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.

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  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).

Marks of the Christian Life

following jesus1

In 1872, Horatius Bonar published Light & Truth, a collection of his sermons and articles. One of my favorite entries is, “The Model of a Holy Life.

Bonar begins by considering four Bible passages:

  • “These are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”—Revelation 14:4
  • “Follow me!”—John 11:22
  • “Leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps.”—2 Peter 2:21
  • “I Paul myself beseech you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”—2 Corinthians 10:1

He then writes, “These four passages point more or less to our responsibility for a holy life—and to Christ as the true model of that life. We are redeemed—that we may be holy. We are freely pardoned—that we may be holy. We look to Jesus—that we may be holy. We are filled with the Spirit—that we may be holy. The true religious life rises out of redemption—and is a copy of Christ’s walk on earth. Beholding Him—we are changed into His image, from glory to glory.”

Bonar proceeds to meditate on the mark of a growing Christian life. Each trait was found in Christ, and so should be found in us, for “a Christian, then, is a copy of Christ. His inner and outer man are to be copies of Christ. It is Christ’s footsteps he is to walk in. It is Christ’s image that he is to reflect. It is not Paul, nor Peter, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Rutherford that he is to copy—but Christ Himself. Other models may illustrate this, and so help in the imitation of Christ; but only as doing this are they useful; otherwise they are dangerous.”

What then is a Christian man?

Bonar answers that question in six ways. I read these yesterday afternoon and found much cause for conviction, encouragement, and prayer. May they do the same for you.

I. He is a man of FAITH. It was by giving credit to God’s word that he became a Christian man; for it is by faith that we become sons of God. And his whole life is to be a life of faith. As Christ lived by faith on the Father, so does he. Christ is his model as a believing man. The more that he understands of Christ’s life, the more will he see the faith that marks it, and will learn to copy it, to live, act, speak, and walk by faith.

II. He is a man of PRAYER. In this too he follows Christ. Christ’s life was a life of prayer. In the morning we find Him praying a great while before day. All night we find Him praying more. No one, we would say, needed prayer less—yet no one prayed more. And the disciple herein imitates the Master. He prays without ceasing. He is instant in supplication. His life is a life of prayer—constant communion with God.

III. He is a man of HOPE. Christ looked to the joy set before Him—and so endured the cross. He anticipated the glory, and so was a man of hope. There is the hope, the same glory, the same joy for us. The things hoped for are the things we live upon and rejoice in. Our prospects are bright—and we keep them ever in view. The kingdom, the crown, the city, the inheritance—these are before our eyes. They cheer, and sustain, and purify us! Were it not for the hope, what would become of us? What would this world be to us? Learn to hope as well as to believe.

IV. He is man of HOLINESS. He is the follower of a holy Master. He hears the voice—Be holy, for I am holy. He knows that he is redeemed to be holy—to do good works—to follow righteousness—to be one of a peculiar people. He is not content with merely being saved—he seeks to put off sin, lust, evil, vanity—and to put on righteousness, holiness, and every heavenly characteristic. He seeks to rise higher and higher—to grow more unlike this world—more like the world to come. He marks Christ’s footsteps, and walks in them. He studies the Master’s mind, and seeks to possess it; mortifying his members and crucifying the flesh. He aims at shining as He shone, and testifying as He testified.

V. He is a man of LOVE. He has known Christ’s love, and drunk it in, and found his joy in it. So he seeks to be like Him in love—to love the Father, to love the brethren, to love sinners—to show love at all times, in word and deed. His life is to be a life of love, his words the words of love, his daily doings the outflow of a heart of love. He is to be a living witness of the gospel of love. Love—not hatred, nor coldness, nor malice, nor revenge, nor selfishness, nor indifference—love such as was in Christ—that he endeavors to embody and exhibit.

VI. He is to be a man of ZEAL. ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten me up,’ said Christ. His life was one of zeal for God—zeal for His Father’s honor and His Father’s business. So is the disciple to be ‘zealous of good works.’ Zeal steady and fervent—not by fits and starts; not according to convenience, but in season and out of season; prudent, yet warm and loving; willing to suffer and to sacrifice; no sparing self or the flesh, but ever burning; zeal for Jehovah’s glory, for Christ’s name, for the Church’s edification, for the salvation of lost men—this is to give complexion and character to his life.

These things are to mark a Christian man. He is not to be content with less. He is to grow in all these things—not to be barren, not to stagnate, not to be lukewarm—but to increase in resemblance to his Lord—to be transformed daily into His likeness, that there may be no mistake about him—as to who or what he is.

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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Preparation for Ministry

PREPARING FOR

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 Syllabus on Reformed Pastoral Ministry

EXHIBITION

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!

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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.

What Brings Revival

James-W.-Alexander-Frontispiece-from-Vol.-1-of-his-Memoirs-by-Hall-7-28-20151James 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.