Paul tells us that God gives his people spiritual gifts for the common good, in order that we might each contribute to the building up of the body of Christ which is his church. So I consider one of the key indications of a spiritual gift to be that a person is noticeably fruitful in some particular area of ministry, for the good of the church. I have been sometimes struck by this spiritual fruitfulness of people who are quite unremarkable in terms of the features that our society would generally consider admirable or noteworthy. To worldly eyes, such people may even seem “foolish,” but God uses them powerfully in advancing his reign in the world.
This was brought to mind as I read comments by John Newton concerning Rowland Hill (1744-1833), a man whose evangelistic ministry was wonderfully blessed of God. After an occasion in 1778 when Hill had visited Newton’s parish in Olney, Newton wrote in his diary:
“We had a tolerably large congregation . . . Many will come to hear him, who will not hear me . . . His preaching is rambling, but he is thy servant, thou hast been pleased to own him in the awakening of sinners. This seems his particular call, and he had more success than many who in my judgment have greater ministerial abilities.” (Cited by Grant Gordon, Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland, Jr., 28).
I hear Newton observing that others were more able than Hill, in ways which we would have to acknowledge to be also God’s gifts. We might call them “natural gifts,” abilities of a kind which God gives even to the unregenerate. But unusual spiritual fruitfulness in powerful ministry of the gospel marked Hill’s work. It is marvelous to see this, and when we do, we are less likely to praise God’s servant, and more inclined to give God glory for the success of the ministry.