In the early 1800’s, in the district of Ferintosh, in the far north of Scotland, a woman whose church membership lie in the local Ferintosh Church found herself, on many a Lord’s Day, walking several miles to the neighboring villages of Killearnan and Resolis, to attend services in other churches and to hear other ministers not her own. When the elders in Ferintosh noticed her frequent absences, they asked for a meeting with her to determine what might be the matter. Why did she absent herself from her own congregation and minister, and attend worship in these other places? “Well,” she said humbly, “at Killearnan, the sheep are fed. And at Resolis the lambs are provided with the sincere milk of the word.” “And what happens here [at Ferintosh]?” came the unsettled reply. “Here,” she said, “the dead are raised!”*
What the woman was saying, of course, was that her own pastor was, more than anything else, an evangelist! John MacDonald preached, not so much to feed the lambs who had already come into Christ’s fold, but to raise the dead; to bring men and women out of the kingdom of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light! And evidently God gave him success – because, at Ferintosh, as the woman admitted, the dead were indeed raised, in their hundreds! And MacDonald’s evangelistic preaching all across the north of Scotland was blessed to such an extent that he became known as ‘The Apostle of the North.’
Well, not every pastor is a John MacDonald! And, indeed, the story above does remind us that the sheep really do need to be fed, which is the local pastor’s greatest task. And yet didn’t the apostle Paul urge his young protégé, who was engaged in local pastoral ministry, to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5)? Which means that our preaching ought indeed to aim, not only at feeding the lambs but at raising the dead! We cannot do it ourselves, of course. But the pastor ought to make it his aim to preach the sorts of texts and truths that the Spirit will take into His mighty hand, and use to open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, and cause the spiritually dead to rise from their doldrums and turn to the Lord Jesus for redemption!
Would you pray that for your pastor … and for all the witness that goes forth from our church family Sunday by Sunday, and all through the week? We have seen the dead raised in our local setting – in ones and twos, scattered here and there across the last 13+ years of my observation and preaching. But, oh, how many there are perishing all around us! And so would you pray for our church, too – that it might become something of a Ferintosh in the lost and spiritually languishing city of ours?
May the sheep be fed! And may the dead be raised!
*I heard this story in an interview with Iain Murray entitled “Inspiring Lives with Iain Murray” – part of the 9Marks Leadership Interview Series. The quotations are from a fuller description of the event, recorded in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland’s The Young People’s Magazine, February, 2004, pages 27-30.