“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.
A lovely movement of retrieval is happening in Puritan studies. William Perkins is once again moving to center stage. How important is Perkins? J.I. Paker once said, “No Puritan author save Richard Baxter ever sold better than Perkins, and no Puritan thinker ever did more to shape and solidify historic Puritanism itself.” For too long the only work Christians have known from Perkins is his magnificent The Art of Prophesying. Thanks to Reformation Heritage, Perkins’ broader labor is readily available in The Works of William Perkins (projected to be a ten-volume collection).
If you’re unfamiliar with Perkins, you could pick up this little biography or this useful treatment of his Sermon on the Mount expositions. Or you might watch Sinclair Ferguson’s recent lecture entitled, “William Perkins: A Plain Preacher.” It’s full of wisdom and usefulness.
In 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.
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.
Perhaps no individual has influenced me so profoundly as that modern-day Puritan Joel Beeke. He first introduced me to experiential preaching, the necessity of personal piety, the glory of prayer, and the vitality of the Holy Spirit.
A few months ago Beeke delivered the keynote messages at Westminster Theological Seminary’s 2015 Preaching Conference. The following two messages will edify any preacher and, I trust, stir him up the renewed earnestness in gospel ministry. The panel discussion at the end with The Mortification of Spin team (70,000 listeners every week!?!) is also quite useful. If you only listen to part of it make sure to listen to the first section where the brothers each share their call into ministry—most encouraging!
“The Priority of Preaching for the Puritans”
“Preaching Like the Puritans—or Not?”
Panel Discussion with Joel Beeke and Mortification of Spin
I first read Thomas Brooks’ The Privy Key to Heaven in December 2011. After completing the book I wrote on the bottom of the last page, “One of the most life changing books I’ve read.” I finished the book again yesterday and I made a strikingly similar remark, “No book moves me to private prayer like this one.” Every reading reawakens fervency for the closet and faithfulness to Christ. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Taking Matthew 6:6 as his text, Brooks’ offers this summary doctrine: That closet or private prayer is an indispensable duty, that Christ himself hath laid upon all that are not willing to lie under the woeful brand of being hypocrites.
In typical Puritan fashion he proceeds to meditate on his main point with a laser focus and a warm heart. The bulk of the book gives twenty arguments for closet prayer—things like “Christ did it,” “Life is the only time for it,” and “Christ is much delighted by it.” My interest in this post, however, are the final “rules” he offers to encourage Christians unto faithfulness and consistency in private prayer.
8 Rules to Apply for Persistent Private Prayer
1) Lament greatly and mourn bitterly over the neglect of this choice duty. He who does not make conscience of mourning over the neglect of this duty, will never make conscience of performing this duty. Oh that your heads were waters, and your eyes a fountain of tears—that you might weep day and night for the great neglect of closet-prayer, Jer 9:1. He who mourns most for the neglect of this duty, will be found most in the practice of this duty.
2) Habituate yourselves, accustom yourselves, to closet-prayer. Make private prayer your constant trade. Frequency begets familiarity, and familiarity confidence. We can go freely and boldly into that friend’s house whom we often visit. What we are habituated to, we do with ease and delight.
3) Keep a diary of all your closet-experiences. Oh, carefully record and book down all your closet mercies! Oh, be often in reading over your closet experiences, and be often in meditating and in pondering upon your closet experiences! There is no way like this, to inflame your love to closet-prayer, and to engage your hearts in this secret trade of private prayer.
4) Be sure that you do not spend so much of your precious time in public duties and ordinances, as that you can spare none for private duties, for secret services. Ah! how many are there that spend so much time in hearing of this man and that, and in running up and down from meeting to meeting, that they have no time to meet with God in their closets. O sirs! your duties are never so amiable and lovely, they are never so sweet and beautiful, as when they are seasonably and orderly performed.
5) Love Christ with a more inflamed love. Oh strengthen your love to Christ, and your love to closet-duties. Lovers love much to be alone, to be in a corner together, Song 7:10-12. Certainly the more any man loves the Lord Jesus, the more he will delight to be with Christ in a corner.
6) Be highly, thoroughly, and fixedly resolved, in the strength of Christ, to keep close to closet-duties, in the face of all difficulties and discouragements which you may meet with (Psa. 44:17-20). A man of no resolution, or of weak resolution, will be won with a nut, and lost with an apple. Satan, and the world, and carnal relations, and your own hearts, will cast in many things to discourage you, and take you off from closet prayer; but be nobly and firmly resolved to keep close to your closets, let the world, the flesh, and the devil, do and say what they can.
Of all the duties of religion, Satan is the most deadly enemy to this duty of secret prayer; partly because secret prayer spoils him in his most secret designs, plots, and contrivances against the soul; and partly because secret prayer is so musical and delightful to God; and partly because secret prayer is of such rare use and advantage to the soul; and partly because it keeps the soul far from pride, vain glory, and worldly applause. Therefore he had rather that a man should pray a thousand times in public in the church, or in the corner of the streets—than that he should pray once in his closet. Therefore you had need to steel your hearts with holy courage and resolution, that whatever suggestions, temptations, oppositions, or objections you may encounter with, that yet you will keep close to closet prayer.
7) Labor for a greater effusion of the Holy Spirit. The greater measure any man has of the Spirit of God, the more that man will delight to be with God in secret.
There are many people who say, they would be more in their closets than they are—but that they meet with many hindrances, many occasions, many diversions, many temptations, many oppositions, many difficulties, many discouragements, which prevent them. Ah, friends! had you a greater measure of the Holy Spirit upon you, none of these things would ever be able to hinder your secret trade heavenward
8) Be frequent in the serious consideration of eternity. Oh see eternity standing at the end of every closet-prayer, and this will make you pray to purpose in your closets. O sirs! every work you do, is a step to a blessed, or to a cursed, eternity. Every motion, every action in this life, is a step toward eternity.
If there be any way or means on earth to bring us upon our knees before God in secret, it is the serious and solemn thoughts of eternity. Oh that the fear of eternity might fall upon all your souls! Oh that you would all seriously consider, that after a short time is expired, you must all enter upon an eternal estate!
“Laurence Chaderton, the extraordinarily long-lived Master of that nursery of Puritanism, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, once apologized to his congregation for preaching to them for two straight hours. Their response was, ‘For God’s sake, Sir, go on, go on!’ – Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame, 152-153.
Earlier this week I read Rejoicing in Christ and it is a smashing sequel to Delighting in the Trinity. One of the great things about Reeves’ popular works is how he weaves rich meditations from theologians of old into sidebar-like sections. Consider this one on Thomas Goodwin and the heart of Christ:
[Goodwin’s] most remarkable and most popular work was The Heart of Christ in Heaven Toward Sinners on Earth. His aim in it was clear and simple: Goodwin wanted to show through Scripture that for all Christ’s heavenly majesty, seated on the throne, he is not now aloof from believers and unconcerned; he is still the same man, with the strongest affections for his people. In fact, if anything, he capacious heart beat more strongly than ever with tender love for them. Meaning we can approach the throne of grace with wonderful confidence, knowing we have a great high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted in every way like us (Heb. 4:14-16).
In particular, Goodwin argues, two things stir Christ’s compassion: our afflictions and—almost unbelievably—our sins. Having experienced on earth the utmost load of pain, rejection, and sorrow, Christ in heaven empathizes with our sufferings more fully than the most loving friend. More, though: he actually has compassion on his people who are ‘out of the way’—that is, sinning (Heb. 5:2 KJV). Indeed, says Goodwin,
‘your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’
Reeves goes on to comment, “In glory, Jesus’ first reaction when you sin is pity. Where you would run from him in guilt, he would run to you in grace.” Amen—and praise the Lord Jesus!
To know the life of John Newton is to know the sheer power of God’s grace.
From roughly the age of 10-30, the formative years of life, Newton lived on the sea actively working in the burgeoning slave trade. He was nearly killed several times, was himself a slave in Africa, and eventually God’s mercy found him out. On March 10, 1748 Newton wrote in his journal, “In a violent storm, my address was ‘Lord, have mercy.’ Oh it was mercy indeed, to save a wretch like me.”
From that conversion came a ministry that hasn’t stopped bearing fruit. His hymns are sung all across the world each week, his letters continue to offer a peculiar power in pastoral wisdom, and his sermons inspire a deeper love for Christ. Spurgeon said, “In few writers are Christian doctrine, experience and practice more happily balanced than in the author of these letters, and few write with more simplicity, piety and force.”
Praise God that 2015 is poised to a be banner publishing year for John Newton.
The Works Return
The first noteworthy publication is Banner of Truth’s planned printing Newton’s works. The six-volume set originally put out by Banner in 1985 recently went out of print and the Trust has been quiet on when the new collection would come out. We still don’t know the publication date, but we do know sometime this year Banner will bring out a completely reformatted, four-volume set of Newton’s works. They say, “The text of this new four-volume edition of The Works of John Newton has been entirely reformatted, producing a clear and easily navigable set of documents for today’s reader.”
Here’s what the Trust has to say about this collection:
When John Newton, ex-sea captain and, as yet, unsuccessful candidate for the Church of England ministry, finished his first book (an autobiography) in 1762 there was no ready publisher. Any thought that he was destined to become one of the best known authors of his age would have been as fantastic as the last 37 years of his life. But in both cases the improbable came about. Becoming curate of Olney, a small village in the south of England, in 1764, Newton there laid his reputation as an evangelical writer, pre-eminently by his published letters and by the Olney Hymns (including ‘How Great the Name of Jesus Sounds, ‘Glorious things of Thee are spoken’ and ‘Amazing grace’). Before the end of his subsequent pastorate at St. Mary Woolnoth, London (1780-1807), his writings were prized around the world from America to Australia.
Newton has a firm place in the classics of Christian literature. While his style is strong and clear, it is the spiritual attractiveness and importance of his main themes which secure the permanent value of his writings. Most of his books came, unpremeditated, out of a need to help his congregation or individual hearers, and it is in practical helpfulness towards Christian living that he excels. If he is loved rather than admired, it is for this reason. Conformity to Christ is the one subject upon which his themes finally focus (‘It will not be a burden to me at the hour of death that I have thought too highly of Jesus, expected too much from Him myself, or laboured too much in commending and setting Him forth to others’). Not surprisingly, Alexander Whyte could write, ‘For myself, I keep John Newton on my selectest shelf of spiritual books: by far the best kind of books in the whole world of books.’
A Modern Synthesis
This year also brings new volumes Crossway’s useful Theologians on the Christian Life series. One new addition is Tony Reinke’s work Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ. The summary blurb tells the tale of Reinke’s book,
John Newton is best known as the slave trader turned hymn writer who penned the most popular English hymn in history: “Amazing Grace.” However, many Christians are less familiar with the decades he spent in relative obscurity, laboring as a “spiritual doctor” while pastoring small parishes in England. In the latest addition to Crossway’s growing Theologians on the Christian Life series, Tony Reinke introduces modern readers to Newton’s pastoral wisdom by leading them through the many sermons, hymns, and—most importantly—letters that he wrote over the course of his life. Considered by many to be one of the greatest letter writers of all time, Newton has valuable insights to offer modern Christians, especially when it comes to fusing together sound doctrine, lived experience, and godly practice.
Newton on the Christian Life is scheduled to drop on May 31st.
Set aside some book money this year and serve your soul with good Mr. Newton. Tolle lege!