“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.
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.
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.”
A few weeks ago, I completed a seminar at The Institution on “Teaching in Higher Education.” It’s required for doctoral students soon to completed their coursework.
One of the assignments was to design three different syllabi (one each for a semester-long campus format, hybrid/modular, and online) for a class I’d hope to teach in the future. I chose to design my syllabi for a class titled, “Reformed Pastoral Ministry.” I describe the course in this way,
Reformed Pastoral Ministry is a course designed to introduce the student to pastoral ministry in the Reformed tradition. Specific attention will be given to the ministerial vision of the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus). Topics to be covered include: personal piety, ordination, prayer, preaching, visitation, administering the sacraments, evangelism, leading various ministries, and church discipline.
I constructed the course as an elective for your average M.Div. degree. I’m pretty excited with how it came together. Lord willing, I’d have a chance to teach it in the future. Check it out below and let me know what you think!
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!
Princeton 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.
An 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.
Thoughts 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.
James Waddell Alexander (1804–1859) was the eldest son of the legendary Archibald Alexander, first professor at Princeton Seminary. James himself was a formidable force for Christ’s kingdom. He pastored the famous Duane Street Presbyterian Church in New York City and was eventually appointed Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at Princeton.
He was an enthusiastic proponent of and participant in revival. But not the kind Charles Finney advocated—a spiritual stirring based on human engineering. Alexander once wrote about the necessary conditions for true revival. He said,
For my own part, I believe that revivals depend not so much, as is thought, upon phases of doctrine, or petty arrangements, as upon the ardent piety and zealous labours of humble Christianity, apart from all these things.
Do you want to see a revival in your ministry? Alexander would say pursue an ordinary ministry. Love Christ enough to prize holiness. Love Christ enough to proclaim Him zealously in every place. Leave the rest to our Sovereign King.
A few weeks ago I attended the annual Twin Lakes Fellowship. It was an edifying time with other like-minded pastors. The campground was beautiful; the conversations enjoyable; the singing exceptional. But the highlight, for me at least, was Ian Hamilton.
On three successive nights, Dr. Hamilton preached on “The Glory of Christ.” His expositions mined the depths of Scripture and had John-Owen-like substance to them. In each message, Dr. Hamilton gave heart-stirring encouragements for faithful ministry that will exhort any pastor. Listen in or download the sermons below:
Bonus audio, full of his characteristic dry wit and profound wisdom, comes from an interview David Strain did with Dr. Douglas Kelly on “Lessons from Life and Ministry.” It was a delight to hear Dr. Kelly’s reflections.
A few months before his death, Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote his Personal Reformation. He began by saying, “It is the duty of ministers in this day to begin the reformation of religion . . . with confession of past sin, earnest prayer for direction, grace, and full purpose of heart.”
He then gives us simple, but challenging insight into how a pastor must go about loving God and loving others.
How to Glorify God and Do Good
M’Cheyne writes, “I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do most for God’s glory and the good of man, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity,” by doing three things:
- “By maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood.”
- “By being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times.”
- “By attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that it is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world.”
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
After 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
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
- Keep constant hours every day with God.
- Get good books in your houses.
- Have a care of your company.
- Have a care whom you hear.
- Follow after sincerity.
- As you love your souls, be not strangers to yourselves.
- Keep your spiritual watch.
- You that are the people of God, often associate together.
- Get your hearts screwed up above the world.
- Trade much in the promises.
- To all you that hear me, live in a calling.
- Let me entreat you to join the first and second tables of the law together, piety to God, and equity to your neighbor.
- Join the serpent and dove together, innocence and prudence.
- Be more afraid of sin than of suffering.
- Take heed of idolatry.
- Think not the worse of godliness because it is reproached and persecuted.
- Think not the better of sin because it is in fashion.
- In the business of religion serve God with all your might.
- Do all the good you can to others as long as you live.
- Every day think upon eternity.
Read all this and more in Sermons of the Great Ejection.