Flavel for Today’s Preacher

Paul was the apostle of Spirit-inspired repetition. He told the Philippians, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Every pastor needs a regular dose of Jesus Christ. He needs repetitive fillings from God’s Spirit to preach with power.

We need to remember the same old things so that we may revel in the same old gospel every Lord’s Day.

Sometimes what we need is a simple, stirring reminder about proper preaching.

Statements to Stir You for Sunday

I imagine every pastor has a preferred routine for getting his soul ready to preach on Sunday. Some rise extra early to pray and read God’s word. Others will fast from food that they might proclaim Christ with particular hunger. Yet others will listen to chosen music to raise their affections.

I like to do all of that—and read a good old Puritan on preaching. The resource I return to as often as any other is John Flavel.

My favorite sermon from Flavel is titled, “The Character of a Complete Evangelical Pastor Drawn By Christ” (read it free here). The work is full of wisdom that I need to remember every single week. Consider these gems from the heavenly herald:

  • “Believe it, brethren, it is easier to declaim, like an orator, against a thousand sins of others, than it is to mortify one sin, like Christians, in ourselves; to be more industrious in our pulpits, than in our closets; to preach twenty sermons to our people, than one to our own hearts.”
  • “A crucified style best suits the preachers of a crucified Christ.”
  • “A grave and proper style become the lips of Christ’s ambassadors.”

Other stirring words from Flavel to get you ready to ascend to the sacred desk this week would be:

  • “We preach and pray, and you hear; but there is no motion Christward until the Spirit of God blows upon them.”
  • “The excellency of a sermon lies in the plainest discoveries and liveliest applications of Jesus Christ.”

My brother preacher, remember today the glory of true Christ-centered preaching so that you might preach His glories on Sunday.

7 Implications from Puritan Preaching

In his latest book, Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be, Sinclair Ferguson has a wonderful chapter on the Puritans and ministers of God’s word. Near the end, he offers seven implications for preaching from their example.

  1. A commitment to the hard work of studying, meditating on, and appyling to oneself the truth of Scritpure.
  2. A concern to speak God’s truth to all of God’s people, however simply they may be. The great Puritans were well-educated and highly intelligent ministers; but they knew that the concealment of art is also an art.
  3. Preaching the whole counsel of God, for the conversion of men and women, for the glory of God alone in whose presence both great and obscure must be exposed as sinners.
  4. Manifesting wisdom in teaching and applying the word of God, as well as the grace of God, in the very spiritof the preaching without “passion or bitterness.”
  5. Doing so with a sense of the gravitas which ought to characterize a servant of God. This influenced the minister’s physical demeanor and even the use of his voice. The preacher is neither joker nor trifler. He is not sent by God to entertain and amuse, for life is more of a tragedy than a comedy. Message and manner must harmonize or the message itself will be trivialized. Emotions and affections in preaching must be consistent with and expressive of the very substance of the text which is being expounded.
  6. Neither is the minister to be lugubrious and censorious, but rather filled with a loving affection for those to whom he ministers and preaches. Nothing is better calculated to win hearers than their knowledge that their minister has “a hearty desire to do them good.” The Puritans recognized that people will take a great deal from such a man.
  7. All this is to be backed up by a life which is consistent both in private and public with the message that is preached.

A Mentor in Grace

Yesterday, I read a portion of Spiritual-Mindedness by John Owen—a most excellent read on a slow Lord’s Day afternoon. Around page twenty-four, I realized 2017 is something like my ten-year anniversary with the Puritans. For it was just over a decade ago that I first feasted on their writings. And I owe it all—humanly speaking—to Dr. Joel Beeke.

A Round About Way

Joel-Beeke_Profile-369x424-c-defaultIn the spring of 2007, I read George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life. What struck me most about the Northampton minister was his heavenly-mindedness. I then picked up a few more recent publications on Edwards that emphasized his pursuit of heaven on earth. 1 Those sources further cemented my attention on Edwards and heavenly-mindedness; things that, for me, at the time represented “Puritanism.”

Through online research, I eventually stumbled across the voluminous writings of Dr. Joel Beeke.  With relish, I purchased and devoured his many books on Christian living, and the emphasis he gave to the Puritans did not go unnoticed.  Thus, it was from Beeke’s many citations of Puritans that I began to move back from Edward’s and the mid-eighteenth century to the Westminster divines and the mid-seventeenth century.

My soul has never been the same.

A Mentor from Afar

He wouldn’t remember me, but I met Dr. Beeke at Together for the Gospel 2010 as he manned the Reformation Heritage book table. He immediately suggested I buy Meet the Puritans. My wife had given me the book for Christmas just a few months earlier, and so we struck up a short conversation on other books I might consider.

We later traded a few emails on my M.A. thesis: This is Not the End: Puritans on the Glory of Heaven. He was always kind and quick in his responses.

Over the years I’ve collected most of the books Dr. Beeke has published. Each one has served my life and ministry in countless ways. His Puritan Reformed Spirituality ignited a desire to pursue Ph.D. studies at SBTS in the area of Biblical Spirituality. His Parenting by God’s Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace shaped my role as a father in profound ways, and had a substantial role in my shifting views on baptism.

I don’t agree with Dr. Beeke on everything—as it always is with a mentor. But God has used him in my life almost as much as any living person. His passion for evangelism convicts me, his zeal for godliness inspires me, and his preaching of Christ humbles me.

Well Worth a Listen

One of my Sunday morning duties is ironing the family’s church clothes. De-wrinkling for seven can take a little while, so I tend to pass the time by listening to an edifying sermon. Yesterday I stumbled upon Dr. Beeke’s testimony. I’ve heard or read bits and pieces of it throughout the years, but never encountered his story of God’s grace in detail. And what a story it is!

I never cease to be amazed at how God works in the lives of His people. He overflows with wisdom and mercy toward all.

If you have an hour this week in traffic, on a run, or by the ironing board, listen in and be encouraged. You too might just find a new mentor in grace.

Save

  1. See Stephen J. Nichols, Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’ Vision of Living in Between (Crossway, 2006); Steven J. Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008).

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.

In Praise of Plain Preaching

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.

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

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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.

He’s Got it Right

“It is our calling [as pastors] to woo and win souls to Christ, to set him forth to the people as crucified among them, to present him in all his attractive excellencies, that all hearts may be ravished with his beauty, and charmed into his arms by love.” — John Flavel

The Puritans & Preaching

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

Helps for Private Prayer

200px-Thomas_BrooksI 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!