Taken and adapted from, “THE CHURCH OF GOD”
Written by Dan Fortner
‘So thou, 0 son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, 0 wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.’ — Ezekiel 33:7-9
The old prophets used to speak of ‘the burden of the word of the Lord’ (Mal. 1:1).
They spoke to men and women in deadly earnestness, with fear and trembling. There was no frivolity about them. They were not showmen, but spokesmen. They were not promoters, but prophets. They were sent of God with a message that must be delivered, and they knew the weight of their responsibility.
Preachers today could use some of that prophetic burden. Every preacher, as he enters the pulpit to preach the gospel for the glory of God and the good of men’s souls, should have four awesome facts upon his heart.
- He is a watchman over the souls of those who hear him. By divine providence he has been placed upon the walls of Zion, in the particular place of God’s appointment, to keep watch over the souls of men. By profession, he claims to be a watchman, one whom God has set to watch over people in danger, to warn them and show them the way of safety and life.
- As a watchman, it is the pastor’s responsibility to preach in God’s stead to men and women facing eternity (2 Cor. 5:20). God’s servants are God’s ambassadors to fallen, depraved, lost men and women. They must hear the word at God’s mouth and deliver it, exactly as God gives it, to men and women with undying, immortal souls! It is the responsibility of every preacher, every time he preaches, to make certain that the message he delivers is God’s message.
- If the pastor is God’s messenger, if he delivers God’s message, then what he preaches is of eternal consequence (2 Cor. 2:15-17). If a pastor faithfully delivers God’s message in the power of God’s Spirit, his message will either save or damn. It will either be a message of life or a message of death to those who hear him. God’s servants do not labor in vain. God’s Word will never return to him void (Isa. 55:11).
- There is a day coming when every watchman will meet every person to whom he has preached, face to face, before the judgement bar of Almighty God to give account of his work (Heb. 13:17). In that great and terrible day of the Lord, if the man who professes to be God’s messenger has failed to declare to his hearers the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus, those who have heard him will perish under the wrath of God, and he will perish with them! (1 Cor. 9:16; cf. Ezek. 33:8). In that awesome hour the unsaved church member will look into the face of his unsaved pastor, and with the smoke of hell in his lungs and the hatred of hell in his heart, he will cry, ‘Why, why didn’t you tell me the truth? My blood is upon your head!’ And both of them will be cast together into hell.
Let no man dare stand in the pulpit to speak to men and women in God’s name who is not prepared to stand before the judgement bar of God to give an account for having done so.
The apostle Paul was fully aware of these awesome realities when he stood before the Ephesian elders. Knowing that he would never see their faces again until they met before the judgement seat, Paul called for those who had heard him preach to bear witness of his faithfulness as a watchman. He said, ‘I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God’ (Acts 20:26-27). This was not an arrogant boast, but a statement of truth. Without courting the approval or fearing the disapproval of any, Paul had plainly declared to all who heard him the truth of God; and, having preached the truth of God to all who heard him, Paul was free from the blood of all. In the Day of Judgement no one will be able to look at Paul and say, ‘I am damned because of you. You did not show me the way of life. You valued my approval, my friendship and my favor more than you valued my soul. My blood is upon your hands! Why didn’t you tell me the truth?’
Using Paul as an example and the words of God to Ezekiel as our standard, I want us to see from the Word of God three tests of a true watchman. If we care for our own souls, we will test and prove every preacher we hear (1 John 4:1-3). The way to prove a preacher’s faithfulness to our souls is by the Word of God, by the message he preaches, not by our own feelings and opinions. The test of a watchman is his faithfulness in keeping watch over the souls of his hearers, warning them of danger and showing them the way of life, by preaching the gospel of Christ to them.
- The watchman’s work
The work of a watchman is not complicated, mysterious, or hard to discern. He has only one thing to do: he must keep watch over the camp. God says, ‘Thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.’ That is simple enough. When Paul gave account of his ministry, he simply declared, ‘I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.’ In other words, he said, ‘The word which I received from God I preached to you. I kept back nothing.’ This is the whole work of the ministry. A faithful pastor is a man who diligently seeks a word from God for his people and faithfully delivers that word.
It is a watchman’s responsibility to keep his post. His commander may move him from one place to another at his discretion, but the watchman’s duty is always the same. God may move his servants from one place to another, but their work never varies. The pastor is a watchman. He must not be moved from his post by any fear, intimidation, allurement, or personal desire. He must give himself entirely to the work of the ministry (1 Tim. 4:12-16). He must separate himself from all other things and give himself wholly to the work of the gospel ministry.
Faithful pastors are men who labor in the gospel. As John Gill says, ‘They are not loiterers, slothful servants, who hide their talents in a napkin and may be called idle shepherds, sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber, who serve not the Lord Jesus, nor the souls of men. But faithful ministers are laborers, [they] labor in the word and doctrine, and so are worthy of double honor.’
Every pastor must give himself relentlessly to the work of the ministry. Satan will use every means imaginable to distract him from it, if he can. But the pastor must not be distracted from the work he is called to do. Day by day, he must resolutely give himself to the work of the gospel. Though he is a citizen, he cannot be given to politics. Though he is a husband, he cannot give himself to his wife. Though he is a father, he cannot give himself to his family. He must give himself only to Christ and the gospel of his grace. The souls of men, the glory of Christ and the truth of God are at stake!
The pastor must relentlessly give himself to the study of Holy Scripture, ever seeking to know and understand the Word of God. He must be a man of earnest prayer, depending upon the Lord, interceding for God’s elect, seeking a message from God, and praying for grace and power from God to deliver his message to the hearts of those who hear him. He must preach the gospel of Christ with untiring zeal. First and foremost, the pastor must be a preacher, a man separated to the gospel, using every gift and opportunity and means God gives him to preach the gospel. His time, his pen and his voice must be used for the furtherance of the gospel. Pastor, ‘Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them.’
It is the responsibility of every pastor, as a watchman, to proclaim to all men the Word of God, to preach to all ‘all the counsel of God’ (2 Tim. 4:1-5). What did Paul mean when he said, ‘I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God’? He did not mean, ‘I have declared to you all the secret decrees of God.’ No man knows God’s secret decrees. Nor did he mean, ‘I have expounded to you every text of the Bible.’ That could hardly have been done in three years! When Paul said, ‘I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God,’ his meaning was, ‘I have faithfully preached in your hearing the whole body of divine truth. I have preached to you the whole gospel of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:25). Paul told the Corinthians the very same thing, when he said, ‘I determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2).
Christ crucified, the gospel of God’s free grace to sinners upon the merits of Christ’s obedience, is the whole counsel of God.
To preach all the counsel of God is to declare to all men, at all times, the vital truths of the gospel, to keep back nothing that is profitable to the souls of men. Sitting around a table one evening with a group of preachers, I was asked, ‘How often do you preach “the five points”?’ I think the man was insinuating that, perhaps, I preach the doctrines of grace too much. Without a second’s hesitation, I responded, ‘Every time I preach.’ And I was not exaggerating! It is my full conviction that every time a man stands to preach in God’s name it is his responsibility to preach all the counsel of God, to tell perishing sinners everything they must know to exercise saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Men must be told of God’s glorious majesty as God, if they are to worship him as God. They must be told of his total sovereignty, his absolute holiness, his inflexible justice and his infinite goodness. Sinners must be informed of their desperate need as helpless, totally depraved, guilty and condemned felons before this holy Lord God, for no one will come to Christ until he knows his need of Christ. Men and women must have the wondrous mystery of redemption preached to them if they are to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. No one can trust an unknown Savior, and Christ cannot be known apart from the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10:14-17). His representative obedience, substitutionary atonement and effectual grace must be fully preached. No one can be saved until he or she understands that ‘Salvation is of the Lord!’ I fully agree with Rowland Hill, who said,
‘Any sermon that does not contain the three ‘R’s of the gospel (Ruin by the Fall, Redemption by the blood and Regeneration by the Holy Spirit) ought never to have been preached.’
To preach all the counsel of God is to preach Christ, only Christ, all of Christ and nothing but Christ all the time! Doctrine divorced from Christ is nothing but dead, religious philosophy. Duty divorced from Christ is nothing but self-righteous legalism. Devotion divorced from Christ is nothing but superstition. Christ is the subject of all biblical truth. Christ is the fulfilment of all biblical prophecy. Christ is the end of all biblical law. Christ is the motive of all biblical precepts. Christ is the example of all biblical standards. Christ is the foundation of all biblical hope. And Christ is the reward of all biblical faith. In a word, in all true gospel preaching, ‘Christ is all.’
It is the responsibility of the watchman to press upon all who hear him the claims of Christ in the gospel (2 Cor. 5:10-21). God’s servants know and preach all the glorious gospel truths of divine sovereignty, absolute predestination, eternal election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and immutable preservation. If any sinner is saved, it will be God’s doing, only God’s doing. With equal emphasis they declare the responsibility of all to trust Christ. God commands all to believe the gospel and promises salvation and eternal life to all who trust his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. If anyone goes to hell, it will be his own fault, only his own fault (Prov. 1:23-33; Matt. 11:25-30; 23:37-38).
The watchman must declare the truth of God in plain, clear, unmistakable terms. Not only must the preacher preach the truth; he must preach it with such simplicity and clarity that no one can mistake his meaning. Paul said, ‘I take you to record,’ that is to say, ‘You who have heard me know and bear witness of what I have preached to you.’ Someone said, ‘The gospel must be declared plainly, without disguise; fully, without concealment; firmly, without doubt; authoritatively, without fear.’
This is the watchman’s work. He must not sleep at his post. He must not be enticed to leave his work or neglect it by any means. He must not be driven from his post by any trouble or fear. God holds him accountable.
- The watchman’s worth
Would to God that every believer knew the worth of that man who is God’s faithful watchman over his soul! In and of himself the watchman is worthless, and he knows it (Rom. 7:18; Eph. 3:8). Like those to whom he preaches, he is but a fallen, depraved son of Adam, a sinful wretch, but if he is a faithful watchman his value cannot be calculated. His work is the most important work in the world. By faithful obedience to the work God has committed to his hands, the watchman shall both save himself and those who hear him (1 Tim. 4:16). That man who faithfully preaches the gospel of Christ to you is the instrument of God by which you have eternal life. He has no power or ability to save, but without the message he preaches you could not be saved.
Such a man is to be highly honored and esteemed for his work’s sake (1 Thess. 5:12-13). Such a man is to be highly valued (Isa. 52:7). You cannot honor him too highly, or value him too greatly.
- The watchman’s witness
As we have already seen, every faithful pastor will have to give account before God and bear witness at the bar of God’s judgement, regarding those for whom he is a watchman (Heb. 13:17). With joy, he will confess that those who believed his message obeyed the gospel. But, with grief, he will bear witness against all who heard the message of God’s free grace in Christ and refused to believe.