Weekly Update 25 – Durham on the ‘besetting sins’ of Pastors

Back to Durham – but not on the free offer.  This week I am taking a look at a very searching section of Durham’s Commentary on Revelation (Reprint. Willow Street: Old Paths Publications, 2000).  In this section Durham is answering the question What may make a Minister so ready to please himself in the having of Gifts, and a name before others, when yet he may be so faulty before God?  What he has to say is very challenging so read on with caution!

Of all men in the world, Ministers are most obnoxious to this temptation of vanity, and seeking approbation from others; because, most of their appearances are in public before others, and that in the exercise of some Gift of the mind… Now, when this meeteth with applause, it holdeth out a people’s estimation of such a person’s worth, which has a great subtlety in pleasing and tickling of him, and so is ready to incline him to rest satisfied therein.
p227

Durham is here exposing what is one of the great dangers of the ministry – pride and vanity.  The subject of pride is a difficult one to address – if only those who are without sin on this subject were to mention pride then it would never be spoken on!  But I think what Durham says here is to the point and needs to be emphasised today.  It is all too easy if people look to you for advice, guidance and for feeding from the word of God to become proud.  So Durham’s warning has timeless application to the ministry.

I also think what Durham is saying has particular relevance in our age which is obsessed with “celebrity” – even in the Church.  If you are a “successful” figure and your ministry brings you attention then along comes the conference circuit, books, articles, book endorsements, etc.  To keep humble in such circumstances requires great grace.  As an aside, this “celebrity” culture in Reformed churches is not at all helpful.  I remember a night back home in Inverness.  One of the churches there had a “Reformed/Evangelical celebrity” speaking.  Another meeting was taking place at the same time to hear from a missionary about to set off for dangerous and lonely work in a Muslim country.  Which meeting had 20 in attendance and which had hundreds?  What does that say about the priorities of Christians today? (I was a student in Edinburgh at the time and so was at neither.)

Now to caveat all this slightly I should point out that some of the most humble Christians I know are ministers!

Many Ministers are not travailing in birth to beget souls, and to have success as to the Salvation of many, as well as outward fruits; but are at best studying to exonerate themselves as having been diligent in their duty.
p227

It is so easy to slip into mere duty.  But to “travail in birth” over the salvation of souls – that is the difficult thing.

Oftentimes Ministers take more pains in external duties of their Ministry that are obvious to the view of others, than they do in the inward secret duties of Christianity upon their own hearts, such as self-examination, the making of their own calling and election sure, the keeping of themselves in the love of God, the exercising of faith, Repentance etc.
p227

It is a great danger to put most effort into those duties that are open for all to see.  It is easy to appear externally well while neglecting the internal duties which cultivate true godliness.

Hence we see, That as often the most tender Christian is under the cross, so it is the most lively Minister who laboureth most under the sense of his own insufficiency and shortcomings in Gifts… who meeteth with most disrespect, and many disappointments amongst the people and such like; these are often blessed of God to keep such a person lively… O but Ministers that have a name, and some seeming countenance in the exercise of their Gifts, great applause and acceptation amongst the people, had need to be humble and watchful, lest they be liable to this charge, Thou hast a name that thou livest, but art dead!
p228

There is a famous story around Spurgeon (I think) who had one member of his congregation who constantly criticised him.  Spurgeon thanked God for this member as they helped to keep him humble!  Durham makes a similar point here.  Are you suffering from criticism in your ministry?  Then maybe God is using that criticism as a means of grace to maintain humility.

Now just to try and get the balance right, Durham is not criticising successful (or fruitful) ministers – that is ministers whose labours are blessed by God to see many sinners saved.  Nor does Durham want ministers to be indifferent to this “success”, if I may call it that – they are to seek and labour that their ministries may be blessed.  But what is utterly abhorant to Durham is that any “success” or “gifts” should breed pride.  And in any case the gifts that ministers (or any Christians) have should not be a source of pride, for “it is not Gifts that commendeth a Minister to Christ, but faithfulness in improving the measure which he hath…” p249.

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2 Responses to “Weekly Update 25 – Durham on the ‘besetting sins’ of Pastors”

  1. Steven Carr Says:

    I was alerted to this post by Dr. R. Scott Clark. I am glad I found it. I will be returning here often. There is good feasting for the mind here.

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Many thanks for your kind words!

    Every blessing
    Donald John

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