Charles Bridges. The Christian Ministry: with An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1830. 390 pp. $32.00.
Church and Ministry
Look at your shelf. What do you see? Is it mostly books published in the last 10 or 20 years? How often do Early Church, Medievalist, Reformation and Puritan writers refresh you? If not at all or rarely, then I plead for you to start reading these writers.
Why not start with a 19th century evangelical like Charles Bridges? Charles Bridges relied heavily on forbearers as he wrote The Christian Ministry. He gleaned from his contemporaries of course, but he also turned to erudite men like Baxter, Henry, Doddridge, and Edwards.
It’s likely that reading current popular theology will be your mainstay in ministry. This is how to engage today’s conversations. But much learning comes from reading forerunners. The Christian Ministry is a launching pad for this kind of reading because it is directed to pastors about pastoral ministry.
In this work Bridges lays out the facets of Christian ministry in five rigorous parts. Part one looks at the origin, dignity, necessity, trials, comforts, qualifications, and preparation of Christian ministry. Part two focuses on ministry success and the obstacles to this success. Part three exposes characteristics of ministers that block ministry efficiency. Part four focuses on elements of sermon preparation. Part five concludes with how to approach and treat people in various spiritual conditions.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Each part of The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges edifies pastors and contributes in significant ways to their spiritual and practical preparation.
I found part one’s keen advice on the qualifications and preparation for ministry to be profitable. I appreciated Bridges’ quote of John Newton, “None but he who made the world can make a Minister of the gospel” (24). That God sets apart Christian ministers is a comforting reminder. God prepares you for the work. You will study, pray, and learn to love and shepherd others, but God divinely affirms this call.
Part two involves a rarely seen but remarkably honest discussion on local hindrances to ministerial success. Such hindrances include the hard soil of people who do not receive the Word, the presence of heresy in a community, barriers caused by the nature of a city versus the nature of a country parish, and other such hindrances.
Bridges advises faithfulness, meekness, and patience as countermeasures to these hindrances. But, above all, he reminds pastors: “‘He that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand,’ appoints unto each its place in the spiritual firmament, as shall be most suited for the honour of his name, for the purpose of his will, and for the edification of his Church” (89). In other words, God’s sovereign hand is upon every minister and his calling to a specific place. Trusting and persevering in that calling is critical.
Part three really pricks hearts. If our character were a pond, then Bridges stirs up all the sediment that settled at the bottom. In spite of our attempts to conceal the dirt, Bridges shows us how dirty we are.
For instance, if you are selfish with your time, like me, then you might find this convicting. “Think not of appropriating any time to yourself, if you can by a different application of it preserve only one soul from perdition” (131). And when he broaches the subject of covetousness, Bridges adroitly says, “On the other hand, there is no more fatal hindrance to the Ministry, none that makes our person and labours more contemptible in the eyes of the world than this idolatrous principle. It counteracts the grand design of our office, which is to draw men from earth to heaven” (143). Bridges makes many more direct callouts of sin as he helps pastors kill that which threatens both their character and ministry.
Part four’s discussion on sermon preparation is the finest homiletical help I’ve studied for affecting the heart and sharpening doctrinal precision. Special attention should be given to sections three and four on preaching the law and preaching the gospel respectively. So few understand how to rightly apply the law in their preaching. Bridges convincingly gives pastors both a motive and a method for using the law to move listeners into misery over sin, which cultivates the heart to receive the seed of the gospel.
Part five concludes with admonishing pastors to not just speak to their flock but to visit them as well. In other words, though much ministry takes place in the pulpit, an equal weight if not the lion’s share of ministry happens in personal one-on-one interaction.
Thus, referring to the pastors relationship with his congregants, Bridges says: “We must acquaint ourselves with their situation, habits, character, state of heart, peculiar wants, and difficulties, that we may ‘give to each of them a portion in due season’” (344). This part guides pastors in approaching certain heart conditions and shepherding those hearts towards effectual change.
Let me warn you that The Christian Ministry is no lightweight read. It’s more common today for popular Christian works to lack the theological prowess and academic rigor characteristic of the past. You’ll find Bridges to be a different breed from a different time. A working knowledge of Latin, though not necessary, proves advantageous with reading this book. Don’t let that intimidate you. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I think you will too!
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
The Christian Ministry instills a deep affection for your calling and imprints zeal to animate God’s people towards holiness.