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Thomas Chalmers on Ministry

Iain Murray Summarizes some of Thomas Chalmers’ thoughts on the work of the ministry:

Iain Murray   1. The governing principle upon which the strength of all ministerial duties depends is regard for the approval of God. If a minister lacks that principle his public work will be dominated by regard for himself or for the approbation of men. Where that principle is truly present it will operate first in the sphere of the preacher’s own inner life; he will not ‘strenuously urge sanctification’ without attending to that duty himself. His primary concern in all things must be to see that God approves him. ‘By far the most effective ingredient of good preaching’, he writes, ‘is the personal piety of the preacher himself.’ ‘How little must the presence of God be felt in that place, where the high functions of the pulpit are degraded into a stipulated exchange of entertainment, on the one side, and of admiration on the other! and surely it were a sight to make angels weep when a weak and vapouring mortal, surrounded by his fellow sinners, and hastening to the grave and the judgment along with them, finds it a dearer object to his bosom to regale his hearers by the exhibition of himself, than to do, in plain earnest, the work of his Master.’
   2. Ministers should never rest satisfied without growth in personal holiness of life. Chalmers’ private diary reveals a great deal of this: ‘Advance the power and life of religion in my own heart’ was his prayer. To friends he writes in similar terms: ‘Pray unceasingly for the progress of His work in your heart . . . Strike the high aim of being perfect even as God is perfect . . . Never let go your aspirings . . . Oh! with what unceasing progress towards perfection should we be enabled to advance did we cast all self-seeking and self-confidence away from us—did we consent be altogether guided by His strength, and be altogether accepted in His pure and unspotted righteousness.’
   Andrew Bonar, one of Chalmers’ students, used to repeat a saying heard when he was entering the ministry: ‘Remember that very few men, and very few ministers, keep up to the end the edge that was on their spirit at the first.’ It was a warning which could well have been heard from Chalmers. The prayerfulness and the desires after greater holiness which marked his early Christian life were with him to the end.
   3. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their true work: ‘Be assured that a single and undivided attention to the peculiar work of a Christian minister is the way of peace and of pleasantness.’ One of the greatest struggles which Chalmers ever had was to break free from the many secular duties and activities which had come to be expected of ministers. For him it was imperative, if the church was to be revived, that preachers should be left to concentrate exclusively upon their proper calling. In Glasgow he had found that ministers were continually required to be at funerals (four at one funeral was considered a ‘respectable number’), at committees of all the societies, at public functions of every kind, and so on. At one committee meeting, for example, arranged on behalf of the Town Hospital, he found himself with an honoured place among ‘some of the gravest of city ministers, and some of the wisest of the city merchants’ to engage in a solemn and, at length, warm discussion on whether pork broth or ox-head should be served to the inmates of the Hospital! After such experiences at that time in his life he wrote: ‘I am gradually separating myself from all this trash, and long to establish it as a doctrine that the life of a town minister should be what the life of a country minister might be, and his entire time disposable to the purposes to the purposes to which the Apostles gave themselves wholly, that is, the ministry of the word and prayer.’ Speaking again of the secular duties to which so many ministers had given in, and which turned a preacher from being ‘a dispenser of the bread of life into a mere dispenser of human benefits’, he says, ‘This I have set my face against, and though I have a great deal of opposition to encounter, yet I am persuaded that I will have the solid countenance and approbation of all who value the pure objects of the Christian ministry.’
   4. A minister must deal directly with the men concerning their need of salvation. ‘Let us pray for that most desirable wisdom, the wisdom of winning souls.’ ‘A single human being called out of darkness, though he lived in putrid lane of obscurity, is a brighter testimony than all the applause of the fashionable.’ This meant plain, direct preaching to the heart and conscience. Commending Alleine’s Alarm, he warned against the ‘diseased touchiness’ of the age which disliked the urgent preaching of repentance. He told his prospective candidates for the ministry that their work must ot be to show their hearers the consistency between geology and the Bible, rather these hearers must be won ‘by entering into the chambers of their consciences and telling them of that sin which is their ruin and of that Saviour who alone can hush the alarms of nature’.

—Iain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 94–96.

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Posted  in: A Scottish Christian Heritage · Church History · Iain Murray · Thomas Chalmers
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#1 || 09·01·15··13:31 || Ian Hall

Tremendous thoughts on ministry. Thanks for that post.

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