E.M. Bounds on the Kind of Man Preachers Need to Be

It was Robert Murray M’Cheyne who penned the immortal lines “It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

That sentiment remains just as true 168 years later but the lesson still needs to be learned by the church. Are we perhaps guilty of thinking that all that is needed to make a good preacher is charisma, people skills, and a seminary education? Have we too been deluded into thinking that the ingredients that make a great salesman or CEO will also inevitably make a great pastor? Or do we believe that if we could just find the right methods and programs we could overcome all our personal weaknesses? Certainly if we look at the broadly evangelical church, we’d find copious examples of that kind of thinking. But what was it that made great preachers in the New Testament? Well, it wasn’t education alone. With the exception of Paul most of the Apostles were uneducated men. It also wasn’t programs, personality, charm, or business acumen that spread the gospel. Rather the Apostles were above all men of prayer and holiness who strove simply to minister like their Master and to be conformed to His image. I am convinced that one of the greatest weaknesses even in Reformed churches is a lack of men of the apostolic mold. To piggy-back on the title of a book by John Piper, we have far too many “professionals” and far too few humble men of prayer and piety. As EM Bounds points out in the following article, men of that type are desperately needed if we are ever to see revival…

Men of Prayer Needed

Study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this, for your sermons last but an hour or two; your life preaches all the week. If Satan can only make a covetous minister a lover of praise, of pleasure, of good eating, he has ruined your ministry. Give yourself to prayer, and get your texts, your thoughts, your words from God. Luther spent his best three hours in prayer.—Robert Murray McCheyne

We are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organizations to advance the Church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” The dispensation that heralded and prepared the way for Christ was bound up in that man John. … When God declares that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him,” he declares the necessity of men and his dependence on them as a channel through which to exert his power upon the world. This vital, urgent truth is one that this age of machinery is apt to forget. The forgetting of it is as baneful on the work of God as would be the striking of the sun from his sphere. Darkness, confusion, and death would ensue.

What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer.

The character as well as the fortunes of the gospel is committed to the preacher. He makes or mars the message from God to man. The preacher is the golden pipe through which the divine oil flows. The pipe must not only be golden, but open and flawless, that the oil may have a full, unhindered, unwasted flow.

The man makes the preacher. God must make the man. The messenger is, if possible, more than the message. The preacher is more than the sermon. The preacher makes the sermon. As the life–giving milk from the mother’s bosom is but the mother’s life, so all the preacher says is tinctured, impregnated by what the preacher is. The treasure is in earthen vessels, and the taste of the vessel impregnates and may discolor. The man, the whole man, lies behind the sermon. Preaching is not the performance of an hour. It is the outflow of a life. It takes twenty years to make a sermon, because it takes twenty years to make the man. The true sermon is a thing of life. The sermon grows because the man grows. The sermon is forceful because the man is forceful. The sermon is holy because the man is holy. The sermon is full of the divine unction because the man is full of the divine unction.

The sermon cannot rise in its life–giving forces above the man. Dead men give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill. Everything depends on the spiritual character of the preacher. Under the Jewish dispensation the high priest had inscribed in jeweled letters on a golden frontlet: “Holiness to the Lord.” So every preacher in Christ’s ministry must be molded into and mastered by this same holy motto. It is a crying shame for the Christian ministry to fall lower in holiness of character and holiness of aim than the Jewish priesthood. Jonathan Edwards said: “I went on with my eager pursuit after more holiness and conformity to Christ. The heaven I desired was a heaven of holiness.” The gospel of Christ does not move by popular waves. It has no self–propagating power. It moves as the men who have charge of it move. The preacher must impersonate the gospel. Its divine, most distinctive features must be embodied in him. The constraining power of love must be in the preacher as a projecting, eccentric, an all–commanding, self–oblivious force. The energy of self–denial must be his being, his heart and blood and bones. He must go forth as a man among men, clothed with humility, abiding in meekness, wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove; the bonds of a servant with the spirit of a king, a king in high, royal, in dependent bearing, with the simplicity and sweetness of a child. The preacher must throw himself, with all the abandon of a perfect, self–emptying faith and a self–consuming zeal, into his work for the salvation of men. Hearty, heroic, compassionate, fearless martyrs must the men be who take hold of and shape a generation for God. If they be timid time servers, place seekers, if they be men pleasers or men fearers, if their faith has a weak hold on God or his Word, if their denial be broken by any phase of self or the world, they cannot take hold of the Church nor the world for God.

The preacher’s sharpest and strongest preaching should be to himself. His most difficult, delicate, laborious, and thorough work must be with himself. The training of the twelve was the great, difficult, and enduring work of Christ. Preachers are not sermon makers, but men makers and saint makers, and he only is well–trained for this business who has made himself a man and a saint. It is not great talents nor great learning nor great preachers that God needs, but men great in holiness, great in faith, great in love, great in fidelity, great for God—men always preaching by holy sermons in the pulpit, by holy lives out of it. These can mold a generation for God.
…The preaching man is to be the praying man. Prayer is the preacher’s mightiest weapon. An almighty force in itself, it gives life and force to all.

The real sermon is made in the closet. The man—God’s man—is made in the closet. His life and his profoundest convictions were born in his secret communion with God. The burdened and tearful agony of his spirit, his weightiest and sweetest messages were got when alone with God. Prayer makes the man; prayer makes the preacher; prayer makes the pastor.

The pulpit of this day is weak in praying. The pride of learning is against the dependent humility of prayer. Prayer is with the pulpit too often only official—a performance for the routine of service. Prayer is not to the modern pulpit the mighty force it was in Paul’s life or Paul’s ministry. Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God’s cause in this world. – EM Bounds


About Andrew Webb

I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian through bible study and the influence of ministries like RC Sproul's. After teaching in local bible studies, and taking seminary courses part time, I began to feel called to the ministry in 1997. I was Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in Hatboro, PA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina Presbytery in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor/Church Planter for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor
This entry was posted in Old School Presbyterian Churches, Pastoral Theology, Piety, Prayer, Preaching. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to E.M. Bounds on the Kind of Man Preachers Need to Be

  1. Joshua L. says:

    Maybe it’s just an overreaction to too much pietistic evangelicalism, but I’m a bit nervous tying a sermon’s efficacy to the preacher’s piety. I understand that Bounds is not saying that piety is all that is needed, but too many churches go off merely because they have the false dichotomy between mind and heart. What occurs with such a dichotomy is not necessarily wrong doctrine (although I’m sure that it’s not often absent), but the de-emphasis on doctrine. It becomes a means to a better quiet-time, or a better “walk with God” to become more like Christ, rather than something that points us to Christ as the one who was obedient and perfectly pious for us.

    I’m with Warfield, it’s not spending more time in prayer opposed to studying, but studying on your knees!

    I guess it’s a bit like the Donatist controversy. In the end I’d say that the efficacy of a sermon doesn’t come from the piety of the preacher, but from the clear preaching of law and gospel (no matter how much the pastor fails to spend time in his closet). Of course, I’m not saying that pastors shouldn’t pray; all I’m saying is that God doesn’t work through preachers on account of anything in them. Wherever the word is clearly preached (i.e. law and gospel) and the sacraments properly administered, that is where a true church can be (i.e. a place where God meets his people).

    Anyway, there’s my two cents!

  2. Joshua L. says:

    “can be found”* on that last part!

  3. Andrew Webb says:

    Hi Joshua,

    Thanks you for your comments.

    The Apostles in Acts 6:4 in explaining why they could not afford to “wait tables” and do the work of deacons stated “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Most Reformed commentators have seen that order as deliberate, and indeed critical. They were first and foremost men of constant prayer who knew that they if the gospel was to succeed it would only be because their sovereign Lord had blessed it and made it effectual. Therefore they threw themselves into the business of prayer, and followed the Lord Jesus Christ’s advice to be importunate with their requests. Ceaselessly asking for what He had revealed was in keeping with His will.

    Unfortunately today we have a broadly evangelical church that is for the most part, prayer-less. Congregational prayer has been dropped from many church services or reduced to a few glib lines. In one church I visited last year, the preacher’s prayers were actually finished by the time I had bowed my head, closed my eyes and prepared to pray. Worse, surveys indicate that most pastors these days have nothing that could be described as regular times of private prayer and certainly the kind of importunate, ceaseless prayer that marked out the Apostles or the giants of the Christian faith is virtually gone from our midst. I am well aware that many evangelicals place a premium on “quiet times” but when you analyze what they actually consist of – a few minutes of tick box prayer, a few minutes of devotional reading often in something like “Our Daily Bread” then we recognize that this is something of a starvation diet. Rather than scoffing at what little personal devotions evangelicals do get done, should we not be appalled that there is so little meditation, so little time in the closet, so little devotional reading of truly great convicting and edifying material?

    The Reformed are not immune to this disease, and worse we seem to have picked up a bug that translates “piety” into “pietism” whenever we see it. We are long on debate, discussion, and blogging, and very short on personal holiness. That’s not only visible in our pastors, it’s visible in our congregations. I’m convinced that one of the reasons that Christian Sabbath keeping is so dismally uncommon in Presbyterian circles is that the primary benefit of this discipline – personal and familial growth in grace and holiness – isn’t a big priority with us. We can see our need for intellectual development, but fail to see our stifling deficiencies in fellowship, prayer, evangelism, sanctification and so on. We have too many members who have a better than average grasp of literature and history and too little private acquaintance with wrestling with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in prayer. I’m convinced that this is one of the reasons why the work of so many “great reformed minds” is having so little effect. Brother, please believe me that I’ve seen sound preaching of law and gospel do no more than flop around on the floor like so many dying fish because it lacked the unction,zeal and application to individual hearts that only God can provide. Sometimes I think we too are prone to trusting in the quality of our weapons and forgetting that “Salvation belongs to the Lord” and that unless He blesses us the largest of armies and the best of chariots will not triumph.

    Let us beware of making a false dichotomy between holiness and learning, and instead remember that without holiness, learning will be of no avail, for without the fear of the Lord you don’t even have the beginning of wisdom.

  4. Andrew Duggan says:

    wrestling with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in prayer.

    Thanks for that! Jacob wrestled all night with Christ and did not give up until he received the blessing he sought. We, on the other hand, can hardly muster 30 seconds of prayer before Dinner.

  5. Josh says:

    God can accomplish His purposes through the instrument of His choosing. I’ve always marveled that such precious promises/prophecies were spoken through the mouth of Balaam, who taught Balak to cause Israel to sin. But only a fool (I use this term according to the biblical wisdom literature) would desire to be a Balaam, since God ordered His execution because of His unholy counsel.

    I appreciate Joshua’s warning not to pursue God merely for some other end, such as being an effective preacher. I also amen Andy’s warning not to separate piety and learning. I would also add that while holiness is not to be pursued for effectiveness in ministry as an end in itself, prayer that arises from dependence on God brings honor to God when ministry is fruitful.

    If we approach prayer by saying, “If I pray more then I will see more fruitful ministry,” then we are no different than those who say, “If I study more then I will see more fruitful ministry.” It is not our activity but God’s that makes fruitful ministry. But both prayer and study can be done with sincere dependence on God. And when this is the case, God is glorified in the outcome.

    I don’t think Bounds, and I know Andy, is not suggesting that prayer, or any act of piety for that matter, is like a talisman that makes God work in our favor. But there is a great need for this call to prayer in a day wherein ministers pursue their vocations as though by much learning or the application of the right method they will see the church built up and lives transformed.

    I’m reminded of Paul’s instruction to “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6.13).

    Josh Owen

  6. Joshua Lim says:

    Thanks for the responses, Andrew and Josh.

    Andrew: I agree with what you’re saying. By all means, pastors need to pray more (who doesn’t?). Having said that, however, I feel like Bounds (as well as other revivalistic writers on prayer) make prayer into something we do to get “revival” or bring awakening to supposedly dead churches. The Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes the importance of prayer, but categorizes it as the “chief part of our thankfulness,” not something we do to reach our prayer quota with God (of course, no one would say that).

    I used to attend a broadly evangelical church that was very much into prayer. We read Bounds, Ravenhill, Baxter, etc. We had long prayer meetings every week and everyone wanted to be a “prayer warrior.” We’d pray for revival and blame ourselves for God not blessing the preaching.
    I’m sure what you’re saying we need is nothing like what I’m describing, but I think my former church’s ethos is what you get if you set up prayer as the ultimate thing that a church needs to be used by God (not saying that you believe this, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Bounds did). Sermons became lengthy exhortations on why God was not pleased with us (we weren’t praying enough) and anything “spiritually” amiss in individual’s lives, as well as corporately, could be traced back to a lack of time spent in prayer.

    The point I’m trying to make is that, at least in my church’s case, prayer became a work that we needed to do in order for God to work. Rather than pray to God out of gratitude we prayed to get God to do stuff. If we prayed enough, we could have faith that he would do it, if we didn’t pray enough (or didn’t have enough faith, didn’t have enough desperation, etc., then he probably wouldn’t). Maybe Bounds just left a bad taste in my mouth, or maybe I was just reading him through the wrong lens, but that’s my take.

    So, yes we all need to pray more, I wholeheartedly agree. But I’m wondering if linking the pastor’s prayer life to the efficacy of his preaching (which is really a proclamation of God’s word, isn’t it?) is wise. Who wants a pastor who doesn’t pray? Not many, I’d assume, but I also understand that praying is a difficult thing to do. We all fall short in so many ways. And I’d say this much, if anyone’s church anywhere depended on the pastor’s prayer life, it’d be a failing church because no one prays as much or as earnestly as they ought.

    Again, it may all just be my own bad experience. My argument is not against prayer, per se, but more or less the type of emphasis Bounds places on it. I understand that much of the above doesn’t apply to what you’re saying. Anyway, I appreciate what you’re saying and I’ll be the first to admit my own shortcomings here.

    Thanks for the post,

    Joshua L.

  7. Mark says:

    This article convicted me to pray more! Amen. But Joshua L. makes some very good points! I would like to add that Bounds is way off when he says, “The sermon cannot rise in its life–giving forces above the man. Dead men give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill. Everything depends on the spiritual character of the preacher.” This is flat wrong! And the moment you buy into it is the moment you need to spend some serious time in the word (try Romans 10) and prayer to repent of such horrible humanistic thoughts. Everything depends on the work of God’s all powerful grace and he promises to use his word, his treasure, communicated through wicked men. Realizing that is the very first baby step in holiness that a preacher can make.

    Again, I really appreciated reading this post but that strain in it needs correcting. I especially appreciate the admonishment by Andy to mourn that like of hunger for righteousness in our community. Amen to that.

    Repenting of not praying as I should,

  8. Andrew Webb says:

    Hi Joshua L,

    First, if I may I’d strongly encourage you to read the follow up post to this one and the quote from Eric Alexander (Sinclair Ferguson’s long-time mentor) entitled: “Recommended Reading “What is Biblical Preaching?” by Eric Alexander.”

    Second, I will freely admit that this is one place where Old School Presbyterians going back to the Puritans have a different emphasis from other portions of the Reformed community, and particularly those within certain portions of the Redemptive/Historical community. You can see this emphasis historically, for instance, in the break between the Old Side and New Side Presbyterians in the 18th century. New Side Presbyterians like the Tennents (who went on to found the Log College) emphasized that Christianity was above all a heart religion and that merely assenting to orthodox beliefs and going through the motions of the religion was not what God was interested in. Jesus did not, after all, ask “Peter, do you assent to my teachings?” in John 21. He asked “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Without the third critical element in faith, Fiducia, a whole-hearted loving trust, you didn’t have that true heart religion that the Lord wants.

    Therefore, in Old School Presbyterianism you have a dual emphasis on doctrine and piety, prayer and preaching, and the critical importance of true, vital faith, expressed in love to Christ. From these emphases came a desire for evangelism, missions, and yes, revival not revivalism. I’d recommend Iain Murray’s book “Revival and Revivalism”.

    I’d urge you to consider that in the bible, fervent prayer was the precursor to every great move of the Spirit and attended all of the apostles successes in preaching. The Lord has ordained prayer as the means by which he brings about his will. It is not so much that prayer “makes” the Lord do our will, as that He has ordained our prayers, and graciously responds to them in accordance with His will.

    Joshua, I hope you understand that when I speak of revival and prayer, I am not talking about the course that Arminian and Pelagian evangelists like Finney took a broad swath of the American church down in the 19th century. I am talking about the course that experimental Calvinists have been following since the Reformation, and which can be seen in the life and work of men like the Bonars, the Erskines, Spurgeon, Girardeau, Frelinghuysen, Davies, Rowland, and so on.

    Remember, we are Old School in terms of the Arminian Revivalism of the 19th Century, but New Side in terms of the emphasis on evangelism, heart religion, revival, and true piety.

  9. Joshua Lim says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for the reply and I read your Recommended Reading post. I think I see where our differences lie.

    My whole journey into Reformed theology began with the Puritans and experimental Calvinism. I’ve read many books by Iain Murray (including his biographies on Lloyd-Jones, Edwards and Pink, as well as Dallimore’s two volume biography on Whitefield), and a host of other Banner of Truth books on revivals and related issues. I’ve also read a number of Lloyd-Jones books (including “Joy Unspeakable” which was his controversial book on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit). You name it, and likely, I’ve read it: Edwards, Baxter, Spurgeon, Halyburton, etc. All this to say that I’m no stranger to the more revival-friendly sort of Presbyterianism (i.e. new school in terms of 18th century).

    I understand that you’re not speaking of the second Great Awakening, and that your emphasis is on a more orthodox (Calvinistic) sort of revival. I suppose this is where we diverge. I tend to identify more with the Old Schoolers of the first Great Awakening (I don’t consider Charles Chauncy to be among the old schoolers since he wasn’t even presbyterian) — I’m thinking about confessionalists like John Thompson, and in the 19th century John Williamson Nevin (although I don’t agree with all of his theology, I do agree with his view on revivals).

    No one (old or new school) has argued that the heart is unimportant and I think that’s where New Siders consistently misrepresented the Old Side. It’s not just the emphasis, but the entire premise of the New Side revivalists that I disagree with. Namely, that one can discern whether churches or church members are spiritually “dead” or not. Tennent would call down fire on people simply because men opposed the revivals–a very reckless thing to do. I understand that there likely were unregenerate members in churches (as there are throughout all of Christian history), but it’s a very unbiblical idea that men can so easily point out who is and who isn’t regenerate. The Old Schoolers, as well as the Reformed Confessions locate God’s means of grace outside of the individual in the Word and sacrament. That is, piety isn’t determined by what I do, but my receiving of Christ through bread and wine. The New Siders were out of line with the confessions in that they located the means of grace outside the institutional church and in the individual. Thus the emphasize on individual, subjective piety. This move away from the institutional church towards the individual as well as the emphasis on experience is held in common by both great awakenings.

    The type of piety that men like Thompson and Nevin upheld is far different from the type of piety inculcated by Edwards and the New Siders. Among those who have argued for a discontinuity between the piety of the magisterial Reformers (as well as our confessions) and the Great Awakening are Darryl Hart and R. Scott Clark. Hart has written a number of books on the issue, which I would recommend (cf. The Lost Soul of American Protestantism, J.W. Nevin’s biography, and Recovering the Reformed Confessions by R. Scott Clark).

    Though you say that evangelism, heart religion, revival, and true piety distinguish Calvinistic revivals from Arminian ones, I doubt that an Arminian would see that distinction. Read some books on Revival by Arminians and I think you’ll agree. Leonard Ravenhill (an Arminian) is often indistinguishable from pro-revival Calvinists. In fact, he quotes Whitefield and Finney on the same page (if that says anything). Also, I was always under the impression that Bounds was an Arminian, as well.

    I appreciate your reply and post, and I’m sure you’ve thought about this a lot. R. Scott Clark’s book is great and I’d highly recommend it.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean for this to become an extended discussion, just wanted to leave a comment. Again, appreciate your thoughtful replies and it’s been good to rethink all this stuff.

    -Joshua L.

    –just a side note, I recently read the debate you moderated between Frame and Hart and enjoyed it very much. So thanks for that as well.

  10. Andrew Webb says:

    Hi Joshua,

    I attended WTS between ’97 and 2001 and was a frequent attender of Darryl Hart’s Old Light theological society meetings at his home when he was still at WTS as well as reader of the Nicotine theological journal. I well remember when my wife (who was a geochemistry major) and I were the sole defenders of young earth creationism at one particular meeting. While I respect Hart and have profited from his tremendous scholarship, I disagree with his take on Edwards, the First great awakening, true revival, and the issue of piety generally. It was my experience that his own experiences in fundamentalism as a child had left him with a tendency to immediately translate piety into pietism. There is a tendency in this kind of reaction to actually pooh-pooh the idea of subjective holiness where the Christian actually is really being transformed after the image of Christ, mortifying sin, and living a life of greater and greater loving obedience to the commands of Christ (in keeping with the third use of the law).

    I also break sharply with Hart in that I’m also obviously not a fan of the formalism and ecumenism of the Mercersburg theology. I believe that the Reformed faith in General and the German Reformed Churches in particular would have been significantly better off if Schaff hadn’t talked Nevin into remaining in the Reformed faith and he had gone off to the RCC.

    In any event, one brief comments and then I’m content to let the matter lie. First, I believe that genuine revival or “new life” in the church is a good thing, for instance it was Warfield who wrote “the Reformation was, as from the spiritual point of view a great revival of religion”

    But there are great differences between the revivals that have occurred under Calvinistic ministries and Arminian revivalism.
    For instance, Calvinists have ever insisted that true revival is a work of God that cannot be “ginned up” or created. It usually follows on a time when the church is particularly led to earnest prayer, and the preaching that is instrumental in it is solid law/gospel preaching with an emphasis on Justification by Faith Alone and human inability. Arminian revivalism stresses human ability, decisional regeneration, and the preaching is usually highly sentimental.

    Men who wanted genuine “revival” in the church but not “revivalism” like Bishop JC Ryle were keen discerners of the differences. In the following extended quote from his book Holiness Ryle outlined the defects of revivalism and then proposed sound antidotes:

    “For true revivals of religion no one can be more deeply thankful than I am. Wherever they may take place, and by whatever agents they may be effected, I desire to bless God for them with all my heart. “If Christ is preached,” I rejoice, whoever may be the preacher. If souls are saved, I rejoice, by whatever section of the church the Word of life has been ministered.

    But it is a melancholy fact that, in a world like this, you cannot have good without evil. I have no hesitation in saying, that one consequence of the revival movement has been the rise of a theological system which I feel obliged to call defective and mischievous in the extreme.

    The leading feature of the theological system I refer to, is this: an extravagant and disproportionate magnifying of three points in religion—namely, instantaneous conversion; the invitation of unconverted sinners to come to Christ; and the possession of inward joy and peace as a test of conversion. I repeat that these three grand truths (for truths they are) are so incessantly and exclusively brought forward in some quarters that great harm is done.

    Instantaneous conversion, no doubt, ought to be pressed on people. But surely they ought not to be led to suppose that there is no other sort of conversion and that, unless they are suddenly and powerfully converted to God, they are not converted at all.

    The duty of coming to Christ at once, “just as we are,” should be pressed on all hearers. It is the very cornerstone of gospel preaching. But surely men ought to be told to repent as well as to believe. They should be told why they are to come to Christ, and what they are to come for, and whence their need arises.

    The nearness of peace and comfort in Christ should be proclaimed to men. But surely they should be taught that the possession of strong inward joys and high frames of mind is not essential to justification and that there may be true faith and true peace without such very triumphant feelings. Joy alone is no certain evidence of grace.

    The defects of the theological system I have in view appear to me to be these:

    (1) The work of the Holy Spirit in converting sinners is far too much narrowed and confined to one single way. Not all true converts are converted instantaneously, like Saul and the Philippian jailer.

    (2) Sinners are not sufficiently instructed about the holiness of God’s law, the depth of their sinfulness, and the real guilt of sin. To be incessantly telling a sinner to “come to Christ” is of little use unless you tell him why he needs to come and show him fully his sins.

    (3) Faith is not properly explained. In some cases people are taught that mere feeling is faith. In others they are taught that if they believe that Christ died for sinners they have faith! At this rate the very devils are believers!

    (4) The possession of inward joy and assurance is made essential to believing. Yet assurance is certainly not of the essence of saving faith. There may be faith when there is no assurance. To insist on all believers at once “rejoicing,” as soon as they believe, is most unsafe. Some, I am quite sure, will rejoice without believing, while others will believe who cannot at once rejoice.

    (5) Last, but not least, the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, and the absolute necessity of preventing grace, are far too much overlooked. Many talk as if conversions could be manufactured at man’s pleasure and as if there were no such text as this: “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).

    The mischief done by the theological system I refer to is, I am persuaded, very great. On the one hand, many humble–minded Christians are totally discouraged and daunted. They fancy they have no grace because they cannot reach up to the high frames and feelings which are pressed on their attention. On the other side, many graceless people are deluded into thinking they are “converted” because, under the pressure of animal excitement and temporary feelings, they are led to profess themselves Christians. And all this time the thoughtless and ungodly look on with contempt and find fresh reasons for neglecting religion altogether.

    The antidotes to the state of things I deplore are plain and few.

    (1) Let “all the counsel of God” be taught in scriptural proportion; and let not two or three precious doctrines of the gospel be allowed to overshadow all other truths.

    (2) Let repentance be taught fully as well as faith, and not thrust completely into the background. Our Lord Jesus Christ and St. Paul always taught both.

    (3) Let the variety of the Holy Spirit’s works be honestly stated and admitted; and while instantaneous conversion is pressed on men, let it not be taught as a necessity.

    (4) Let those who profess to have found immediate sensible peace be plainly warned to try themselves well and to remember that feeling is not faith and that “patient continuance in well–doing” is the great proof that faith is true (John 8:31).

    (5) Let the great duty of “counting the cost” be constantly urged on all who are disposed to make a religious profession and let them be honestly and fairly told that there is warfare as well as peace, a cross as well as a crown, in Christ’s service.

    I am sure that unhealthy excitement is above all things to be dreaded in religion because it often ends in fatal, soul–ruining reaction and utter deadness. And when multitudes are suddenly brought under the power of religious impressions, unhealthy excitement is almost sure to follow.

    I have not much faith in the soundness of conversions when they are said to take place in masses and wholesale. It does not seem to me in harmony with God’s general dealings in this dispensation. To my eyes it appears that God’s ordinary plan is to call in individuals one by one. Therefore, when I hear of large numbers being suddenly converted all at one time, I hear of it with less hope than some. The healthiest and most enduring success in mission fields is certainly not where natives have come over to Christianity in a mass. The most satisfactory and firmest work at home does not always appear to me to be the work done in revivals.

    There are two passages of Scripture which I should like to have frequently and fully expounded in the present day by all who preach the gospel, and specially by those who have anything to do with revivals. One passage is the parable of the sower. That parable is not recorded three times over without good reason and a deep meaning. The other passage is our Lord’s teaching about “counting the cost” and the words which He spoke to the “great multitudes” whom He saw following Him. It is very noteworthy that He did not on that occasion say anything to flatter these volunteers or encourage them to follow Him. No, He saw what their case needed. He told them to stand still and “count the cost” (Luke 14:25, etc.). I am not sure that some modern preachers would have adopted this course of treatment.

    Anyway, thanks for the exchange.


  11. Josh says:

    Andy, I’d just like to say that this has been a healthy conversation. The tone has been cordial and the dialogue insightful. I’d like to see more of this, rather than everyone posting as though we are not even paying attention to what’s being said. — Iron sharpening iron.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s