RPM, Volume 13, Number 8, February 20 to February 26, 2011

The Ministry of the Gospel

By Joseph Philpot

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • The FOUNDATION of the gospel ministry
  • The NATURE and CHARACTER of the gospel ministry
  • The ENDS for which the gospel ministry was established
  • The CALL and QUALIFICATIONS for the gospel ministry
  • The promised BLESSINGS which accompany of the gospel ministry
  • The TRIALS, EXERCISES, COMFORTS and ENCOURAGEMENTS of the gospel ministry


A. The TRIALS and EXERCISES of the ministry claim the first place. These we may roughly classify under two leading heads—
  • 1. Those which spring from himself.
  • 2. Those which spring from others.

1. The trials and exercises which spring from HIMSELF.

Had a minister nothing else to try him but his own heart, he would have trouble and exercise enough to last him all his days. But, like Issachar, he has to crouch between two burdens—the burden of self—and the burden of the Lord; his burden as a Christian—and his burden as a minister. It is with the last only that we have now to do. A deep sense of his own incompetency for the work, and his continual miscarriages under it, will always try a man who has any right sight and sense of what a minister of Christ should be. Poor, ignorant, proud, puffed-up men in the ministry may see and feel in themselves no such inefficiency or deficiency. A sound scheme of doctrine, a tolerable knowledge of the letter of the word, a natural fluency of speech, a bold unabashed face and manner, and the applause of light professors, carry many on as preachers who seem to have no spiritual sense or feeling of what the ministry really is!

Until a man is led to see and feel by divine teaching what it is to be a mouth for God, and to stand up before the people as—his ambassador—a steward of his mysteries—a trustee of his gospel—an interpreter of his counsel—a messenger of his deputing—a witness of his dealings both in providence and grace with himself and others—and a servant who must one day give an account of his ministry to his heavenly Master—he will trifle both with God and man, and be unfaithful—to his office—to himself—and to his hearers. His ignorance, his incompetency, his unfaithfulness will be hidden from him by a thick veil of pride and presumption; and while the living, discerning family of God see in him nothing but barrenness and death, he will see in himself but little to censure and much to admire.

But let a man once have his eyes opened to see what the ministry really is; and what he himself is as a minister—his unfitness in every way, both naturally and spiritually, for so great a work—his incompetency—his infirmities—his shortcomings—his inability to do or say anything aright—his ignorance—his unbelief—his fainting heart, stammering tongue, and faltering lips—his deadness, coldness, and unfruitfulness—his deep-rooted sinfulness, defiling all he touches—and his utter unworthiness to take the Lord's name into his polluted lips—all these feelings will, at times, so press upon him as to try him to the very core, and make him doubt and fear whether he has anything to do with such a solemn, sacred, godly work as to preach the gospel of the Son of God.

It is true that he knows what he preaches, for he has himself tasted, felt, and handled the word of life which he administers; he is quite certain about the truths which he sets before the people, whether doctrine, experience, or precept; he labors to be faithful, and seeks neither money nor applause; and he has a single eye to the glory of God and the good of his people. And yet there is not one point in which he does not feel to come short; and this deeply tries his mind. Sometimes he is tried about his text; and if, after much prayer and labor of soul, he gets one, then he is tried about his sermon. He is tried before preaching, in preaching, and after preaching; tried on Saturday night about what he has to say, and tried on Sunday night for what he has said. If a little helped, though he would bless God for it, he is still tried whether his liberty might not have been much in the flesh. If not sensibly helped, then he is tried whether he was ever called to the ministry at all. Thus he is never satisfied with himself, or if he begins to feel a little self-satisfaction, he knows at once that this is about the worst of his sins—for it is pride which is now puffing him up in one of its worst forms.

But he has TEMPTATIONS as well as trials. Thus sometimes he is tempted to unbelief, sometimes to infidelity, sometimes to question the whole work on his soul, and to fear whether he is not a dreadful hypocrite, who has deceived himself, and well-near everybody else. Sometimes he is tempted to think that he never should have put his hand to the plough, and to wish he were anything or anybody but a minister. The people can come, he thinks, and sit and hear, and no one need know what they fear or what they feel. But he, poor he, must stand up, whatever be his feelings; whatever darkness, bondage, or distress he may be laboring under, however shut up in heart or tongue—he must stammer out something.

The people are come together, some perhaps from many miles, looking to him for a word of consolation and encouragement; and he is as empty as an turned-over pitcher, as confused as chaos, and as dark as midnight. The word of God is a sealed book, the heavens as brass, the text slipped away, and scarcely one idea left for the sermon. It is true that at such times the Lord most usually makes bare his arm, and helps his poor trembling servant far beyond his hope or anticipation; and some of these seasons have been the very best both for the minister and the people. Light and life break in upon his soul; the heavens are parted asunder, fervent prayer goes up, answers of mercy come down; sweet liberty is felt in preaching the word of truth—and O how he can now exalt the free grace of God, and set forth the Person and work, blood and righteousness, dying love, and risen power of his dear Son. This must serve as a sample of ministerial trials and exercises which spring from SELF, for we might fill pages with them!

2. The trials and exercises which spring from OTHERS. We pass by his trials from the world dead in sin—and the world dead in a profession. A real sent servant of God will keep himself separate from both; and as long as he does this, neither of them will much trouble him. A disturbance in the street may be a passing annoyance, but what is it to a disturbance in the house—a disturbance in the family, among the children or the servants? Of all quarrels, the most trying are family quarrels. So the deepest trials of a minister, which spring from others, are church trials, family disturbances, family differences, family quarrels and contentions. Our, dear friend, the late Mr. Gadsby, used to say, that next to one's own spiritual troubles, the greatest of all troubles were church troubles. And indeed the dear old man found it so, for, in his own language, his church troubles in his latter days broke his heart. The perverse, contentious, unyielding spirit of some, whom he cannot but receive, with all their faults and failings, as the children of God, deeply tries many a servant of the Lord. He is for peace—but they are for war. He hates and abhors strife and contention—but they seem full of it, and never more in their element than when, like a sea-bird, in a storm. What painful spectacles often are church meetings, when a spirit of strife has entered into a church, and well-near rent it asunder. Word brings on word, and argument leads on to argument; temper rises, angry expressions drop, and while the meek and quiet sit and mourn in silence, the quarrelsome and contentious battle with one another, almost as if the fear of God were lost out of their heart.

But where a minister of God is spared such heavy trials as these, he will have exercises from other causes, almost as painful. Inconsistencies will break out in the church, of greater or less magnitude, which will deeply grieve his spirit. Reproach will be thereby cast on the cause of God and Truth, and be reflected, perhaps, even on his ministry, as if it encouraged sin. He will see sometimes much death creeping over those who once seemed lively in the things of God; others much buried in the world, or overtaken with a spirit of covetousness, who once seemed spiritually-minded, and their whole heart fixed on heavenly things. His best hearers and dearest friends, pillars of the Church and ornaments of the congregation, he will see taken away by the hand of death, and few or none raised up to take their place. He may have to see the cause sink very low, both as regards spiritual and temporal prosperity; little work going on, either in calling souls or delivering them, and much sloth, apathy, coldness, and indifference settling as a dark and increasing cloud on the church and congregation. Now if his soul be, as we assume it is, kept alive and lively in the things of God, all these things will deeply try his mind, and exercise both his faith and patience. And yet by these very trials and exercises his soul is made increasingly lively, for "by these things men live, and in all those things is the life of his spirit."

B. But he has his COMFORTS and ENCOURAGEMENTS. Indeed what could he do, and how could he get on, without them? To have nothing but trial and exercise, to feel nothing but bondage and misery in the work, would soon break him down altogether. The Lord, therefore, graciously, from time to time, comforts and encourages his soul, so that as his afflictions abound, so his consolation also abounds by Christ. When he is giving strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that are of heavy hearts, he gets a good drop himself of the wine of the kingdom, which he is bringing out for others; and as he drinks this, he forgets his poverty, and remembers his misery no more. He gives what he believes, and believes what he gives; faith is mixed with the word as it issues out of his heart and lips; and he thus not only ministers food as a servant, but sits down as a guest at the table. And as this inward feast of soul gives life to his word and power to his preaching, he comforts those who are in any trouble by the comfort with which he himself is comforted of God. One such good season makes up for many bad ones; and though he knows he may have to fast many days after his feast, yet the remembrance of it, and the savor which it leaves on his spirit, enables him to go in the strength of that food many days.

What a true servant of God wants for himself is, not what some men think and call liberty, that is, a mere liberty of tongue, which is, after all, in many cases, a mere carnal, natural fluency of speech. True liberty is an inward liberty of soul, a sweet and holy freedom of spirit before God, not a mere gift of the gab, (excuse the expression,) or a full and rapid flow of words, or even an increasing stream of texts and quotations. The two things are quite distinct. A man of God may have liberty of tongue, and be bound in spirit; and he may have liberty of spirit, and be bound in tongue. It is when liberty of spirit and liberty of tongue go together that he is most happy and most at home, most in his element, and most in the enjoyment of his work.

But he has also comforts and encouragements from OTHERS as well as himself, for though a good man is to be "satisfied from himself," (Prov. 14:14,) yet it is sweetly encouraging to him to see that the Lord is with him in the work. To go on preaching year after year, and see little or no fruit attending his ministry, how trying this must be to a minister whose heart is in his work, and who is continually longing for a blessing to rest on his testimony. But this is not usually the case with those whom the Lord himself has called to the ministry. He who has thus called him will, from time to time, give him proof by signs following that a divine blessing rests on his ministry. One after another will be raised up as witnesses to the power of the word; and every such witness will confirm him more and more in the persuasion that the Lord has called him to the work and owns and blesses him in it.

But it is time to draw our meditations to a close. The subject is so vast in itself, it has so grown under our hands, that, with all our attempts to examine it in the light of Scripture and experience, we have come short of setting it before our readers as clearly and as fully as we would desire. Still, let them receive what we have written in the same spirit as we trust we have brought it forth; and we would affectionately ask our spiritual readers generally, and our brethren in the ministry particularly, to take our meditations on the ministry as a whole, and not judge them by separate parts or isolated expressions. As we take a man's Christian character as a whole, as we take a servant of God's ministry as a whole, so deal with our treatment of this important subject. Take into consideration our general drift and meaning, and the spirit in which we have written. We have endeavored to be faithful and discriminating, yet, we trust, have not been harsh, unkind, or overbearing. We have not spared, indeed, the general ministry of the day, but we have desired to show in word what we feel in spirit to every real sent servant of God—esteem, tenderness, and affection. The Lord ever keep and bless them; and in this day, when on every side the enemy seems coming in like a flood, may the Spirit of the Lord, by their instrumentality, lift up a standard against him.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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