Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book Review: The Faithful Preacher

Last year at Together For the Gospel, I received a copy of The Faithful Preacher by Thabiti Anyabwile (pronounced an-yahb-wee-lay). I must admit this book was not what I first expected. I thought it would be a biography in the line of Piper's "Swans Are Not Silent" series. Instead, I found a compilation of sermons by three African-American preachers, each with a brief biographical introduction.

While I would have enjoyed reading more about the personal lives of these three men, I still found The Faithful Preacher to be a convicting and edifying read. Each man had a unique theme to his ministry.

Lemuel Haynes lived at the time of the American Revolution. Once an indentured servant, Haynes became the first African-American to be ordained in 1785. He had the remarkable duty of pastoring an all-white church for 33 years. Haynes gave special emphasis to conducting our ministry with an eye on eternity. "The work of a gospel minister has a peculiar relation to the future. An approaching judgment is that to which every subject is pointing and that renders every sentiment to be inculcated vastly solemn and interesting. Ministers are accountable creatures in common with other men; and we have the unerring testimony of Scripture that 'God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil' (Eccles. 12:14). If none of our conduct is too minute to be known, we may well conclude that important affairs relating to the work and office of gospel ministers will not pass unnoticed" (p. 29).

Daniel A. Payne, born in the South in the early 19th century, was raised by his great aunt due to the early death of his parents. Payne had a passion for educating blacks, but was forced to leave South Carolina after a tragic law was passed in 1835 that made it illegal to educate slaves. For over 40 years, Payne served as a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and eventually as president of Wilberforce University in Ohio. He sharply rebuked pastoral laziness and ignorance, setting a high standard for the man of God: "To sum up all our ideas in a single sentence, he must be holy, studious, instructive, and wise, ever keeping his heart in contact with the Spirit of God, ever drinking from the pure fountains of truth. He teaches himself, that he may be able to teach others also" (p. 101).

The third and final character of the book was Francis Grimke, born to a slave mother and eventually serving as a pastor in Washington, D.C. for 60 years. Living through the Civil War, Reconstruction, World War I, and the Depression, Grimke decried racial prejudice and exhorted pastors to remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. "If we are not going to preach the gospel and teach the Word of God faithfully, we have no business in the ministry. And the sooner we get out of it, the better" (p. 181).

By reprinting these men's sermons and giving brief biographical sketches, Anyabwile has introduced us to three unsung heroes of the ministry; three men who overcame racial barriers to boldly serve Christ's kingdom; three preachers who eloquently defended the faith once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3). Truly, these were men of whom the world was not worthy (Heb. 11:38).

May we heed their words and imitate their example, that Christ's message may continue to spread in the 21st century.

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