by William Bridge
You will say, then, but what is the difference between these? A man is to be humbled, and not discouraged; not discouraged and yet to be humbled! What is the difference between these two, being humbled and being discouraged?
It is a profitable question, and worth our time. By way of answer, therefore, thus: When a man is humbled, truly humbled, the object of his grief or sorrow or trouble is sin itself, as a dishonour done unto God. The object of discouragement is a man’s own condition, or sin producing that condition, the ultimate object of discouragement being a man’s own condition. When a man is discouraged, you will always find that his trouble is all about his own condition. Oh, says a discouraged person, I have sinned; I have thus and thus sinned, and therefore my condition is bad, and if my condition be bad now, it will never be better; Lord, what will become of my soul? His trouble is always about a his own condition. But when a man is grieved and truly humbled for sin, his trouble is about sin itself, as a dishonour done unto God. To clear this by Scripture: you know Cain was discouraged, but Cain was not humbled. How may that ap pear? Cain was troubled about his condition. Ah, says he, my punishment is greater than I can bear. On the other side, the poor prodigal was humbled, but not discouraged. How may that appear? His trouble was about his sin, and not about his condition: “I will return unto my Father (says he), and I will say unto him, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and I am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.” David was sometimes both dis couraged and humbled, and then you find his repentance and humiliation to be very brackish; but if you look into the 51s t Psalm, you will find David humbled but not discouraged, for it is a penitential Psalm. He was humbled but not discouraged, for still he did keep his assurance; verse 14, “Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation.” Bu t what was his repentance, his trouble, about? It was about his sin, and not about his condition. Read verses 2 and 3, and so on: “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin, for I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: …behold, I was shape n in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” All the time, you see, his eye is upon his sin, and not upon his condition only. So that I say, when a man is truly humbled and grieved for sin, the object of his grief is sin, as a dishonour don e unto God: when a man is discouraged and not humbled, then his trouble is all about his condition, and what will become of him.
True humiliation, it is no enemy, but a real friend unto spiritual joy, to our rejoicing in God. The more a man is humbled for sin committed, the more he will rejoice in God, and rejoice that he can grieve for sin. He grieves, and rejoices that he can grieve for sin. Therefore humiliation, is said by our Saviour Christ to be an effect of the work of the Comforter: “I will send the Comforter, and he will convince the world of sin.” Because comfort always goes along with true humiliation, it is not an enemy but a friend to our spiritual rejoicing; but discouragement is an enemy to spiritual joy. A man that is discour aged is grieved, and his grief makes him sad. If you tell him that he must rejoice in God, and call upon him to rejoice in God, Oh no, says he, it is not for me to rejoice; I am a man of another disposition; joy does not belong to me, or to one in my condition. But, when a man is truly humbled, the more he is humbled for sin, the more he can rejoice in God; but the more a man is discouraged, the less he rejoices in God.
The more a man is humbled, truly humbled for sin, the more he is found in duty; the more a man is discouraged, the more his hands are weakened for duty. As it is with water; if the water continues in its true stream, it does not overflow the banks, it does not break down the dam. Sometimes you have a great fall of water, a great and mighty flood, and then the river overflows the banks, and the water breaks down the dam. So here, duty is the bank of sorrow and grief and humiliation for sin. I say, your duties are the banks of all your godly sorrow; and when a man’s sorrow or grief rises to such a height that it swells over duty, and a man says, I will pray no more, for it is to no purpose; and I will hear no more, for there is no hope for my soul; and I will examine my own heart no more — when thus sorrow swells over duty, and breaks down the dam of duty, then it is discouragement and not humiliation. Be not mistaken; this is not humiliation, this is a plain disc ouragement. There is a great difference then, between discouragement and humiliation. Many people indeed think their discouragements to be humiliation. But the Lord knows, there is not a drop of humiliation in a flood of discouragement.
Would you therefore be humbled? Oh, then, be not discouraged; for the more you are discouraged, the less you will be humbled; and the more humbled you are, the less discouraged you will be.
But you reply, if there be such a great difference between these, and if it be our duty, to be humbled for sin, but not to be discouraged, what should a man do to bear up his heart to the work of humiliation, and yet bear up against all discourag ement? How shall I be so humbled without being discouraged? Or what shall a man do that he may be humbled, and yet not be discouraged in his humiliation?
Let Christians carry this rule always up and down with them, namely, That a man is to be humbled for his sin, although it be never so small, but he is not to be discouraged for his sin, though it be never so great. Both these parts are true. A m an is not to be discouraged under his sin, though it be never so great, because discouragement itself is a sin, and that c annot help against sin. Sin cannot help against sin. A man is to be humbled for his sin, though it be never so small, for it is a dishonour to God, and little sins make way to great sins. So, then, if you would be humbled, and not discouraged, ca rry this rule up and down with you, and remember it upon all occasions: It is my duty, and I have reason to be humbled f or my sin, although it be never so small; but I have no reason to be discouraged under my sin, though it be never so great.
Thanks to Rev. J Schoeman for alerting me to this.
(Please see Corrections & Amplifications item below.)
‘How can we stop the oil gusher?” may have been the question of the summer for most Americans. Yet for many evangelical pastors and leaders, the leaking well is nothing compared to the threat posed by an ongoing gusher of a different sort: Young people pouring out of their churches, never to return.
As a 27-year-old evangelical myself, I understand the concern. My peers, many of whom grew up in the church, are losing interest in the Christian establishment.
Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly.
Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn’t megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.
Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.
There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated “No Country For Old Men.” For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).
“Wannabe cool” Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an “iCampus.” Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services.
But one of the most popular—and arguably most unseemly—methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before?
Sex is a popular shock tactic. Evangelical-authored books like “Sex God” (by Rob Bell) and “Real Sex” (by Lauren Winner) are par for the course these days. At the same time, many churches are ﬁnding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.
Oak Leaf Church in Cartersville, Georgia, created a website called yourgreatsexlife.com to pique the interest of young seekers. Flamingo Road Church in Florida created an online, anonymous confessional (IveScrewedUp.com), and had a web series calledMyNakedPastor.com, which featured a 24/7 webcam showing five weeks in the life of the pastor, Troy Gramling. Then there is Mark Driscoll at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church—who posts Q&A videos online, from services where he answers questions from people in church, on topics such as “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse.”
But are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie- rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?
In his book, “The Courage to Be Protestant,” David Wells writes:”The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.
“And the further irony,” he adds, “is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”
If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.
If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.
Corrections & Amplifications
Pastor Mark Driscoll at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church has talked about sexual topics in church services but says he has not delivered sermons with sex-themed titles. An earlier version of this column mistakenly used the word sermon.
Mr. McCracken’s book, “Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide” (Baker Books) was published this month.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
and all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk
till traveling days are done.
I think the “Pastor on a Pedestal ” era has ended. There was a time, not long ago, when a pastor was considered other-worldly, and the rumour was his feet never actually touched the ground. With the fall of so many prominent ministers in the last half-century, and with the broad range of communications now available to every kook that covets the title, many now look at a minister with eyes wide open, as a fallible creature (which we are!). Add to this the cultural arrival of professional familiarity (a whole other topic with its pro’s and con’s, where Rev. William Smith is now Pastor S., or just plain old ‘Billy’) we are no longer able to separate the person from the office, our pal from our pastor. The upside of this familiarity is the reality that we are human, and have the same basic needs as any other member of the church.
- A Confidant- someone who will be his friend. The irony of the ministry is that it is distinctly possible to be very lonely in the midst of so many people. A pastor needs someone he can be himself around, go fishing with, and pop in on unannounced, just to chat. I don’t mean that he is one person in the pulpit and another in private, but there are aspects of the personality of the pastor that he cannot show everyone. This is often someone outside the local congregation (but not always), who he can be himself around.
- A Counsellor- someone he can unburden himself to and who is removed enough from the daily activities of the local church to give objective advice. Often this is another pastor, or a wise elder of another congregation who can give a word in season regarding the focus, desires, and goals of the pastor. These people are most precious, and you only need one or two to really make a difference.
- An Intercessor- someone who will promise to pray for him and the church. Believe it or not, this kind of person is a rare commodity! It is a selfless act of love, simply because there is no outward return for it. To find someone who will wrestle in prayer with him, and for him, is one of the greatest blessings of the ministry.
- A Critic- someone who loves him enough to be honest with him regarding the many aspects of the ministry. While there are always many applicants for this position, very few know how to be a good critic. This person is often a seasoned elder in the congregation, or a past office-bearer, who not only knows what a good ministry looks like, but desires to see him succeed. While praise is gravy to the ministry, the meat and potatoes are often found in loving criticism from someone who has a vested interest in his success. So this person is often in the local congregation.
- An Encourager- someone who loves the man and the ministry, and is not afraid to speak of the positive elements of the pastorate. The ministry can be very discouraging at times, and a pastor, being the sensitive person that he is (believe it or not), often has a difficult time seeing the good amidst all his perceived failures. An encourager, (who if he is exceptionally gifted, is also the critic), knows when to send that card or email, or pick up that phone and lift up the hands that hang down (Ex 17:11; 12:12.).
What do you think, have I missed any people a pastor needs? I’d appreciate your thoughts.
My friend Rev. Dr. David P. Murray almost always hits the nail on the head. I say “almost always” because, well, he’s human, so he has to miss every now and again right? Having said that, I have yet to spot his flaw. The latest Connected Kingdom is another welcomed podcast on the proper use of technology, and how it can be used for God’s glory. Give it a listen.