10 Marks of a Grace-Alone Church

Zondervan wants to help us celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. So, they’ve published the “5 Solas Series,” edited by Michael Barrett. “We need these solas just as much today as the Reformers needed them in the sixteenth century,” Barret argues. He is undoubtedly right.

My favorite entry in the series is Carl Trueman’s Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God. Trueman begins by surveying the Bible’s teaching on grace. He critiques modern conceptions of grace as something like a divine sentiment, showing that God’s word consistently connects grace to Christ. Ever the consummate church historian, Trueman then ably traces the doctrine through the ages before coming to the Reformers central arguments on sola gratia (his primary discussion partners are Augustine, Thomas, Luther, and Calvin).

The whole work is valuable and would be useful for small group discussion. The conclusion itself is well worth your money. There Trueman offers ten “hints as to the identity of a sola-gratia church.” Let me try to whet your literary appetite by giving you those hints with a choice quote or two.

What Marks a Grace-Alone Church?

  1. A grace-alone church takes sin seriously. “A proper understanding of grace depends on a prior, proper understanding of sin and the human predicament.”
  2. A grace-alone church takes Christ seriously. “If we speak of grace without speaking in the name of Christ, we are not speaking biblically of grace. In the Bible, grace is so intimately connected with Christ that Christless talk is graceless talk.”
  3. A grace-alone church takes God’s priority in personal salvation seriously. “A grace-alone church will be one that unashamedly declares God’s sovereign priority over all of creation and his sovereign priority over the church and her people.”
  4. A grace-alone church takes assurance seriously. “The church which takes grace seriously will constantly point her people to [the truth of God’s sovereign in Christ] with the aim of reassuring them that, whatever comes to pass, God is both sovereign and gracious.”
  5. A grace-alone church takes the corporate gathering of the visible church seriously. “A church which takes grace alone seriously knows that . . . the primary reason we go to church is to receive God’s grace through the word and sacraments.”
  6. A grace-alone church takes the Bible seriously. “The Bible is God’s revelation of the history and identity of his people and supremely of his purposes for them as they culminate in Jesus Christ. Given this, we may need to spend time reflecting on how the Bible functions in our churches.”
  7. A grace-alone church takes preaching seriously. “Preaching was central to the Reformation because of how the Reformers understood grace . . . The word brings grace.”
  8. A grace-alone church takes baptism seriously. “Baptism is part of God’s gracious economy, to be taken seriously by all Christians . . . As Paul would point people back to the fact that they were baptized as the basis for pressing home their new identity in Christ and the great imperatives of the Christian life, so we should do the same.”
  9. A grace-alone church takes the Lord’s Supper seriously. “The Lord’s Supper gives us Christ—in a different form from the word, but gives us Christ nonetheless, and a church that believes in grace alone will be a church where the Lord’s Supper is considered to be important.”
  10. A grace-alone church takes prayer seriously. “A church that takes grace seriously knows that she exists only in complete and total dependence on the Lord who bought her. Such a church will know that it is vitally important to call out to the Lord for all things, that conversions, Christian growth, discipleship, and worship all depend on God himself.”

What Every New Pastor Needs

I’ve been tinkering away at a book project on how to pray for your pastor for most of this year. Whenever I come across the, I stash away useful quotes from old saints on the importance of praying for your pastor. A new favorite came this morning from Horatius Bonar.

Bonar’s first sermon to his congregation at Kelso was on Mark 9:29—”And he said unto them, ‘This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.'” He went on to tell the church,

In coming amongst you here, the first thing I ask of you is your prayers. Not your customary, your general, your formal prayers. Keep these idle compliments,—these regular, it may be, but too often unmeaning pieces of courtesy, to yourselves. These I ask not. If these are all you have to give, I shall be poor indeed. What I ask is your unwearied, your believing, wrestling prayers. Nothing else will do.

Ferguson on Ministry

I cannot begin to adequately describe how Sinclair Ferguson has ministered to me over the years. I find him to be the epitome of a Christ-exalting preacher and winsome churchman, who also happens to be as able a theologian as you’ll find in the pulpit.

Whenever I sense my ministerial soul needs reviving, I do three things: 1) read the pastoral epistles—along with 2 Corinthians, 2) read an old manual on ministry such as Bonar’s Words to Winners of Souls, and 3) listen to Ferguson messages. I think every pastor needs a preacher who uniquely ministers to his heart. He needs someone who can challenge, comfort, and convict. Dr. Ferguson does that for me.

Earlier this week, I came across an old series of lectures Ferguson gave on “the ministry” to a group of pastors in Northern Ireland. What a feast! He covers all the essentials in depth, and he rambles through valuable rabbit trails in each message. If your soul needs encouragement in preparation for this Lord’s Day, download the lectures below and listen away.

7 Messages on Ministry

  1. Called to the Ministry
  2. Preaching the Word
  3. The Minister’s Prayer
  4. The Minister’s Unction
  5. The Minister as a Man of God
  6. The Minister as Pastor of the Flock
  7. The Minister as Preacher of the Word

HT: Monergism.com

Advice on Prayer Meetings


Oh, how I wish more churches had a regular prayer meeting. Could it be that our shortcomings in piety, worship, and witness have a direct correlation to how few congregations spend time in earnest prayer? I tend to think so.

Studying M’Cheyne has reminded me of the prayer meeting’s significance. He understood concerted prayer to not only be a prerequisite to revival, but also an evidence of revival. One fruit the St. Peter’s revival of 1839–1840 was the commitment to prayer. In December 1840, the Presbytery of Aberdeen appointed a committee to inquire about the revivals taking place throughout Scotland. They wrote to M’Cheyne asking him to answer a series of fifteen questions related to the revival in Dundee. His answers were published later as Evidences on Revivals. He said during the revival “thirty-nine prayer meetings [were] held weekly in connection with the congregation, and five of these were conducted and attended entirely by little children.” After twelve months, M’Cheyne wrote, “I believe the number of these meetings is not much diminished,” although many were more private in nature.

Congregational prayer was something M’Cheyne prioritized from the beginning at Dundee. Not long after his installation at St. Peter’s he began a Thursday night prayer meeting that 800 people attended. He apparently earned a reputation for skill in leading congregational prayer, as Mr. J.T. Just wrote to him asking for advice in conducting prayer meetings.

M’Cheyne begins by saying, “No person can be a child of God without living in secret prayer; and no community of Christians can be in a lively condition without unity in prayer.” A true church is a praying church. And every church can always grow in prayer. Here then are some bits of wisdom M’Cheyne offers.

12 Helps For Prayer Meetings

  • “One great rule in holding them (prayer meetings) is, that they really be meetings of disciples.”
  • “The prayer-meeting I like best is where there is only praise and prayer, and the reading of God’s word.”
  • “Meet weekly, at a convenient hour.”
  • “Be regular in attendance. Let nothing keep you away from your meeting.”
  • “Pray in secret before going.”
  • “Let your prayers in the meeting be formed as much as possible upon what you have read in the Bible. You will thus learn variety of petition, and a Scripture style.”
  • “Pray that you may pray to God, and not for the ears of man.”
  • “Pray for the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church of Christ and for the world; for the purity and unity of God’s children; for the raising up of godly ministers, and the blessing of those that are so already.”
  • “Pray for the conversion of your friends, of your neighbours, of the whole town.”
  • “Pride is Satan’s wedge for splitting prayer-meetings to pieces: watch and pray against it.”
  • “Watch against seeking to be greater than one another; watch against lip-religion.”
  • “Above all, abide in Christ, and He will abide in you.”

Around this time M’Cheyne wrote to his great friend Andrew Bonar asking for more advice on prayer meetings. In the letter, M’Cheyne gives some humorous sanity on a pastors’ prayer meeting he just began. May those of us who minister the gospel remember it: “We began today a ministerial prayer-meeting, to be held every Monday at eleven for an hour and a half. This is a great comfort, and may be a great blessing. Of course, we do not invite the colder ministers; that would only damp our meeting. Tell me if you think this right.” I for one think it right, very right indeed.



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!

Ministerial Roots

J.C. Ryle on the importance of practicing prayer, not just preaching its value:

It was said by an old writer that Luther’s habits of private prayer, and John Bradford’s habits of private prayer, were things more talked of than practised and imitated. Private prayer is one grand secret of the strength of the ministry. It is here that the roots of the ministry, practically speaking, are to be found. The ministry of a man that has gifts, however great, but who does not give the closet the principal place, must sooner or later become jejune and ineffective.

Quoted in Iain Murray, J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone, 83.

Pleading, Leading, and Haunting

prayer_std_tSometimes you come across a quote from a book, and you stop reading the book. The thought is so weighty. The perspective is deep. One should not come hastily out of the heavy depths of truth.

Megan Hill’s marvelous Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches finished with a chapter on “Praying with Families and Guests.” Tucked away in her words about praying with one’s children arrives this missile from Terry Johnson:

Our children should grow up with the voices of their fathers pleading for their souls in prayer ringing in their ears, leading to their salvation, or else haunting them for the rest of their lives.

As a father of five young children, I long for such a voice to ring long and loud in the souls of my kids. May He make it so.

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.

Praying Longer

Pray Constantly

I’ve never met a pastor who believes he prays enough. Even those for whom prayer is their life’s breath tell me how they long to pray with more concentrated length.

Count me among those pastors trying to figure out how to pray with greater faith and length.

Quickly Moving it Along

On the third Monday of each month, our church gathers for corporate prayer. We spend seventy minutes in groups of three to four praying for all manner of things: emphases of Scripture, other churches, our Gospel Partners, the children in our congregation, various people in authority, and whatever else is pressing. After nearly three years of leading these meetings I’ve learned many valuable lessons. Perhaps the most significant one is how easy it is to pray for an extended period of time—provided you have structure.

One of our “3 Commandments for Corporate Prayer” is that to be brief. I’m sure we all have many stories of individual prayers dominating a corporate gathering. People come ready to pray and then leave thinking, “I didn’t get any time to pray.” Thus, each month I try to remind our people to keep each prayer brief. That way everyone gets to pray and pray often.

Last week we spent an hour praying through the Beatitudes. That meant each group spent about five minutes praying through each Beatitude. We started at 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (our end time for prayer) arrived with astonishing speed. Multiple people told me afterward how amazing it was to find that praying for an hour through Scripture was so easy. Rarely does a Prayer Night go by without someone saying something similar. When the prayers are structured and pointed, we surprise ourselves how long we can pray.

Why Hadn’t I Thought of This Before?

I try to block off the 2 p.m. hour for focused prayer. My problem, like so many struggling prayer-ers, is a wandering heart. I have tried praying through various portions of Scripture, working through a prayer app on my phone, and my concentration seems to fly forth like a leaf in a tornado. What I’ve been doing just isn’t working. While reflecting on the encouraging responses from Prayer Night I had something of an Archimedian—eureka!—moment. “Why not,” I thought, “do something similar in my own prayer time?” (I wish it didn’t take me so long to try such a strategy, but God leads us patiently and perfectly. He apparently didn’t mean for me to try this until now.)

I pulled up Word and wrote down sixty different points for prayer. My thought was that if I prayer through all sixty I’d find extended prayer entirely possible. I broke down the list into the following categories:

  • Personal Piety. I listed out seventeen different matters of personal holiness I long to grow in my life.
  • Family. I’m praying here for my immediate family by name and then any extended family issues that need intercession.
  • Pastoral Ministry. Here I’m praying for my preaching, evangelism, and faithfulness in my calling as a shepherd.
  • Church. I put down various issues related to IDC’s congregational life that need daily prayer. This section also includes praying for our church’s ministries and Gospel Partners.
  • Governing Authorities. I’m only trying to obey 1 Timothy 2:1–2.
  • Operation World‘s Country-of-the-Day
  • Matters of the Moment. This section is the most fluid of the bunch. For example, right now I’m for our Vacation Bible School that begins on August 1st. After next week this prayer point will rotate off the list.

Cautiously Optimistic

I recognize the method isn’t for everyone. I thrive on order and routine, so this plan suits me quite nicely. Having not done it for any substantial period, I won’t make bombastic proclamations about having discovered a silver bullet for prayer. All I’ll say at this point is: thinkmay have found the silver bullet. May you find something similar.

Using the Beatitudes

Praying the Beatitudes

One of the things we hope to be true about IDC is that we would be “a praying church.” We want our ordinary life together reflect that desire. One way we do that is by having different times of prayer throughout our gathered worship service. We also have a monthly prayer night where we invite the church body to spend a little over an hour praying for all manner of spiritual matters.

An Obvious Discovery

I thus often feel the pressing need to be creative in how I lead our church in prayer. By creative, I mean scouring Scripture for anything and everything applicable to our church’s prayer life. The Psalms and prayers of Paul are common companions. It only dawned on me last weekend that I’ve never (in the last 3.5 years) used the Beatitudes to guide us. So I got to work. I found a confession of sin framed around Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 and reworked it a bit. Then I put together a few supplications for each beatitudes Christ gave and we used them in for corporate prayer.

I’ve copied what we did below. I hope you might find it useful as you lead your congregation in prayer.

Using the Beatitudes as a Confession of Sin

Leader: Our Lord Jesus, you offered us all your blessings when you announced, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”
Church: but we have been rich in pride.

Leader: “Blessed are those who mourn”
Church: but we have not known much sorrow for our sin.

Leader: “Blessed are the meek”
Church: but we are a stubborn people.

Leader: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”
Church: but we are filled to the full with other things.

Leader: “Blessed are the merciful”
Church: but we are harsh and impatient.

Leader: “Blessed are the pure in heart”
Church: but we have impure hearts.

Leader: “Blessed are the peacemakers”
Church: but we have not sought reconciliation.

Leader: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness”
Church: but our lives reflect the world.

Leader: “Blessed are you when people insult you because of me”
Church: but we have hardly made it known that we are yours.

Leader: Your Law is holy and your words are perfect; You alone are blessed.
Church: We plead with you to forgive our sins and give us the blessing of your righteousness.

Using the Beatitudes for Corporate Supplication

For our Prayer Night, I simply added three suggested petitions for each beatitude. You can of course change/add/remove any and all of them. I mean for this to just be a catalyst for what you might do.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 
– Pray for dependence on God’s power
– Pray for hope in heaven
– Pray for satisfaction in Christ alone

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
– Pray for greater awareness of sin’s evil
– Pray for greater hatred of sin
– Pray for increased comfort from God and in the gospel

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” 
– Pray for submission to God’s word
– Pray for humility towards others
– Pray for joy in our spiritual inheritance

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” 
– Pray for souls that long for God
– Pray for lives that are hungrier for heaven 
than for the world
– Pray for hearts eager to put on the 
righteousness of Christ

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” 
– Pray for increasing compassion towards the hurting
– Pray to have mercy on the doubting
– Pray for joyful resting in Christ’s mercy

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
– Pray for the Spirit’s help in covenanting with our eyes to look on no impure thing
– Pray for homes marked by purity
– Pray for earnestness in seeing Jesus

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
– Pray for the church to maintain unity in the 
bonds of peace
– Pray for wisdom to aid reconciliation
– Pray for delight in our spiritual adoption

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
– Pray for steadfastness in suffering
– Pray for the persecuted church
– Pray for unwavering allegiance to Jesus

“Blessed are you when others revile you . . . on my account.”
– Pray for courage in speaking of the gospel
– Pray for fear of man to decrease and fear 
of God in increase
– Pray for perseverance in knowing our 
ultimate reward lies in heaven