A Platform for Piety

hamilton-11a-thumb-220x380-19484In his runaway 17th-century bestseller, Practice of Piety, Lewis Bayly says true godliness is: “to join together, in watching, fasting, praying, reading the Scriptures, keeping his Sabbaths, hearing sermons, receiving the holy Communion, relieving the poor, exercising in all humility the works of piety to God, and walking conscionably in the duties of our calling towards men.”

Glenn Hinson says Bayly’s statement summarizes “the whole Puritan platform.”

That’s one platform, in this platform-wild election season, I can support.

Twenty Encouragements for Church Members


On “Farewell Sunday” in August of 1662 countless Puritan “non-conformist” pastors delivered last sermons as a result of The Great Ejection. Thomas Watson, that rich and racy preacher, offered two farewell messages to the St. Stephen’s, Walbrook congregation. In the second he gave “twenty directions . . . as advice and counsel with you about your souls.” Here they are in brief. What a window into faithful ministry.

20 Directions to Church Members

  1. Keep constant hours every day with God.
  2. Get good books in your houses.
  3. Have a care of your company.
  4. Have a care whom you hear.
  5. Follow after sincerity.
  6. As you love your souls, be not strangers to yourselves.
  7. Keep your spiritual watch.
  8. You that are the people of God, often associate together.
  9. Get your hearts screwed up above the world.
  10. Trade much in the promises.
  11. To all you that hear me, live in a calling.
  12. Let me entreat you to join the first and second tables of the law together, piety to God, and equity to your neighbor.
  13. Join the serpent and dove together, innocence and prudence.
  14. Be more afraid of sin than of suffering.
  15. Take heed of idolatry.
  16. Think not the worse of godliness because it is reproached and persecuted.
  17. Think not the better of sin because it is in fashion.
  18. In the business of religion serve God with all your might.
  19. Do all the good you can to others as long as you live.
  20. Every day think upon eternity.

Read all this and more in Sermons of the Great Ejection.

Letters for the Soul

rutherford-samuel1One of technology’s saddest effects is its contribution to the virtual disappearance of letter writing. Today’s correspondence (via email, text, or the like) tends to be an ephemeral exercise. Most of it floats around in the cloud, never to come back down again. When we die we won’t leave behind a stash of letters to edify the coming generations. Thus, we have to turn to the old saints.

And no letters are better to read than Samuel Rutherford’s.

Nearly Inspired

Consider what others said about Rutherford’s work:

  • “In Scottish homes for some two centuries the most widely read devotional classic, apart from the Bible, was Rutherford’s Letters.” — Stuart Louden
  • “But for that book of letters, hold off the Bible, such a book the world never saw the like!” — Richard Baxter
  • “These letters have been generally admired by all the children of God for the vein of piety, trust in God and holy zeal which runs through them.” — John Wesley
  • “When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of men.” — C.H. Spurgeon

Their Content

In Meet the Puritans Beeke and Gleason offer this overview:

Most of Rutherford’s letters (220 of 365) were written while he was in exile in Aberdeen. The letters beautifully harmonize Reformed doctrine and the spiritual experiences of the believer. Six topics dominate the letters: (1) Rutherford’s love to and desire for Christ (“I would desire no more for my heaven beneath the moon, while I am sighing in this house of clay, but daily renewed feasts of love with Christ,” he wrote); (2) his deep sense of the heinousness of sin (he spoke often of his own “abominable vileness”: “Only my loathsome wretchedness and my wants have qualified me for Christ!”); (3) his devoted concern for the cause of Christ (to David Dickson he wrote on May 1, 1637, “My sorrow is that I cannot get Christ lifted off the dust in Scotland, and set on high, above all the skies, and heaven of heavens”); (4) his profound sympathy for burdened and troubled souls (to one troubled saint, he wrote, “Our crosses are like puffs of wind to blow our ship home; they convey us to heaven’s gate, but they cannot follow it into heaven”); (5) his profound love for his flock (he wrote to Anwoth on July 13, 1632, “My witness is above; your heaven would be two heavens to me, and your salvation two salvations”); and (6) his ardent longings for heaven (“Oh, how long is it to the dawning of the marriage day! O sweet Jesus, take wide steps! O my Lord, come over the mountain at one stride”).

Where to Begin

If you can afford it, grab the full set of letters published by Banner of Truth. Another option is to grab the shorter volume Banner puts out, which is a selection of just under 200 pages.

Once you have the book in hand, set it on your nightstand. Read one or two letters a night before bed. You can also read the letters devotionally. After morning prayer and study of God’s word, read one letter a day. Andrew Bonar’s edition of The Letters contained 365 notes for this reason.

Rutherford can be bleak—he lived in tumultuous times. But the Sun of Righteousness swallows up the affliction and suffering. As Rutherford said, “Be greedy of grace.” I do believe these letters will cultivate such hunger.

Tolle lege!

Preaching with Simplicity


The church I pastor meets on Sundays at 5 p.m. I thus have most of the day to contemplate preaching. I’ve found the wait to be a blessing and a challenge.

Blow the Whistle Please

Whenever I used to play in a significant soccer game, the match almost always happened at night. The day was spent feeling nervous anticipation come to a boiling point. By the time we lined up on the field the common consensus was, “Just blow the whistle, Ref!” Once the kick-off happened expectation became reality; nerves moved into actions.

Most Lord’s Days are similar. Nervous anticipation has changed to eager anticipation these days, but the wait still builds and builds. The challenge comes when you realize The Worm has an extra twelve hours or so to shoot forth his arrows. His aim and fire are relentless. So, on some weeks the phrase,”Let’s get this show on the road,” is not so much a ready declaration, but an exhausted supplication. I often think, “If only we met in the morning, Satan’s weekly ambush wouldn’t have as much time.”

Hours to Use

I’m not trying to post a pity part here, however. Gathering for worship at 5 p.m. brings numerous advantages. The greatest of which is that I get more time to prepare for preaching. Sunday morning is indeed a battlefield. My counter to The Serpent’s scheming is simple: fight Satan with the Spirit’s filling. Something is odd—and off—if I need to do anything to the sermon itself on Sunday morning. My aim then each Lord’s Day is not to spend time sharpening the sermon, but praying and reading. I’ll read my Bible. Then I’ll go to the study and grab the last volume of some Puritan set. I turn to the index and look at the entries under topics like “Christ,” “ministry,” or “preaching.” Once I’ve settled on a selection, it’s time to feast.

If you haven’t read the Puritans on such topics, you are missing out. For example, yesterday my eyes feel on the works of John Newton. I hadn’t picked them up in some time. After thumbing around a bit in the index, I settled a letter Newton wrote: “to a young minister, on preaching the Gospel with the power and demonstration of the Spirit.” Oh, how it was what I needed!

Listen Here, Young Man

Newton’s letter is one of congratulations to a younger minister on the occasion of his ordination. Never one to let a chance for encouragement to pass, Newton writes, “I wish you, upon your entrance into the ministry, to have a formed and determinate idea, what the phrase, preaching the gospel, properly signifies.” Here are six choice bits from Newton’s counsel. May they encourage you as they did me.

  • “Merely to declare the truths of the gospel, is not to preach it.”
  • “It is not so easy to account for the presumption of those preachers, who expect, (if they can indeed expect it,) merely by declaiming on gospel subjects, to raise in their hearers those spiritual perceptions of humiliation, desire, love, joy, and peace, of which they have no impression on their own hearts.”
  • One criterion of the gospel ministry, when rightly dispensed, is, that it enters the recesses of the heart. The hearer is amazed to find that the preacher, who perhaps never saw him before, describes him to himself, as though he had lived long in the same house with him, and was acquainted with his conduct, his conversation, and even with his secret thoughts!”
  • “If, therefore, you wish to preach the gospel with power, pray for a simple, humble spirit, that you may have no allowed end in view–but to proclaim the glory of the Lord whom you profess to serve, to do his will, and for his sake to be useful to the souls of men. Study the Word of God, and the workings of your own heart, and avoid all those connections, friendships and pursuits, which, experience will tell you, have a tendency to dampen the energy, or to blunt the sensibility of your spirit.”
  • “Let your elocution be natural. Despise the little arts by which men of little minds endeavor to set themselves off; they will blast your success, and expose you to contempt. The grand principle of gospel oratory, is simplicity.”
  • “Sometimes vociferation seems to be considered as a mark of powerful preaching. But I believe a sermon that is loud and noisy from beginning to end, seldom produces much good effect. Here again, my friend, if you are happily possessed of simplicity, it will be a good guide. It will help you to adjust your voice to the size of the place or congregation, and then to the variations of your subject.”

You can read the whole letter here.

Overcoming the Eclipse of God


I spend most afternoons running a ten-mile route on some country roads near our house. For the last couple of years, I’ve passed this time listening to audiobooks. For a variety of different reasons I’m listening less and less to books, and more and more to theological lectures. Trying to fill up 50-60 miles a week with listening material is no small task.

Last week I ransacked Ligonier’s archives and came across the resources from their 2004 Pastors Conference with R.C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever. What a hidden treat! Each lecture provokes, and each panel illuminates. Any pastor would be wise to listen to the seventeen mp3s. Tolle audite!

Making Changes in the Church

Last week I attended 9Marks’ “First Five Years” conference in Ft. Worth. From my perspective, Garret Kell’s message on “Making Changes” was probably the most rewarding talk of all. It’s full of biblical truth and practical wisdom. Every pastor, whether or not he’s in the first five years of ministry, will find encouragement aplenty.

Book to Look For: On Sanctification

I consider Sinclair Ferguson the greatest living guide for pilgrims on the way to heaven—at least when it comes to biblical/theological books. His publishing output is broad and comprehensive. Rarely does a year go by without another contribution from the Scotsman. In late October he’ll published Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. It surely will be a candidate for book of the year.

devoted7a-810x1280According to the Trust

The Banner writes:

Christians are transformed by the renewing of their minds. They understand that in large measure how they think about the gospel will determine how they will live for God’s glory. They learn to allow the word of God to do its own work, informing and influencing the way they think in order to shape the way they live.

In a series of Scripture-enriched chapters Sinclair B. Ferguson’s Devoted to God works out this principle in detail. It provides what he describes as ‘blueprints for sanctification’—an orderly exposition of central New Testament passages on holiness. Devoted to God thus builds a strong and reliable structural framework for practical Christian living. It stresses the foundational importance of fundamental issues such as union with Christ, the rhythms of spiritual growth, the reality of spiritual conflict, and the role of God’s law. Here is a fresh approach to an always relevant subject, and a working manual to which the Christian can turn again and again for biblical instruction and spiritual direction.

According to Ferguson

Here’s what Ferguson himself had to say about the book in an interview with Fred Zaspel:

Do you have any new books in the works that we can expect?

Thank you for asking, Fred. The Lord willing, yes. The next one is entitled Devoted to God, and is a treatment of sanctification. I realize there are excellent books on the theme of holiness (Walter Marshall’s classic, Ryle’s great work, and more recently Kevin de Young has written on the subject)—so obviously one needs to “justify” writing another one. The subtitle is Blueprints for Sanctification and the book begins with a somewhat different “take” on what “holiness” means. If there is a distinctive feature that justifies another book on the theme (can we have too many?) it probably lies in the approach. I have tried to focus on a selection of central New Testament passages that provide the groundwork for sanctification (“blueprints”) and work through them in a progressive and cumulative way. If readers know George Smeaton’s two great classic volumes on the atonement, Devoted to God is a kind of more modest (and doubtless very inferior!) attempt to do something similar with sanctification. In harmony with the principles of our Lord’s prayer in John 17 that sanctification takes place through his word, my aim has been to draw the blueprints for sanctification from within both the context and the atmosphere of the text of Scripture itself. I think the book is due out by the Summer of this year.

Tolle lege!

Real Leadership

9781433551222mOne of the most useful books I’ve read so far in 2016 is Mark Dever’s Discipling: How to Help Other Follow Jesus.

The final chapter offers nine basic steps to raising up church leaders. Tucked away in Step #6 (“Give Feedback”) is a sagacious point no pastor should miss—especially young pastors like me. Dever writes,

So many times I’ve seen men, particularly younger guys, act as if real leadership is shown in correcting others. That’s why young men’s sermons often scold. What they haven’t figured out is that you can often accomplish more by encouragement. There are times to scold. But 80 to 90 percent of what you hope to correct can be accomplished through encouragement.

As another pastor often says, “You can’t say, ‘Amen,’ if you don’t also say, ‘Ouch.'”


2 Reasons Why You Should Go to Seminary

Seminary Wide

I’ve uttered many things over the years I wish I could take back. I’m sure more foolish proclamations will end up in my “Hall of Shame.” One of the more egregious examples is what I said about seminary while at my uncle’s house back in 2006.

Well, You See . . .

Several of us were seated in my Uncle Dary’s plush study reviewing the goings on in the extended Stone family. For just over a year I’d been serving in the student ministry at FBC Prosper. The Stone side of my heritage has always valued education. Thus, whenever the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were present, it wasn’t long until the question came out. Up to this point, I’d handled the issue with what I thought was appropriate deference. But for whatever reason (I’m still not sure what caused it) when the inevitable ask arrived on this occasion my response was bubbly—bubbles of the boiling kind.

The question: “Jordan, when are you going to go to seminary?”

My answer: “I’m not planning on ever going. I don’t see any need for it.”

Filling My Mouth with a Foot

For the next two and a half years I was content to let my heart only harden more. By this time, I’d joined the staff of an Acts 29 church when Driscoll was at the height of his MMA-pastor phase. The ethos of the network at the time was mainly anti-seminary. My boss at the time (in)famously declared seminary was worthless. “I can teach you everything they will, and I’ll do it for free!” he shouted across the hallway one afternoon. I soaked it in. Sometime during this era, I told my father I was going to “beat the system.” By that, I meant I would successfully move up the pastoral ladder without graduate education. Hubris rarely has rung so loud in my life. And that’s saying something.

Some dear mentors of old ran me down in late 2008 to inquire about my new role at the new church. If ever there were poster children, in a good way, for seminary work it was these two brothers. They looked like and sounded as if they’d just left a rousing theological debate at the local library. But the disposition was far from off-putting. It was oddly compelling. They asked if I’d considered going to seminary and, cut to the quick by their kind sincerity, I said, “I am now.”

And So It All Began

About eight months went by, and I hadn’t done anything related to seminary. So my mentors summoned me, literally, to the office. I showed up at their church’s office, they took my lunch order, grabbed the grub, and we broke bread. I was well on my way to eating my third chip when the ambush arrived. “So, Jordan. When will you be going to Charlotte?” one of them asked quite casually. RTS Charlotte was their alma mater, you see. My feeble response was, “My wife and I are trying to get pregnant. I’m not sure it’s wise to head east and forsake my current salary.” I’ll never forget their response, “Jordan, now is not the time for a baby! Now is the time for study!”

Sure enough, just a few weeks later my wife found out she was pregnant. After further counsel with my wife and these assertive fellows it was decided, I’d get my M.A.R. through RTS Global. I’m convinced it was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.

A Seminary Apologia

Six years later I have the M.A.R. in hand; I’m one semester away from a Th.M. at SBTS, and—Lord willing—just under two years away from finishing a Ph.D. Seminary education is almost as much a part of my life as soccer used to be. As a former adversary of seminary work, let me try to offer an apology for theological education under two simple points.

Seminary education grows ability. This is, in many ways, the reason we go to seminary. We go to learn things we wouldn’t learn otherwise. Radical outliers aside, who honestly would study Hebrew on their own initiative? Would you really read Donald Fortson’s Colonial Presbyterianism: Old Faith in a New Land if you didn’t take his “History of Christianity II” course? Would you spend a weekend parsing through the communicatio idiomatum for Dr. Swain? Probably not. But my seminary experience has made me do those things. Furthermore, it’s enabled me to do them. Theological tools I never had now lie in my soul’s workshop.

Seminary gives you the ability of familiarity. It acquaints you with scholars, movements, theologies, and interpretations you’d likely never have otherwise. Sure, some students sound a lot like the caricature of seminarians—after seminary, all they can do is speak in a way no ordinary church members does. But my experience and observation say that’s not the norm. All in all, seminary will sharpen you skill with Scripture. And that’s something from which every pastor (and congregation) can profit.

Seminary education grows humility. Many young men I’ve talked to over the last five years fear the exact opposite; they’re convinced seminary is little more than “Prime Pride Fertilizer.” But that’s not the fault of the seminary. It’s the fault of the sinner attending seminary.

I’ve found few things in my life so adept at fostering humility like seminary. Many in my local church think I’m unusually smart. I might be tempted to believe them if it wasn’t for the students I spend time with in classes and seminars. They are the truly smart ones. And the professors are even smarter and more skilled. When I walk through the hallways at SBTS, I’m reminded how much I don’t know. That’s quite a good thing for humility.

The Apology in Action

Perhaps the best illustration I can offer on these benefits of ability and humility happened last May. I was in my first Ph.D. seminar with Dr. Michael Haykin on “Patristic Spirituality.” I stood up to present a paper on Eusebius of Caesarea’s work on Constantine. With a fluttering heart, I stammered through the paper. The subsequent interaction I had with Dr. Haykin was . . . well . . . humbling. He didn’t rip the paper apart, but he did tear some holes in it. He was right to do so. He then sent me on my way to consider a few sources to strengthen the work.

I left the seminar that week humbled and instructed. It seems that experience is an excellent microcosm of why seminary education can be so useful.


Plan Ahead

“A prayer should have a plan as much as a sermon . . . Extemporaneous prayer, like extemporaneous preaching, is too often the product of the single instant, instead of devout reflection and premeditation. No man, no creature, can pray well without knowing what he is praying for, and whom he is praying to. Everything in prayer, and especially public prayer, ought to be well considered and well weighed.” — Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, 271.