With Authority and Tenderness

Ambassadorsfor Christ

I count it a supreme blessing to study Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Never does a day go by without finding conviction or comfort in his works.

I read his sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:20–21 this morning, where Paul writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In meditating on ministers being ambassadors for Christ, M’Cheyne says,

Learn from this, how we should preach, and how you should hear. We do not come in our own name, but in Christ’s. We are to do as the disciples did when they received the bread from Christ. We are to receive our message from him and give it unto you; so, in one sense, it is immaterial to us whether you receive the truth or not. Observe, we are to speak with authority. Many of you are not pleased at what we say; you say we might have spoken less severely; you quarrel at our words; but ah! if you look into your own heart, you would see, that it is not us you quarrel with, it is with Christ. Observe, still farther, that we are ambassadors; we must speak tenderly. God is love. Christ is love. I am afraid it is here we err, and show that the vessel is earthly. When Christ came into the world, it was a message of love he brought.

On which side might you err? Maybe your zealous proclamations are so loud that no hearer sense your soul is taken in love to Christ. Or perhaps, your graceful preaching is never forceful enough to break through a hardened heart. Oh, let us pray for the fullness of authority and tenderness in preaching!

Chalmers Still Speaks

47896I’ve spent today wading through the voluminous works by or about Thomas Chalmers, trying to understand his influence on Robert Murray M’Cheyne. As David Yeaworth says, “In Chalmers, more than any other person, M’Cheyne found the mold for his ecclesiastical and religious thought, and a worthy pattern for his own ministerial life.”

If evangelicals know anything today about Chalmers, it’s probably his sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Few may know he was arguably the most famous British preacher at the time, a brilliant mathematician who theorized on everything from astronomy to politics to economics to social reform, and an evangelical who longed to see Christ proclaimed in slums of Scotland and far away nations.

What is remarkable is how he wielded his immense intellect to serve the church. Consider the following encouragement and warning about preaching:

By far the most effective ingredient of good preaching is the personal piety of the preacher himself . . . How little must the presence of God be felt in that place, where the high functions of the pulpit are degraded into a stipulated exchange of entertainment, on the one side, and of admiration, on the other! and surely it were a sight to make angels weep when a weak and vapouring mortal, surrounded by his fellow sinners, and hastening to the grave and the judgment along with them, find it a dearer object to his bosom to regale his hearers by the exhibition of himself, than to do, in plain earnest, the work of his Master.

Put simply: in your preaching, are you exalting yourself or the Savior?

A (Short) Bibliography on Covenant Baptism

Baptism copy

I’ve received many questions about my theological pilgrimage from “Believer’s Baptism” (credobaptism) to “Covenant Baptism” (paedobaptism). But the most common has been: “What book changed your mind?”

I’m always tempted to say, “The Bible,” because my move across the confessional waters is indeed one of sola Scripture. God’s word alone gave—and continues to give—authoritative instruction on baptism. But, it would be wrong to say the journey was one of solo Scriptura. None of us exist in such a vacuum. God places His people in the church to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. He gives us teachers to guide us into and friends to help us hear the truth.

Many conversation partners joined me along the paedobaptist path. There were professors, mentors, fellow pastors, and ordinary church members. I also had a study full of books, many on the sacraments. I read every one I own on each position.

Maybe you are on a similar search for truth, or maybe you want simply to understand the covenant baptism position better. Here’s a short bibliography of what I think are the most helpful books representing the Reformed paedobaptist position.

Beginner

9781601781178Beeke, Joel R. Bringing the Gospel to Covenant Children. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2010.

Christian parents need to see that their children are in the covenant. They should also understand that baptism is only the start of covenantal parenting. There’s much work to do. Beeke’s little book gives wise counsel for Spirit-dependent, earnestly-evangelistic leadership of covenant kids.

1596380586Chapell, Bryan. Why Do We Baptize Infants? Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2006.

Chapell’s booklet is most useful for those unaware of the reasons why a Reformed church would baptize covenant children. Incredibly pastoral.

9781935369127Hyde, Daniel R. Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children. Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, 2006.

An excellent and accessible defense of why Reformed churches baptize children.

087552429XSartelle, John P. Infant Baptism: What Christian Parents Should Know. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1985.

Sartelle’s booklet is similar to Chapell’s, but it a bit more rigorous in its theology.

Intermediate

9781596382183Chaney, J. M, and Ronald Evans. William the Baptist: A Classic Story of a Man’s Journey to Understand Baptism. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2011.

I’m amazed so few mention Cheney’s work. Sure, he downplays the reality of baptism signifying union with Christ, but he’s useful on virtually every other matter. The greatest value in the book, however, is its format. William the Baptist is basically a novel, saturated with pastoral dialogue, about one 19th-century man’s path into confessing covenant baptism.

9781601782826Fesko, J. V. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010.

If you are looking for a “One Stop Shop on Covenant Baptism,” this is it. Fesko deftly works through the historical, biblical, and theological issues.

0875523439Murray, John. Christian Baptism. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1980.

The book short, but dense. Murray’s skill as an exegete shines through on every page.

Advanced

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Jeremias, Joachim. Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960.

Jeremias’ goal is to “lay before the reader the historical material relating to the history of infant baptism in the first four centuries in as concrete and sober a manner as possible.” His study of the extra-Biblical evidence around the early church shows the historical rootedness of covenant baptism. He also makes valuable conclusions related to the issues of household baptisms and corporate solidarity.

MARCEBAPTIMarcel, Pierre Charles, trans. Philip E. Hughes. The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism: Sacrament of the Covenant of Grace. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002.

When it comes to the subject of baptism, Marcel’s work is one every scholar must consider. Not many of us are scholars, of course, but that doesn’t mean we can profit from his teaching.

If you want a longer bibliography that lists representative paedobaptist and credobaptist books, try this.

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A Mentor in Grace

Yesterday, I read a portion of Spiritual-Mindedness by John Owen—a most excellent read on a slow Lord’s Day afternoon. Around page twenty-four, I realized 2017 is something like my ten-year anniversary with the Puritans. For it was just over a decade ago that I first feasted on their writings. And I owe it all—humanly speaking—to Dr. Joel Beeke.

A Round About Way

Joel-Beeke_Profile-369x424-c-defaultIn the spring of 2007, I read George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life. What struck me most about the Northampton minister was his heavenly-mindedness. I then picked up a few more recent publications on Edwards that emphasized his pursuit of heaven on earth. 1 Those sources further cemented my attention on Edwards and heavenly-mindedness; things that, for me, at the time represented “Puritanism.”

Through online research, I eventually stumbled across the voluminous writings of Dr. Joel Beeke.  With relish, I purchased and devoured his many books on Christian living, and the emphasis he gave to the Puritans did not go unnoticed.  Thus, it was from Beeke’s many citations of Puritans that I began to move back from Edward’s and the mid-eighteenth century to the Westminster divines and the mid-seventeenth century.

My soul has never been the same.

A Mentor from Afar

He wouldn’t remember me, but I met Dr. Beeke at Together for the Gospel 2010 as he manned the Reformation Heritage book table. He immediately suggested I buy Meet the Puritans. My wife had given me the book for Christmas just a few months earlier, and so we struck up a short conversation on other books I might consider.

We later traded a few emails on my M.A. thesis: This is Not the End: Puritans on the Glory of Heaven. He was always kind and quick in his responses.

Over the years I’ve collected most of the books Dr. Beeke has published. Each one has served my life and ministry in countless ways. His Puritan Reformed Spirituality ignited a desire to pursue Ph.D. studies at SBTS in the area of Biblical Spirituality. His Parenting by God’s Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace shaped my role as a father in profound ways, and had a substantial role in my shifting views on baptism.

I don’t agree with Dr. Beeke on everything—as it always is with a mentor. But God has used him in my life almost as much as any living person. His passion for evangelism convicts me, his zeal for godliness inspires me, and his preaching of Christ humbles me.

Well Worth a Listen

One of my Sunday morning duties is ironing the family’s church clothes. De-wrinkling for seven can take a little while, so I tend to pass the time by listening to an edifying sermon. Yesterday I stumbled upon Dr. Beeke’s testimony. I’ve heard or read bits and pieces of it throughout the years, but never encountered his story of God’s grace in detail. And what a story it is!

I never cease to be amazed at how God works in the lives of His people. He overflows with wisdom and mercy toward all.

If you have an hour this week in traffic, on a run, or by the ironing board, listen in and be encouraged. You too might just find a new mentor in grace.

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  1. See Stephen J. Nichols, Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’ Vision of Living in Between (Crossway, 2006); Steven J. Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008).

Marks of the Christian Life

following jesus1

In 1872, Horatius Bonar published Light & Truth, a collection of his sermons and articles. One of my favorite entries is, “The Model of a Holy Life.

Bonar begins by considering four Bible passages:

  • “These are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”—Revelation 14:4
  • “Follow me!”—John 11:22
  • “Leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps.”—2 Peter 2:21
  • “I Paul myself beseech you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”—2 Corinthians 10:1

He then writes, “These four passages point more or less to our responsibility for a holy life—and to Christ as the true model of that life. We are redeemed—that we may be holy. We are freely pardoned—that we may be holy. We look to Jesus—that we may be holy. We are filled with the Spirit—that we may be holy. The true religious life rises out of redemption—and is a copy of Christ’s walk on earth. Beholding Him—we are changed into His image, from glory to glory.”

Bonar proceeds to meditate on the mark of a growing Christian life. Each trait was found in Christ, and so should be found in us, for “a Christian, then, is a copy of Christ. His inner and outer man are to be copies of Christ. It is Christ’s footsteps he is to walk in. It is Christ’s image that he is to reflect. It is not Paul, nor Peter, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Rutherford that he is to copy—but Christ Himself. Other models may illustrate this, and so help in the imitation of Christ; but only as doing this are they useful; otherwise they are dangerous.”

What then is a Christian man?

Bonar answers that question in six ways. I read these yesterday afternoon and found much cause for conviction, encouragement, and prayer. May they do the same for you.

I. He is a man of FAITH. It was by giving credit to God’s word that he became a Christian man; for it is by faith that we become sons of God. And his whole life is to be a life of faith. As Christ lived by faith on the Father, so does he. Christ is his model as a believing man. The more that he understands of Christ’s life, the more will he see the faith that marks it, and will learn to copy it, to live, act, speak, and walk by faith.

II. He is a man of PRAYER. In this too he follows Christ. Christ’s life was a life of prayer. In the morning we find Him praying a great while before day. All night we find Him praying more. No one, we would say, needed prayer less—yet no one prayed more. And the disciple herein imitates the Master. He prays without ceasing. He is instant in supplication. His life is a life of prayer—constant communion with God.

III. He is a man of HOPE. Christ looked to the joy set before Him—and so endured the cross. He anticipated the glory, and so was a man of hope. There is the hope, the same glory, the same joy for us. The things hoped for are the things we live upon and rejoice in. Our prospects are bright—and we keep them ever in view. The kingdom, the crown, the city, the inheritance—these are before our eyes. They cheer, and sustain, and purify us! Were it not for the hope, what would become of us? What would this world be to us? Learn to hope as well as to believe.

IV. He is man of HOLINESS. He is the follower of a holy Master. He hears the voice—Be holy, for I am holy. He knows that he is redeemed to be holy—to do good works—to follow righteousness—to be one of a peculiar people. He is not content with merely being saved—he seeks to put off sin, lust, evil, vanity—and to put on righteousness, holiness, and every heavenly characteristic. He seeks to rise higher and higher—to grow more unlike this world—more like the world to come. He marks Christ’s footsteps, and walks in them. He studies the Master’s mind, and seeks to possess it; mortifying his members and crucifying the flesh. He aims at shining as He shone, and testifying as He testified.

V. He is a man of LOVE. He has known Christ’s love, and drunk it in, and found his joy in it. So he seeks to be like Him in love—to love the Father, to love the brethren, to love sinners—to show love at all times, in word and deed. His life is to be a life of love, his words the words of love, his daily doings the outflow of a heart of love. He is to be a living witness of the gospel of love. Love—not hatred, nor coldness, nor malice, nor revenge, nor selfishness, nor indifference—love such as was in Christ—that he endeavors to embody and exhibit.

VI. He is to be a man of ZEAL. ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten me up,’ said Christ. His life was one of zeal for God—zeal for His Father’s honor and His Father’s business. So is the disciple to be ‘zealous of good works.’ Zeal steady and fervent—not by fits and starts; not according to convenience, but in season and out of season; prudent, yet warm and loving; willing to suffer and to sacrifice; no sparing self or the flesh, but ever burning; zeal for Jehovah’s glory, for Christ’s name, for the Church’s edification, for the salvation of lost men—this is to give complexion and character to his life.

These things are to mark a Christian man. He is not to be content with less. He is to grow in all these things—not to be barren, not to stagnate, not to be lukewarm—but to increase in resemblance to his Lord—to be transformed daily into His likeness, that there may be no mistake about him—as to who or what he is.

In Praise of Fussy Preaching

Yesterday, Stuart Olyott gave a useful answer to the question, “What is preaching?” I want to provide one more excerpt from his book Preaching: Pure and Simple. I hope it excites your interest enough to buy the book—it’s sound, simple, and satisfying.

41ZqPN9ZkLL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Sermons Need Clear Structure

Plain sermons are the best sermons. And plainness depends, to a large degree, on how easy the sermon is to follow and remember. So, what is one of plain preaching’s best friends? Olyott responds, “Our sermons will be both easy to follow and easy to remember if they always have a clear structure.” He then writes,

Preachers who love their people are fussy about the structure of their sermons. They know that the most ordinary person will never lose their way, as long as the sermon has unity, order and proportion. Unity means that the message holds together; it is not made up of several disconnected sermonettes. Order means that the sermon is made of distinct ideas which follow each other in a logical chain that leads up to a climax. Proportion means that each idea is given its proper place; unimportant things are not magnified, and important things are not played down. The worst preacher on earth will improve immediately if he remembers these three words.

Might your next sermon need some of this good ol’ fussiness?

What is Preaching?

6219394930_2580c323aa_bI’ve always found Stuart Olyott to be an underrated servant and preacher. When I preached through Mark’s gospel, few expositions I listed to were as consistently edifying as Olyott’s. He is bold, pithy, and direct—in the best way possible.

His book, Preaching: Pure and Simple, begins by mining the New Testament for instruction on what preaching is. Olyott shows, as he should, that biblical preaching involves four ideas represented by four Greek words.

Preaching Is . . .

  1. Heralding a message given by the King (kerusso): this tells us about the source of the message and the authority with which it comes.
  2. Announcing good news (euangelizo): this tells us about the quality of the message and the spirit in which it is given.
  3. Bearing witness to facts (martureo): this tells us about the nature of the message and the basis on which it is constructed.
  4. Spelling out the implications of the message (didasko): this tells us about the target of the message (the hearer’s conscience) and the measure of its success (did it change anyone’s life?).

He then concludes, “Until we are clear about this, we shall never really preach at all.”

2 Things Necessary

“There are two things which I have always judged chiefly requisite in a pastor, as he standeth related to his people—viz., labour and love. The former is a work of the head, the latter of the heart: faithful labour will speak his love, and sincere love will sweeten his labour. Labour without love is unacceptable to God; as a sweet perfume without fire, it cannot send forth its pleasant, fragrant savour. Love without labour is unprofitable to men; like Rachel, it is beautiful, but barren; both together—as soul and body are the essential parts of a man—are the whole of a minister.” — The Works of George Swinnock, 4:53.

M’Cheyne’s Favorite Book on Pastoral Ministry

9780851510873I’ve said before that Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry is the best book available on pastoral ministry. I believe no other work can compare in substance, depth, and conviction.

It thus smiled when I read a letter from M’Cheyne to Andrew Bonar during preparations for the Church’s “Mission of Inquiry to the Jews.” M’Cheyne starts by urging Bonar to join the team. Eventually M’Cheyne comes to ponder aloud what books he should bring on the trip. He says, “As to books, I am quite at a loss.” But he was certain as to a few essentials:

My Hebrew Bible, Greek Testament, etc., and perhaps Bridge’s (sic) Christian Ministry for general purposes,—I mean, for keeping us in mind of our ministerial work.”

I think he’s exactly right. If you have your Bible and The Christian Ministry always within reach, you’ll find fresh fire for faithful ministry.

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Preparation for Ministry

PREPARING FOR

Most of my time is spent these days working on the life and piety of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. I’m convinced he provides a unique template for gospel ministry.

In the Memoir and Remains, Andrew Bonar strings together a series of diary entries in the years before M’Cheyne licensure for gospel ministry in the Church of Scotland. He’d have us think of these as preparatory years. Upon M’Cheyne’s licensure, Bonar comments:

His soul was prepared for the awful work of the ministry by much prayer, and much study of the word of God; by affliction in his person; by inward trials and sore temptations; by experience of the depth of corruption in his own heart, and by discoveries of the Savior’s fullness of grace.

I tend to think Bonar’s comments a handy summary of M’Cheyne’s program for piety. I also believe it represents a model for us in ministry.

God has called some of you to the ministry. You are only waiting for a place to minister Christ’s gospel. How are you preparing your soul in the meantime? If you’re in seminary, don’t fall into the trap of believing research papers, reading, and exams are sufficient preparation. These tools are vital–they just aren’t sufficient. It’s “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Gospel ministry is no different. Afflictions and temptations aren’t hurdles to future ministry. When used rightly, they are friends to faithful pastoring.

Some of you are currently pastors. You may have interns or members in your midst sensing God’s call. How are you helping them to prepare for shepherding souls? Exhort them to prayer and Bible reading. Assist them in probing the depths of their sin and the unsearchable riches of Christ, so they may declare “the Savior’s fullness of grace.”