I have been preaching through the parable of the soils in Mark 4 and been thinking a lot about true and false conversion lately. I also had a good conversation with a brother on Sunday about how so many of the older writers (Richard Baxter, Charles Spurgeon, Charles Bridges) would warn aspiring pastors about making sure they are converted before they would enter into shepherding the souls of others. I thought it might be helpful to post a controversial sermon of Gilbert Tennant. He was a contemporary and friend of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. He lived in northern New Jersey and was instrumental in starting what was mockingly called "The Log College" but came to be known at Princeton Seminary. The sermon was aimed at many of the clergy in New England who were unconverted. It was said that everyone who heard the sermon knew exactly who Tennant was talking about. Of course, Tennant was labeled fanatical after such a sermon, but he was no fanatic. He just really believed that when Jesus said to the teacher of Israel, "You must be born again" that He meant it. Tennant later regretted his censorious spirit in which he delivered the message, but I think there is great application for today. Due to the length of the sermon, I will post it over several days. BTW, this sermon is public domain. Here is part 1:
THE DANGER OF AN UNCONVERTED MINISTRY
By Rev. Gilbert Tennent
(from the Soli Deo Gloria title Sermons of the Log College, now out of print)
“And Jesus, when He came out, saw much people and was moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd.” Mark 6:34
As a faithful ministry is a great ornament, blessing, and comfort, to the church of God (even the feet of such messengers are beautiful), so, on the contrary, an ungodly ministry is a great curse and judgment. These caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.
There is nothing that may more justly call forth our saddest sorrows, and make all our powers and passions mourn in the most doleful accents, the most incessant, insatiable, and deploring agonies, than the melancholy case of such who have no faithful ministry! This truth is set before our minds in a strong light in the words that I have chosen now to insist upon, in which we have an account of our Lord’s grief with the causes of it.
We are informed that our dear Redeemer was moved with compassion towards them. The original word signifies the strongest and most vehement pity, issuing from the innermost bowels. But what was the cause of this great and compassionate commotion in the heart of Christ? It was because He saw much people as sheep having no shepherd. Why, had the people then no teachers? O yes! They had heaps of Pharisee-teachers that came out, no doubt, after they had been at the feet of Gamaliel the usual time, and according to the acts, cannons, and traditions of the Jewish church. But, notwithstanding the great crowds of these orthodox, letter-learned, and regular Pharisees, our Lord laments the unhappy case of that great number of people who, in the days of His flesh, had no letter guides, because those were as good as none (in many respects), in our Savior’s judgment. For all them, the people were as sheep without a Shepherd.
From the words of our text, the following proposition offers itself to our consideration: that the case of such is much to be pitied who have no other but Pharisee-shepherds, or unconverted teachers.
In discoursing upon this subject, I would
I. Inquire into the characters of the old Pharisee-teachers.
Il. Show why the case of such people who have no better should be pitied. And,
III. Show how pity should be expressed upon this mournful occasion!
First, I am to inquire into the characters of the old Pharisee-teachers. No, I think the most notorious branches of their character were these: pride, policy, malice, ignorance, covetousness, and bigotry to human inventions in religious matters.
The old Pharisees were very proud and conceited. They loved the uppermost seats in the synagogues and to be called “Rabbi.” They were masterly and positive in their assertions, as if knowledge must die with them. They looked upon others who differed from them, and the common people, with an air of disdain and, especially any who had a respect for Jesus and His doctrine. They disliked them and judged them accursed.
The old Pharisee-shepherds were as crafty as foxes. They tried by all means to ensnare our Lord by their captious questions, and to expose Him to the displeasure of the state while, in the meantime, by sly and sneaking methods, they tried to secure for themselves the favor of the Grandees and the people’s displeasure, and this they obtained to their satisfaction (John 7:48).
But while they exerted the craft of foxes, they did not forget to breathe forth the cruelty of wolves in a malicious aspersing of the person of Christ, and in a violent opposing of the truths, people, and power of His religion. Yes, the most stern and strict of them were the ringleaders of the party. Witness Saul’s journey to Damascus, with letters from the chief priest to bring bound to Jerusalem all that he could find of The Way. It’s true that the Pharisees did not proceed to violent measures with our Savior and His disciples just at first; but that was not owing to their good nature, but their policy, for they feared the people. They must keep the people in their interests. Aye, that was the main chance, the compass that directed all their proceedings and, therefore, such sly cautious methods must be pursued as might consist herewith. They wanted to root vital religion out of the world, but they found it beyond their thumb.
Although some of the old Pharisee-shepherds had a very fair and strict outside, yet they were ignorant of the New Birth. Witness Rabbi Nicodemus, who talked like a fool about it. Hear how our Lord cursed those plastered hypocrites in Matthew 23: 27–28: “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye are like whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead bones and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Aye, if they had but a little of the learning then in fashion, and a fair outside, they were presently put into the priest’s office, though they had no experience of the New Birth. O sad!
The old Pharisees, for all their long prayers and other pious pretenses, had their eyes, with Judas, fixed upon the bag. Why, they came into the priest’s office for a piece of bread. They took it up as a trade and, therefore, endeavored to make the best market of it they could. O shame!
It may be further observed that the Pharisee-teachers in Christ’s time were great bigots to small matters in religion. Matthew 23:23: “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye pay tithe of mind, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” The Pharisees were fired with a party-zeal. They compassed sea and land to make a proselyte; and yet, when he was made, they made him twofold more the child of hell than themselves. They were also bigoted to human inventions in religious matters. Paul himself, while he was a natural man, was wonderfully zealous for the traditions of the Fathers. Aye, those poor, blind guides, as our Lord testifies, strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel.
And what a mighty respect they had for the Sabbath Day, insomuch that Christ and His disciples must be charged with the breach thereof for doing works of mercy and necessity! Ah, the rottenness of these hypocrites! It was not so much respect to the Sabbath as malice against Christ; that was the occasion of the charge. They wanted some plausible pretense to offer against Him in order to blacken His character.
And what a great love had they in pretense to those pious prophets who were dead before they were born while, in the meantime, they were persecuting the Prince of Prophets! Hear how the King of the Church speaks to them upon this head, Matthew 23:29–33: “Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous; and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”