Book Review: Words To Winners Of Souls

Words To Winners Of Souls, by Horatius Bonar

As a lay member myself (if a particularly noisy one), I often wonder about the appropriateness of reading material like this that is obviously aimed at ordained ministers [1].  In this case, I have to say that this book is certainly the favorite by the author that I have read yet, especially because of the attitude of the book.  It is one thing to read a Calvinist lambasting anxious people and blaming them for a lack of faith–that just comes off as unseemly bullying–but when a Calvinist hellfire and damnation speaker as this author certainly was comes out and hammers less passionate Calvinist ministers as a whole for lacking a commitment to win souls for Christ and set a godly example, that is the sort of condemnation I can easily get behind.  Lest my ministerial friends and acquaintances view this as evidence of some sort of hostility to the ministry, this book qualifies as the sort of soul-searching call for repentance that is meant for an insider audience and that ought to apply to everyone (lay people like myself included) who speak from the pulpit on matters of faith.

This short tract of less than 50 pages is divided into five chapters.  First, the author looks at the importance of a living ministry (1), making the claim that without having saved souls, a minister’s preaching is of no value.  I have some issues with this approach, as common as it is, I must admit.  After this the author points out the importance of the minister’s personal example as a key aspect of his ministry (2).  After this comes what I think is the most worthwhile part of this message, the author’s excoriation of the past defects of the ministry in being cold and focused too much on their own wealth and prestige rather than the serious task of preaching the gospel and preparing God’s people (3).  The author then provides a confession for ministers (4) and points to what factors could bring about the revival in the ministry (5) that people often talk about but that never seems to happen. Throughout the author is more interested it seems in quoting and referring to other Calvinist divines or historical clergy than talking about the Bible, but given the focus of this book on the ministry it makes sense that ministers should be the main examples for better and for worse–Ussher of the biblical chronology debates comes off particularly well in the author’s estimation.

What is it that makes this book so much more enjoyable as a reader than the rest of his work that I have encountered so far?  For the most part, my appreciation of this work comes from the fact that I agree with him that all too many ministers and clergy have been too interested in prestige and wealth rather than in taking the task of being a shepherd of God’s flock seriously.  I have known plenty of conscientious pastors, but all too many who knew the state of their golf game or how they were going to fill their deer or elk hunting tags better than the state of their congregations as well.  That said, I do still have issues with this book.  The sad state of spirituality cannot be blamed on the ministry alone, for there have been many faithful preachers of righteousness like Noah and Jeremiah whose effect on the spirituality of their societies was negligible.  We cannot blame a nation’s lack of faith on its spiritual leadership, although where this leadership is lacking in fervor and devotion to God’s ways, this book’s approach of scorching self-criticism is definitely a welcome one.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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