Apparently celebrity pastors and rock star Christianity are not new to our culture. Many even in John Newton’s day struggled with the assumption that more visible and mightily used men like George Whitefield must be more pleasing to God.
The formula is simple.
Whitefield is a pastor, Whitfield is a successful pastor, therefore, he must be a great man in the sight of God. Frank is a shoe-shiner, though a good shoe-shiner and a humble man that loves Jesus, still he’s a shoe-shiner, therefore, he must not be quite as great a man in the sight of God as one like Whitefield. To this notion Newton responds:
One man, like Mr. Whitefield, is raised up to preach the gospel with success through a considerable part of the earth. Another is called to the humbler service of sweeping the streets, or cleaning the minister’s shoes. Now, if the latter is thankful and content in his poor station,—if he can look without envy, yea, with much love on the man that is honored,—if he can rejoice in the good that is done, or pray for the success of those whom the Lord sends,—I see not why he may not be as great a man in the sight of God as he who is followed and admired by thousands.
His point is that God has called George Whitefield to be George Whitefield and not Frank the shoe-shiner. Frank is not judged because or seen as unfaithful because God has not called him to be George Whitefield. Frank is judged as a “great man in the sight of God” by his attitude and response to the lot the Lord has given to him. Perhaps American ingenuity and the mantra we feed our kids that “in America you can be anything you want to be” has even infiltrated our views of heaven, rewards, and gospel faithfulness.
Newton continues by imagining a quest to find the “best Christian in the land”. He says:
…it is more than two to one we should not find the person in a pulpit, or any public office of life. Perhaps some old woman at her wheel, or some bed-rid person, hid from the knowledge of the world, in a mud-walled cottage, would strike our attention more than any of the doctors or reverends with whom we are acquainted.
None of this is meant to demean the faithfulness of a Whitefield. Instead it is to exalt Frank the shoe-shiner and the grace of God in his life. His point is simple. “Let us not measure men, much less ourselves, by gifts or services. One grain of grace is worth abundance of gifts”. What really matters is our heart and our response to the situations the sovereign Lord directs us into. Newton brings this point home by looking at in from the view point of levels of sin:
The sin of nature is equal in all; and so I think would actual sin be likewise, but for the differences made by the restraining grace and providence of God. He is not, perhaps, in the sight of God, the greatest sinner, who has committed the most notorious acts of sin in the sight of man. We should not judge one wolf to be fiercer than another because he had opportunity of devouring more sheep. Any other wolf would have done the same in the same circumstances. (emphasis mine)
We are either righteous in Jesus and stand in a position to enjoy all of His lavish gifts or we are not. So enough talk about comparing rock stars and heavenly jewels. Love Jesus and be content with a happy pursuit of all that He is.
The above quotations are from Newton’s Letter to Joseph Symonds. The whole thing is worth a read. It’s letter 4 when you follow this link: Eighteen Letters to a Pastor.