I recently showed this letter of John Newton to John Ryland concerning a pastor’s ongoing struggle with sin to my elders (it also applies somewhat to elders who comfort, rebuke, admonish, and console the flock). In this letter from April 1773, Newton is answering Ryland’s letter wherein Ryland admitted that he, a young pastor, was struggling with indwelling sin and spiritual weakness. Newton, as he so often did, gave solid and wise counsel (the title of the book is deserving).
“The angel who appeared to Cornelius did not preach the Gospel to him, but directed him to send for Peter. For though the glory and grace of the Savior seems a fitter subject for an angel’s powers than for the poor stammering tongues of sinful men, yet an angel could not preach experimentally, nor describe the warfare between grace and sin from his own feelings.”
“And if we could suppose a minister as full of comforts and as free from failings as an angel, though he would be a good and happy man, I cannot conceive that he would be a good or useful preacher; for he would not know how to sympathize with the weak and afflicted of the flock, or to comfort them under their difficulties with the consolations wherewith he himself, in similar circumstances, had been comforted of God.”
“It belongs to your calling of God as a minister, that you should have a taste of the various spiritual trials which are incident to the Lord’s people, that thereby you may possess the tongue of the learned, and know how to speak a word in season to them that are weary; and it is likewise needful that you keep perpetually attentive to that important admonition [of Christ], ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’”
This letter has been abundantly helpful for myself as a pastor. If you are a pastor who struggles with ongoing sin, I strongly urge you to read this entire letter. (Incidentally, if you’re a pastor who does not struggle with sin, I strongly urge you to quit preaching – but that’s the topic of a different blog post.) It is easy to get bogged down in the pastoral ministry due to the fact that even pastors are both sinners and saints, but this is no reason for them to despair and give up. Just read Newton’s letter. He says it much better than I can.