Gilbert Tennent’s Prescient Word
Gilbert Tennent was a leader of the Great Awakening, along with George Whitefield.
In his sermon “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry” he (presciently) warned that failure to examine those who enter pastoral ministry regarding personal piety and a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ would endanger the effectiveness of the church.
And Jesus, when He came out, saw many people and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd (Mark 6:34 KJV).
The ministry of natural men is for the most part unprofitable; which is confirmed by a threefold evidence of Scripture, reason, and experience. Such as the Lord send not, He Himself assures us, shall not profit the people at all. Mr. Pool justly glosseth upon this passage of Scared Scripture, thusly, “That none can expect God’s blessing upon their ministry, that are not called and sent of God into the ministry.” And right reason will inform us, how unfit instruments they are to negotiate that work they pretend to. Is a blind man fit to be a guide in a very dangerous place? Is a dead man fit to bring others to life? A mad man fit to give counsel in a matter of life and death? Is a possessed man fit to cast out devils? A rebel, an enemy to God, fit to be sent on an embassy of peace, to bring rebels into a state of friendship with God? A captive bound in the massy chains of darkness and guilt, a proper person to set others at liberty? A leper, or one that has plague-sores upon him, fit to be a good physician? Is an ignorant rustick, that has never been at sea in his life, fit to be a pilot, to keep vessels from being dashed to pieces upon rocks and sandbanks.
Isn’t an unconverted minister like a man who would teach others to swim before he has learned himself, and so is drowned in the act, and dies like a fool?
What if some instances could be shown of unconverted ministers being instrumental in convincing persons of their lost state? The thing is very rare and extraordinary. And for what I know as many instances may be given of Satan’s convincing persons by his temptations. Indeed it’s a kind of chance-medley, both in respect of the Father and His children, when any such event happens. And isn’t this the reason why a work of conviction and conversion has been so rarely heard of for a long time in the churches till of late—that the bulk of her spiritual guides, were stone-blind and stone-dead?
The ministry of natural men is dangerous both in respect of the doctrines and practice of piety. The doctrines of original sin, justification by faith alone, and the other points of Calvinism are very cross to the grain of unrenewed nature. And though men, by the influence of a good education, and hopes of preferment, may have the edge of their natural enmity against them blunted; yet it’s far from being broken or removed. It’s only the saving grace of God that can give us a true relish for those nature-humbling doctrines; and so effectually secure us from being infected by the contrary. Is not the carnality of the ministry one great cause of the general spread of Arminianism, Socinianism, Arianism, and deism at this day through the world?
And alas! what poor guides are natural ministers to those who are under spiritual trouble? They either slight such distress altogether and call it melancholy, or madness, or dawb those that are under it with untempered mortar. Our Lord assures us that the salt which hath lost its savour is good for nothing; some say, “It genders worms and vermine.” Now, what savour have pharisee-ministers? In truth, a very stinking one both in the nostrils of God and good men. They hinder instead of helping others in at the strait gate. Hence is that threatening of our Lord against them. “Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites; for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, nor suffer those that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13 KJV). Pharisee teachers will with the utmost hate oppose the very work of God’s Spirit upon the souls of men; and labour by all means to blacken it, as well as the instruments, which the Almighty improves to promote the same; if it comes near their borders, and interferes with their credit or interest. Thus did the pharisees deal with with our Saviour.