Among the shining names from the history of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is that of Samuel Pearce (1766-1799), who was the pastor of Cannon Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, for the ten years before his death. He was an engaging preacher who had a profound impact on many who heard him. Here is a portion of one of his sermons, The Duty of Churches to regard Ministers as the Gift of Christ, in which he is speaking on Ephesians 4:11-12 at an ordination, that of W. Belsher of Worcester. It is a text that is very relevant for today when pastors can be lightly esteemed. Pearce first emphasizes that pastors are a gift from Christ and why God has given them to the Church.
“None of God’s gifts are bestowed without design—the falling shower, and the clear shining of the sun after rain, the wintry frosts and the summer heats, have their respective uses; nor can you suppose that the great Head of the Church hath called our brother by his grace, put him into the ministry, and given him to you as a pastor, without having in view some important end. It will now be your wisdom, as it is your duty, to consider seriously what that end is, and to be practically concerned to have it answered.
“Plainly is this design unfolded in the words following the text, “for the perfection of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” [Ephesians 4:12,] that is, not for your increase in numbers only, but also for your improvement in wisdom and goodness. Now your duties, my brethren, are consequent on your pastors: if he be a teacher, you must be learners; if he have a building to erect, you must be fellow labourers; and, unless you be wanting in the duties of your stations, you may be assured that the divine blessing will not be withheld.”
He then rightly points out the first and greatest need of pastors is that their people pray for them. This point is very much in line with the great sense of dependence on the Spirit that marked out Pearce and his friends, men like Andrew Fuller and William Carey:
“If you would have the design of the pastoral relation answered, you must be much in prayer for your minister: His work is great, and the necessary qualifications for the discharge of it, are neither unimportant nor few. It requires much wisdom to understand the Scriptures; much fortitude to oppose the errors, the indifference, and the impurities of the times; much zeal to labour extensively and habitually for Christ and souls; much prudence to advise and act in difficult cases, and much personal religion to impart a savor of Christ to all his conversation, his discourses, and his prayers.
“Here then is scope for your petitions; the furniture of a Christian minister must come from above, and from thence it must be sought. “Brethren, pray for us,” said the apostle of the Gentiles. Brethren, pray for us, we also say: Men of like passions with yourselves—exposed to temptation from numerous quarters—as prone naturally to depart from God as you—liable to stupidity, carnality, and vanity—O, if you have any desire to see us holy, spiritual, active, honourable—pray for us.”
Pearce then outlines the key challenges before the preacher of the Word and reiterates the need for the sovereign power of God to accompany the pastor’s labours and as a means to this the faithful praying of God’s people:
“You are not unacquainted, brethren, with the difficulties which lie in the way of our success. …Not merely to inform the judgments—to excite the passions—to conquer the prejudices of education, and to reform the manners of men, are before us—a more arduous talk presents itself. My brethren, our point is not gained without a change of heart! A renovation of the whole soul! A conversion from the power of Satan unto God! But who is sufficient for these things? Can human energy effect them? Nay, my brethren, we are compelled to own that “we are not sufficient of ourselves to do any thing as of ourselves—all our sufficiency is of God.” Were all the moral virtues, and supernatual endowments, which have ever adorned the saint, or distinguished the apostle, concentrated in one Christian pastor, neither will believers be improved, nor sinners converted, without the presence, the power, and the grace of Christ! In vain we enter the pulpit—in vain we persuade, we exhort, we beseech, we reprove, we warn, or we invite—the word will never come with a saving power, unless it “come in the Holy Ghost.” …Our only encouragement to labour, and our only hope of success, arise from the promise of God, and as a mean of enjoying it, the prayers of our people. My dear brethren, you had better dispose of your pastor to some other church, unless you have a heart to pray for him.”
Words for our day indeed.
NOTE: Andrew Fuller would later draw up the life of his friend Pearce. One of the reasons he wrote his life was to illustrate the piety that accompanied genuine Calvinism, as opposed to what Fuller regarded as the “false Calvinism” of certain Antinomians of his day. These Antinomians tended to reject inviting sinners to Christ—or offering Christ indiscriminately to all and sundry. It is noteworthy that Pearce, near the end of the last section of this sermon cited above, describes the work of preaching thus: “we persuade, we exhort, we beseech, we reprove, we warn, or we invite.” This is a fabulous window into his thought about the content of faithful, biblical preaching. Note especially the presence of the phrase “we invite.” Biblical preaching invites sinners to come to the Saviour.