The Danger of Popularity/Celebrity for Preachers (Newton)

 In a 1767 letter to one of his friends who was a pastor, John Newton said that a pastor has “two counter-streams to withstand.”  Both of them, he said, will swipe the pastor off his feet unless the Lord upholds him.  What are these two counter-streams? Opposition and popularity.  Newton wrote that popularity is actually more dangerous than opposition.  After reading this, I think, “Why do we pastors desire popularity and even seek after it?”  [Note: Just because I’m a pastor doesn’t mean everything I desire and seek is good and wise.]

Our friends are often eventually our worst enemies. It is not easy to find a preacher that has been honored with much popularity, who has not been, at some times, greatly hurt by it.  It is apt to make us forget who, and what, and where we are; and if we are left to suppose ourselves persons of consequence, even for a single hour, it will surely prove to our loss, and may expose us to a wound that may leave a lasting scar, even though the Lord is pleased to heal it.

It behooves us, my dear sir, to keep up a clear distinction in our minds between gifts and graces.

I can say from experience that it is possible to have a tolerable degree of liberty for outward service, so as to hold a congregation pretty fast by the ears, to make them weep, yea, and perhaps to weep with them, when the heart is far enough from a right frame before the Lord.

These things you know; I did not have them in view when I began, but they occurred to me in writing, and I set them down as a humbling part of my experience.

John Newton, Works, vol. 6, p. 115-116.

(The above quote has been slightly edited)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015