The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges is simply one of the most powerful books I've ever read. Virtually every page was helpful. Bridges' book is a theological and practical expose' on what it means to be a Christian pastor and preacher. It is significant that a book this old (1849) is still incredibly relevant. There are five parts to the book - let me give a quick run-down of each.
I. In part one, Bridges covers the origin, institution, dignity, use, necessity, trials, difficulties, comforts, encouragements, and qualifications of the Christian ministry, along with four steps of preparation for the ministry: habits of general study, special study of the Scriptures, habits of special prayer, and employment in the cure of souls.
II-III. Parts two and three deal with five general reasons and ten personal reasons why ministers are often ineffective. The general reasons include:
1. the withholding of divine influence
2. the enmity of the natural heart of man
3. the power of Satan
4. local hindrances
5. and the lack of a Divine call to ministry
The personal reasons (i.e. causes of ministerial inefficiency connected with our personal character) are:
1. want of entire devotedness of heart
2. conformity to the world
3. the fear of man
4. the want of Christian self-denial
5. the Spirit of covetousness
6. neglect of retirement (time alone with God)
7. the influence of spiritual pride
8. the absence or defect of personal religion
9. the defect of family relgion; and the want of connection of the Minister's family with his work
10. lack of faith
I can scarcely describe how heart-searching these chapters were. When I was working through these some months back, I felt very deep apprehension and fear over my personal accountability to God for the souls in my charge. I needed (still need) to feel that and Bridges pressed it into my heart like probably no author ever has. Those of you who know me best will readily see how much work yet needs to be done in my life in regard to these ten things. Pray for me.
IV. Part four of the book details the public work of the Christian Ministry. Much space is given to the task of preaching, including the institution and importance of preaching, and preparation for the pulpit. The last sections of the book I actually read were those detailing the Scriptural mode of preaching the Law and the Scriptural mode of preaching the Gopsel. I suppose I put these off, because I didn't think I would agree with Bridges on his view of the Law, but I actually benefited immensely. I just underlined and underlined and underlined. It is so rich. Then there are also chapters on the mode of preaching (addressing both topical and expository preaching and extempore and written sermons) and the "Spirit of Scriptural preaching" (broken down into seven qualities: boldness, wisdom, plainness, fervency, diligence, singleness, and love).
V. Finally, part five deals with the Pastoral Work of the Christian Ministry, addressing first, the nature and importance of the pastoral work, and second how to treat specific cases in pastoral work (i.e. the infidel, the ignorant and careless, the self-righteous, the false professor, natural and spiritual convictions, the young Christian, the backslider, the unestablished Christian, and the confirmed and consistent Christian.) This was an especially helpful section, giving much encouragement to me in the midst of some challenging pastoral responsibilities, and also supplying much insight in how to apply the Word to specific kinds of people. That last chapter will significantly inform my teaching on Application in Expository Preaching to the Strategy 112 students next week (ministerial students in Africa).
It is impossible for me to do justice to the helpfulness of this book. I really know of nothing else quite like it, except maybe Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students. But I think this is even better than that - because of its focus not just on preaching, but on pastoral work. Bridges is eloquent and full of the Gospel. Like Spurgeon said of Bunyan, he just bleeds Bible - prick him anywhere and his blood is bibline. He was also very well-read in the Patristics, the Reformers, and the Puritans, and quotes from their works often. There are lots of gems scattered throughout that it would be almost impossible for anyone to find elsewhere, unless they pursued a PhD in church history. Perhaps the best thing I can say is that the book has weight - gravity. It is a serious book, but serious in a joy-giving and helpful sort of way. If you are a pastor or elder (or want to be), I highly recommend that you read it.