The Preacher's Difficult Work

John Venn (1759-1813) became rector of Clapham Church in South London in 1792 and served there until his death. He was the son of the better known, Henry Venn, also a minister in the Church of England, and a friend of William Wilberforce and Charles Simeon. He also served as chaplain to the Clapham Sect. After his death, a collection of his sermons was published by his son. The first message in the first volume is “The Importance and Difficulties of the Christian Ministry” based on 1 Corinthians 2:3. The whole message is worth reading. The following excerpt is taken from that sermon.

 It is a difficult service in its own nature. Were the work of a preacher indeed confined to the delivery of a moral discourse, this would not be an arduous task. But a Minister of the Gospel has much more to do. He will endeavour, under Divine Grace, to bring every individual in his congregation to live no longer to himself, but unto Him who died for us. But here the passions, prejudices, and perhaps the temporal interests of men combine to oppose his success. It is not easy to obtain any influence over the mind of another; but to obtain such an influence as to direct it contrary to the natural current of its desires and passions, is a work of the highest difficulty. Yet such is the work of a Minister. He has to arrest the sinner in his course of sin; to shake his strong hold of  security; to make the stout-hearted tremble under the denunciation of God’s judgment; to lead him to deny himself, as to sacrifice the inclinations most dear to him–to repent, and become a new creature. Neither is the work of the Ministry less arduous in respect to those whoa re not open and profligate sinners. Self-love, the most powerful passion of the human breast, will render it equally difficult to convince the formalist of the unsoundness of his religion, the pharisee of the pride of his heart, and the mere moralist of his deficiency in the sight of God. In all these cases, we have to convey unpleasant tidings; to persuade to what is disagreeable; to effect not only a reformation in the conduct of men, and a regulation of their passions, but, what is of still higher difficulty, a change in their good opinion of themselves.  Nay, further we have not merely to “wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” “Who is sufficient for these things?” For this office the Christian Minister may in himself “have no resources above those of any of his congregation,” their weaknesses are his weaknesses, he must therefore undertake his work in weakness, fear and much trembling, but knowing that it may yet be effectual, for it is in weakness that Christ’s strength is always made perfect.