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Pastoral Book Reviews - Pastoral Sketches

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By and more or less unknown author, this book is actually a gem among pastoral theology resources.

Pastoral Book Reviews – Pastoral Sketches
Reviewed by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Pastoral Sketches
Conversation’s with Anxious Souls Concerning the Way of Salvation Two Volumes in One
by Ichabod Spencer

There are few books that adequately deal with Pastoral occasions. For example, in seminary you will learn where the Ten Commandments reside, but little about how they practically apply to the life of the church. In this treasured volume you will not only taste an autobiographical account of a Pastor’s dealings with the flock, or the encounters with seekers, but an applied pastoral theology in action. And this is not simply a selected group of touchy-feely human instances to warm the soul. It is an exposition of a faithful pastor’s mind laid out in theological and biblical methodology for troubled souls. It is a teaching tool for ministers who think they know what pastoral theology is all about. For after reading through Spencer’s volume, they will soon learn that they have much to learn.

Ichabod Spencer was known as the “Bunyan of Brooklyn.” In my estimation, John Bunyan was one of the greatest Pastors of all time. Why is this? – because his work “Pilgrim’s Progress” is still warming hearts today through its pastoral application of divine truth. Spencer, in gaining such a renown nickname, is no small advocate of Pastoral application in the lives of those he had been providentially apportioned. He was Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn from 1832-1854. He was persuaded that visitation was key to Pastoral success. (Such a sentiment was no small matter in the ministry of Richard Baxter as well, and look at his ministry!) For how could a faithful under-shepherd watch over his flock unless he was intimately acquainted with the flock? As a result of these visitations and encounters, he penned this book as a consequence of relentless prodding from his ministerial friends and congregation.

The methodology of this book is worth its weight in gold. I have rarely seen books of this sort. Most of the time they lie hidden in the depth of long theological works that the student of divinity must dig and collect, as the portions become known. However, in this book, it is all at the surface, begging to be read by those who desire a Pastoral theology that is not only orthodox in doctrine, but applicable today. Pastoral ministry cannot be the same in any elder’s work after reading this book coupled with prayer. It is easy to simply read a book of this sort, but another matter all together to put such practice into action in holiness and godliness. It is evident that God graced Pastor Spencer with vivid insight into knowing the nature of common men, united with a sharp theological sense in which he applied the Bible in such diverse situations.

Spencer spends 40 chapters dealing with a variety of people, young and old, from those lost to those weak in faith, from those dying of illness to those skeptics who rail against the Gospel. What does the Pastor do when confronted with those who live in despair? What do Pastors say when people believe they cannot be saved? How should a Pastor conduct himself around those who have never heard the Gospel – what would be the best course of conversation with such people? How much should be said when witnessing? Or preaching? Not only do these, and many more, questions yield vivid answers from Spencer’s pen, but he also makes notes to those reading the book at the end of each chapter. His desire is not simply to portray autobiographical accounts, but to teach the reader why such accounts have taken place. Here young pastors should find this book extraordinarily helpful.

Among Pastoral books, this one is necessary reading. I commend Solid Ground Books for pulling it off the antiquated shelf. Pastors, sell your good suit jacket to obtain a copy if you must. It would be better to visit the flock missing a suit jacket, than the material needed to counsel them as a responsible elder which is found bursting through the pages of this book. It is heartily helpful – a pastoral must!

Some Quotes:

Many convicted sinners are kept from salvation but some mere trifle. It is important to remove the obstacle. They will not likely to seek God in earnest till that is done.

A true history of spurious revivals would be one of the most melancholy books ever written.

My observation continues to confirm me more and more in the opinion that to experience religions to experience the truth of the great doctrines of divine grace.

Convicted sinners are very poor judges of what “will do them good.”

No man can preach so powerfully as the Holy Spirit. It is vastly important to know when to stop. The divine writers understood this. They are perfect examples. Their silence is to be imitated, as well as their utterance.

Decision is a vastly important matter with a convicted sinner. The Bible treats it as such: “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” A sinner must choose, or he must be lost. Nobody else can choose for him. Nothing can excise him from doing this duty at once. Of he will not do it, he may expect the Divine Spirit to depart from him, and leave him to his own way.

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