Ministerial Duties

J.C. Ryle, 1858

I am desirous to impress upon my ministerial brethren the question: What use are we going to make of all that we have heard at the meeting of this week? What practical lessons are we going to carry away for our future conduct as ministers of Christ?

It is of great importance to recall to our minds the real nature of our work as ministers of the Gospel. We should remember constantly the great ideal of what a Christian minister ought to be, sketched out in the sixth chapter of the Acts: "We will give ourselves to the Word of God and to prayer." The preaching and expounding of the Word of God, with nothing added, and with nothing taken away--is beyond all doubt our principal business.

But after that, we must never forget private prayer. Private prayer is
one grand secret of the strength of the ministry. It is here that the roots of the ministry, practically speaking, are to be found. The ministry of the man who has gifts, however great, but who does not give the prayer-closet the principal place--must sooner or later become tedious and ineffective.

At the same time we must take heed that we give due honor to the Word of God in our public ministrations. A thousand things continually call us away from this--committees, schools, visiting, and the like. But we must remember, that we are ministers of the Word of God--that our province is the Word of God--and that we must be very careful not to leave the Word of God, to serve tables.

I will remark, in the next place, that it is of immense importance that we should take heed to our own lives. I have been lately studying the lives and private habits of those men whom God raised up to be the revivers of the Church of England in the last century. I have been much struck with their self-denial, and entire devotedness to the work of the ministry. They were men who lived very plainly and simply, and did not seem to care much for anything but their pastoral work. They were not men who sought the entertainments of the great and the rich. We should do well to consider whether we are living as near to God as they did.

I will remark, in the next place, that we all need to be more careful in the employment of our time. There is a danger of trying to do too much. Some clergymen have so many irons in the fire, that it is impossible to keep them all hot. A few things well done, are far better than twenty poorly done. The man whose work will stand the longest, is the man who, whatever people may say, however lazy they may call him--determines that he will not do more than he can do well, that he will not attempt more work than he can really do, and that he will not start more machinery than he can keep steadily going.

I will remark, in the next place, that we must take heed that we do not neglect our pulpit preparation. The matter and style of our sermons must be equal to the demands of the times. Ignorant and unlearned people may perhaps put up with anything in the way of preaching, but the more the people are trained by means of teachers and libraries, the more need there is to take heed to our preaching, in order that the pulpit of the Church of England may not fall behind the times. There is danger on this point. Some may be ready to say at the end of the week, "I have been working for God the whole of the week. I have been attending the school, visiting from house to house, distributing tracts, making speeches, delivering lectures; and if my sermons on Sunday are not quite what they might be, at any rate I have not been idle."

We should remember, that all work of this description, if it entrenches on the preparation of our sermons, is work ill-spent. It is no excuse in the sight of God, if our sermons on Sundays are poor, because we have been working so hard all the week.

What costs little, is worth little. If a man comes to his Bible on the Saturday, takes the first text that occurs to him, puts a few thoughts together, and then, trusting to his extempore powers, goes with that preparation only into the pulpit the next morning we must not be surprised if the people complain of sameness in their pastor's ministrations. There never was a period when the pulpit demanded more preparation, more serious, hearty, studious preparation, at the hand of all God's faithful ministers.

I will remark, in the next place, that it deserves serious consideration, whether we give sufficient attention to reading and study, in the present day. By all means let us put the Bible first, chief, and foremost, and make it our principal study. But I would be sorry if it came to be said that the ministers of the Church of England were ignorant men. I do not mean by the reading which I refer to, such reading as would lead us away from the Bible, but such as would help to the study and understanding of it. I do not mean that we ought to read things which do not throw light on the Word of God. But I do say that, in the multiplicity of our engagements, there is great danger of forgetting that reading makes a "full man," and neglect of reading makes an empty one.

Sorry would I be if the evangelical clergy of the Church of England were to get the character of being men who read little, and took little pains to add new things to old. I must plainly give it as my opinion that clergymen who think there is no occasion for reading and study make a great mistake, and are likely to bring the ministry into great contempt. We ought to be familiar with books which throw light on our great work, and we ought to make time to read them.

We are living in troublous times. There are dangers ahead, which ought to turn every Christian heart to the sanctuary, crying, "O Lord, spare us! O Lord, give us your blessing."

These are not times in which men ought to get into their little parish and say they care not what goes on outside that ditch or that wall, or that lane, which is the boundary of their parish. We must have public feelings, and do our duty, and take our part against the common foes by which the Church of England is in danger of being assailed. We must bear the kind of testimony which Jeremiah was called to bear in his time. We must not suppose that anything will do except fighting not fighting with carnal weapons, but with the sword of the Spirit. We must earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.

All like peace and quietness. It is pleasant to sit under our own vine and fig-tree. But the times in which we live will not allow us to sit still. It is hard to be ever fighting. But our forefathers won the Reformation through dangers, and we must strive to keep it, and hand it down to our descendants, whatever dangers we have to pass through.

We ministers ask a special place in your intercessory prayers. You should consider the position in which we are placed. Being put forward in the forefront of the battle, we may surely ask for a special place in your prayers. We are only flesh and blood. We are men of like passions with yourselves. We have our private trials, and our special temptations. Often, while watering the vineyards of others, our own is comparatively neglected. Surely it is not too much to ask you to pray for us.

Pray that we may be kept humble and sensible of our own weakness, and ever mindful that in the Lord alone can we be strong. Pray that we may have wisdom to take the right step, to do the right thing in the right way, and to do nothing to cause the Gospel to be blamed. Pray, above all, that we may go straight on, even unto the end that we may never lose our first love, nor abandon our first principles that it may never be said of us, that we are not the men we once were, but that we may go on consistently and faithfully, die in harness, and "finish our course with joy, and the ministry which we have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God."

We are about to part, perhaps to meet no more in this world. Let us solemnly commend one another to God, and to the word of His grace, as that which will never err, never fail us, never lead us astray. Guided by that word as our light and lamp, we shall at last receive an inheritance among them that are sanctified. Above all, let us never forget the advice which Whitefield gave in one of his letters, let us "make much of our Lord Jesus Christ." There are many things of which we may easily make too much in our ministry, give them too much attention, think about them too much. But we can never make too much of Christ.

In conclusion, I will remind you of the words which the Apostle addressed to the Ephesian elders: "I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace."