I had the pleasure of lunch with Pastor David McDowell on Friday. David recently completed a doctoral dissertation on Solomon Stoddard (1643 – 1729), the minister of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, for over half a century who was eventually succeeded by his grandson Jonathan Edwards. David’s comments about Stoddard’s pastoral legacy got my wheels turning.
Solomon Stoddard enjoyed a fruitful ministry over many years, and in particular, he was used by God in the conversion of many people and the reform of the community in line with Christian principles. Yet as he himself testified, he needed encouragement because many who professed true religion lived contrary to their calling. He said, “We live in a corrupt age, and multitudes of men take a licentious liberty, in their drinking and apparel . . . and unsavory discourses.”1 In this extract from a sermon entitled “The Presence of Christ with the Ministers of the Gospel,” he encourages pastors that the Lord Jesus Christ is with them in their particular situation.
Faithful ministers ought to take encouragement that they shall have Christ’s presence. Ministers are in danger of being discouraged. Their work is heavy and attended with a great deal of difficulty, and their spirits are ready to faint sometimes under a sense of their own weakness, want of understanding, and grace for their work. Sometimes it is upon experience of unsuccessfulness; they have taken a great deal of pains, and little comes of it. Sins that they reprove are not reformed; sinners are not converted; many remain senseless and hard-hearted, as if no means had been used with them. But their hearts should not sink under their burden. 2 Corinthians 4:1: “Seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.” Christ Jesus can assist them in their work, and furnish them to do their work acceptably. He can make their work prosperous. He can make their work powerful, though men are very blind and dead, and have strong inclinations to continue in a course of sin. Christ has promised His presence . . . this should encourage them.2
1 Solomon Stoddard, quoted in George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 13.
2 Solomon Stoddard, “The Present of Christ with the Ministers of the Gospel,” in The Nature of Saving Conversion: Together with Several Sermons (1719; repr., Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 153.