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

Some Help on Teaching Theology

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”

  1. 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;
  2. painstakingly striving to preserve this good spiritual frame which is obtained by reading God’s word;
  3. meditating while engaged in one’s occupation upon that which one has read, repeatedly seeking to focus his thought upon it;
  4. sharing with others what was read, whenever possible, and discussing it;
  5. 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.

You can grab a set at WTS or RHB.

“Unsurpassed Even By Spurgeon”

Yesterday, as I tinkered around the New College Library in Edinburgh, I came across a lecture Sinclair Ferguson gave on William Chalmers Burns.

Burns is a notable figure for anyone studying 19th-century evangelicalism, but I wish every Christian knew his story. His life is a burning testimony that the gospel is God’s power for salvation. A humble, fiery Spirit burned within his soul, and there are lessons worth learning if we’d listen.

And Dr. Ferguson’s lecture is a most excellent place to start.

If you’re interested in reading more about Burns, here are two works you might consider:

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.

Save

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!

Save

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.