Newton, Poetry and the Pastorate

Poetry is very valuable for pastoral ministry. At one level, it is valuable for pastoral ministry because it is valuable for life in general! Yet, our culture has largely lost poetry. We can see this in a common inability to deal with symbols and appreciate the symbolic. Our flat understanding of language results in misunderstandings and poor exegesis. It also often hinders us in the effort to communicate deep truths. Have you ever noticed how many of the great preachers and theologians of the past wrote great poetry (including hymns)?

Here is a poem from John Newton about pastoral ministry. It is the source of his famous statement that pastoral ministry is “A sorrow full of joy”. This poem and many other good poems from pastors and theologians of the past can be found in Worthy Is The Lamb: Puritan Poetry in Honor of the Savior (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2004).

Travailing in Birth for Souls
by John Newton

What contradictions meet
In ministers employ!
It is a bitter sweet,
A sorrow full of joy;
No other post affords a place
For equal honor or disgrace!

Who can describe the pain
Which faithful preachers feel,
Constrained to speak in vain,
To hearts as hard as steel?
Or who can tell the pleasures felt,
When stubborn hearts begin to melt?

The Savior’s dying love,
The soul’s amazing worth,
Their utmost efforts move,
And draw their bowels forth;
They pray, and strive, their rest departs,
Till Christ be formed in sinners’ hearts.

If some small hope appear,
They still are not content;
But, with a jealous fear,
They watch for the event.
Too oft they find their hopes deceived,
Then how their inmost souls are grieved!

But when their pains succeed,
And from the tender blade,
The ripening ears proceed,
Their toils are overpaid.
No harvest-joy can equal theirs,
To find the fruit of all their cares.

On what has now been sown,
Thy blessings, Lord, bestow;
The power is Thine alone,
To make it spring and grow.
Do Thou the gracious harvest raise,
And Thou alone shalt have the praise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *