Samuel Walker

An Appraisal Of My Pastoral Ministry For The Year 1858

[A pastoral letter by Samuel Abraham Walker to his congregation meeting at St. Mary-le-Port, Bristol, on the occasion of New Year’s Day, 1859.]

My Dear People,—The close of one year, and the commencement of another, is calculated to suggest solemn thoughts—none perhaps more solemn than those which arise out of the relation of pastor and flock. In that relation you and I have stood to each other during the year that is gone, and nothing is more uncertain than the continuance of that relation to the end of the year that is coming. This point of itself is worthy of notice by both of us in our respective positions.

The notice of it which my heart suggests to me is, a few simple observations, not addressed to you merely from the pulpit as in the course of my ordinary ministrations, but in a somewhat more permanent shape; such as you and I may refer to again and again as the expression of a grateful remem­brance of mercies past, and of prayerful hope for the time to come. It is with these feelings, therefore, I venture to address to you what may be called a Pastoral Letter. May God the Spirit suggest its sentiments, and commend them to your attention.

I naturally begin with praise to that Triune Jehovah who is the only source of all the mercies which we have received during the past year, and who has given to His believing people great and precious promises for the time to come. “Blessing, honour, and glory, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever.”

We have reason to praise God for,

1. His Preservation of our Life and Health through the various seasons, circumstances, and changes by which each has been endangered, and against which, but for His fatherly care, no human pre­ caution could have defended us. Many now lie in the arms of death, or on the bed of pain and languishing, who were alive and well on New Years day, 1858, and we are spared: all praise to the God of providence for this.

2. His gracious supply of our Temporal Wants. We have lacked nothing necessary for the support of the body during the past year; some among us, it is true, are comparatively poor and needy, and their daily supply has been often, it is probable, a subject of concern; but on looking back to the year that is gone, the most indigent will acknowledge that He who feeds the fowls of the air has never turned away from their petition for daily bread, but, on the contrary, has provided for them when they felt too little faith to pray, and too little grace to avoid murmuring against His dispensations. Cases of utter destitution, no doubt, we all have witnessed, and it may be that even some among us have been brought to the verge of absolute want; but my general experience regarding such cases is, that they are either the effect of gross misconduct, by which all title to even human sympathy has been forfeited, or of such a contempt of God and His providence as has provoked Him to the employment of the severest discipline to express His displeasure, or perhaps by grace to recall some wandering child, like the prodigal, to His fatherly arms. I can honestly declare that I have never known a God-fearing man or woman actually reduced to beg their bread; I mean in the ordinary sense of turning out on the street or road side to sue for alms. The majority of us have been abundantly provided for without even the fear of want. Shall we not praise the Bestower, and trust Him for the time to come?

3. A Sense of Security. For this, which we enjoy as Englishmen, we cannot be sufficiently grateful to Him who has cast our lot in this country of law, order, and freedom. To appreciate this great blessing, we have but either to visit or to read of other lands, where either from the despotism of the government, religious intolerance, or the imperfection of the law, no protection can be relied on against violence, rapacity, or wrong. There are many such lands; and there life hands often in doubt, and no one can call their property their own; while here, in free and peaceful Britain, every man’s house, even the poorest, is his castle; and a well-regulated system of law and police is “to the terror of evil doers, and to the praise of them that do well.” May He who rules over the kingdoms of the earth, make us more and more contented with, and grateful for, our national blessings.

4. Kind Friends and Relatives. Among the many blessings which gild our fallen lot in this world, and prove that a compassionate God has not made our cup, as He might have done, one of unmixed bitterness, the endearing ties of kindred and the tender reciprocities of earthly friendship must occupy the highest place. Of the endearments of human friendship our blessed Lord availed Himself amid His pilgrimage of sorrow, humiliation, and toil; and He seems to have sanctified the tie that binds genial hearts together. We have all, doubtless, tasted the sweetness of domestic and social affection during the past year; and some among us have thanked our compassionate Father for the tender hand that ministered to us us as we lay upon the bed of pain and weakness, or the kind word that cheered us in the dark hour of sorrow or distress. We might have thought of the father, brother, or son, lying wounded and bleeding on the battle plain, with no dear relative or compassionate friend near to reach him the cup of cold water for which he cried out in his agony. We might pictured to ourselves the tenant of some loathsome dungeon far from the home of his youth—the mother’s eye that wept over his infant sorrow—the sister that played with him in childhood, and clung to him with all a sister’s love in maturer age—the wife, it may be, of his bosom—the children of his love—not one near him now—a mother’s, sister’s, wife’s, children’s shame! And who has made us to differ? Why are we respected, loved, cherished? Oh! mercy, sovereign mercy has done it all. Has God in wrath thrown the reigns on the neck of our passions, even our fellow-men would have shrunk from us, shocked, disgusted. Our fellow-sinners love us because happily they do not see us with the eyes of the Omniscient; and often think they discover in us qualities worthy of esteem, because they cannot penetrate to the hidden motives that rule our actions. How thankful should we be to Him who knows how “hateful” we are, and yet does not permit us to “hate one another.” 

The Bible. God’s only revelation to a benighted world—the Word of truth, of life, of hope. Fancy the Scriptures, by some extraordinary act of retributive power, withdrawn from a world that never has prized or improved so in­ estimable a gift. What would be the result? We can imagine something of the desolation of earth were the sun suddenly withdrawn from the firmament, and midnight darkness, icy coldness, and universal sterility to succeed—who or what could live? Life, if possible, would be intolerable, and chaos must soon return. The Bible is the sun of our spiritual firmament; the shining of the true light which alone relieves our moral darkness, breaks the icy fetters of our souls, and stays the spiritual desolation of a world that has apostatized from God. “All sorts and conditions of men,” above the mere savage, owe their advantages to the Bible. The savage is a savage, because he has never heard of it, or known its regenerating communications; as soon as he learns something of the Bible, he ceases to be a savage. The civilized infidel, in repudiating the Bible, acts as absurdly as if he ignored the sun and rain, which brings forth the corn on which he feeds; and whenever man has succeeded in wrestling the Scriptures from his fellow-man, he does all he can to elevate his animal above his moral nature. We have had, blessed be God, a free, unmutilated Bible in our hands during the past year. For that we cannot be too thankful. We have regarded it as our right, and no one has attempted to call that right in question. May God give us grace to guard it with jealous care. May the Holy Spirit render it daily more valuable to us, by revealing more and more of the incalculable riches it contains. 

6. A preached Gospel.—The proclamation of God’s mercy and grace through His beloved Son Jesus Christ. I trust, my dear friends, that all of you can testify that you have heard during the past year the message of redeeming love delivered to you “in simplicity and godly sincerity.” I can honestly say that “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Some parts that counsel may have appeared to you startling, and possibly offensive; but there is nothing new or strange in that. 

God’s revelations of Himself are not accommodated to the character or capacity of natural minds—His secrets are for them that fear Him, that hope in His name; and they are such as He teaches by His Spirit as well as His Word—none others can see, hear, or understand. God’s sovereign grace in the Lord Jesus Christ is a mystery, which neither Satan nor those under his influence are prepared to receive. Satan told his dupes, long ago, that if they received his doctrine they should be as God, knowing good and evil. Millions of professing Christians are of his school, and deify their own understandings. God, therefore, has provided that His chosen ones should become fools in their own esteem, that they may be wise in Christ—that is, in Christ’s wisdom conferred upon them as God’s free gift, provided for those who have none of their own. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who abounds to His people in all spiritual gifts in and through His beloved Son. In the Gospel scheme, God —Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—is revealed as a giver. He gave a Saviour; He gave forgiveness; He gave regeneration or the new birth; He gave sanctification; He gave life, eternal life; He gave victory over the grave; He gave resurrection; He gave adoption; He gave an everlasting inheritance; He gave all when He gave Christ. Therefore His people are said to be saved—pardoned—born again—made saints— heirs of life—conquerors over death—sons of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Now, my friends, this is what I have preached to you; and, God be thanked, I feel that I have not preached in vain. The glorious intelligence of unconditioned mercy and grace has reached the ears of not a few, whose hearts “the Lord opened” to recognize experimentally its saving truth. I have told you again and again that my business was to deliver to you a message—simply to this effect, that “God hath visited and redeemed His people.” Of course I felt it my duty to tell you all about the two parties here referred to, which the Scriptures of truth enabled me: to hold the attributes of God for your admiration, and to describe the feelings, life, and conversation of the followers of Jesus, that none of you might deceive yourselves as to your interest in Him who is “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners,” and mistake a mere assent to the doctrines of the gospel for a genuine, Spirit-taught, self-denying faith in Jesus. I have told you that salvation from wrath must include salvation from sin, which cannot have dominion over those, in any sense, who are under the power of God’s electing grace.

Many other collateral and subordinate Subjects of praise and thanksgiving will occur to you, my dear people, arising out of our condition, individually, domestically, socially, and spiritually considered, in the course of the past year. I feel, as your pastor, that I have much, very much, to thank my divine Master for in that relation, not to speak of other and abounding mercies vouchsafed to me in my individual and social position. For not a few of these I have to acknowledge my obligation to you, my dear friends, as instruments of comfort and encouragement to me in my labours. Your regular attendance at the house of God—your devotional demeanour there—your marked attention to the reading and preaching of the Word, and the large average attendance at the Lord’s table, afford me no little satisfaction—whilst your ready and cordial cooperation with me in any plans which I have proposed for the advantage of our church and its services, fill me with gratitude to Him who has drawn out your kind sympathies in my favour, and inclined you to give me your confidence and support.

I cannot help, also, referring with pleasure to the kindly and Christian intercourse which I have enjoyed with you in my visits to your houses, and on other occasions apart from the services of the sanctuary. I have the happiness of looking back on such intercourse without the remembrance of one jarring incident or word to interrupt the sacred harmony of the relation between pastor and people. I have ever been received by you with genuine welcome; and the solemn subjects which I considered it my privilege to introduce to your attention, on such occasions, have been listened to with attention and respect. Some among you, I know, have felt it difficult to follow me, in my pulpit ministrations, to the conclusions which I felt constrained to arrive at from the teaching of Scripture, and to announce to you; and regarding these you have sought information on such occasions. But I will bear you witness, my dear friends, that you have never adopted the language of caviling or dictation. You have inquired, and sometimes reasoned: to that I could not possibly object; but I have never felt hurt by your reproof, or offended by an unbecoming tone. You felt, I am assured, that however new or startling my way of setting forth gospel truths might be, I was entitled to the credit of a conscientious desire to honor my heavenly Master, whose commission I bear, and to benefit those entrusted to my charge. I thank you, my friends, for your favorable judgment, and the kind consideration with which you have regarded what you must have considered my extreme views. I rejoice to know that my heavenly Father has already blessed to several of you this wise and Christian course, by revealing to you those great truths which at first you were led to question. 

Allow me, my beloved people, to encourage you to persevere in this course. I ask you entire confidence. If there should appear to you aught in my treatment of God’s Word that is unsound, strange, or contradictory, seek an occasion to converse with me on the subject. We shall then “search the Scriptures” in reference to it, and pray over it, and I doubt not that, to minds really willing and ready to be taught, God the Spirit will reveal even the deep things of God. I think I may say, with all sincerity, that I desire to know nothing among you “save Jesus Christ and Him crucified;” but the more I believe this to be the Alpha and Omega of all revealed truth, the more decidedly will I protest against all doctrines of creature cooperation in the accomplished work of redemption. I will proclaim what God has done for His eternally chosen people, not what He perhaps will do on certain conditions, still less what they are to do that they may be saved. The Bible tells us of nothing but a finished redemption, and in God’s sight a completed church or outgathering of redeemed sinners; and with this in view, I may sometimes appear to depart from the ordinary way of representing gospel truth. I believe, however, that nothing but this view will sustain the doctrine God’s sovereign interference for the salvation of guilty and helpless man. 

In reference to our Church Services, I have in the course of the year ventured to introduce into the pews of our church a few printed hints for the becoming and profitable participation in those services by the members of the congregation. May I ask your serious attention to those hints? They refer to early attendance, audible repetition of the responses, united praise or congregation participation in the psalmody, seriousness of deportment, recognition of mutual claims to kindness and consideration; and last, but not least, prayer for your minister. I feel assured that much of the edification to be expected from the public ordinances of the sanctuary is involved in hearty cooperation with the minister, on the part of those among whom he labors. How much blessing may we not expect upon pastor and people who are of one mind in the Lord; and how becomingly may this be manifested by such means as these hints suggest. 

Among my subjects of thankfulness, I cannot help referring to certain happy indications of a growing friendly acquaintance and intercourse among the members of the congregation. We meet as Christians and fellow-worshippers in the same church, under the same ministry: all professing to be nothing but guilty sinners, believing in the one only way of salvation through the one Savior Jesus Christ, and looking for His coming and kingdom as our only hope and expectation. We employ the same petitions for ourselves and those worshipping with us: we sing together in the same strain. We should walk together in the house of God as friends. We have our various ranks and walks outside the church, and I for one would not disturb them; but within we should feel identified with each other, acknowledging our Christian fellowship as the strongest and most constraining tie that can bind human beings together. I shall rejoice to see the power of the gospel of Jesus more and more manifested among you by the removal of that frigidity, and exclusiveness which are more suited to the cold and calculating atmosphere of the world that in a Christian assembly, in which the gospel of truth shines, it is hoped, with softening and sanctifying influence. 

May I remind those with whom the Lord has dealt bountifully in earthly things, that God’s poor are amongst them, inviting in His name the expression of gratitude for spiritual blessings and opportunities enjoyed? I shall be glad to find our thank-offering boxes, like spiritual thermometers, indicating a high religious temperature within the walls of our little Zion. If we have received anything from gospel preaching, it must assume the shape of a desire to act in the spirit of the gospel.

Lastly, my dear people, allow me to urge upon you who know the way to the mercy seat, and the blessedness of being often there, the importance of bearing our church and its ministrations frequently on your hearts before God. Ask Him,

(1.) To pour out on us, as a congregation, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, that we may pray in the Spirit, and not be guilty of the mockery of merely hearing and repeating prayers. 

(2.) To make us joyful in the Lord, that we may be ready to come before His presence with thanksgiving, and to make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms.

(3.) To give us the hearing ear, that when His gospel is preached to us, He may be present to heal our spiritual diseases, and to sanctify us to Himself by His truth.

(4.) To make us doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving our own selves.

(5.) To transform us, by the renewing of our minds into the image of Him who was made like unto His people, that they might grow up unto Him in all things, so that the world might take knowledge of us, from our speech and deportment, that we are His.

(6.) To enable us to put on Christ, so that in our various walks in life, and especially in our domestic circles, we may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things, and exemplify the power of His grace in our souls. 

(7.) To separate us from an ungodly world, so that we may feel, though in it, yet not of it: though occasionally partaking of its business, its toils, its troubles, our affections are not set on it, but on things above, where our beloved Shepherd and friend sits at the right hand of God, from whence He will come to receive us to Himself, that where He is we may be also.

Finally, my brethren, let me solemnly intreat you to ask our covenant Jehovah, 

(8.) To open the mouth of your pastor, that he may proclaim the gospel of the grace of God boldly, faithfully, fully: fearing neither to inflict pain, nor to incur displeasure; preaching not himself, but Christ Jesus his Lord; giving to all his hearers a portion of meat in due season; not despising the babes in Christ, nor forgetting to feed them with the milk convenient for them, and not shrinking from the supply of strong meat to those of full age. Thus shall you draw down blessings on your own souls, while remembering the spiritual necessities and perils of him who can only feed His flock with the provision that comes to him from above, and according to the ability which the Holy Ghost vouchsafes to him in the work which He has given him to do.

My heart’s desire and prayer for you, beloved friends, is, that God may abundantly bless you with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ; and that when all earthly ministrations have come to an end, you may be my glory and joy in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming.

Your affectionate pastor,

Samuel Abraham Walker.

St. Mary-le-Port, Bristol, 

New Year’s Day, 1859.



Samuel Walker (1809-1879) was a High-Calvinist Anglican preacher. Between the years 1857 and 1879, he served as Rector for St. Mary-le-Port, Clifton. “He was an earnest and eloquent preacher, and an unsparing antagonist of Ritualistic error.”