Appalling Responsibility

I suppose this is the week of old quotes . . . lots from James Stewart (published in the 1940’s).  But today I am going older still.  This time Stewart, in Heralds of God (p207), quotes from the 17th century:

There is a great sermon of John Donne’s, delivered in the year 1624, in which he sets forth his conception of the awful burden on the preacher’s heart.  “What Sea,” cries Donne, “could furnish mine eyes with teares enough to poure out, if I should think, that of all this congregation, which lookes me in the face now, I should not meet one at the Resurrection, at the right hand of God!  When at any midnight I hear a bell toll from this steeple, must not I say to my self, what have I done at any time for the instructing or rectifying of that man’s Conscience, who lieth there now ready to deliver up his own account and my account to Almighty God?”  Is it to be wondered at that many a man of God besides Elijah and Jeremiah has tried to run away from a commission so crushing and intolerable?  Nothing but the grace of God can hold you to it.  The magnitude of the task is the first element in evangelical humility.

This is what Stewart calls the appalling responsibility of the minister of the Gospel.  Perhaps we would do well to ponder the burden of our calling.  We live in an age when many take the heavy things of ministry very lightly.  Yet some things have not changed.  Not least the impending reality of the judgment facing humanity after death.  It’s hard to justify levity in light of that.

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