What kind of boldness must the minister’s be?
First, a convincing boldness. How forcible are right words, saith Job; and how feeble are empty words, though shot with a thundering voice. Great words in reproving an error or sin, but weak arguments, produce laughter oftener than tears.
Secondly, a wise boldness. The minister is to reprove the sins of all, but to name none. Paul, preaching before a lascivious and unrighteous prince, touched him to the quick, but did not name him in his sermon. Felix’ conscience saved Paul that labour.
Thirdly, a meek boldness. Let the reproof be as sharp as thou wilt; but thy spirit must be meek. Passion raiseth the blood of him that is reproved; but compassion breaks his heart. We must not denounce wrath in wrath, lest sinners think we wish their misery; but rather with such tenderness, that they may see it is no pleasing work to us, but we do it that we might not, by a cruel silence, be accessory to their ruin, which we desire to prevent.
Fourthly, an humble boldness; such a boldness as is raised from a confidence in God and not from ourselves, our own gifts or ability, courage or stoutness.
Fifthly, a zealous boldness. Our reproofs of sin must come from a warm heart. Paul’s spirit was stirred within him when he saw the city given to idolatry. Jeremiah tells us the word of God was a fire in his bones; it broke out of his mouth like a flame out of a furnace. The word is a hammer; but it breaks not the stony heart when lightly laid on. King James said of a minister in his time, that he preached as if death were at his back. Ministers should set forth judgment as if it were at the sinner’s back to take hold of him. Cold reproofs or threatenings are like the rumble of thunder afar off, which affrights not as a clap over our head. I told you the minister’s boldness must be meek and merciful; but not to prejudice zeal.
Some helps to produce this boldness.
First a holy fear of God. We fear man so much, because we fear God so little. One fear cures another When man’s terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God; this is the way Jeremiah was cured of his anguish distemper, fearing man (Jer 1: 17).
Secondly, castle thyself within the power and promise of God for thy assistance and protection. Our eye, alas! is on our danger, but not on the invincible walls and bulwarks which God has promised to set about us. The prophet’s servant that saw the enemy army approaching, was in a panic; but the prophet that was the heavenly host for his lifeguard about him, cared not a straw for them all.
Thirdly, keep a clear conscience: he cannot be a bold reprover, that is not a conscientious liver; such a one must speak softly, for fear of waking his own guilty conscience. Unholiness in a preacher’s life will either stop his mouth from reproving, or the people’s ears from receiving. O how harsh a sound does such a cracked bell make in the ears of his audience! Good counsel from a wicked man produces no effect.
Fourthly, consider, if thou be not now bold for Christ in thy ministry, thou canst not be bold before Christ at His judgment; he that is afraid to speak for Christ, will certainly be ashamed to look on His face then. ‘We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ’ (2 Cor. 5: 10). Now what use doth Paul make of this solemn meditation? ‘Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.’
A serious thought of that day, as we are going to preach would shut all base fear out of the pulpit. It is a very small thing to be judged by men now for our boldness, but dismal to be condemned by Christ for our cowardice.
Fifthly, consider how bold Christ was in His ministry (1 Tim. 6:13).
Sixthly, pray for this holy boldness. Thus did the apostles come by it… it was the child of prayer (Acts 4: 29f). Mark, they do not pray to be excused the battle, but to be armed with courage to stand in it; they had rather be lifted above the fear of suffering, than have immunity from the suffering. If this be thy sincere request, God will not deny it.
— William Gurnall