Advancing Christ’s kingdom together #2
We began this series yesterday with Fuller’s introduction to his letter entreating the assistance of his Christian hearers in promoting the interest of Christ in the world. There, he briefly established the principles of co-operation upon which he intended to proceed, namely, the united and active interest of every member of Christ’s body in the health and growth of that body.
In the letter, he deals with the opportunities for such contributions in terms of four groups of people with whom pastors have to do, and in the service of whom the saints might make a vital contribution. The first group is “serious and humble Christians,” and here are Fuller’s suggestions and requests:
First, It may be supposed that in every church of Christ there will be a considerable portion of serious and humble Christians. – Our work in respect of them is to feed them with the wholesome doctrine of the word, and to teach them the mind of Christ in all things. The assistance which we ask of you, brethren, in this part of our ministry, is, that you would not only pray for us, but be free to impart to us the state of your minds, and whether our labours be edifying to you or not. It is not so much by a systematical statement and defence of Christian doctrines that believers are edified, as by those doctrines being applied to their respective cases. This is the way in which they are ordinarily introduced in the Scriptures, and in which they become “words in due season.” But we cannot well preach to the cases of people unless we know them. Add to this, the interest which you discover in the things of God has a more than ordinary influence on our minds in the delivery of them. You cannot conceive the difference between addressing a people full of tender and affectionate attention, whose souls appear in their eyes, and answer, as it were, to the word of God; and preaching to those who are either half asleep, or their thoughts manifestly occupied by other things. By looking at the one, our hearts have expanded like the flowers before the morning sun: thoughts have occurred, and sensations have been kindled, which the labours of the study could never have furnished. But, by observing the other, our spirits are contracted like the flowers by the damps of the evening, and thoughts which were interesting when alone have seemed to die as they proceeded from our lips.
It will tend not a little to increase your interest in hearing, if you exercise yourselves on other occasions in reading and reflection. If you attend to the things of God only, or chiefly, while hearing us, we shall preach to you under great disadvantage. The apostle complained of many things being hard to be uttered, owing to the Hebrews being dull of hearing; and that, when for the time they ought to have been teachers, they had need that one should teach them again which were the first principles of the oracles of God. Thinking hearers gave a facility to preaching, even upon the most difficult subjects; while those whose minds are seldom occupied at other times can scarcely understand the most easy and familiar truths.
Here, then, are ways in which healthy saints can make a vital contribution to the work of ministry:
- Firstly, and most fundamentally, you can pray for your pastors. It was Spurgeon who spoke for countless men (albeit on a different scale) when he said that the secret of all his pastoral ‘success’ was that his people prayed for him. Prayer opens the windows of heaven to bring down a blessing. If you can do nothing else, you can pray for your pastors, and plead a blessing on their labours.
- Secondly, you can labour to know and be known by those who serve you, with a ready transparency and in intelligent communication. It is this ready and easy relationship that enables the under-shepherd to minister to his particular flock, and to the particular sheep in it. To this end, will you open your hearts to your pastors about your joys and troubles, your hopes and fears, your delights and concerns, so that they might minister to you wisely? Further, will you intelligently communicate to them whether or not they are feeding your souls and scratching your spiritual itches in and out of the pulpit, if not on the Lord’s day then with a phone call, quiet word, grateful note or encouraging email during the week? How many never respond with any outward sign of intelligent appreciation! How many more never get beyond “Good word, pastor!” at the door on the way out, or platitudes about being “so blessed”? Knowing how and in what ways we have profitably served, or if we are failing to bring forth from our treasure things new and old for the good of the saints, helps preachers to be wise physicians of your souls.
- Thirdly, you can be exemplary listeners. To be sure, there are bad days when the kids were up all night and you struggle to keep your eyes open, or when that headache means you can only look at the preacher with a squint, or when you are persuaded that you did indeed leave the oven on at full heat. But, generally speaking, do you draw the truth out of your preachers, contributing to a lively spiritual dynamic in which, by means of mutual sensitivity, the flow of truth – under divine pressure and hissing-hot – comes flooding out of his soul into yours? Your appearance and spiritual disposition under the preaching of the word will contribute either to the flowering or the withering of your pastors in the act of preaching. (See also here.)
- Fourthly and finally, you can maintain spiritual fitness for hearing by your own reading and reflection apart from the services of worship. Such activity forms the channels down which the truth must run, and dredges out the silt that too readily builds up to inhibit that flow of truth. Especially on Saturday evenings, stoke up a good fire in your souls, so that on the Lord’s day morning you need only to rake over the coals to see the flames leap up once more. Holy familiarity with God’s truth in the general run of life will equip you to understand and receive it when it is offered to you morning and evening on the Lord’s day.
And, brothers and sisters, the best time to begin is now, and the best Lord’s day to put this into practice is the coming one, and the one after that, and so on and so on, until glory dawns, and faith is sight.