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.

Twin Lakes 2017

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A few weeks ago I attended the annual Twin Lakes Fellowship. It was an edifying time with other like-minded pastors. The campground was beautiful; the conversations enjoyable; the singing exceptional. But the highlight, for me at least, was Ian Hamilton.

On three successive nights, Dr. Hamilton preached on “The Glory of Christ.” His expositions mined the depths of Scripture and had John-Owen-like substance to them. In each message, Dr. Hamilton gave heart-stirring encouragements for faithful ministry that will exhort any pastor. Listen in or download the sermons below:

Bonus audio, full of his characteristic dry wit and profound wisdom, comes from an interview David Strain did with Dr. Douglas Kelly on “Lessons from Life and Ministry.” It was a delight to hear Dr. Kelly’s reflections.

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I Am Persuaded

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A few months before his death, Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote his Personal Reformation. He began by saying, “It is the duty of ministers in this day to begin the reformation of religion . . . with confession of past sin, earnest prayer for direction, grace, and full purpose of heart.”

He then gives us simple, but challenging insight into how a pastor must go about loving God and loving others.

How to Glorify God and Do Good

M’Cheyne writes, “I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do most for God’s glory and the good of man, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity,” by doing three things:

  1. “By maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood.”
  2. “By being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times.”
  3. “By attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that it is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world.”

Book Recommendation: On Pastoral Ministry

A couple of weeks ago I came across John Henry Jowett’s 1912 Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale University entitled, “The Preacher: His Life and Work.” What a work! Jowett’s exhortations on the ministry are some of the more exhilarating ones I’ve read in some time.

Behind the Message, There Was a Man

blrudgbgkkgrhgookjqejllmvowobjikfzeqq_35After hearing the great Dr. Fairbairn preach, Jowett told his students at Airedale College, “Gentlemen, I will tell you what I have observed this morning: behind that sermon there was a man.” Although The Preacher provides scant autobiographical information, I had the same sense in reading Jowett’s work—there was a weight in its message.

Jowett was born in 1863 in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Like many great ministers before him, Jowett initially resolved to study law. God soon called him into the gospel ministry. He went on to train at Edinburgh and Oxford before assuming his first pastoral position at St. James Church in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The church held over 1,000 seats, and none were empty during Jowett’s ministry.

In 1911 he became the pastor at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. John Bishop says,

The church was crowded long before the hour of Jowett’s first service. Reporters crowded the side galleries, expecting to find a sensational preacher with dazzling oratory and catchy sermon topics on current events. Instead they found a shy, quiet little man, bald-headed and with a cropped white moustache, who spoke in a calm, simple manner.

He was at Fifth Avenue when he delivered the Lyman Beecher lectures on a pastor’s life and ministry. He stayed in New York until 1918 when we was called to succeed G. Campbell Morgan at Westminster Chapel in London. It was his last pastoral post, as he died in 1923.

Pithy and Practical

The Preacher contains seven different lectures: 1) The Call to Be a Preacher, 2) The Perils of the Preacher, 3) The Preacher’s Themes, 4) The Preacher in His Study, 5) The Preacher in His Pulpit, 6) The Preacher in the Home, and 7) The Preacher as a Man of Affairs. If you read anything in the book, read lectures 2, 4, and 5. Here are a few appetizers for you to meditate on:

  • “We may become so absorbed in words (of preaching) that we forget to eat the Word.” (42)
  • “We may become more intent on full pews than on redeemed souls.” (54)
  • Worldliness will cause “our characters to lose their spirituality. we shall lack that fine fragrance which makes people know that we dwell in ‘the King’s gardens.’ There will be know ‘heavenly air’ about our spirits.” (55)
  • Worldliness will cause us to be “wordy, but not mighty. we are eloquent, but we do not persuade. We are reasonable, but we do not convince. We preach much, but accomplish little. We teach, but do not woo.” (57)
  • If the gospel “is to be the weighty matter of our preaching, we surely ought to be most seriously careful how we proclaim it. The matter may be bruised and spoiled by the manner. The work of grace may be marred by our own ungraciousness.” (101)
  • “Happy-go-lucky sermons will lay no necessity upon the reason nor put any constraint upon the heart. Preaching that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.” (114)
  • “Here (in private prayer), more than anything else, our secret life will determine our public power.” (158)
  • “Men never learn to pray in public: they learn in private. We cannot put off our private habits and assume public ones with our pulpit robes.” (159)
  • “If men are unmoved by our prayers they are not likely to be profoundly stirred by our preaching.” (159)

Where to Find It

You can find reasonably priced reprints of Jowett’s book on Amazon. If you don’t want to spend money from your book budget, you can read it for free on Archive.com or Google Books.

Tolle lege!

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.

Preaching with Simplicity

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The church I pastor meets on Sundays at 5 p.m. I thus have most of the day to contemplate preaching. I’ve found the wait to be a blessing and a challenge.

Blow the Whistle Please

Whenever I used to play in a significant soccer game, the match almost always happened at night. The day was spent feeling nervous anticipation come to a boiling point. By the time we lined up on the field the common consensus was, “Just blow the whistle, Ref!” Once the kick-off happened expectation became reality; nerves moved into actions.

Most Lord’s Days are similar. Nervous anticipation has changed to eager anticipation these days, but the wait still builds and builds. The challenge comes when you realize The Worm has an extra twelve hours or so to shoot forth his arrows. His aim and fire are relentless. So, on some weeks the phrase,”Let’s get this show on the road,” is not so much a ready declaration, but an exhausted supplication. I often think, “If only we met in the morning, Satan’s weekly ambush wouldn’t have as much time.”

Hours to Use

I’m not trying to post a pity part here, however. Gathering for worship at 5 p.m. brings numerous advantages. The greatest of which is that I get more time to prepare for preaching. Sunday morning is indeed a battlefield. My counter to The Serpent’s scheming is simple: fight Satan with the Spirit’s filling. Something is odd—and off—if I need to do anything to the sermon itself on Sunday morning. My aim then each Lord’s Day is not to spend time sharpening the sermon, but praying and reading. I’ll read my Bible. Then I’ll go to the study and grab the last volume of some Puritan set. I turn to the index and look at the entries under topics like “Christ,” “ministry,” or “preaching.” Once I’ve settled on a selection, it’s time to feast.

If you haven’t read the Puritans on such topics, you are missing out. For example, yesterday my eyes feel on the works of John Newton. I hadn’t picked them up in some time. After thumbing around a bit in the index, I settled a letter Newton wrote: “to a young minister, on preaching the Gospel with the power and demonstration of the Spirit.” Oh, how it was what I needed!

Listen Here, Young Man

Newton’s letter is one of congratulations to a younger minister on the occasion of his ordination. Never one to let a chance for encouragement to pass, Newton writes, “I wish you, upon your entrance into the ministry, to have a formed and determinate idea, what the phrase, preaching the gospel, properly signifies.” Here are six choice bits from Newton’s counsel. May they encourage you as they did me.

  • “Merely to declare the truths of the gospel, is not to preach it.”
  • “It is not so easy to account for the presumption of those preachers, who expect, (if they can indeed expect it,) merely by declaiming on gospel subjects, to raise in their hearers those spiritual perceptions of humiliation, desire, love, joy, and peace, of which they have no impression on their own hearts.”
  • One criterion of the gospel ministry, when rightly dispensed, is, that it enters the recesses of the heart. The hearer is amazed to find that the preacher, who perhaps never saw him before, describes him to himself, as though he had lived long in the same house with him, and was acquainted with his conduct, his conversation, and even with his secret thoughts!”
  • “If, therefore, you wish to preach the gospel with power, pray for a simple, humble spirit, that you may have no allowed end in view–but to proclaim the glory of the Lord whom you profess to serve, to do his will, and for his sake to be useful to the souls of men. Study the Word of God, and the workings of your own heart, and avoid all those connections, friendships and pursuits, which, experience will tell you, have a tendency to dampen the energy, or to blunt the sensibility of your spirit.”
  • “Let your elocution be natural. Despise the little arts by which men of little minds endeavor to set themselves off; they will blast your success, and expose you to contempt. The grand principle of gospel oratory, is simplicity.”
  • “Sometimes vociferation seems to be considered as a mark of powerful preaching. But I believe a sermon that is loud and noisy from beginning to end, seldom produces much good effect. Here again, my friend, if you are happily possessed of simplicity, it will be a good guide. It will help you to adjust your voice to the size of the place or congregation, and then to the variations of your subject.”

You can read the whole letter here.

Overcoming the Eclipse of God

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I spend most afternoons running a ten-mile route on some country roads near our house. For the last couple of years, I’ve passed this time listening to audiobooks. For a variety of different reasons I’m listening less and less to books, and more and more to theological lectures. Trying to fill up 50-60 miles a week with listening material is no small task.

Last week I ransacked Ligonier’s archives and came across the resources from their 2004 Pastors Conference with R.C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever. What a hidden treat! Each lecture provokes, and each panel illuminates. Any pastor would be wise to listen to the seventeen mp3s. Tolle audite!

Making Changes in the Church

Last week I attended 9Marks’ “First Five Years” conference in Ft. Worth. From my perspective, Garret Kell’s message on “Making Changes” was probably the most rewarding talk of all. It’s full of biblical truth and practical wisdom. Every pastor, whether or not he’s in the first five years of ministry, will find encouragement aplenty.

Book to Look For: On Sanctification

I consider Sinclair Ferguson the greatest living guide for pilgrims on the way to heaven—at least when it comes to biblical/theological books. His publishing output is broad and comprehensive. Rarely does a year go by without another contribution from the Scotsman. In late October he’ll published Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. It surely will be a candidate for book of the year.

devoted7a-810x1280According to the Trust

The Banner writes:

Christians are transformed by the renewing of their minds. They understand that in large measure how they think about the gospel will determine how they will live for God’s glory. They learn to allow the word of God to do its own work, informing and influencing the way they think in order to shape the way they live.

In a series of Scripture-enriched chapters Sinclair B. Ferguson’s Devoted to God works out this principle in detail. It provides what he describes as ‘blueprints for sanctification’—an orderly exposition of central New Testament passages on holiness. Devoted to God thus builds a strong and reliable structural framework for practical Christian living. It stresses the foundational importance of fundamental issues such as union with Christ, the rhythms of spiritual growth, the reality of spiritual conflict, and the role of God’s law. Here is a fresh approach to an always relevant subject, and a working manual to which the Christian can turn again and again for biblical instruction and spiritual direction.

According to Ferguson

Here’s what Ferguson himself had to say about the book in an interview with Fred Zaspel:

Zaspel:
Do you have any new books in the works that we can expect?

Ferguson:
Thank you for asking, Fred. The Lord willing, yes. The next one is entitled Devoted to God, and is a treatment of sanctification. I realize there are excellent books on the theme of holiness (Walter Marshall’s classic, Ryle’s great work, and more recently Kevin de Young has written on the subject)—so obviously one needs to “justify” writing another one. The subtitle is Blueprints for Sanctification and the book begins with a somewhat different “take” on what “holiness” means. If there is a distinctive feature that justifies another book on the theme (can we have too many?) it probably lies in the approach. I have tried to focus on a selection of central New Testament passages that provide the groundwork for sanctification (“blueprints”) and work through them in a progressive and cumulative way. If readers know George Smeaton’s two great classic volumes on the atonement, Devoted to God is a kind of more modest (and doubtless very inferior!) attempt to do something similar with sanctification. In harmony with the principles of our Lord’s prayer in John 17 that sanctification takes place through his word, my aim has been to draw the blueprints for sanctification from within both the context and the atmosphere of the text of Scripture itself. I think the book is due out by the Summer of this year.

Tolle lege!

Real Leadership

9781433551222mOne of the most useful books I’ve read so far in 2016 is Mark Dever’s Discipling: How to Help Other Follow Jesus.

The final chapter offers nine basic steps to raising up church leaders. Tucked away in Step #6 (“Give Feedback”) is a sagacious point no pastor should miss—especially young pastors like me. Dever writes,

So many times I’ve seen men, particularly younger guys, act as if real leadership is shown in correcting others. That’s why young men’s sermons often scold. What they haven’t figured out is that you can often accomplish more by encouragement. There are times to scold. But 80 to 90 percent of what you hope to correct can be accomplished through encouragement.

As another pastor often says, “You can’t say, ‘Amen,’ if you don’t also say, ‘Ouch.'”

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