Duty of Pastors (excerpts)

September 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word.

This is by teaching or preaching the word, and not otherwise. This feeding is the essence of the office of a pastor, as to its exercise; so that he who does not, or cannot, or will not feed the flock is no pastor, whatever outward call or work he may have in the church. The care of preaching the gospel was committed to Peter, and through him to all true pastors of the church, under the name of “feeding.” (John 5:21:15-17) According to the example of the apostles, they are to free themselves from all encumbrances, so that they may give themselves wholly to the word and prayer. (Acts 6:1-4) Their work is “to labor in the word and doctrine,” (1Tim 5:17); and thereby to “feed the flock over which the Holy Ghost has made them overseers,” (Acts 20:28) and it is what is given everywhere to those in charge.

But for men to pretend to be pastors of the church, and to be unable for, or negligent of, this work and duty, is to live in open defiance of the commands of Christ. We have lived to see and hear of reproachful scorn and contempt thrown upon “laboring in the word and doctrine.” (1Tim 5.17) All manner of discouragements are given, endeavoring to suppress it in a number of instances. Indeed, some have gone so far as to declare that the work of preaching is unnecessary in the church. That would reduce religion to the reading and rule of the liturgy. The next attempt, I suspect, might be to exclude Christ himself from their religion. That is what denying the necessity of preaching the gospel lead s to; indeed it makes good progress toward it.

A number of things are required for this work and duty of pastoral preaching, such as,

(1.) Spiritual wisdom and understanding in the mysteries of the gospel, so that they may declare to the church “all the counsel of God” and “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Acts 20:27) The majority of the church, especially those who are grown in knowledge and experience, have a spiritual insight into these things. The apostle prays that all believers might have it. (Eph. 3:8-11) But if those who instruct them, or were to do so, do not have some degree of eminence in it, they cannot be useful to lead others on to perfection. The little care or concern for this, has rendered the ministry of many a preacher both fruitless and useless in our days.

(2.) Experience of the power of the truth which they preach, in and upon their own souls. Without this, they will be lifeless and heartless in their own work; and their labor for the most part will be unprofitable to others. It is attended to by such men, as a task for their advantage, or as something that carries some satisfaction from the ostentation and supposed reputation that accompany it. But a man preaches only that sermon well to others which preaches itself in his own soul. The man who does not feed on and thrive by digesting the food which he provides for others, will hardly make it savory to them. Indeed, he does not know if the food he has provided may be poison, unless he has really tasted it himself. If the word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. No man lives in a more woeful condition than those who do not really believe themselves what they persuade others to believe continually. The lack of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is what gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words, and dead in power – instead of preaching the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit. Let anyone say what they please, it is evident that some men’s preaching, as well as others’ not-preaching, has lost the credit of their ministry.

(3.) Skill to divide the word rightly; (2Tim 2:15) this consists in a practical wisdom, by diligent attendance to the word of truth, to discover what is real, substantial, and fit food for the souls of the hearers – to give to all sorts of persons in the church their proper portion. And this requires,

(4.) A prudent and diligent consideration of the state of the flock over which any man is set, as to their strength or weakness, their growth or defect in knowledge (the measure of their attainments requiring either milk or strong meat), their temptations and duties, their spiritual decay or thriving – not only generally but, as near as possible, with respect to all the individual members of the church. Without a due regard for these things, men preach randomly, fighting uncertainly, like those who beat the air. (1Cor 9.26) Preaching sermons that are not designed to benefit those to whom they are preached; insisting on general doctrines that are not adjusted to the condition of the hearers; speaking words without considering whether those words ought to be said – are all things that will make those whose minds do not have obvious advantages, weary of preaching; and they will make others weary simply by hearing them.

(5.) All of these, in the whole discharge of their duty, are to be constantly accompanied with the evidence of their zeal for the glory of God and compassion for the souls of men. If these are not vigorously exercised in the minds and souls of those who preach the word, demonstrating themselves to the consciences of those who hear them, then the quickening form, the life and soul of preaching, is lost. When men undertake the pastoral office, and either judge that it not their duty to preach, or are not able to do so, or they attempt it only on solemn occasions, or attend to it as a task required of them, but they lack that wisdom, skill, diligence, care, prudence, zeal, and compassion which are required for it, the glory and usefulness of the ministry will be utterly destroyed.

When men undertake the pastoral office, and either judge that it not their duty to preach, or are not able to do so, or they attempt it only on solemn occasions, or attend to it as a task required of them, but they lack that wisdom, skill, diligence, care, prudence, zeal, and compassion which are required for it, the glory and usefulness of the ministry will be utterly destroyed. It belongs to their charge and their office to diligently labor for the conversion of souls to God. The ordinary means of conversion is left to the church, and the church’s duty it is to attend to it. Indeed, one of the principal ends of the institution and preservation of churches is the conversion of souls. When there are no more to be converted, there shall be no more church on the earth. To enlarge the kingdom of Christ, to diffuse the light and savor of the gospel, to be subservient to the calling of the elect, and to gather all the sheep of Christ into his fold, are things that God designs by his churches in this world. Now, the principal and instrumental cause of all these things is the preaching of the word; and this is committed to the pastors of the churches. It is true, men may be (and often are) converted to God through the occasional dispensation of the word by those who are not called to office. For it is the gospel itself that is the “power of God for salvation,” (Rom 1.16) whoever it is administered by.

The ministers who have been most celebrated, and deservedly so in the last ages, in this and in neighboring nations, have been such that God made their ministry eminently successful for the conversion of souls.

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