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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An Underrated Trilogy

A few weeks ago I was at a pastors’ conference sponsored by Reformation Heritage Books. One of the free giveaways was James Garretson’s excellent volume on Samuel Miller and pastoral ministry. After the session, I talked to numerous men who hadn’t heard of the book, let alone read it.

My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

Usefully and Diligently

For some years now, Garretson has quietly assembled an arsenal of work on pastoral ministry in the tradition of Old Princeton. He’s edited two volumes of various material from the Princeton men on Christian ministry. He’s also put together a collection of funeral sermons, memorial addresses, and magazine articles, honoring the labors of Princeton’s leading faculty.

In my view, his best work comes to us in three different books that each unveil one Princetonian’s teaching on gospel ministry. A feast awaits any hungry pastor. The Princeton men gave us a model of what pious, learned ministry looks like—and can achieve for Christ. Don’t let these volumes go unnoticed, brother pastor. Tolle lege!

0851518931Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry. How does one know whether God is calling a man to the pastoral ministry? Are we aware of the moral, intellectual, and physical qualifications needed for the Christian ministry? What are the best methods of sermon preparation and should the preacher pay as much attention to preparing his own heart as to preparing the message he is to preach? On what kinds of subjects should a pastor preach, and how should such preaching be done? What is really involved in being a shepherd of Christ’s flock? Do we know what kinds of discouragements and encouragements face the pastor in his ministry?

These are some of the issues this book addresses. Dr. James Garretson has drawn together wise, practical, and relevant insights into the call, qualifications, and work of the Christian pastor from the extant lecture notes of one of Princeton’s best loved and most respected teachers, Dr. Archibald Alexander. As you read this book you will feel as if you were sitting at the feet of this ‘first-class theologian, mentor and minister of the gospel’, alongside the many students of ‘Old Princeton’ whose lives and future ministries were moulded by Alexander’s inspiring classroom instruction. You will also discover to your lasting profit that Alexander’s wise counsel on pastoral theology, drawn as it was from the ever-fresh spring of Holy Scripture, remains of continuing value for today’s preachers who seek to walk in the sound and fruitful paths of their godly forefathers.

9781601782984An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office. Samuel Miller (1769–1850) played an integral part in founding Princeton Theological Seminary, which became one of the most influential training grounds for Presbyterian ministers in the nineteenth century. While Miller is most commonly remembered for his writings on church office, he also played a significant role instructing students and shaping their theology of preaching and pastoral ministry. In the present volume, Jim Garretson highlights the narrative of Miller’s life and the major ministerial emphases found in his published writings, sermons, and unpublished lecture notes. As a result, readers will come to know the spiritual convictions of Miller’s heart and understand the theology of ministry he imparted over the course of his lifetime.

9781601784131Thoughts on Preaching and Pastoral Ministry: Lessons from the Life and Writings of James W. Alexander. In Thoughts on Preaching and Pastoral Ministry, James M. Garretson provides a detailed narrative of James W. Alexander’s life in order to better understand his approach to gospel labors. Garretson draws deeply from Alexander’s correspondence, tracking the spiritual development of his life as it shaped his practice of pastoral ministry. In addition, assessments of Alexander’s sermons, books, and especially reviews provide valuable personal statements that shed light on his character and convictions. Throughout, Alexander is allowed to speak for himself so that the reader may enter into the spiritual pulse that animated his life and actions. Bracing, heartening, and at times frustrating, Alexander’s growth as a Christian and development as a minister is the story of a man subdued by God’s grace and a life marked by a growing conformity to the likeness of Christ. For those whose privilege it is to serve as ministers of the gospel, Alexander’s life and instruction provide inspiration and wisdom for how to do pastoral ministry well and with all of one’s heart.

If you want to listen to Garretson speak on Princeton and pastoral ministry, try this message from the 2012 Conference at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Book Recommendation: On Pastoral Ministry

A couple of weeks ago I came across John Henry Jowett’s 1912 Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale University entitled, “The Preacher: His Life and Work.” What a work! Jowett’s exhortations on the ministry are some of the more exhilarating ones I’ve read in some time.

Behind the Message, There Was a Man

blrudgbgkkgrhgookjqejllmvowobjikfzeqq_35After hearing the great Dr. Fairbairn preach, Jowett told his students at Airedale College, “Gentlemen, I will tell you what I have observed this morning: behind that sermon there was a man.” Although The Preacher provides scant autobiographical information, I had the same sense in reading Jowett’s work—there was a weight in its message.

Jowett was born in 1863 in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Like many great ministers before him, Jowett initially resolved to study law. God soon called him into the gospel ministry. He went on to train at Edinburgh and Oxford before assuming his first pastoral position at St. James Church in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The church held over 1,000 seats, and none were empty during Jowett’s ministry.

In 1911 he became the pastor at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. John Bishop says,

The church was crowded long before the hour of Jowett’s first service. Reporters crowded the side galleries, expecting to find a sensational preacher with dazzling oratory and catchy sermon topics on current events. Instead they found a shy, quiet little man, bald-headed and with a cropped white moustache, who spoke in a calm, simple manner.

He was at Fifth Avenue when he delivered the Lyman Beecher lectures on a pastor’s life and ministry. He stayed in New York until 1918 when we was called to succeed G. Campbell Morgan at Westminster Chapel in London. It was his last pastoral post, as he died in 1923.

Pithy and Practical

The Preacher contains seven different lectures: 1) The Call to Be a Preacher, 2) The Perils of the Preacher, 3) The Preacher’s Themes, 4) The Preacher in His Study, 5) The Preacher in His Pulpit, 6) The Preacher in the Home, and 7) The Preacher as a Man of Affairs. If you read anything in the book, read lectures 2, 4, and 5. Here are a few appetizers for you to meditate on:

  • “We may become so absorbed in words (of preaching) that we forget to eat the Word.” (42)
  • “We may become more intent on full pews than on redeemed souls.” (54)
  • Worldliness will cause “our characters to lose their spirituality. we shall lack that fine fragrance which makes people know that we dwell in ‘the King’s gardens.’ There will be know ‘heavenly air’ about our spirits.” (55)
  • Worldliness will cause us to be “wordy, but not mighty. we are eloquent, but we do not persuade. We are reasonable, but we do not convince. We preach much, but accomplish little. We teach, but do not woo.” (57)
  • If the gospel “is to be the weighty matter of our preaching, we surely ought to be most seriously careful how we proclaim it. The matter may be bruised and spoiled by the manner. The work of grace may be marred by our own ungraciousness.” (101)
  • “Happy-go-lucky sermons will lay no necessity upon the reason nor put any constraint upon the heart. Preaching that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.” (114)
  • “Here (in private prayer), more than anything else, our secret life will determine our public power.” (158)
  • “Men never learn to pray in public: they learn in private. We cannot put off our private habits and assume public ones with our pulpit robes.” (159)
  • “If men are unmoved by our prayers they are not likely to be profoundly stirred by our preaching.” (159)

Where to Find It

You can find reasonably priced reprints of Jowett’s book on Amazon. If you don’t want to spend money from your book budget, you can read it for free on Archive.com or Google Books.

Tolle lege!

Favorite Books of 2016

It looks like I’ll cross the 200 number for “Books Read in 2016.” I thought whittling down my list to a select few would be unusually difficult. This year, however, it came easily. I was able to read precious few titles published in the last twelve months. Most of my readings were for doctoral/dissertation studies, which means the vast majority of the books I read were published at least 150 years ago. So, this year’s list doesn’t have as many titles as usual. I pray nonetheless they will be of help to you.

My criteria for favorite books remains the same:

  1. Does this book have a special benefit to ordinary pastors?
  2. Is this a book worth rereading every year?

Five books I read answered those two questions with a resounding, “Yes!” Here they are, with a bonus title at the end.

Favorite Books for Ordinary Pastors Published in 2016

9781784980214m#5—Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice by Christopher Ash. By God’s grace, pastoral burnout is not something I’ve experienced. But it’s a constant threat. I’ve longed considered Ash to be always worth reading and Zeal Without Burnout doesn’t disappoint. While I would have enjoyed reflection on what we can learn about battling burnout from Jesus’ life, Ash remains theologically and pastorally adept. An added benefit is that you can read this book in one short sitting. I’d encourage every pastor to make a resolution to read Zeal Without Burnout the first week of each new year.

9781433551222m#4—Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever. Mark Dever is the most dedicated and fruitful discipler I know. This contribution to 9Marks’ valuable Building Healthy Churches series distils Dever’s wisdom into a one-stop-discipleship shop. What I appreciate about Dever’s approach is how he extols making discipling a natural part of your life in Christ. Here you don’t find a delineated program or ten-step guide for conforming others to Christ. Rather, you get simple encouragement and biblical truth to shape for your context. Pastors will particularly enjoy the chapter, “Raising Up Leaders.”

9781433550515m#3—Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer: In Our Homes, Communities, and Churches by Meghan Hill. This book sat on my shelf for several months before I finally cracked its pages. What a book! To say I read it would be an understatement—I delightfully devoured it. I found Hill to be useful in all kinds of areas, but what challenged me most was her counsel on a church’s corporate prayer and the family’s regular prayers. Simply put, Praying Together is one of the most stirring books on prayer I’ve yet read.

devoted7a-810x1280#2—Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. Ferguson remains wonderfully prolific. I’ve seen many put his other 2016 publication, The Whole Christ, on their “Best Of” lists—and rightfully so. I just think Devoted to God is even better. It has all the classic qualities of Ferguson’s ministry: deeply exegetical, winsomely Reformed, and continually insightful. I’ve usually said, “If you can only read one book on sanctification, read Ryle’s Holiness.” I now may say, “Read Devoted to God.” I thank God for Ferguson’s service to Christ’s church.

9781433553479m#1—ESV Reader’s Bible. Add my name to the large list of individuals praising Crossway’s work on the Reader’s Bible. I held off on buying the six-volume set, partly because of its cost, and partly because I thought, “Surely it can’t be as momentous as many are saying it is?” I eventually took the plunge and am here to say, “Take this year’s Christmas money and buy a Reader’s Bible.” I find its benefit hard to put into words. The paper, font, and sensory experience make this a Bible reading experience unlike what I’ve had. Maybe that’s just it—my Bible reading felt fresh. Who wouldn’t be eager for such an encounter with God’s word?

Favorite Book for Ordinary Pastors Not Published in 2016

74154Homiletics and Pastoral Theology by W.G.T. Shedd. Each year I come across an old work on pastoral theology/ministry and think, “Why hasn’t anyone recommended this to me before?” Shedd’s masterpiece did that for me several months ago. Shedd served as a Professor of English Literature for part of his academic career. Literary and rhetorical skill shine through on each page (hence why Wilson can ransack the book for pithiness). This brother knows what style is and teaches us how to preach it. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget his teaching, “The fundamental properties of good discourse are as distinct and distinguishable as those of matter. Many secondary qualities enter into it, but its primary and indispensable characteristics are reducible to three: plainness, force, and beauty.” Feast away my preacher friend. Feast away.

Click here to see my Favorite Books of 2013, 2014 and 2015.

15 Principles for More Glorious Worship

Worship God

I’ve intended to read Ross’ work for several years. How I wish it didn’t take a doctoral seminar to make me finally do so! Recalling the Hope of Glory is a biblical/theological train running at full steam—and every Christian would do well to jump on. Pastors and “worship leaders” in particular need to read Ross’ study. It’s now replaced Cosper’s (still) excellent Rhythms of Grace on my list of “3 Books Every Pastor Should Read on Worship.

Essential Principles for Developing the Worship of God

416jwtqigol-_sx331_bo1204203200_Ross’ final chapter in the book is, “Basic Principles for More Glorious Worship.” He writes, “The church . . . must always be discovering more meaningful and more glorious ways to worship God, for worship is essential to the spiritual life” (503). Now, if you read that statement out of context, your worship can get whacky real fast. Ross doesn’t mean for us to discover new ways of worshiping God wherever we want. He means for us to labor ad fontes—to return to God’s word to uncover more glory for our worship. He models this practice by giving fifteen final applications. I pray it will whet your spiritual appetite to devour this book.

  1. The revelation of the exalted Lord God in glory inspires glorious worship and fills us with the hope of glory.
  2. The evidence of the Lord’s presence makes worship a holy convocation in a holy place that calls for holiness.
  3. Sacrifice is at the center of worship as the basis and expression of it.
  4. Sound biblical proclamation informs all worshipful acts.
  5. The ministry of the Word, an act of worship itself, is the key to coherent, corporate worship.
  6. Individual public praise and thanksgiving is the evidence of the spiritual life that is alive in the church.
  7. Singing, chanting, playing musical instruments, and dancing are done to the glory of God are a part of the praise of the people of God.
  8. Worship is the response of the people to the divine revelation.
  9. Worship prompts moral and ethical acts.
  10. Great festivals preserve the heritage of the faith, unite believers, and gather resources for greater worship and service.
  11. The household of faith preserves the purity and integrity of worship.
  12. Worship possesses a balance of form and spirit.
  13. Worship is eschatological.
  14. Prayer enables all the acts of worship to achieve what God intended.
  15. Worship transcends time and space.

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!

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:

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

Ferguson:
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!