A Classic Study by Horatius Bonar (1809–1889)

[Here, we continue 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. In the first part of the study, Mr. Bonar looked at the first three traits: 1. They were earnest about the work of the ministry; 2. They were bent upon success; 3. They were men of faith. In this part, Mr. Bonar continues the list of character traits.]—Ed.


Character of a Spiritual Leader - II

4. They were men of labour. They were required to bear the burden and heat of the day. It might be truly said of them, that they scorned delights and loved laborious days. Their lives are the annals of incessant, unwearied toil of body and soul: time, strength, substance, health, all they were and possessed, they freely offered to the Lord, keeping back nothing, grudging nothing—joyfully, thankfully, surrendering all to Him who loved them and washed them from their sins in His own blood—regretting only this: that they had so little, so very little to give up for Him who for their sakes had freely given Himself! They knew by experience something of what the apostle testifies concerning himself to the Corinthian church. They knew what it was to be "in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" (II Cor. 11:27). They had no time for levity, or sloth, or pleasure, or idle companionship. They prevented the dawning of the morning to commence their labours, and the shades of evening found them, though wearied and fainting, still toiling on. They laboured for eternity, and as men who knew that time was short and the day of recompense at hand.

5. They were men of patience. They were not discouraged, though they had to labour long without seeing all the fruit they desired. They continued still to sow. Day after day they pursued what, to the eye of the world, appeared a thankless and fruitless round of toil. They were not soon weary in well-doing, remembering the example of the husbandman in regard to his perishable harvest: "Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it until he receive the early and latter rain." (James 5:7). Many a goodly plan has been rendered abortive by impatience. Many a day of toil has been thrown away by impatience. Many a rash step has been taken and hasty changes adopted in consequence of impatience. Attempts have been made to force on a revival by men who were impatient at the slow progress of the work in their hand; and seldom have these ended in anything but calamitous failure, or at best, a momentary excitement which scorched and sterilised a soil from which a little more patient toil would have reaped an abundant harvest. There may be and there always ought to be the calmest patience in conjunction with the most intense longing for success. "He that believeth doth not make haste." (Isa. 28:16). A friend and brother in the Lord some years ago was called to till a portion of the Master’s vineyard in our own land. He laboured and prayed and sought fruit with all his soul. Yet at that time he saw but little. He was called away to another circle of labour. After some years he heard that a work of God had taken place in his former field under another faithful brother and fellowworker in Christ. On visiting the spot he was amazed and delighted to find that many of those who had been converted were the very individuals whom he had several years before visited, and warned, and prayed for. "One man soweth and another reapeth" (John 4:37).

6. They were men of boldness and determination. Adversaries might contend and oppose, timid friends might hesitate, but they pressed forward, in no way terrified by difficulty or opposition. Timidity shuts many a door of usefulness, and loses many a precious opportunity; it wins no friends, while it strengthens every enemy. Nothing is lost by boldness, nor gained by fear. It seems often as if there were a premium upon mere boldness and vigour, apart from other things. Even natural courage and resolution will accomplish much; how much more, courage created and upheld by faith and prayer. In regard, for instance, to the dense masses of ungodliness, and profligacy in our large towns, what will ever be effected if we timidly shrink back, or slothfully fold our hands, because the array is so terrific, and the apparent probabilities of success so slender? Let us but be prepared to give battle, though it should be one against ten thousand, and who shall calculate the issues? But there is needed not merely natural courage in order to face natural danger or difficulty. There is, in our own day, a still greater need of moral boldness, in order to neutralize the fear of man: the dread of public opinion, that god of our idolatry in this last age, which boasts of superior enlightment, and which would bring every thing to the test of reason, or decide it by the votes of the majority. We need strength from above to be faithful in these days of trouble, and rebuke, and blasphemy—to set our faces like flint alike against the censure and applause of the multitude, and to dare to be singular for righteousness’ sake, and to fight, single-handed, the battles of the faith. The sneer, the scoff, the contemptuous smile of superiority, the cold support, the cordial opposition, the timid friendship, the bold hostility, in private and public, from lips of companions, or neighbours, or fellow-citizens—often under pretext of reverence for religion—these are fitted to daunt the mind of common nerve, and to meet these nothing less than divine grace is needed. Never, perhaps, in any age, has wickedness assumed a bolder front and attitude; and never, therefore, was Christian courage more required than now. It needs little, indeed, of this to traverse the customary routine of parish duty. Men of the world, and mere professors, can tolerate, or perhaps commend such diligence; but to step beyond that—to break the regularity of well-beaten forms—to preach and labour in season and out of season-in churches, or barns, or school-houses, or fields, or streets, or highways—to deal faithfully and closely with men’s consciences wherever you may happen to be brought into contact with them—to be always the minister, always the watchman, always the Christian, always the lover of souls—this is to turn the world upside down, to offend against every rule of good breeding, and to tear up the landmarks of civilized society. Ministers and private Christians do require more than ever to be "strong and of good courage," to be "steadfast and immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58). This has ever been one of the great secrets of ministerial success. Them that honour God, God has never failed to honour and to bless.

7. They were men of prayer. It is true that they laboured much, visited much, studied much, but they also prayed much. In this they abounded. They were much alone with God, replenishing their own souls out of the living fountain that out of them might flow to their people rivers of living water. In our day there is doubtless, among many, a grievous mistake upon this point. Some who are really seeking to feed the flock, and to save souls, are led to exhaust their energies upon external duties and labours, overlooking the absolute necessity of enriching, ripening, filling, elevating their own souls by prayer and fasting. On this account there is much time wasted and labour thrown away. A single word, coming fresh from lips that have been kindled into heavenly warmth, by near fellowship with God, will avail more than a thousand others. Did Christ’s faithful ministers act more on this principle, they would soon learn what an increased fruitfulness and power are thereby imparted to all their labours. Were more of each returning Saturday spent in fellowship with God, in solemn intercession for the people, in humiliation for sin, and supplication for the outpouring of the Spirit—our Sabbaths would be far more blest, our sermons would be far more blest, our sermons would be far more successful, our faces would shine as did the face of Moses, a more solemn awe and reverence would be over all our assemblies, and there would be fewer complaints of labouring in vain, or spending strength for nought. What might be lost in elaborate composition, or critical exactness of style or argument, would be far more than compensated for by the "double portion of the Spirit" (II Kings 2:9) we might then expect to receive.

8. They were men whose doctrines were of the most decided kind, both as respects law and gospel. There is a breadth and power about their preaching—aglow and energy about their words and thoughts, that makes us feel that they were "men of might." Their trumpet gave no feeble nor uncertain sound, either to saint or sinner—either to the church or the world. They lifted up their voices, and spared not. There was no flinching, no flattering, or prophesying of smooth things. Perhaps they excelled more in the proclamation of the law, and its eternal penalties, than in the declaration of the glad tidings of great joy through Him who finished transgression and made an end of sin upon the cross. There is sometimes a lack of fulness and liberty in their statements of the gospel; there is a constraint about some of their sermons, as if they feared making the glad tidings too free; there is, in their dealings with inquirers, a tendency to throw them in upon their own acts, or feelings, or convictions, instead of drawing them out at once to what has been finished on the cross, leading them to look for some preparatory work in themselves, before rejoicing in the gospel; but still there are at other times full exhibitions of the Saviour, and free proclamations of his glorious gospel. Their preaching seems to have been of the most masculine and fearless kind, falling on the audience with tremendous power. It was not vehement, it was not fierce, it was not noisy; it was far too solemn to be such; it was massive, weighty, cutting, piercing, sharper than a two-edged sword. The weapons wielded by them were well tempered, well furbished, sharp and keen. Nor were they wielded by a feeble or unpractised arm. These warriors did not fight with the scabbard instead of the blade. Nor did they smite with the flat instead of the edge of the sword. Nor did they spare any effort, either of strength or skill, which might carry home the thrust or the stroke to the very vitals. Hence so many fell wounded under them, such as in the case of the celebrated Thomas Shepard of Cambridge, regarding whom it is said, that "he scarce ever preached a sermon but some or other of his congregation were struck with great distress, and cried out in agony, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’" Or take the following account of the effects produced by a sermon of Edwards at Enfield, in July 1741, which, as being new, we lay before our readers:

"While the people in the neighbouring towns were in great distress for their souls," says the historian, "the inhabitants of that town were very secure, loose and vain. A lecture had been appointed at Enfield; and the neighbouring people, the night before, were so affected at the thoughtlessness of the inhabitants, and in such fears that God would, in his righteous judgment, pass them by, while the divine showers were falling all around them, as to be prostrate before him a considerable part of it, supplicating mercy for their souls. When the appointed time for the lecture came, a number of the neighbouring ministers attended, and some from a distance. When they went into the meeting-house, the appearance of the assembly was thoughtless and vain. The people hardly conducted themselves with common decency. Edwards preached. His plain, unpretending manner, both in language and delivery, and his established reputation for holiness and knowledge of the truth, forbade the suspicion that any trick of oratory would be used to mislead his hearers. He began in the clear, careful, demonstrative style of a teacher, solicitous for the result of his effort, and anxious that every step of his argument should be early and fully understood. His text was Dent. 32:35: ‘Their foot shall slide in due time.’ As he advanced in unfolding the meaning of the text, the most careful logic brought him and his bearers to conclusions, which the most tremendous imagery could but inadequately express. His most terrific descriptions of the doom and danger of the impenitent, only enabled them to apprehend more clearly the truths which he had compelled them to believe. They seemed to be, not the product of the imagination, but what they really were, a part of the argument. The effect was as might have been expected. Trumbull informs us, that ‘before the assembly was ended, the assembly appeared deeply impressed and bowed with an awful conviction of their sin and danger. There was such a breathing of distress and weeping, that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence, that he might be heard. This was the beginning of the same great and prevailing concern in that place, with which the colony in general was visited.’"

(Mr. Bonar’s study will conclude in the next issue)

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