January 18, 2024

Loud Opinions and Little Prayer

Sinclair Ferguson
Loud Opinions and Little Prayer

How much better would a Christian serve his nation if he spent less time complaining about society and more time pleading for it in prayer? Today, Sinclair Ferguson contrasts wasteful and fruitful ways of dealing with political concerns.


We’ve been thinking this week about a letter written by John Newton, whose hymns you probably know. In that letter, he’s describing a series of people who in many ways seem to be exemplary Christians, but they all have one character blemish like a mark on a white shirt or a scratch on a new car. We’ve already met Mr. Austerus, the austere Christian, Mr. Humanus, the gregarious Christian, and John Newton also wants us to meet Mr. Querulus, and perhaps Mrs. Querulus too. What is Mr. Querulus’ problem? Here it is. Newton says, “He wastes much of his precious time in declaiming against the management of public affairs.” Or, to put it in contemporary terms, he’s always expressing opinions about what government, or authorities, or educational systems, or the church—he’s always expressing opinions about what they are doing wrong, and he always seems to know what they should be doing right.

And Newton has the courage to say, “Mr. Querulus is just wasting his time and our time too.” And the reason for it he gives is this: Mr. Querulus has no expert knowledge, nor any personally researched information in which he bases his judgment. He simply parrots things he picks up from talk shows on television or on the radio and the particular kind of literature he reads. And Newton says he is just wasting his time. I imagine if Mr. Querulus heard Newton say that, it would be something of a body blow to him. And it’s not because John Newton was uninterested in the affairs of life. He’s the man who actually discouraged William Wilberforce from leaving Parliament and perhaps going into the ministry and told him to stay in politics—because Newton really cared about the affairs of the world. He really was concerned about the good of the city.

But here’s what he says about Mr. Querulus: “Our national concerns are no more affected by the remonstrance’s of Querulus, than the heavenly bodies are by the disputes of astronomers.” In other words, Mr. Querulus is much talk without any transformation. Of course, Newton is not saying these things are unimportant. As I say, he encouraged William Wilberforce to stay in politics and continue his opposition to the slave trade. But I think if Newton were alive today, he would be worried about the equivalent of Mr. Querulus, and perhaps, especially in the ministry—ministers whose tweets and blog sites and videos and programs rather suggest that they think the world is waiting to hear their opinions although their opinions will do little to transform the world in which they live. And Newton says something in many ways much more cutting. He says that what Mr. Querulus is doing is a sinful conformity to the men of this world.

And he adds:

There are people enough to make a noise about political matters, who know not how to employ their time to a better purpose. Our Lord’s kingdom is not of this world; and most of these people may do their country much more essential service by pleading for it in prayer, than by finding fault with things which they have no power to alter.

I wonder how many websites you visit, or tweets you see, or programs you watch on YouTube or other channels where the mastermind is always pulling other people down and expressing his opinions. And there’s the rub: the Mr. Queruluses of this world and within the Christian church spend a lot more time telling people what’s wrong than they tend to spend speaking about the beauties and glories and graces of the Lord Jesus Christ. And maybe Newton points us to the litmus test. How loud am I in my opinions? How long am I in expressing them? And how little am I upon my knees? That’s a word in season, don’t you think?