“Piety,” is one of those words I’d love to recover and restore to a prominent place in gospel ministry.
I love how it rolls rhetorically, but my affection for it is ultimately biblical. Paul told Timothy, “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Pastors must be practitioners of piety.
Old Princeton to the Rescue
The founders of Princeton Theological Seminary established the school with the ambition that it be “a nursery of vital piety.” Archibald Alexander embodied this dream in the seminary’s earliest years. He insisted, “Eminent piety should be earnestly sought after and assiduously cultivated.” To help his ministerial students see the treasure of piety, Alexander—in a lecture entitled “Qualifications for Pastoral Office—offered the following advantages of pursuing piety and helps to maintaining piety.
14 Advantages of Pursuing Piety
- Some degree of eminence in piety is requisite for our own satisfaction.
- The work is so great and sacred, and the consequences so awful, that none will duly feel and act under the responsibilities of the office, but one whose heart is warmed with the fervent love to Christ and the souls of men.
- The duties of the ministry will never be faithfully performed by any one but he who is deeply under the influence of divine truth. He will become indolent and careless or will sink into discouragement—or will become entangled with worldly engagements.
- He will not be able to converse with edification to the people without this.
- It is necessary to preserve the minister from ambition and vain glory.
- Necessary to make him speak with confidence of the excellency and comforts of true piety.
- Eminent piety is requisite to enable a minister to compose sermons induced with the right spirit. To feed the devotions of the people, etc.
- Without a good degree of eminence in piety, the minsters example will not be savory and consistent. it is necessary to preserve him from sin. He should be higher than all the people in spiritual attainments.
- It will greatly increase his influence.
- Will enable him to bear with patience the persecution of enemies.
- It will be better than all rules of rhetoric in the delivery of sermons.
- It will make the work of the ministry delightful.
- Will prepare for sickness and death.
- Eminent piety will diffuse a solemn seriousness, over the manners. Gravity, composure of countenance—dignity of demeanor—propriety in every word, look and gesture.
10 Helps to Maintaining Piety
- You should set yourselves to correct your own faults and imperfections.
- You should set before you a high standard of moral excellence.
- There must be no procrastination of this business.
- You must live under the habitual influence of eternal things.
- You must be deeply sensible of your own inability to attain this excellence by your own efforts alone.
- You must not despond, or despair of success if you seem for a long time to make no progress.
- Avail yourself of your imperfections & faults to measure your humility & caution.
- Let the good example and spirit of other ministers enrich you but beware of catching from them a worldly spirit.
- Read frequently the memoirs of the most devoted & pious servants of Jesus Christ.
- Pray without ceasing for aid from above.
In the Spiritual Gym
I say, “Let the recovery and restoration of piety to its place of necessity continue.” Of particular encouragement, for me at least, is Alexander’s realism about the whole endeavor: “You must not despond, or despair of success if you seem for a long time to make no progress.” I often despair, especially at the end of another year, of my small growth in holiness. I find myself in these days freshly stirred to pray fervently for greater holiness in 2016.
Will you join me?