A Charge to the Minister of the Gospel
You have been called as minister in this congregation and you have been ordained in pursuance of that call. There are many functions which devolve upon you in that particular capacity, but I want to draw your attention particularly to two of these functions because I believe they are the two main functions which devolve upon the minister of the gospel. And these two functions are the preaching of the Word and pastoral care.
Now first of all there is this duty of preaching or teaching the Word. You are to labour in the Word and doctrine.
And in connection with that function I want to mention three things.
First, do not burden yourself and do not allow others to burden you with other business so that you are deprived of the time and energy necessary to prepare adequately for your preaching and teaching administration. The Word of God indeed, in all its richness and in all its sufficiency, is in your hands. It lies before you. But in order that you may discover the richness of that Word and bring forth from its inexhaustible treasure for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for the instruction which is in righteousness, there must be the blood and toil and sweat and tears, the earnest labour, and the searching of that Scripture, and in application to its proper understanding, so that you may be able to bring it forth in a way that is relevant in your particular responsibility.
The second thing I want to impress upon you is that you realize deeply and increasingly, your complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit for understanding of the Word and for the effectual proclamation of it.
Now that is not the counsel of sloth. That is not to be an alibi for your earnest labour and the study of the Word of God and your earnest application to effective proclamation, and neither is that a counsel of defeat. Your absolute dependence upon the Spirit of God – this is the counsel of encouragement and confidence. It is the Spirit and the Spirit alone who gives the demonstration and power by which the Word of God will be carried home with effectiveness, with conviction, and with fruitfulness to the hearts and the minds and lives of your hearers. It is he and he alone who produces that full assurance of conviction, and it is your reliance upon the Holy Spirit that in the last analysis is your comfort.
The Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. And do not be so God dishonouring as to pray for Pentecost. Pentecost is in the past. Pentecost was a pivotal event in the unfolding of God’s redemptive touch, when the Holy Spirit came. The Holy Spirit abides in the church. He came and he abides in order to perform those functions which Jesus himself foretold: ‘When he, the Spirit of Truth’ is come, he will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, and that he will also glorify Christ by taking of the things which are Christ’s and showing them unto us.’
It is necessary, it is indispensable, however, that you earnestly pray for the unction and the power and the blessings of that Holy Spirit. Because it is only if there is that accompanying demonstration of the Holy Spirit and the power that men and women will be arrested and stunned with the conviction of sin. And it is then that they will give expression to the word of another, ‘What shall we do to be saved?’ Likewise, [it is] in that particular situation of overruling, overwhelming conviction produced by the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit, that you will be able, by the understanding given by the Spirit, by the unction imparted by the Spirit, to bring into that conviction of need, that conviction of sin, that conviction of misery, the unsearchable riches of Christ.
That is my second aspect of this charge. To realize more and more your complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. It is as you will realize your complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit, that you will be more diligent in the discharge of all the duties that devolve upon you in the understanding of God’s Word and in its effective proclamation.
Third, I wish to mention, in that precise connection, that you are to think much of the privilege. You are to think indeed of the responsibility, and I have said enough with respect to that responsibility already. I want particularly to impress upon you now the appreciation of your privilege.
It is yours to be a fellow of the gospel – of the glorious, the blessed gospel. It is yours to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. It is yours to be the ambassador of the King eternal, immortal, invincible. It is yours to be the ambassador of him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, of whom you have heard already that he walks among the candlesticks. There is no greater vocation on earth. There is no greater vocation that God has given to any than the vocation of proclaiming the whole counsel of God – proclaiming the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, and proclaiming the unsearchable riches of the Redeemer. Think much of your privilege.
Now second, you have the pastoral care. That is an all important aspect of a minister’s responsibility and privilege.
There are likewise three things that I want to mention in connection with that particular function, and the first is this: Shepherd the church of God. I personally cannot understand those men who have been called as pastors of churches who neglect the pastoral care of the people committed to their charge. I cannot understand it. And I’m not expected to understand it, because it is part of the mystery of that iniquity which too frequently has overtaken those who have been called into the ministry.
You do not get your sermons from your people, but you get your sermons with your people. You get your sermons from the Word of God, but you must remember that the sermons which you deliver from the Word of God must be relevant. They must be practical in the particular situation in which you are. It is when you move among your people and become acquainted with their needs, become acquainted with the situation in which they are, become acquainted with their thoughts, become acquainted with their philosophy, become acquainted with their temptations, that the Word of God which you bring forth from this inexhaustible treasure of wisdom and truth will be relevant and will not be abstract and unrelated.
Second, in connection with this very same subject of pastoral care I charge you to be ready always to give an audience to your people. I mean an audience to them as individuals, or an audience to them as families. Be in such a relation to them that they will make you their confidant, and take good care that you will be their confidant. And as you will be their confidant, they will pour out to you the bitter experiences of their heart, the bitter experiences of their souls, of their lives. I charge you, my very dear friend, to be the instrument of dispensing, I say the instrument of dispensing the ‘oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ to those who are broken in heart and weary in the body.
Now there is more, of course, involved in that ministration of comfort to the people of God in the temptations and the trials which necessarily overtake them in this life. You must also bring the counsel of God, the whole counsel of God, to bear upon them where they are. And it is just as you bring that whole counsel of God to bear upon them in your pastoral visitation, that you bring it to bear upon them precisely where they are. Remember that there are many who…are going astray or are on the verge of going astray, or perhaps have always been astray. And remember the inestimable privilege that is yours, to convert the sinner from the error of his ways, to save a soul from death, and to hide a multitude of sins. ‘Reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine.’
Now thirdly and finally, I charge you to remember that you are the servant of Christ in this pastoral care which you will exercise. Oh, be friendly to your people, and be humble. Be clothed with humility for ‘God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.’ Be clothed with humility in the pastoral visitations and the pastoral duties that you discharge because, if you are not humble, you will not only be offensive to God, but you will soon become offensive to all discerning people. Be friendly, be humble, realize your own limitations and be always ready to receive from those who are taught in the Word as they communicate unto you who teach. But remember that you are the servant of Christ and do not seek to please men, for if you should seek to please men, you are not the servant of Christ. And again, I repeat in that very same connection: Don’t be afraid to reprove, don’t be afraid to rebuke, just as you may not be afraid to exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.
I give you these charges, in the humble expectation and the hope that you will become an example, that you will be an undershepherd, realizing at all times that you will one day give an account to the great Arch-shepherd who himself gave, as the Shepherd of his sheep, his life, ‘that they might have life and have it more abundantly.’
And I charge you, in constant dependence upon the Holy Spirit, to be the minister, the administrator in Christ’s name, of that life which is nothing other than life everlasting.
This charge is found on the Westminster Seminary website and is reproduced here with permission.
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