[33] Page 39.

[34] Page 40.

[35] Page 42.

[36] Page 45. He notes Secker in the footnote at length. And also mentions an excellent quote by Thomas Shepard concerning the minister’s time, “Abhor one hour of idleness, as you would be ashamed of one hour of drunkenness.” Life of Mr. Thomas Shepard, in Mather’s New England, Book IV.

[37] Page 49.

[38] Page 50.

[39] Page 53.

[40] Page 58.

[41] Page 60.

[42] Page 64.

[43] Page 66.

[44] Page 73.

[45] Page 73.

[46] Page 75.

[47] Page 77.

[48] Page 79.

[49] Page 81.

[50] Quoted by Charnock in a footnote. Page 81.

[51] Page 83.

[52] Pages 83-84.

[53] Page 84.

[54] Page 86.

[55] Pages 87-89.

[56] Page 90.

[57] Page 91.

[58] Pages 91-92.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Page 94.

[61] Pages 94-95.

[62] Page 96.

[63] Page 99.

[64] Page 100.

[65] Page 106.

[66] Page 107.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Page 111, footnote.

[69] Pages 118-119.

[70] Page 121.

[71] Page 122.

[72] Page 124.

[73] Page 126.

[74] Page 127.

[75] Page 128.

[76] Page 131.

[77] Page 132.

[78] Page 135.

[79] Page 138.

[80] Pages 143-144.

[81] Page 147.

[82] Page 147, footnote, quoting Pastoral Care, chap. viii.

[83] Page 153.

[84] Page 156.

[85] I have this lamentation on A Puritan’s Mind here http://www.apuritansmind.com/pastors-study/falling-into-sin-the-plight-of-a-defective-minister-considering-psalm-5016-17-by-origen/

[86] Page 157.

[87] Page 157, footnote.

[88] Page 159.

[89] Page 165.

[90] Page 172.

[91] Page 173.

[92] Page 174, quoting Calvin’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3.

[93] Page 178.

[94] Page 180.

[95] Page 190.

[96] Page 189.

[97] Page 193.

[98] Page 193, footnote.

[99] Page 194.

[100] Page 196. Footnote, Sermon on Self-denial, Works, p. 810.

[101] Ibid, footnote.

[102] Page 200.

[103] Page 203.

[104] Page 207.

[105] Page 208.

[106] Page 212.

[107] Page 215.

[108] Page 217.

[109] Page 219.

[110] Page 224.

[111] Page 225.

[112] Page 225.

[113] Page 231.

[114] Page 232.

[115] Page 233. Quoting Augustine in a sermon on Psalm 59.

[116] Page 238.

[117] Page 240.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Page 242.

[120] Page 243.

[121] Page 246.

[122] Page 247.

[123] Page 250.

[124] Page 252.

[125] Ibid.

[126] Page 253.

[127] Page 255.

[128] Page 259.

[129] Ibid.

[130] Page 260.

[131] Ibid, footnote.

[132] Page 262.

[133] Page 264.

[134] Ibid.

[135] Page 268.

[136] Page 269.

[137] Page 270.

[138] Page 271.

[139] Page 273.

[140] Page 275, footnote.

[141] Page 280.

[142] Page 287.

[143] Page 289.

[144] Page 292, footnote 2.

[145] Page 299.

[146] Ibid.

[147] Page 301. This is where the analogy of faith is seen usefully in the preparation of the sermon.

[148] Pages 304-305.

[149] Page 309.

[150] Page 311.

[151] Page 314.

[152] Consider Pilgrim’s Progress.

[153] Page 318.

[154] Page 319.

[155] Page 320.

[156] Page 321.

[157] Page 324.

[158] Page 330.

[159] Page 333.

[160] Ibid.

[161] Page 344.

[162] Page 347.

[163] Page 348.

[164] Page 349.

[165] Page 350.

[166] Page 353.

[167] Page 355.

[168] Page 361.

[169] Page 364.

[170] Page 365.

[171] Page 367.

[172] Page 369.

[173] Page 372.

[174] Page 376.

[175] Page 378.

[176] Page 379.

[177] Bridges, Charles, The Christian Ministry with an Inquiry into the Causes of Its Inefficiency, (London: R.B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1830), 508.

[178] Ibid.

[179] Page 509.

[180] Page 510.

[181] Page 512.

[182] Page 513.

[183] Page 515.

[184] Page 519.

[185] Page 520.

[186] Page 522.

[187] Page 528.

[188] Page 533.

[189] Page 538.

[190] Page 543.

[191] Page 547.

[192] Page 550.

[193] Page 552.

[194] Page 557.

[195] Page 559.

[196] Page 561.

[197] Page 563.

[198] Page 571.

[199] Page 577.

[200] Ibid.

[201] Page 582.

[202] Page 584.

[203] Page 586.

[204] Page 589.

[205] Page 590.

[206] Page 597.

[207] Page 600. See Bridge’s notation of Walker’s Tract “Practical Christianity” for some helpful points of organization.

[208] Page 602.

[209] See Exodus 18:13ff.

[210] Page 606.

[211] Ibid.

[212] Page 611.

[213] Page 612.

[214] Page 616.

[215] Page 617.

[216] Page 619. This is going house to house for the purpose of visitation and instruction.

[217] Page 620.

[218] Page 623.

[219] Page 629.

[220] Page 631.

[221] Page 633.

[222] Page 634.

[223] Page 637.

[224] Page 641. Duties are ours— events are God’s.

[225] Page 646. I may conscientiously take the wages for the work, when I have a distinct consciousness, that I would do the work without the wages. – Adams.

[226] Page 655. Fleming mentions the earnestness of Mr. John Welch— often in the coldest winter nights rising for prayer, found weeping on the ground, and wrestling with the Lord on account of his people, and saying to his wife, when she pressed him for an explanation of his distress, “I have the souls of 3000 to answer for, while I know not how it is with many of them.” – John Welch.

[227] Page 661.

Bible Verse:

"...pray without ceasing," (1 Thess. 5:17).

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