"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one."— Paul.
Of all essential qualities for the gospel ministry, spirituality is the underlying, intertwining, predominant principle. Without genuine spirituality there can be no restoration of the sinner to paths of rectitude and righteousness, no power in the life of the minister to impart the spiritual remedy for sin-sick souls.
" The spiritual man is the divine ideal in life and ministry, in power with God and man, in unbroken fellowship and blessing," says Lewis Sperry Chafer in his book entitled, " He That Is Spiritual." He further states: " True spirituality is that quality of life in the child of God which satisfies and glorifies the Father. . . . Upon it all Christian service depends. Since God purposes to work through human means, the fitness of the instrument determines the progress made." He then asks: " What, then, is true spirituality? " and answers the question by saying, " It is the unhindered manifestations of the indwelling Spirit."
A "more spiritual ministry " depends upon the degree to which there is " unhindered " manifestation of the Spirit; and it is in the hope that most earnest heed may be given to removing all hindrances to the operations of the Holy Spirit in the life that this sincere plea is made.
There is need of constant vigilance on the part of the minister, lest he become so absorbed in the affairs of his ministry as to be unaware of the great vacuum which develops in his life and labor through depleted spirituality. The danger signal against a depleted spiritual life in the ministry is set forth by Thomas Hamilton Lewis, in a book entitled, " The Minister and His Own Soul," as follows:
"The minister must have reserves of power in his own spiritual life, or he will labor in vain, no matter how busily. . . . Ministers know very well, although it may sound strange to laymen, that there is constant danger in the ministerial life and work to overlook the spiritual needs of the minister himself Most ministers have realized that times of great spiritual revival among the people have proved sometimes to be seasons of spiritual dearth with the minister. Not that the minister has been insincere, but he has simply emptied himself in his great desire to serve his people, and has forgotten that his own spiritual needs were as imperative and as constant as those of his people.
"Nor is this danger of spiritual depletion limited to times of excitement. The minister's daily routine, so comforting, so helpful, so blessed to his people, may be his, own spiritual vampire. The surgeon becomes increasingly insensible to suffering in his intentness upon removing it. And that is well for the surgeon and for us. But it is not well' for a minister to become dull in his spiritual sensibilities by ministering so constantly to keep alive the sensibilities of others. It is tragic when a minister, praying so much for others, finds his prayers not moving his own soul, preaching so much to others and bringing no message to his own soul, serving constantly at the altar and failing to offer up sacrifices for his own sins.' "
From my own personal experience, and from conversation with many ministers, especially those in attendance at ministerial institutes held during the past twenty-five years, I am aware of the increasing tendency to depletion of our own spiritual forces. For example, let us take a retrospective view of the minister's life and experience during the first decade of his ministry. As he first enters upon his new and sacred work, he feels a deep concern regarding the outcome. He is inexperienced, and encounters a haunting fear of uncertainty as to whether he succeed or fail. The supreme purpose of his calling — the salvation of the lost seems so great, so far beyond his powers, that he turns to the Lord with all his heart and implores divine help. The great Guidebook of instruction for the gospel minister is his constant study. On every possible occasion he seeks to steal away from men and the bustling scenes of life, that he may be alone with God for communion through prayer and study. His most earnest purpose is to walk softly and obediently with God, and to allow nothing to interrupt the constant fellowship with Christ, who has become his personal Saviour and the Lord and Ruler of his life.
Such a man is spiritual,— Spirit-filled,— and the fruits of the Spirit are seen in his life and in his labor. He is neither " barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Although his knowledge of the great chain of truths encompassed in the third angel's message is limited, and his ability to proclaim these truths permits of no self-confidence or self-gratification, yet people listen to his message, and are convicted in mind and in heart that it is a message which means life or death to them. It is the message, and not the messenger, which attracts, and holds, and leads to obedience. Wherever this Spirit-filled minister goes, his influence is felt, and people say of him, as Laban said of Jacob, "I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake."
But in time there comes a change in the life of this minister. The constant, diligent study of the Guidebook during the years leads to a sense of security in the broader understanding and wider usage of the divine instruction. There is a greater sense of ease when called upon to preach, and consequently less time is spent in preparation for the sermon — less time in study, less time in prayer, and as is so often the result, the burden for souls grows lighter. The intervals of quiet communion with God give way to increased social contact with the people, and the deference and recognition which are accorded make life seem pleasant and enjoyable in a different sense than that experienced in the early years of his ministry. Before he is aware of it, he has become seated in " Satan's easy chair," — a situation which is portrayed in the writings of the spirit of prophecy as follows:
" Many who minister in the sacred desk do not half understand their responsibilities. They are taking things altogether too easy and comfortable. Many are in Satan's easy chair, thinking if they partially copy another minister, they will fill the requirements."
Such a preacher is drifting with the current, and unless a new flood of spirituality, fresh from Heaven's throne, sweeps over him and carries him back to safe anchorage, he will remain a weakling in the ministry to the close of his career, when, with all the resources placed within his reach when entering upon his sacred calling, he might have continued to grow in spirituality, wisdom, ability, and soul-winning power.
How pitifully sad that any man who enters the ministry should allow this to be his experience! But who of us, as ministers, has entirely escaped the symptoms of this spiritual decline, the quaver of this deadly, creeping paralysis?
The effects of depleted' and declining spirituality in the ministry are widespread. It gradually becomes more and more apparent to the public that the sermons from the desk, although well prepared and delivered in a pleasing manner, have lost that spark of fire which in former days burned into the hidden recesses of the soul. But the most immediate effect is seen in the life of the minister himself. When and where he should triumph in Christ through the Holy Spirit, he suffers humiliating defeat. In his association with the people he reveals weakness of character, when he should be an example of the power, excellence, and glory of the truly spiritual life. He becomes disqualified to administer spiritual strength and vision to those who come to him for help. People with aching, sorrowing hearts, under deep conviction of sin, or with unbearable family problems by which they are utterly baffled, have a right to turn to the minister of the gospel for, counsel, and for prayer which will bring deliverance. But what help can an unspiritual minister render? He himself is living a half-defeated life; he is not solving in his own experience the problems which these, poor souls bring to him. He may talk to them, he may pray for them, but he cannot lead them into a victorious life.
Then again the minister is asked to pray the " prayer of faith which shall save the sick." If ever the unspiritual life of a preacher can accuse him of guilt, it must be when he is called to present to the Lord for healing the case of a brother or sister hopelessly entangled in the meshes of an incurable disease. It is at such a time that he especially realizes his need of increased faith and the inspiration of divine power which accompanies a long, unbroken experience in the spiritual realm.
As we reflect upon the rich, glorious, eternal gains that come to the minister and his people through a full spiritual life in Christ, we can understand why he is so earnestly admonished to live that spiritual life. On the other hand, when we consider the tragic losses that attend an unspiritual ministry, we realize why the minister is warned against living an unspiritual life. A review of these gains and losses should thoroughly awaken and inspire us to seek, by every means God has provided, to obtain and retain that deep and full spiritual life to which we are called. This is a continuous, hourly work, for we read:
"Those who teach the word must themselves live in hourly contact, in conscious, living communion with God. The principles of truth and righteousness and mercy must be within, them. They must draw from the Fountain of all wisdom, moral and intellectual power. Their hearts must be alive with the deep movings of the Spirit of God."—" Testimonies," Vol. VI, p. 48.
A. G. Daniells.
Honolulu, H. I.