Not too long ago a friend asked me if I had ever read Charles Bridges work The Christian Ministry; with An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency as he and some other men in his local church are going to be reading through it together. I have indeed read this tome, and wrote an overview/review of it while at student at The Master’s Seminary. What follows is a very broad overview of Bridges’ work along with the observations I made upon its first reading and I thought that not only my friend but our readers here at Parking Space 23 might find it useful.
Originally published in 1830 this work is as relevant today as when first introduced nearly 200 years ago. The book itself is an expansion of both a letter and then an article on the subject (p. x). The enlarged treatment of the topic in book form is separated into five parts dealing with different aspects of the subject matter ranging from an overview to the specific work of the minister (pp. vii – ix).
In Part I, Bridges addresses the preparation of the individual for the work of Christian Ministry (pp. 31 – 67). In particular the author provides comments/instruction upon the education of the prospective minister as well as commentary on subjects and books with which the student should be acquainted. I found this especially apropos as a seminarian as well as having read the volume from The John MacArthur Pastor’s Library, Preaching; How to Preach Biblically because this volume written 175 years after Bridges work also addresses this issue; additionally it goes one step further in recommending 600 works the pastor should have in his library.
Part II goes on to address reasons for the lack of success a minster may face in the ministry in which he serves. In this section Bridges addresses and answers the question, “Was the call to the sacred office clear in the order of the church, and according to the will of God?” (p. 90). In providing an answer to this question, Bridges provides a thorough explanation of both the external and internal call of a man to the work of the ministry.
In Part III builds upon Part II in that this section addresses the character of the man who desires to be a minister of God. In Chapter VII of this section Bridges addresses the sin of pride and how that particular sin is an impediment to the Gospel. Herein the author quotes Cotton Mather in calling pride, “the sin of young ministers” (p. 152). I was struck by this statement in that as a seminarian today my classmates and I are continually cautioned about this very thing both by our professors and speakers in our twice weekly chapel services. This warning by Bridges demonstrates the timelessness of such admonishments then and now.
Bridges addresses what he calls the public work of the minister in Part IV, which he sees primarily as the preaching of Scripture. Of significant interest was the chapter within this section on the modes of Scriptural preaching the minister may use to communicate the truths of God’s Word. I found it interesting that even in 1830 a minister writing upon the ministry would find it necessary to provide an explanation of the differences between topical and expository preaching as well as listing the merits of latter without condemnation of the former (pp. 284 – 286).
In the final section of the book (Part V) the author gives instruction on the topic what he terms the pastoral work of the minister which he describes as “the personal application of the pulpit Ministry to the proper individualities of our people” (p. 344). It is in this section that Bridges addresses the work of shepherding the flock as a minister in regards to different sorts of persons the minister will encounter within the Church.
In all, this tome could have as easily been written in America today as in England in 1830. And were it not for some peculiarities of grammar and vocabulary one could easily pass it off as such. The chief reason behind this timelessness is the Scriptural support of the lessons presented from beginning to end by a man devoted to the ministry of the Gospel.