The sum of the Christian minister’s whole labour is to honour God and to save men (8). In the book, The Christian Ministry, published by Banner of Truth, Charles Bridges seeks to give a theological and practical overview of the Christian ministry. The contents of this book originated from a letter written to a friend upon the subject of ministerial inefficiency. As one of the leading evangelicals of his day, Charles Bridges sought to answer the questions posed to him. In this book review, I will first briefly summarize the content of this book. Then, I will comment on any outstanding lessons that I have taken away from this reading.
To begin, the content of this book can be organized into five different bodies of thought. First, Bridges begins his book with a general overview of the Christian ministry. In this section he speaks on the origin and institution of the Christian ministry, the necessity of it, the trials and difficulties, comforts and encouragement, and qualifications of the Christian ministry. Additionally, Bridges gives the reader certain steps to prepare for the ministry, such as habits of study and prayer. The second section of the book focuses on the general causes of the want of success in the Christian ministry. In this section, Bridges looks at the Scriptural warrant for ministerial success. He notes that it is good to seek for a “real harvest produced by spiritual labours,” but it must be done for the honour and glory of God’s name (75). Bridges also acknowledges that there are also unhealthy and prideful ways of longing for ‘success’ in ministry, and this must be put to death. In many casess it is the longing of the natural heart to elevate self.
In the third section, Bridges identifies personal hinderances to ministerial success, namely the ministers own personal character. Bridges identifies that the causes of ministerial inefficiency can be linked to a minister’s conformity to the world, fear of man, Spirit of covetousness, spiritual pride, etc. Bridges states that the minister must “devote himself entirely to Jesus Christ, and to his Church.” (107). The character of a minister must be stamped with growing holiness and nearness to God. In the fourth section, Bridges begins to speak on the public work of the Christian ministry. This section highlights the importance of peaching, the different types of preaching, (i.e. doctrinal, experimental, practical, applicatory, etc.), and how to prepare for the pulpit. The fifth and final section of the book deals with ministerial work in general, the nature and importance of this work, and how to handle different people in the ministry (i.e. the self-righteous, the young Christian, the backslider, etc.).
To conclude this review, I will comment on two outstanding lessons that I have drawn from reading this book. First, I will discuss the importance of studying and meditating upon the Word. Bridges notes that the “minister’s life must, to the end, be a life of holy meditation and study” (208). The minister must feast upon the Word, both in large and in small portions daily. It is vitally important to maintain the “daily reading of considerable portions of the pure word of God, and so to keep Scriptural truth continually revolving in the mind” (51). Additionally, it is essential that the minister meditates on the Word and feeds his own soul, before ministering to others. Bridges notes that a proper habit of study is the groundwork for ‘success’ (48).
Secondly, Bridges states that “the highest style of a preacher therefore is – that he gives himself to prayer” (216). It is vitally important for the preacher to be a man of prayer. “the most valuable results of meditative study are essentially defective without prayer” (213). The entire life of the preacher should be marked by prayer. “Nothing will give such power to our sermons, as when they are the sermons of many prayers. The best sermons are lost, except they be watered by prayer” (215). Bridges reminds us to continually pray for those to whom we preach. It is simply not enough to just pray before the sermon. We must also pray after. Therefore, the greatest take away from this book is Bridges emphasis on prayer and preaching of the Word.
I highly recommend this book to the student training for the ministry, for the young minister, and those who have been in the ministry for some time now. In this book, each alike will be challenged, exhorted, and encouraged.
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Bridges, Charles. The Christian Ministry: An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency. East Peoria, IL: Banner of Truth, 2009.