We Have Been Flippant, Self-Centered, and Proud

customer-experience-3024488_640Having considered the many and numerous failures in serving the Lord, in his Words to Winners of Souls Horatius Bonar identifies the seventh, eighth, and ninth of 14 specific sins that we must confess, that of being flippant, self-centered, and proud:

We have been wanting in solemnity. In reading the lives of Howe or Baxter, of Brainerd or Edwards, we are in company with men who in solemnity of deportment and gravity of demeanor were truly of the apostolic school. We feel that these men must have carried weight with them, both in their words and lives. We see also the contrast between ourselves and them in respect of that deep solemnity of air and tone which made men feel that they walked with God. How deeply ought we to be abased at our levity, frivolity, flippancy, vain mirth, foolish talking and jesting, by which grievous injury has been done to souls, the progress of the saints retarded, and the world countenanced in its wretched vanities.

We have preached ourselves, not Christ. We have sought applause, courted honor, been avaricious of fame and jealous of our reputation. We have preached too often so as to exalt ourselves instead of magnifying Christ, so as to draw men’s eyes to ourselves instead of fixing them on Him and His cross. Nay, and have we not often preached Christ for the very purpose of getting honor to ourselves? Christ, in the sufferings of His first coming and the glory of His second, has not been the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, of all our sermons.

We have used words of man’s wisdom. We have forgotten Paul’s resolution to avoid the enticing words of man’s wisdom, lest he should make the cross of Christ of none effect. We have reversed his reasoning as well as his resolution, and acted as if by well-studied, well-polished, well-reasoned discourses, we could so gild and beautify the cross as to make it no longer repulsive, but irresistibly attractive to the carnal eye! Hence we have often sent men home well satisfied with themselves, convinced that they were religious because they were affected by our eloquence, touched by our appeals or persuaded by our arguments. In this way we have made the cross of Christ of none effect and sent souls to hell with a lie in their right hand. Thus, by avoiding the offense of the cross and the foolishness of preaching we have had to labor in vain, and mourn over an unblessed, unfruitful ministry.

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We Have Been Cold and Timid

640px-Preaching_of_Knox_before_the_Lords_of_the_CongregationHaving considered the many and numerous failures in serving the Lord, in his Words to Winners of Souls Horatius Bonar identifies the fifth and sixth of 14 specific sins that we must confess, that of being cold and timid:

We have been cold. Even when diligent, how little warmth and glow! The whole soul is not poured into the duty, and hence it wears too often the repulsive air of routine and form. We do not speak and act like men in earnest. Our words are feeble, even when sound and true; our looks are careless, even when our words are weighty; and our tones betray the apathy which both words and looks disguise. Love is wanting, deep love, love strong as death, love such as made Jeremiah weep in secret places for the pride of Israel, and Paul speak “even weeping” of the enemies of the cross of Christ. In preaching and visiting, in counseling and reproving, what formality, what coldness, how little tenderness and affection! “Oh that I was all heart,” said Rowland Hill, “and soul, and spirit, to tell the glorious gospel of Christ to perishing multitudes!”

We have been timid. Fear has often led us to smooth down or generalize truths which if broadly stated must have brought hatred and reproach upon us. We have thus often failed to declare to our people the whole counsel of God. We have shrunk from reproving, rebuking and exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine. We have feared to alienate friends, or to awaken the wrath of enemies. Hence our preaching of the law has been feeble and straitened; and hence our preaching of a free gospel has been yet more vague, uncertain and timorous. We are greatly deficient in that majestic boldness and nobility of spirit which peculiarly marked Luther, Calvin, Knox, and the mighty men of the Reformation. Of Luther it was said, “every word was a thunderbolt.”

We Have Been Selfish and Slothful

barn-2906759_640Having considered the many and numerous failures in serving the Lord, in his Words to Winners of Souls Horatius Bonar identifies the third and fourth of 14 specific sins that we must confess, that of being selfish and slothful:

We have been selfish. We have shrunk from toil, difficulty and endurance, counting not only our lives dear unto us, but even our temporal ease and comfort. “We have sought to please ourselves,” instead of “pleasing everyone his neighbor, for his good to edification.” We have not borne “one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We have been worldly and covetous. We have not presented ourselves unto God as “living sacrifices,” laying ourselves, our lives, our substance, our time, our strength, our faculties—our all—upon His altar. We seem altogether to have lost sight of this self-sacrificing principle on which even as Christians, but much more as ministers, we are called upon to act. We have had little idea of anything like sacrifice at all. Up to the point where a sacrifice was demanded, we may have been willing to go, but there we stood; counting it unnecessary, perhaps calling it imprudent and unadvised, to proceed further. Yet ought not the life of every Christian, especially of every minister, to be a life of self-sacrifice and self-denial throughout, even as was the life of Him who “pleased not himself”?

We have been slothful. We have been sparing of our toil. We have not endured hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Even when we have been instant in season, we have not been so out of season; neither have we sought to gather up the fragments of our time, that not a moment might be thrown idly or unprofitably away. Precious hours and days have been wasted in sloth, in company, in pleasure, in idle or desultory [aimless] reading, that might have been devoted to the closet, the study, the pulpit or the meeting! Indolence, self-indulgence, fickleness, flesh-pleasing, have eaten like a canker into our ministry, arresting the blessing and marring our success. It cannot be said of us, “For my name’s sake [thou] hast labored, and hast not fainted.” Alas! we have fainted, or at least grown “weary in well-doing.” We have not made conscience of our work. We have not dealt honestly with the church to which we pledged the vows of ordination. We have dealt deceitfully with God, whose servants we profess to be. We have manifested but little of the unwearied, self-denying love with which, as shepherds, we ought to have watched over the flocks committed to our care. We have fed ourselves, and not the flock.

We Have Been Carnal and Unspiritual

mountain-3351649_640Having considered the many and numerous failures in serving the Lord, in his Words to Winners of Souls Horatius Bonar identifies the second of 14 specific sins that we must confess, that of being carnal and unfaithful:

The tone of our life has been low and earthly. Associating too much and too intimately with the world, we have in a great measure become accustomed to its ways. Hence our tastes have been vitiated, our consciences blunted, and that sensitive tenderness of feeling which, while it turns not back from suffering yet shrinks from the remotest contact with sin, has worn off and given place to an amount of callousness of which we once, in fresher days, believed ourselves incapable.

Perhaps we can call to mind a time when our views and aims were fixed upon a standard of almost unearthly elevation, and, contrasting these with our present state, we are startled at the painful changes. And besides intimacy with the world, other causes have operated in producing this deterioration in the spirituality of our minds.

The study of truth in its dogmatical more than in its devotional form has robbed it of its freshness and power; daily, hourly occupation in the routine of ministerial labor has engendered formality and coldness; continual employment in the most solemn duties of our office, such as dealing with souls in private about their immortal welfare, or guiding the meditations and devotions of God’s assembled people, or handling the sacramental symbols—this, gone about often with so little prayer and mixed with so little faith, has tended grievously to divest us of that profound reverence and godly fear which ever ought to possess and pervade us.

How truly, and with what emphasis, we may say: “I am carnal, sold under sin.” The world has not been crucified to us, nor we unto the world; the flesh, with its members, has not been mortified. What a sad effect all this has bad, not only upon our peace of soul, on our growth in grace, but upon the success of our ministry!

Confess Unfaithfulness

raindrops-3216607_640Having considered the many and numerous failures in serving the Lord, in his Words to Winners of Souls Horatius Bonar then lists 14 specific sins that we must confess:

Let us, as they did, deal honestly with ourselves. Our confessions ought to be no less ample and searching.

We have been unfaithful. The fear of man and the love of his applause have often made us afraid. We have been unfaithful to our own souls, to our flocks, and to our brethren; unfaithful in the pulpit, in visiting, in discipline, in the church. In the discharge of every one of the duties of our stewardship there has been grievous unfaithfulness. Instead of the special particularization of the sin reproved, there has been the vague allusion. Instead of the bold reproof, there has been the timid hint. Instead of the uncompromising condemnation, there has been the feeble disapproval. Instead of the unswerving consistency of a holy life whose uniform tenor should be a protest against the world and a rebuke of sin, there has been such an amount of unfaithfulness in our walk and conversation, in our daily deportment and intercourses with others, that any degree of faithfulness we have been enabled to manifest on the Lord’s Day is almost neutralized by the want of circumspection which our weekday life exhibits.

Few men ever lived a life so busy and so devoted to God as Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh. His learning, habits of business, station, friends, all contributed to keep his hands every moment full; and then his was a soul that seemed continually to hear a voice saying, “redeem the time, for the days are evil.” Early, too, did he begin, for at ten years of age he was hopefully converted by a sermon preached on Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.” He was a painstaking, laborious preacher of the Word for fifty-five years.

Yet hear him on his death-bed! How he clings to Christ’s righteousness alone, and sees in himself, even after such a life, only sin and want. The last words he was heard to utter were about one o’clock in the afternoon, and these words were uttered in a loud voice: “But, Lord, in special forgive me my sins of omission.” It was omissions, says his biographer, he begged forgiveness of with his most fervent last breath—he who was never known to omit an hour, but who employed the shred ends of his life for his great Lord and Master! The very day he took his last sickness, he rose up from writing one of his great works and went out to visit a sick woman, to whom he spoke so fitly and fully that you would have taken him to have spoken of heaven before he came there. Yet this man was oppressed with a sense of his omissions!

Reader, what think you of yourself—your undone duties, your unimproved hours, times of prayer omitted, your shrinking from unpleasant work and putting it on others, your being content to sit under your vine and fig tree without using all efforts for the souls of others? “Lord, in special forgive me my sins of omission!”

Hear the confession of Edwards, in regard both to personal and ministerial sins: “Often I have had very affecting views of my own sinfulness and vileness; very frequently to such a degree as to hold me in a kind of loud weeping, sometimes for a considerable time together, so that I have often been forced to shut myself up. I have had a vastly greater sense of my own wickedness, and the badness of my heart, than ever I had before my conversion. My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, swallowing up all thought and imagination. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. When I look into my heart and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell. And yet it seems to me that my conviction of sin is exceedingly small and faint: it is enough to amaze me that I have no more sense of my sin. I have greatly longed of late for a broken heart, and to lie low before God.”

Remember and Repent, Part 5

man-1907204_640Horatius Bonar finishes relaying the 1651 Church of Scotland’s confession of ministerial sins in his Words to Winners of Souls:

“Bitterness, instead of zeal in speaking against malignants, sectarians, and other scandalous persons; and unfaithfulness therein. Not studying to know the particular condition of the souls of the people, that we may speak to them accordingly; nor keeping a particular record thereof, though convinced of the usefulness of this. Not carefully choosing what may be most profitable and edifying; and want of wisdom in application to the several conditions of souls; not so careful to bring home the point by application as to find out the doctrine, nor speaking the same with that reverence which becomes His word and message.

“Choosing texts whereon we have something to say, rather than those suited to the conditions of souls and times, and frequent preaching of the same things, that we may not be put to the pains of new study. Such a way of reading, preaching and prayer as puts us in these duties farther from God. Too soon satisfied in the discharge of duties, and holding off challenges of conscience with excuses. Indulging the body, and wasting much time idly. Too much eyeing our own credit and applause; and being pleased with it when we get it, and unsatisfied when it is wanting. Timorousness in delivering God’s message; letting people die in reigning sins without warning. Studying the discharge of duties rather to free ourselves from censure than to approve ourselves to God.

“Not making all the counsel of God known to His people; and particularly, not giving testimony in times of defection. Not studying to profit by our own doctrine, nor the doctrine of others. For most part, preaching as if we ourselves were not concerned in the message which we carry to the people. Not rejoicing at the conversion of sinners, but content with the unthriving of the Lord’s work amongst His people, as suiting best with our minds; fearing, if they should thrive better, we should be more put to it, and less esteemed of by them—many, in preaching and practice, bearing down the power of godliness. We preach not as before God, but as to men; as doth appear by the different pains in our preparation to speak to our ordinary hearers and to others to whom we would approve ourselves. Not making the ministry a work in earnest, as a thing to be accounted for in every duty; which makes much laziness and unfruitfulness; doing duties because it is merely expected of our office as opposed to the conviction of our consciences (Philippians 1:3-8).”

“Negligent, lazy, and partial visiting of the sick. If they be poor we go once, and only when sent for; if they be rich and of better note, we go oftener and unsent for. Not knowing how to speak with the tongue of the learned a word in season to the weary, and exercised in conscience; nor to such as are under the loss of husband, wife, children, friends, or goods, for the improving of these trials to their spiritual advantage; nor to dying persons. In visiting, wearying or shunning to go to such as we esteem graceless. Not visiting the people from house to house; nor praying with them at fit opportunities (2 Timothy 4:1-5).”

“Lazy and negligent in catechizing. Not preparing our hearts before, nor wrestling with God for a blessing to it, because of the ordinariness and apprehended easiness of it; whereby the Lord’s name is much taken in vain, and the people little profited. Looking on that exercise as a work below us, and not condescending to study a right and profitable way of instructing the Lord’s people. Partial in catechizing, passing by those that are rich and of better quality, though many of such stand ordinarily in great need of instruction. Not waiting upon and following the ignorant but often passionately upbraiding them (Galatians 4:11 -20).”

These are solemn confessions—the confessions of men who knew the nature of that ministry on which they had entered, and who were desirous of approving themselves to Him who had called them, that they might give in their account with joy and not with grief.

Remember and Repent, Part 4

polyana-2271693_640As I relayed in my first post I have found great benefit in prayerfully working through Horatius Bonar’s excellent  Words to Winners of Souls. I would challenge you as Bonar continues relaying the 1651 Church of Scotland’s confession of ministerial sins to prayerfully examine your own labors for Christ.

“Not entertaining that edge of spirit in ministerial duties which we found at the first entry to the ministry. Great neglect of reading, and other preparation; or preparation merely literal and bookish, making an idol of a book, which hindereth communion with God; or presuming on bygone assistance, and praying little.

“Trusting to gifts, talents, and pains taken for preparation, whereby God is provoked to blast good matter, well ordered and worded. Careless in employing Christ, and drawing virtue out of Him, for enabling us to preach in the Spirit and in power.

“In praying for assistance we pray more for assistance to the messenger than to the message which we carry; not caring what becomes of the Word, if we be with some measure of assistance carried on in the duty. The matter we bring forth is not seriously recommended to God by prayer, to be quickened to His people. Neglect of prayer after the Word is preached, that it may receive the first and latter rain; and that the Lord would put in the hearts of his people what we speak to them in his name.

“Neglect to warn, in preaching, of snares and sins in public affairs by some; and too much, too frequent, and unnecessary speaking by others of public business and transactions.

“Exceeding great neglect and unskillfulness to set forth the excellences and usefulness of (and the necessity of an interest in) Jesus Christ, and the new covenant, which ought to be the great subject of a minister’s study and preaching.

“Speaking of Christ more by hearsay than from knowledge and experience, or any real impression of Him upon the heart. The way of most ministers’ preaching too legal.

“Want of sobriety in preaching the gospel; not savoring anything but what is new; so that the substantials of religion bear but little bulk. Not preaching Christ in the simplicity of the gospel, nor ourselves the people’s servants, for Christ’s sake.

“Preaching of Christ, not that the people may know him, but that they may think we know much of Him. Preaching about Christ’s leaving of the world without brokenness of heart, or stirring up of ourselves to take hold of Him. Not preaching with bowels of compassion to them that are in hazard to perish.

“Preaching against public sins, neither in such a way, nor for such an end, as we ought—for the gaining of souls and drawing men out of their sins; but rather because it is to our advantage to say something of these evils.

Remember and Repent, Part 3

old-farm-house-2096641_640Horatius Bonar continues the 1651 Church of Scotland’s confession of ministerial sins in his Words to Winners of Souls

“Slighting of fellowship with those by whom we might profit. Desiring more to converse with those that might better us by their talents than with such as might edify us by their graces.

“Not studying opportunities of doing good to others. Shifting of prayer and other duties, when called thereto—choosing rather to omit the same than that we should be put to them ourselves. Abusing of time in frequent recreation and pastimes and loving our pleasures more than God. Taking little or no time to Christian discourse with young men trained up for the ministry. Common and ordinary discourse on the Lord’s Day.

“Slighting Christian admonition from any of our flocks or others, as being below us; and ashamed to take light and warning from private Christians. Dislike of, or bitterness against, such as deal freely with us by admonition or reproof, and not dealing faithfully with others who would welcome it off our hands.

“Not making conscience to take pains on the ignorant and profane, for their good. Our not mourning for the ignorance, unbelief and miscarriages of the flocks committed unto us.

“Impatient bearing of the infirmities of others; rashly breaking out against their persons, more than studying to gain them from their sins. Not using freedom with those of our charge; and for most part spending our time with them in common discourses, not tending to edification. Neglecting admonition to friends and others in an evil course.

“Not praying for men of a contrary judgment, but using reservedness and distance from them; being more ready to speak of them than to them or to God for them. Not weighed with the failings and miscarriages of others, but rather taking advantage thereof for justifying ourselves. Talking of and sporting at the faults of others, rather than compassionating of them.

“No due painstaking in religious ordering of our families, nor studying to be patterns to other families in the government of ours. Hasty anger and passion in our families and conversation with others.

“Covetousness, worldly-mindedness, and an inordinate desire after the things of this life, upon which followeth a neglect of the duties of our calling, and our being taken up for the most part with the things of the world.

“Want of hospitality and charity to the members of Christ. Not cherishing godliness in the people; and some being afraid of it and hating the people of God for piety, and studying to bear down and quench the work of the Spirit amongst them (2 Corinthians 1:6-12, 14, 24).”

Remember and Repent, Part 2

old-house-3391636_640Horatius Bonar continues the 1651 Church of Scotland’s confession of ministerial sins in his Words to Winners of Souls

“Glad to find excuses for the neglect of duties. Neglecting the reading of Scriptures in secret, for edifying ourselves as Christians; only reading them in so far as may fit us for our duty as ministers, and ofttimes neglecting that. Not given to reflect upon our own ways, nor allowing conviction to have a thorough work upon us; deceiving ourselves by resting upon absence from and abhorrence of evils from the light of a natural conscience, and looking upon the same as an evidence of a real change of state and nature. Evil guarding of and watching over the heart, and carelessness in self-searching; which makes much unacquaintedness with ourselves and estrangedness from God. Not guarding nor wrestling against seen and known evils, especially our predominants. A facility to be drawn away with the temptations of the time, and other particular temptations, according to our inclinations and fellowship.

“Instability and wavering in the ways of God, through the fears of persecutions, hazard, or loss of esteem; and declining duties because of the fear of jealousies and reproaches. Not esteeming the cross of Christ, and sufferings for His name, honorable, but rather shifting sufferings, from self-love. Deadness of spirit, after all the sore strokes of God upon the land. Little conscience made of secret humiliation and fasting, by ourselves apart and in our families, that we might mourn for our own and the land’s guiltiness and great backslidings; and little applying of public humiliation to our own hearts. Finding of our own pleasure, when the Lord calls for our humiliation.

“Not laying to heart the sad and heavy sufferings of the people of God abroad, and the not-thriving of the kingdom of Jesus Christ and the power of godliness among them. Refined hypocrisy; desiring to appear what, indeed, we are not. Studying more to learn the language of God’s people than their exercise. Artificial confessing of sin, without repentance; professing to declare iniquity, and not resolving to be sorry for sin. Confession in secret much slighted, even of those things whereof we are convicted. No reformation, after solemn acknowledgments and private vows; thinking ourselves exonerated after confession. Readier to search out and censure faults in others than to see or deal with them in ourselves. Accounting of our estate and way according to the estimation that others have of us. Estimation of men, as they agree with or disagree from us.

“Not fearing to meet with trials, but presuming, in our own strength, to go through them unshaken. Not learning to fear, by the falls of gracious men; nor mourning and praying for them. Not observing particular deliverances and rods; not improving of them, for the honor of God, and the edification of ourselves and others. Little or no mourning for the corruption of our nature, and less groaning under, and longing to be delivered from, that body of death, the bitter root of all our other evils.”

“Fruitless conversing ordinarily with others, for the worse rather than for the better. Foolish jesting away of time with impertinent and useless discourse, very unbecoming the ministers of the gospel. Spiritual purposes often dying in our hands when they are begun by others. Carnal familiarity with natural, wicked and malignant men, whereby they are hardened, the people of God stumbled, and we ourselves blunted.

Remember and Repent

church-692722_640“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” —Revelation 2:5

In the year 1651 the Church of Scotland, feeling in regard to her ministers “how deep their hand was in the transgression, and that ministers had no small accession to the drawing on of the judgments that were upon the land,” drew up what they called a humble acknowledgment of the sins of the ministry. This document is a striking and searching one. It is perhaps one of the fullest, most faithful and most impartial confessions of ministerial sin ever made. A few extracts from it will suitably introduce this chapter on ministerial confession.

It begins with confessing sins before entrance on the ministry:

“Lightness and profanity in conversation, unsuitable to that holy calling which they did intend, not thoroughly repented of. Not studying to be in Christ before they be in the ministry; nor to have the practical knowledge and experience of the mystery of the gospel in themselves before they preach it to others. Neglecting to fit themselves for the work of the ministry, in not improving prayer and fellowship with God, opportunities of a lively ministry, and other means, and not mourning for these neglects. Not studying self-denial, nor resolving to take up the cross of Christ. Negligence to entertain a sight and sense of sin and misery; not wrestling against corruption, nor studying mortification and subduedness of spirit (Romans 7:14, 15).”

Of entrance on the ministry it thus speaks:

“Entering to the ministry without respect to a commission from Jesus Christ, by which it hath come to pass that many have run unsent. Entering to the ministry not from the love of Christ, nor from a desire to honor God in gaining of souls, but for a name and for a livelihood in the world notwithstanding a solemn declaration to the contrary at admission. Too much weighed with inclination to be called to the ministry in a place where we have carnal relations (Romans 1:8-16).”

Of the sins after entrance on the ministry, it thus searchingly enumerates:

“Ignorance of God; want of nearness with Him, and taking up little of God in reading, meditating and speaking of Him. Exceeding great selfishness in all that we do; acting from ourselves, for ourselves and to ourselves. Not caring how unfaithful and negligent others were, so being it might contribute a testimony to our faithfulness and diligence, but being rather content, if not rejoicing, at their faults. Least delight in those things wherein lieth our nearest communion with God; great inconstancy in our walk with God, and neglect of acknowledging Him in all our ways. In going about duties, least careful of those things which are most remote from the eyes of men. Seldom in secret prayer with God, except to fit for public performance; and even that much neglected, or gone about very superficially.

This post is a continuation of Horatius Bonar’s Words to Winners of Souls (see here for book information).