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A PASTOR'S SKETCHES: Conversations with Anxious Souls Concerning the Way of Salvation Paperback – July 28, 2006
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Ichabod Spencer lived those words. A pastor from 1828 to his death in 1854, twenty two of those twenty six years were at one church, Second Presbyterian in Brooklyn, New York. While Mr. Spencer had his faults, one area he excelled at was what I would call 'pastoral evangelism'. He was incredibly skillful in using the Bible one-on-one, showing unsaved people the condition of their heart and then pointing them clearly and accurately to Jesus' work on the cross for rescue and pardon.
Many of these conversations were with people who attended his church. In some cases these people knew themselves to be still unconverted, and came to him hungrily for help. He was able to aid them in seeing a wrong belief about God or about themselves that was hindering them. In other cases, the people thought themselves already Christians, but pastor Spencer's watchful and kind probing helped them see more clearly. No two cases were alike; he met many different people and he was skilled at telling them what they needed to hear. He definitely did not use a cookie-cutter or formula, but he did use the Scriptures a lot.
We would know little of this, had Pastor Spencer not blessed the Christian world by writing down fascinating narratives of many of his conversations. Originally published in two volumes, they have more recently been reprinted as one. The book is overall, one of the best books I have read, ever; definitely in the top 10. I know of no other book like it.
As a Presbyterian, Pastor Spencer believed in infant baptism by sprinkling and this comes out in a few of his conversations.
Pastor Spencer sometimes counseled women privately. Happily he remained above reproach, but I would not recommend anyone do this.
From ChristianBook.com's description:
Follow one of America's most beloved pastors as he goes on visitation. These sketches are the notes Spencer compiled after visiting seekers in his community. They were first published in 1850 and 1853 toward the end of the remarkable ministry of the man known as "The Bunyan of Brooklyn." These 77 case studies were drawn from detailed notes that Spencer collected from his extensive home visits throughout New York City. At the time of its publication, A Pastor's Sketches was one of the best-selling books in America. It is currently required reading in three seminaries. A forgotten gem!
If you don't want to buy a print copy, you can also download both volumes as eBooks from Archive.org at no charge.
The author has made this selection from the materials in his possession, on the principle of avoiding useless repetitions as much as possible, and on the principle of meeting some of the strange difficulties which sometimes trouble inquirers after salvation."
I didn't know what to expect when I began reading a A Pastor's Sketches by Ichabod Spencer. Out of the blue I was asked to review the book by a small publisher I had never heard of which was odd for two reasons: 1) I hadn't updated my blog in months and 2) I would expect a publisher to want well written reviews of their books. I was also worried that if the book was bad I'd have to write a review saying as much, but in the end the lure of a free book was too much for me!
What I found though as I began reading the book was amazing. In fact I was weeping at the end of the first chapter. The book is a collection of conversations that Ichabod Spencer began putting to print in 1851 while pastoring in Brooklyn, New York. This was a time between the Second and Third Great Awakening in America and as such it was a unique period of time. It's also written in an older, more proper, style of American English. Yet, the relevancy of the book was astonishing to me.
As I attempted to tell my friends of what I was reading three things kept coming to mind:
The Unique Style of the Book
I've read other books where there might be a snippet of a conversation here or there, but this book is an entire collection of private conversations between a pastor and his congregants. A quick word about the privacy issue: 1) The author states from the get go that he is fully convinced that he has anonymized the stories enough that no one will know who he is talking about, 2) They're also dead at this time and 3) the purpose for sharing such conversations is excellent.
Many of us would like to know how to answer the seemingly infinite objections to Christianity or guide a confused soul through the rough waters of doubt. How else can you sit in and watch, what I would consider, a master do just that? It's been a wonderful learn-by-example experience for me that would be close to impossible to find in another way (unless you bugged your pastor's office - don't do it!)
Also, the fact that the book is a collection of short stories is perfect for readers like me who like to jump around and sometimes only have time to read a short section.
The Scriptural Saturation of the Conversations
All great books should draw you to the greatest book of all. Ichabod's responses are saturated with Scripture. Sometimes the majority of what he says in a conversation is just Scripture quotations. That might sound annoying at first, but well you just have to see him do it yourself. I long to be able to share Scripture as easily, as boldy, as appropriately to the situation as he does.
The Character of the Man
Ichabod Spencer, as far as I can tell, is not an astonishing man. It is just that though, his simplicity, which makes the conversations so amazing. Ichabod does not come to people with eloquent speech or powerful rhetoric. No, he comes boldly and humbly to people with the best that he has to offer: the Word of God. What you see when reading these conversations is the Word of God at work & bearing fruit and Ichabod as simply the vessel for it.
He isn't brash or pushy. If someone doesn't wish to speak on the topic of faith then Ichabod doesn't wish to make them. If they are willing to though, he can't help but be honest with them, sharing the truths of God in love without shame.
Where to Find It
After looking around I've found that the publisher, Solid Ground Christian Books, is the cheapest place to buy this two volume set (even used on Amazon was more expensive!) On their site you can also find additional information about the book and Ichabod himself. If you are one of those peculiar types that can read a whole book online, then you can read the first volume for free at Google Books.
I heartily recommend it. Very instructive for ministers and seminary students. The author firmly believed in the Bible as the Word of God. The principles laid down in reformed confessions such as the Westminster Confession, he brought to life in his ministry in a most constructive way.