A Classic Study by Horatius Bonar (1809–1889)

[Here, we begin a study that enumerates the character traits of great spiritual leaders. This study was written by Horatius Bonar, and is taken from the preface of a book that he edited by John Gillies called "Historical Collections of Accounts of Revival". Mr. Bonar came up with this list of character traits by looking at the lives of the people who lead the great revivals in history.]—Ed.


Character of a Spiritual Leader

The world is still sleeping its "sleep of death." It has been a slumber of many generations; sometimes deeper, sometimes lighter,—yet still a slumber like that of the tomb, as if destined to continue till the last trumpet sound; and then there shall be no more sleep.

Yet God has not left it to sleep on unwarned. He has spoken in a voice that might reach the dullest ears and quicken the coldest heart. Ten thousand times has He thus spoken and still He speaks. But the world refuses to hear. Its myriads slumber on, as if this sleep of death were the very blessedness of its being.

Yet in one sense the world’s sleep has never been universal. Never has there been an age when it could be said there is not one awake. The multitude has always slept, but there has always been a little flock awake. Even in the world’s deepest midnight there have been always children of the light and of the day. In the midst of a slumbering world some have been in every age awake. God’s voice had reached them, and His mighty power had raised them, and they walked the earth, awake among sleepers, the living among the dead.

The world has written at large the history of its sleeping multitudes; it becomes the Church of Christ to record the simpler, briefer annals of its awakened ones. Doubtless, their record is on high, written more imperishably than the world can ever accomplish for its sons, yet still it is well for earth to have a record of those of whom the world was not worthy.

Their story is as full of interest as it is of importance. The waking up of each soul would be matter enough for a history,—its various shakings and startings up, ere it was fully aroused; the word or the stroke that effected the work; the time, the way in which it became awake for eternity and for God, as well as its new course of light after it awoke,—all these are fraught with an interest to which nothing of time or earth can ever once be compared. And then, when the voice of God awakes not one, but thousands, it may be in a day; when whole villages and districts seem as if arising and putting on new life,—how intensely, how unutterably interesting! At such a crisis it seems as if the world itself were actually beginning to awake, as if the shock that had broken the slumbers of so many were about to shake the whole world together. Yet alas! The tokens of life soon vanish. The half-awakened sleepers sink back into deeper slumber, and the startled world lies down in still more sad and desperate security.

The history of the Church is full of these awakenings, some on a larger and some on a smaller scale. Indeed, such narratives as those with which this work abounds form the true history of the Church, if we are to take our ideas of this from the inspired Church-history given us in the Acts of the Apostles. Many a wondrous scene has been witnessed from the day of Pentecost downwards to our own day, and what volume better deserves the attention and study of the believer than that which contains the record of these outpourings of the Spirit? Besides the interest that cleaves to them, there is much to be learned from them by the Church. To see how God has been working, and to mark the means and instruments by which He has carried on His work, cannot fail to be profitable and quickening. It makes us sensible of our own shortcomings, and it points out the way by which the blessing may be secured. Let us look for a little at the instruments and their success as we find them recorded in this volume. Let us mark their character and contemplate their success. They were men of like passions as we are, yet how marvellously blest in their labours! Whence, then, comes their vast success? What manner of men were they? What weapons did they employ?

1. They were in earnest about the great work of the ministry on which they had entered. They felt their infinite responsibility as stewards of the mysteries of God, and shepherds appointed by the Chief Shepherd to gather in and watch over souls. They lived and laboured and preached like men on whose lips the immortality of thousands hung. Everything they did and spoke bore the stamp of earnestness, and proclaimed to all with whom they came into contact that the matters about which they had been sent to treat were of infinite moment, admitting of no indifference, no postponement even for a day. Yet their fervour was not that of excitement; it was the steadfast but tranquil purpose of men who felt the urgency and weight of the cause entrusted to them, and who knew that necessity was laid upon them, yea, woe was unto them if they preached not the Gospel. They felt that, as ministers of the Gospel they dared not act otherwise; they dared not throw less than their whole soul into the conflict; they dared not take their ease or fold their arms; they dared not be indifferent to the issue when professing to lead on the hosts of the living God against the armies of the prince of darkness.

2. They were bent upon success. It was with a good hope of success that they first undertook the formidable office of the ministry, and to despair of this would have been shameful distrust of Him who had sent them forth, while to be indifferent to it would have been to prove themselves nothing short of traitors to Him and to His cause. As warriors, they set their hearts on victory, and fought with the believing anticipation of triumph, under the guidance of such a Captain as their head. As shepherds, they could not sit idle on the mountain-side in the sunshine, or the breeze, or the tempest, heedless of their straying, perishing, bleating flock. They watched, gathered, guarded, fed the sheep committed to their care. Hear the testimony of one of them: "When I came there, which was about seven years after, I had the pleasure of seeing much of the fruits of his ministry; many of his hearers, with whom I had opportunity of conversing, appeared to be converted persons, by their soundness in principle, Christian experience, and pious practice; and these persons declared that the ministrations of the aforesaid gentleman were the means thereof. This, together with a kind letter which he sent me respecting the necessity of dividing the word aright, and giving to every man his portion in due season, through the divine blessing, excited me to greater earnestness in ministerial labours. I began to be very much distressed about my want of success; for I knew not, for half a year or more after I came to New Brunswick, that any one was converted by my labours, although several persons were at times affected transiently.

"It pleased God to afflict me about the time with sickness, by which I had affecting views of eternity. I was then exceedingly grieved that I had done so little for God, and was very desirous to live for one half year more, if it was His will, that I might stand upon the stage of the world, as it were, and plead more faithfully for His cause, and take more earnest pains for the conversion of souls. The secure state of the world appeared to me in a very affecting light; and one thing among others pressed me sore; viz., that I had spent much time in conversing about trifles, which might have been spent in examining people’s states towards God, and persuading them to turn unto Him. I therefore prayed to God that He would be pleased to give me one half year more, and I was determined to endeavour to promote His kingdom with all my might at all adventures. The petition God was pleased to grant manifold, and to enable me to keep my resolution in some measure."

3. They were men of faith. They ploughed and sowed in hope. They might sometimes go forth weeping, bearing precious seed, yet these were the tears of sorrow and compassion, not of despair; they knew that in due season they should reap if they fainted not, that their labour in the Lord would not be in vain, and that ere long they would return bringing their sheaves with them. They had confidence in the God whose they were and whom they served, knowing that He would not send them on this warfare on their own charges. They had confidence in the Saviour whose commission they bore, and on whose errands they were gone forth. They had confidence in the promises of glorious success with which He had armed and comforted them. They had confidence in the Holy Spirit’s almighty power and grace, as the glorifier of Christ, the testifier of His work, and the quickener of dead souls. They had confidence in the word, the gospel, the message of reconciliation which they proclaimed, knowing that it could not return void to him who sent it forth. Thus they went forth in faith and confidence, anticipating victory, defying enemies, despising obstacles, and counting not their lives dear unto them that they might finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they had received of the Lord Jesus.

(This study will continue in the next issue.)

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