In Lectures to My Students, C.H. Spurgeon identified earnestness as the most important quality in the Christian minister who would win souls.
In many instances ministerial success is traceable almost entirely to an intense zeal, a consuming passion for souls, and an eager enthusiasm in the cause of God.
Preachers must always be earnest in reference to pulpit work. It is in the pulpit that the fight is lost or won.
To rise before the people to deal out commonplaces which have cost you nothing, as if anything would do for a sermon, is not merely derogatory to the dignity of our office, but is offensive in the sight of God.
It is not in the order of nature that rivers should run uphill, and it does not often happen that zeal rises from the pew to the pulpit. It is natural that it should flow down from us to our hearers; the pulpit must therefore stand at a high level of ardor, if we are, under God, to make and to keep our people fervent.
A blacksmith can do nothing when his fire is out and in this respect he is the type of a minister.
Hear how Whitefield preached, and never dare to be lethargic again. Winter says of him that “sometimes he exceedingly wept, and was frequently so overcome, that for a few seconds you would suspect he never would recover; and when he did, nature required some little time to compose herself. I hardly ever knew him go through a sermon without weeping more or less. His voice was often interrupted by his affections; and I have heard him say in tile pulpit,’ You blame me for weeping; but how can I help it, when you will not weep for yourselves, although your own immortal souls are on the verge of destruction, and, for aught I know, you are, hearing your last sermon, and may never more have an opportunity to have Christ, offered to you?”
Earnestness in the pulpit must be real. There is no place for acting. ‘Be earnest, and you will seem to be earnest.’
Zeal in preaching must be followed up by zeal as to results. Baxter said that:-
he has never known any considerable success from the brightest and noblest talents, nor from the most excellent kind of preaching, nor even when the preachers themselves have been truly religious, if they have not had a solicitous concern for the success of their ministrations. Let the awful and important thought of souls being saved by our preaching, or left to perish and to be condemned to hell through our negligence, — I say, let this awful and tremendous thought dwell ever upon our spirits.
Earnestness must be lasting:-
Zeal is apt to burn low through numerous engagements, like a fire which is scattered abroad instead of being raked together into a heap. Those incessant knocks at Our door, and perpetual visits from idle persons, are so many buckets of cold water thrown upon our devout zeal.
The marring of earnestness
Earnestness may be diminished by neglect of study:-
Brethren, never neglect your spiritual meals, or you will lack stamina and your spirits will sink.
On the other hand, zeal may be dampened by our studies:-
A quaint evangelist was wont to say that Christ hung crucified beneath Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. It ought not to be so, but it has often happened that the student in college has gathered fuel, but lost the fire which is to kindle it.
It may also be marred by levity:-
He is a wise man who by a serious happiness of conversation steers between the dark rocks of moroseness, and the quicksands of levity.
Earnestness may be marred by the coldness of those around us, by an unenthusiastic congregation; by a half-empty church; and by disorderliness.
We hardly like to confess that our hearts are so readily affected by such trifles, but it is so, and not at all to be wondered at. As pots of the most precious ointment are more often spoilt by dead flies than by dead camels, so Insignificant matters will destroy earnestness more readily than greater annoyances.
We must also pay attention to our physical health. Indigestion may sometimes ape unspirituality.
But those who complain of want of zeal are often the most zealous persons in the world, and a confession of want of life is itself an argument that life exists, and is not without vigor. Do not spare yourselves and become self-satisfied; but, on the other hand, do not slander yourselves and sink into despondency. Your own opinion of your state is not worth much: ask the Lord to search you.
Continued labour without visible success may dampen zeal.
We are not as arrows, which find their way to the target by the sole agency of the force with which they started from tile bow; nor as birds, which bear within themselves their own motive power: we must be borne onward, like ships at sea, by the constant power of the heavenly wind, or we shall make no headway.
How to maintain earnestness
It must be kindled at an immortal flame. That flame is love for Christ. The fire of our earnestness must burn upon the heart of faith. We must know what we believe:-
How fearful the account to be rendered at the last by one who publicly taught what he did not heartily believe, and perpetrated this detestable hypocrisy in the name of God!
Feed the flame. Feed it with thought. Think about the love of God, the misery of the lost, and the bliss of the saved. Feed the flame with intimate fellowship with Christ.
Those of us who have been preaching for these five-and-twenty years sometimes feel that the same work, the same subject, the same people, and the same pulpit, are together apt to beget a feeling of monotony, and monotony may soon lead on to weariness. ]But then we call to mind another sameness, which becomes our complete deliverance; there is the same Savior, and we may go to him in the same way as we did at the first, since he is “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” In his presence we drink in the new wine and renew our youth. He is the fountain, for ever flowing with the cool, refreshing water of life, and in fellowship with him we find our souls quickened into perpetual energy. Beneath his smile our long-accustomed work is always delightful, and wears a brighter charm than novelty could have conferred. We gather new manna for our people every morning, and as we go to distribute it we feel an anointing of fresh oil distilling upon us.
Fan the flame as well as feeding it. Fan it with supplication.
Feed the flame with frequent attempts at fresh service:-
Try it and you will soon discover the virtue of breaking up fresh ground, invading new provinces of the enemy, and scaling fresh heights to set the banner of the Lord thereon.
Keep close to God, and to your fellow men. ‘Take care…to be on most familiar terms with those whose souls are committed to your care. Stand in the stream and fish.’
Spend time amongst the needy – the poor, the ignorant, the drunken, the dying.
Measure your work as it should be measured – in the light of eternity.