John Newton on Pride among Preachers

I have made no secret of my affection for my dead friend, John Newton, here and here, and am currently reading volume one of Banner of Truth Trust’s excellent collection of the Works of John Newton. In short, his letters and sermons are personal, kind, pastoral, and so full of wisdom and grace.

Newton writes to a recently ordained preacher in a letter entitled “On the Snares and Difficulties Attending the Ministry of the Gospel” (p. 105-110). His tender congratulations and cautions to this young man are instructive for anyone serving in ministry, especially any sort of public ministry. While the letter is more than 5 pages (in tiny font), following are a few excerpted paragraphs for your (for my) consideration.

Dear Sir,

I am glad to hear that you are ordained, and that the Lord is about to fix you in a place where there is a prospect of your being greatly useful. . .

You have doubtless, often anticipated in your mind the nature of the service to which you are now called, . . .but a distant view of the ministry is generally very different from what is found to be when we are actually engaged in it. . .If the Lord was to show us the whole beforehand, who that has a due sense of his own insufficiency and weakness, would venture to engage.  But He first draws us by a constraining sense of His love, and by giving us an impression of the worth of souls, and leaves us to acquire a knowledge of what is difficult and disagreeable by gradual experience. . .

Yet I would not discourage you;  it is a good and noble cause, and we serve a good and gracious Master; who, though He will make us feel our weakness and vileness, will not suffer us to sink under it, His grace is sufficient for us…

If opposition has hurt many, popularity has wounded more.  To say the truth, I am in some pain for you.  Your natural abilities are considerable; you have been diligent in your studies, your zeal is warm, and your spirit is lively.  With these advantages, I expect to see you a popular preacher.  The more you are so, the greater your field of usefulness be; but alas!  You cannot know to what it will expose you.  It is like walking upon ice.  When you shall see an attentive congregation hanging upon your words; when you hear the well-meant, but often injudicious, commendations of those to whom the Lord shall make you useful; when you shall find, upon an intimation of your preaching in a strange  place, people thronging from all parts to hear you, how will your heart feel?  …there will be almost the some connection between popularity and pride, as between fire and gunpowder: they cannot meet without an explosion…Beware my friend of mistaking the ready exercise of gifts for the exercise of grace. 

May the Lord make you wise and watchful, that he may be the light of your eye, the strength of your arm, and the joy of your heart is the sincere prayer of, &c.

Beware, my friend. Beware, my soul. May Jesus alone be our light, our strength and our joy!

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