“Study of the Scriptures is thus the first and primary demand upon the preacher: organized, persistent, continual study of the Holy Scriptures, if need be without commentaries, but with a clear view, with a praying heart, with a pious, receptive soul, with a sanctified and purified conscience.” — Herman Bavinck, On Preaching and Preachers, 63.
In his Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Andrew Bonar details how M’Cheyne seasoned every conversation with the salt of eternity. Bonar then gives an aside about gospel ministry. His subject is one I’ve thought about often in recent days—as I so often fall short in this area. Bonar says it more eloquently and convictingly than I ever could:
Whatever be said in the pulpit, men will not much regard, though they may feel it at the time, if the minister does not say the same in private, with equal earnestness, in speaking with his people face to face; and it must be in our moment of most familiar intercourse with them, that we are thus to put the seal to all we say in public. Familiar moments are the times when the things that are most closely twined round the heart are brought out to view; and shall we forbear, by tacit consent, to introduce the Lord that bought us into such happy hours? We must not only speak faithfully to our people in our sermons, but live faithfully for them too. Perhaps it may be found, that the reason why many, who preach the gospel fully and in all earnestness, are not owned of God in the conversion of souls, is to be found in their defective exhibition of grace in these easy moments of life.
This blog space has been rather silent the last few months. But the Lord has been at work. Perhaps it’s because He’s been doing so much in my life that I haven’t had any time to slow down and put together a personal update.
Today seems like a wise time I do so. For yesterday—Sunday, November 12—I was installed as the Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in McKinney, TX.
Our journey to Redeemer has been a most surprising one.
Expect the Unexpected
When I resigned as pastor at IDC, we expected God would send us out of Texas for our next calling in ministry. There were opportunities to plant a PCA church in North Texas, but we didn’t believe planting another church was what the Lord desired for us. So, as no existing PCA churches in NTX were looking for a senior minister, I began the process of sending my information to a few churches in other parts of the country. Many of the contacts came through friends and brother ministers in the PCA. Over the course of six to seven months, several intriguing possibilities came to fruition. By August 1, I was a final candidate at a couple of churches, and we were spending most of our time praying through where the Lord wanted us to serve.
Then Redeemer’s search committee asked if I’d be willing to sit down and interview with them for their senior pastor position.
A Script Only God Can Write
At the beginning of this year, Bryant McGee resigned his position as senior minister of Redeemer after seventeen years of productive and healthy ministry. He ran his race with grace and fought the good fight in the Lord’s service. He’s now helping labor in a family business. A friend of mine submitted my information to the search committee at Redeemer sometime in the middle of the spring. The search committee decided to pass on considering me, which I wasn’t terribly surprising. I was, after all, still pastoring in a Baptist church—albeit in an interim/caretaker capacity.
As we transitioned away from life and ministry at IDC, we began attending, and ultimately joining, Redeemer. It is the closest PCA church to our home, we had many friends there, and we genuinely loved the church’s worship and ministry vision. Since May of this year, Redeemer has provided sweet rest to our family. As I wrote a few months ago, our children were baptized, I started helping to teach a Sunday School class and led a small group.
When the search committee called, I was at JFK airport, on my way to Scotland for some research on M’Cheyne. I spent almost every afternoon in Edinburgh walking around Arthur’s Seat in prayer. I pleaded with God for wisdom because there were so many wonderful opportunities before us; which one should we pursue? Each had distinct strengths and weaknesses. For several days I couldn’t find clarity. Then I came to Acts 18.
If you remember the story, Paul is in Corinth, and he’s preaching the gospel. The Jews oppose him, so he shakes out his garments and is ready to move on to a more receptive city. Yet, in 18:9–10 the Lord says, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Paul thus remains in Corinth and sure
For reasons I still can’t fully explain, the Spirit used that text to pierce my soul as a ray of sunshine pierces through the clouds. While I wasn’t fearful of remaining in McKinney, I was unsure if it was what we should do. The previous year’s experience seemed to shout that the Lord meant to send us out into a new harvest field. But it was if the Spirit settled my soul with Acts 18:9–10 saying, “Do not be afraid to remain in McKinney, for I am with you and have many in this city who are my people.” So, I descended to my hotel that afternoon convinced that if a call came from Redeemer, we’d be staying home.
A Weighty Whirlwind
To shorten the story a bit, it was on Sunday, September 24th that I was announced at the Search Committee’s candidate. I preached a sermon titled, “Christ Alone,” on Acts 4:5–12 the following Sunday and then answered questions before the congregation for two hours in a Town Hall format. The church then voted on October 8th to call me as the next senior. The next step was to transfer my ordination into the North Texas Presbytery. I took five written exams (English Bible, theology, Book of Church order, sacraments, and church history) on October 18 and 19. On Friday, November 3, I met with the Theological Examinations Committee for a three-hour oral exam. The next day I preached a sermon before Presbytery and answered questions on the floor for about an hour. Presbytery voted to approve my ordination transfer and call to Redeemer.
Yesterday my dear friend Carlton Wynne, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, preached the installation sermon. It was one of the most joyful moments of my ministerial life. I’ve known Carlton for fifteen years, and he is the human agent God used to change my theological convictions on baptism. He is also the godliest man I know, full of humility and Christlike meekness. I often say, “I want to be like him when I grow up.”
Lots to Do, Lots to Pray
If you think about it, I’d appreciate your prayers. The work at Redeemer begins in earnest today. I’m still working on my M’Cheyne dissertation for SBTS; I’m through six chapters and have four left. I take my comprehensive exams for the Ph.D. December 4–7, and it requires no small amount of study. Our six child and fifth son (Boston Charles) is due on New Year’s Eve. Our plate is rather full, but God’s grace is superabundant. All glory be to Christ our King!
As my previous church works on migrating to a new website, most links to my old sermons are no longer usable (click here to see a flow IDC’s preaching calendar since 2013). For those who’d like to listen in, we’ve created Dropbox folders for almost every sermon series during my time at IDC. You should be able to stream or download the sermons via the links below.
The folders are essentially in chronological order, with the most recent sermons listed first.
- Special Occasions (my farewell message and sermon the week after my resignation was announced).
- Sermons on 2 Timothy.
- Sermons on Exodus.
- Sermons on Jude.
- Sermons on Zechariah.
- Easter Sermons.
- Advent Sermons.
- Biographical Sermons.
- Sermons on Philippians.
- Sermons on Genesis.
- Things We Want to Be True (A Praying Church, A Welcoming Church, A Singing Church, A Disciple-Making Church).
- Sermons on 1 John.
- Sermons on Job.
- Sermons on Worship in the Church.
- Sermons on Mark.
- Sermons on Haggai.
- Sermons on 1 Timothy.
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?
- A grace-alone church takes sin seriously. “A proper understanding of grace depends on a prior, proper understanding of sin and the human predicament.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- A grace-alone church takes preaching seriously. “Preaching was central to the Reformation because of how the Reformers understood grace . . . The word brings grace.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
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.
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
- “Called to the Ministry“
- “Preaching the Word“
- “The Minister’s Prayer“
- “The Minister’s Unction“
- “The Minister as a Man of God“
- “The Minister as Pastor of the Flock“
- “The Minister as Preacher of the Word“
Count me among the many Christians who find unique inspiration from biographies. Maybe it’s because we are imitators by nature. As image bearers, we reflect the character and nature of Him who created us (Gen. 1:27). God also commands us to imitate the apostles’ example (1 Cor. 11:1) and the model of any who keeps to their pattern (Phil. 3:20). In his book, Discipling, Mark Dever says, “Discipling is inviting [others] to imitate you, making your trust in Christ an example to be followed. It requires you to be willing to be watched, and then folding people into your life so that they actually do watch . . . All of us, in turn, should be able to say to the other Christians in our lives, as Paul did, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.’ Maybe this is why Christian biographies are so useful.”
A Wonderful Place to Start
One reason why many faithful Christians struggle to profit from Christian biographies is that the best ones are typically long, some even very long. Does Arnold Dallimore’s magisterial work on George Whitefield ring a bell?
Evangelical Press has thus done us a favor with their “Bitesize Biography” series, which flies too far under the radar. I’d love to see every Christian and church profit from these volumes. Each entry is compact, yet full of impact for our faith and life. EP has put out twenty-seven (!) volumes so far, many focus on famous figures and many highlight lesser known paragons. Click on any of the titles below to get your copy. Tolle lege!
A few years ago, I listened to a panel discussion in which someone asked Joel Beeke, “If you could take one set of books with you to a deserted island, what would you choose?” He said, without hesitation, “The Christian’s Reasonable Service by Wilhelmus à Brakel.” And I asked myself, “What? By whom?”
Beeke’s subsequent explanation convinced me I should buy the four-volume set. I then worked through all four volumes in a year, reading seven pages a day. I found myself enjoying—dare I say it—The Christian’s Reasonable Service even more than Calvin’s Institutes. Calvin’s work is gloriously devotional; à Brakel improves on Calvin with his relentlessly warm application.
A Devotional Doctrine of Scripture
I remembered à Brakel’s skill in heart-searching application earlier this week as I prepared to teach a Sunday School class on the doctrine of Scripture. I glanced around the study and grabbed the usual Reformed suspects I dialogue with when preparing a lecture: Calvin, Dabney, Hodge, Bavinck, Vos, and Murray. I find these men leading me to drink at theology’s deep wells. But they don’t always invite you to jump in and swim. The Christian’s Reasonable Service, however, always summons you to a deep theological and doxological dive.
For example, in his chapter, “The Word of God,” à Brakel concludes by talking about six obligations we have to Scripture. For two and a half pages he cries out, “Oh, delight in God’s word! Read it ‘in prosperity, adversity, darkness, seasons of doubt, times of perplexity, and your entire walk.'” To ensure we do this well he rounds out his exhortation with several pages of “Guidelines for the Profitable Reading of Scripture.” In order to see how useful à Brakel is, here are his five encouragements for reflecting on Scripture.
“The reflection upon reading Scripture consists in”
- joyfully giving thanks that the Lord has permitted His Word to be recorded, that we may have it in our homes, that we can and were privileged to read it, and that it was applied to our heart;
- painstakingly striving to preserve this good spiritual frame which is obtained by reading God’s word;
- meditating while engaged in one’s occupation upon that which one has read, repeatedly seeking to focus his thought upon it;
- sharing with others what was read, whenever possible, and discussing it;
- especially striving to comply with what was read by bringing it into practice.
He then writes, “If the Holy Scriptures were used in such a fashion, what wondrous progress we would make in both knowledge and godliness! Children would soon become young men, and young men would soon become men in Jesus Christ.”
Doctrine that Lives
There’s something compelling to me in à Brakel. His a model of teaching worthy of emulation, I think. Each volume shows us what it means, as teachers, to be alive to God’s truth when teaching God’s truth. Let our doctrinal instruction pulse with Christ-exalting piety. Faithfully instructing others in the living word (Heb. 4:12) means teaching in a way that students, peers, and church members feel something of our flame of devotion. Wilhelmus à Brakel will help us all.
If you need any more encouragement to take up and read, consider Derek Thomas’ gushing praise:
No systematic theology compares to Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service for its explicit concern to weld the objective and subjective in theology. Emerging from the Dutch Further Reformation, à Brakel is without equal in exploring both the intricate details of the Reformed theological system whilst ensuring that at every turn theology is done in the interests of piety and the glory of God. In an era when the subjective has either been lost in a sea of postmodernity or viewed with suspicion for its apparent lack of academic integrity, only those who have never read this monumental treatise would dismiss it as guilty of either. An achievement to place alongside Calvin’s Institutes and the systematic theologies of Turretin, Hodge, and Berkhof.