This fall I teach my Prayer and Spiritual Awakenings class, one of the great delights I have as a teacher. I love digging into the primary sources from history to share with eager students wisdom from the past. I am struck by pastors like Jonathan Edwards who, although witnessing great movements of God, never seemed to be satisfied with the status quo.
Here are a few selected points made by a now seasoned pastor Edwards in a letter from May 23, 1749. He was all of 46 at the time, and had first seen awakening as a 31 year old pastor. By the way, most of the leaders of the Great Awakening were in their 20s and 30s at the time. That strikes me as just yesterday I visited with an urban pastor who loves the city and is part of the SBC as well as a network (Acts29) that is quite urban and led mostly by men under 40.
Edwards first spoke in his letter about ministers watching themselves personally. In part, he wrote: “We must take good heed to our preaching; that is be not only sound, but instructive, savoury, spiritual, very awakening and searching, well adapted to the times and seasons which pass over us; labouring earnestly herein. We must therefore dwell much on the doctrines of repentance and conversion, the nature, necessity, and evidence thereof; and much urge the duty of self-examination, . . . bringing the unconverted under the work of the law, that they may be prepared to embrace the offer of the gospel.”
He spoke further on a pastor’s praying: “We should follow all our endeavours with fervent prayer to God; especially our labours in preaching and teaching: THE SEED OF THE WORD IS TO BE STEEPED IN TEARS” (emphasis added).
He then spoke about the way in which ministers should associate with one another:
“We must lay aside disgusts with one another; and study brotherly love, that it may revive and continue; we must endeavour to be as near as we can of one mind, and go on harmoniously. . . . There must be respectful treatment of one another. . .
And when we have occasion to dispute, let it be under a very strict guard, avoiding all censuring reflections.”
He encouraged ministers to get together and observe fasts (not too likely to be observed today given the gluttony of our time I fear), to meet together for “the advancement of the kingdom of Christ,” and to encourage the public reading of Scripture.
Finally, he gave advice regarding a pastor’s influence over his people:
“We must consider what evils there are to be found among them, which do especially need reforming.”
“Let us endeavour to revive good customs and practices among them,” including catechism, family order and worship, etc.
“Church discipline should be revived.” He adds, “nor are we to forget to take special care of the children and youths of the flock.”
Of course Edwards is not Paul and his words are not inerrant. Neither are ours. But we can learn from men of old who have seen God move and been faithful as pastors. May we learn from such examples as this. May we focus on our common faith in the gospel, stand on an inerrant Bible, and live in such a way that our rhetoric is not disavowed by how we live in our world.