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Preparations for the Christian Ministry – Habits of Special Prayer by Charles Bridges

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Preaching

LUTHER long since has said-‘Prayer, meditation, and temptation, make a Minister.’ No one will hesitate to admit the importance of the first of these qualifications, who has ever realized the weight of Ministerial responsibility, who has been led to know that his ‘sufficiency is of God,’ and that prayer is the appointed channel of heavenly communications. The student’s conscious need of wisdom, humility and faith, to ascertain the pure simplicity of his purpose, his necessary qualifications, and his Divine call to the holy office-will bring him a daily suppliant to the throne of grace. In his General Studies, abstracted from this spirit of prayer, he will find a dryness-a want of power to draw his resources to this one center of the Ministry-or perhaps a diversion from the main object into some track of self-indulgence. And even in this special duty of the Scriptures he will feel himself, (as Witsius says) ‘like a blind man contemplating the heavens,’-or as when the world in its original confusion ‘was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.’ God must speak to his heart-‘Let there be light;’ and ‘for this he will be inquired of to do it unto him.’

Wickliff’s judgment of the main qualification of an expositor of Scripture is equally striking and accurate. He should be a man of prayer-he needs the internal instruction of the primary Teacher. Dr. Owen observes with his usual impressiveness-‘For a man solemnly to undertake the interpretation of any portion of Scripture without invocation of God, to be taught and instructed by his Spirit, is a high provocation of him; nor shall I expect the discovery of truth from any one, who thus proudly engages in a work so much above his ability. But this is the sheet anchor of a faithful expositor in all difficulties; nor can he without this be satisfied, that he hath attained the mind of the Spirit in any Divine revelation. When all other helps fail, as they frequently do, this will afford him the best relief. The labours of former expositors are of excellent use: but they are far from having discovered the depth of this vein of wisdom; nor will the best of our endeavors prescribe limits to our successors; and the reason why the generality go in the same track, except in some excursions of curiosity, is-not giving themselves up to the conduct of the Holy Spirit in the diligent performance of their duty.’

Let the probationer then seriously calculate the cost of the work. Many are the painful exercises of faith and patience superadded to the daily difficulties of the Christian life. Need we therefore remind him, what an awakening call there is for prayer, for additional supplies of heavenly influence-that his knowledge may grow ‘unto all the riches of the full assurance of understanding’-that his heart may be constrained to a cheerful and ready obedience-that all his powers may be consecrated to this sole object-and that the whole work of preparation may be sealed by an abundant blessing? George Herbert justly remarks of ‘some in a preparatory way,’ that their ‘aim and labor must be, not only to get knowledge, but to subdue and mortify all lusts and affections, and not to think, that, when they have read the fathers or school-men, a Minister is made, and the thing done. The greatest and hardest preparation is within.’ And indeed hic labor-hoc opus est. To bring the heart to the work, and to keep it there-to exchange the indulgence of ease for labor and self-denial, the esteem of the world for the reproach of Christ and of his cross-to endure the prospect of successive disappointment and discouragement-this it is that raises within the ‘evil spirit’ of despondency: ‘which kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.’

The first Ministers of the Gospel were prepared for their work (unconsciously indeed to themselves) by their Master’s retirement for the continuance of a whole night of prayer to God. With the same holy preparation the first Missionaries to the Gentiles were sent forth ; and thus-instead of ‘returning (like the nobles of Judah) with their vessels empty, ashamed and confounded, and covering their heads’-they gladdened the hearts of their brethren with tidings of the great things ‘that God had done with them.’ Indeed an entrance upon this great work without the spirit of prayer, would be to ‘go a’ most fearful ‘warfare at our own charges.’ The kingdom of Satan would have little to apprehend from an attack of literature, or from any systematic mechanism of external forms. The outworks might be stormed, but the citadel would remain impregnable. ‘The prey’ will never be ‘taken from the mighty, nor the lawful captives delivered,’ by any other power than the Ministry of the Gospel clothed with Almighty energy. By this means the first attack was made by the servants of Christ, waiting in earnest prayer for the fulfillment of the faithful promises. The Christian Ministry is a work of faith; and, that it may be a work of faith, it must be a work of prayer. Prayer obtains faith, while faith in its reaction quickens to increasing earnestness of prayer. Thus spiritual, enlightened, and encouraging views of the Ministry flow from the habit of diligent waiting on God. We may therefore safely conclude with Bernard,-‘Utilis lectio,-utih.s eruditio-sed magis necessaria unctio, quippe que docet de omnibus.’

If then the candidate for the sacred office should never bow his knee, without making the momentous work before him a subject of large supplication, he will do well. But if he should add to his customary times of prayer seasons of retirement, consecrated to the sole purpose of contemplating the work, and separating himself to its service, he will do better. A man of special prayer will be a man of special faith: and faith enables ‘the worm to thresh the mountains,’ and, in holy triumph, to cast them down before him-‘Who art thou , O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.’