Cotton Mather on Christian Ministry

Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 in Church History, Puritans

thPUBV7WPFCotton Mather was an American Puritan who authored nearly 400 works — books, pamphlets, published sermons, and scientific tracts. Magnalia Christi Americana was an extended ecclesiastical history of New England. The following is taken from his work for young men who were potential candidates for ministry:

The office of Christian ministry, rightly understood, is the most honourable, and important, that any man in the whole world can ever sustain; and it will be one of the wonders and employments of eternity to consider the reasons why the wisdom and goodness of God assigned this office to imperfect and guilty man! . . . The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher are to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men; to display in the most lively colours, and proclaim in the clearest language, the wonderful perfections, offices and grace of the Son of God; and to attract the souls of men and into a state of everlasting friendship with him . . . It is a work which an angel might wish for, as an honour to his character; yea, an office which every angel in heaven might covet to be employed in for a thousand years to come. It is such an honourable, important and useful office, that if a man be put into it by God, and made faithful and successful through life, he may look down with disdain upon a crown, and shed a tear of pity on the brightest monarch on earth. [Student and Preacherpp. iii-v, quoted by John Stott, Between Two Worldsp. 31]

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Calvin on the Preacher and Preaching

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2018 in Pastoral, Preaching

The following is from John Calvin’s commentary on 1 Peter 4:11a, “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God.”

He who speaks, then, that is, who is rightly appointed by public authority, let him speak as the oracles of God; that is, let him reverently in God’s fear and in sincerity perform the charge committed to him, regarding himself as engaged in God’s work, and as ministering God’s word and not his own. For he still refers to the doctrine, that when we confer any thing on the brethren, we minister to them by God’s command what he has bestowed on us for that purpose. And truly, were all those who profess to be teachers in the Church duly to consider this one thing, there would be in them much more fidelity and devotedness. For how great a thing is this, that in teaching the oracles of God, they are representatives of Christ! Hence then comes so much carelessness and rashness, because the sacred majesty of God’s word is not borne in mind but by a few; and so they indulge themselves as in a worldly stewardship.

In the meantime, we learn from these words of Peter, that it is not lawful for those who are engaged in teaching to do anything else, but faithfully to deliver to others, as from hand to hand, the doctrine received from God; for he forbids any one to go forth, except he who is instructed in God’s word, and who proclaims infallible oracles as it were from his mouth. He, therefore, leaves no room for human inventions; for he briefly defines the doctrine which ought to be taught in the Church. Nor is the particle of similitude introduced here for the purpose of modifying the sentence, as though it were sufficient to profess that it is God’s word that is taught. This was, indeed, commonly the case formerly with false prophets; and we see at this day how arrogantly the Pope and his followers cover with this pretense all their impious traditions. But Peter did not intend to teach pastors such hypocrisy as this, to pretend that they had from God whatever doctrine it pleased them to announce, but, he took an argument from the subject itself, that he might exhort them to sobriety and meekness, to a reverence for God, and to an earnest attention to their work.

If any man minister This second clause extends wider, it includes the office of teaching. But as it would have been too long to enumerate each of the ministerial works, he preferred summarily to speak of them all together, as though he had said, “Whatever part of the burden thou bearest in the Church, know that thou canst do nothing but what has been given time by the Lord, and that thou art nothing else but an instrument of God: take heed, then, not to abuse the grace of God by exalting thyself; take heed not to suppress the power of God, which puts forth and manifests itself in the ministry for the salvation of the brethren.” Let him then minister as by God’s power, that is, let him regard nothing as his own, but let him humbly render service to God and his Church.

In this we see both preaching and teaching, kerusso and didasko, heat and light, that is necessary for a man to “speak the oracles of God.” Pastor, as you prepare for Sunday, may you heed the words of Calvin.

Knowing God – Knowing Self

Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 in Church History, Counseling, Pastoral

I read this today from The Letters of John Newton and fell under no small conviction:

I know not that I ever had those solemn views of sin which you speak of;
and though I believe I should be better for them, I dare not seriously wish
for them. There is a petition which I have heard in public prayer—Lord,
show us the evil of our hearts. To this petition I cannot venture to set my
Amen; at least not without a qualification: Show me enough of yourself to
balance the view, and then show me what you please. I think I have a very
clear and strong conviction in my judgment—that I am vile and
worthless; that my heart is full of evil, only evil, and that continually. I
know something of it too experimentally; and therefore, judging of the
whole by the sample, though I am not suitably affected with what I do
see, I tremble at the thought of seeing more. [The Letters of John Newton, Kindle ed., pp. 543-544, italics mine]

In the opening chapter of The Institutes of the Christian ReligionJohn Calvin wrote masterfully on the necessity of knowing God in order to know ourselves:

1.2 – It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation
to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white. Nay, the bodily sense may furnish a still stronger illustration
of the extent to which we are deluded in estimating the powers of the mind. If, at
mid-day, we either look down to the ground, or on the surrounding objects which lie open to our view, we think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight; but when we look up to the sun, and gaze at it unveiled, the sight which did excellently well for the earth is instantly so dazzled and confounded by the refulgence, as to oblige us to confess that our acuteness in discerning terrestrial objects is mere dimness when applied to the sun. Thus too, it happens in estimating our spiritual qualities. So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity. [pp. 44-45]

Both of these men were pastors – pastors that were pastoral in their ministries, men who faithfully shepherded the flocks that God had given them (Newton at Olney, Calvin at Geneva and Strasbourg). This is due in no small part to their desire to know and to see God as He is in order to know and to see themselves as they were. We should follow their example of faith and piety.

Book Review: Graciousness

Posted: Friday, February 9, 2018 in Book review, Counseling, Pastoral

Sometimes we have some important things to say to our Christian brothers and sisters, but the way we say it directly affects the way they receive our message. Sharing your message with harshness, a critical spirit, a condescending attitude, anger, or even a scowl is like communicating wonderful things with terribly bad breath. The person you are talking to could completely miss out on the benefits of your message simply because of the way you deliver it. [Loc 56, Kindle ed.]

31xophoamtl-_ac_us218_Does the above describe something you have done in the past? Or when another person thinks about your character and your approach, would they describe this as part of who you are? A person the means well – but is sometimes just mean? Then John Crotts has much to say to you (me) in Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love (Reformation Heritage Books, 2018). He offers a biblical understanding of the danger above along with the cure – graciousness.

After defining and associating graciousness with gentleness, kindness and love (Chapter 1), Crotts walks us through the biblical passages that speak directly to the issue (Chapter 2), and offers examples of how Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul lived out graciousness: Jesus always, without sin; Paul not so much before his conversion, but much so after. Graciousness is something we can learn and ought to be learned from their examples (Chapters 3-4).

But not only is graciousness to be learned (head), it must be cultivated (heart) (Chapter 6). As with any biblical principle or imperative, it is one thing to know, quite another to act; to be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22). It is in cultivation that our own heart is changed and our mindset and actions for others is changed (Chapters 7-8). This is demonstrated, or ought to be demonstrated, notably in community, in the church, as brothers and sisters encourage one another, exhort one another, rebuke one another, correct one another, etc. And one of the best ways to cultivate graciousness in your own heart is to spend time with other gracious Christians. It is in the context of community that Crotts offers solid, practical counsel on cultivating graciousness (Chapter 9).

Of course, real biblical graciousness cannot be learned or cultivated apart from the transforming grace of the gospel, God saving a person and changing them by His grace and for His glory. This is the final chapter in book, but primary for the chapters that precede it (Chapter 10).

While the Spirit of God faithfully creates the kind of gentle character within the hearts of true believers in Christ that the Word of God requires, believers are also responsible to use every means available to cultivate the heart attitudes that lead to consistently gracious interactions with others. As you grow in your knowledge and love for God’s truth, you must fight your pride against using God’s truth to club those around you. As the Lord Jesus has been so kind, patient, and gracious to you, those marks must melt your heart…

As your heart becomes softened by His transforming grace, you should be motivated to do what it takes, with the Spirit’s help, to communicate that same grace to everyone around you. [Loc 1700, Kindle ed.]

Everyone will profit spiritually from this book. I would recommend it to pastors as a tool for counsel and correction. It is with 20+ years of pastoral experience (in one congregation!) that Crotts has practiced these things. His wisdom is well worth your time.

I received a copy of this book from Reformation Heritage Books via Cross Focused Reviews. I was not required to write a positive review.

The Church: Witness-oriented

Posted: Thursday, February 8, 2018 in Books, Church, Preaching

Here is the third of J. I. Packer’s three requirements regarding the necessity of preaching in the church, along with a summary, 51gpy8n94bl-_ac_us218_taken from his Introduction to The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art edited by Samuel T Logan, Jr. The first was that the church is to be Word-oriented and the greatest means given by God for that to be accomplished is through the preaching of that Word. The second is that preaching is central to the worship of the church. And finally, the church is to be witness-oriented.

Finally, the church must be witness-oriented: that is, God’s people must always be seeking to move out into the world around them to make Christ known and disciple the lost, and to that end they must “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [them] to give a reason for the hope that [they] have” (I Pet. 3:15). Apart from the preaching of the Word, however, the church will never have the resources to do this; it will constantly tend to forget its identity as the people charged to go and tell, and may actually lose its grip on the contents of its own message, as it has done many times in the past. History tells us of no significant church growth and expansion that has taken place without preaching (significant, implying virility and staying power, is the key word there). What history points to, rather, is that all movements of revival, reformation, and missionary outreach seem to have had preaching (vigorous, though on occasion very informal) at their center, instructing, energizing, sometimes purging and redirecting, and often spearheading the whole movement. It would seem, then, that preaching is always necessary for a proper sense of mission to be evoked and sustained anywhere in the church.

Thus preaching is able to maintain the church’s sense of identity and calling as the people charged to attend to God’s Word, to obey it as His children, and to spread it as His witnesses. But there seems no way in which without preaching the eroding of this awareness can be avoided. [pp. 20-21

The Church: Worship-oriented

Posted: Friday, February 2, 2018 in Books, Church, Preaching

51gpy8n94bl-_ac_us218_Today I offer the second of J. I. Packer’s three requirements regarding the necessity of preaching in the church, taken from his Introduction to The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art edited by Samuel T Logan, Jr. The first was that the church is to be Word-oriented and the greatest means given by God for that to be accomplished is through the preaching of that Word. The second is that preaching is central to the worship of the church.

The church must also be worship-oriented: that is, God’s people must regularly celebrate what God is and has done and will do, and glorify His name for it all by their praises, prayers, and devotion. The preaching of the Bible is the mainspring of this worship, for it fuels the devotional fire, constantly confronting Christians with God’s works and ways and saving them (redeeming, regenerating, forgiving, accepting, adopting, guarding, guiding, keeping, feeding), and thereby leading them into paths of obedience and adoring response. Indeed, from this standpoint biblical preaching is implicit doxology throughout; the biblical preacher will follow Scripture in giving God glory for His works, ways, and wisdom at every turn, and will urge His hearers to do the same. This is the first reason why preaching should be regarded as the climax of congregational worship. From this flows the second reason, namely that congregations never honor God more than by reverently listening to His Word with a full purpose of praising and obeying Him once they see what He has done and is doing, and what they are called to do. But it is precisely through preaching that these things are made clear and this purpose is maintained. [p. 20]

Have this in mind, proclaimer and listener, shepherd and sheep, as you prepare for the Lord’s Day this Sunday.

The Church: Word-oriented

Posted: Thursday, February 1, 2018 in Church, Preaching

51gpy8n94bl-_ac_us218_Last time I shared a quote from J. I. Packer concerning the necessity of preaching for the church from The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art. He gives a threefold requirement for this – the first being that the church must be Word-oriented.

The church must be Word-oriented: that is, God’s people must always be attentive and obedient to Scripture. Scripture is God’s Word of constant address to them, and woe betide them if they disregard it (see II Chron. 36:15-16; II Kings 22:8-20; Isa. 1:19-20; Jer. 7:23-26; Rev. 2:4-7, 15-17, etc.). God’s people must learn to “tremble at his word” (Ezra 9:4; Isa. 66:5), listening, learning, and laying to heart; believing what He tells them, behaving as He directs them, and battling for His truth in a world that denies it. Preaching, as an activity of letting texts talk, alerts Christians to the fact that God is constantly addressing them and enforces the authority of Scripture over them. The church must live by God’s Word as it is necessary food and steer by that Word as its guiding star. Without preaching, however, it is not conceivable that this will be either seen or done. [pp. 19-20]