The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘ministry

“The office of the Christian ministry”

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NPG D4124; John Collett Ryland published by Carington Bowles, after  John RussellIn 1781, John Collett Ryland (father of John Ryland Jr.) republished a book by Cotton Mather called Manuductio ad Ministerium: Directions for a Candidate of the Ministry. Mather originally published the work in 1726. Ryland came across it in Bristol in the mid-1740s, and esteemed it highly ever since. Ryland provided a foreword for his new edition, which is reproduced below. Mather’s work is instructive; Ryland’s foreword is thrilling. In it, he emphasises both the privilege of the work, and the work involved in the privilege.

To the gentlemen and other several Christians, in London and the country, who have the cause of Christ, and the honour of the Christian ministry at heart.

The office of the Christian ministry, rightly understood, is the most honourable and important, that any man in the whole world can ever sustain; and it will be one of the wonders and employments of eternity, to consider the reasons, why the wisdom and goodness of God assigned this office to imperfect and guilty man!

It is an office and character that are deeply interested in the highest concerns of God’s perfections and glory. It is an employment that obliges a man to the closest attention, to find out the true mind of God in the holy scriptures. It is a work in which we are called, to instruct the minds of men in the noblest knowledge, and teach them to adore and love God. The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher, are, to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men; to display in the most lively colours, and proclaim in the clearest language, the wonderful perfections, offices, and grace of the Son of God; and to attract the souls of men into a state of everlasting friendship with him.

It is an office and work, the grand design of which is to turn the sons and daughters of Adam, from darkness to light, from guilt to pardon, from corruption to holiness, and from ruin to eternal happiness. It is an employment that, when finished with wisdom and faithfulness, will be crowned with higher honours than were ever bestowed on the best kings, the most renowned heroes, the most celebrated philosophers.

It is a work which an angel might wish for, as an honour to his character; yea, an office which every angel in heaven might covet to be employed in for a thousand years to come.

It is such an honourable, important, and useful office, that if a man be put into it by God, and made faithful and successful through life, he may look down with disdain upon a crown, and shed a tear of pity on the brightest monarch on earth.

It is a work, that, when a man is called to it by the providence of God, should be entered upon with fear and trembling. It should be approached with a mixture of terror and joy, of awful reverence, and holy pleasure. No man should dare to rush into it, uncalled by God, or unqualified by the gifts and graces of the holy Spirit.

There are requisite to this office, an enlightened mind, a renewed heart, very tender affections; a fervent love to the souls of men; a fixed attention to, and delight in, the holy scriptures, and a peculiar love to Christ; an ability to speak in proper instructive words; a firmness of mind, to resist all opposition; and the utmost care to preserve a good moral character in the church and the world.

To all the above qualifications, it is necessary and of great importance, that young men, before they enter upon the full work of it, should have a very considerable length of time to be separated from all the business and cares of the world, and in a great measure from the conversation and company of most christians too; in order to acquire a habit of thinking closely; to exercise themselves in contemplation and prayer; to converse much with God, and their own hearts; to study the sacred scriptures in the original languages, with the utmost diligence and attention; and, especially, to improve by them in a way of devotional exercise.

For want of this useful and necessary preparation, many young men, of promising gifts, have been pushed too soon into public and stated work; and what has been the consequence? The churches know the consequence; but the young persons themselves have most severely felt the fruits of these hasty proceedings; they have to their cost and pungent sorrow, felt the loss to the end of life.

On the other hand, there may be an extreme likewise; not in the length of time allotted for their preparatory studies, but in the misapplication of that time; or wasting too much of it in studies, that have no tendency to form a solid and judicious minister of the gospel.

Certainly every thing should be made subservient to divinity; and the best hours of every day, from the first moment to the last, should be employed in gaining, by close attention and prayer, a masterly knowledge of all the great doctrines of the gospel, and the richest methods of improving them in a practical and devotional manner. And if this be done to purpose; be assured, sirs, there will be no time for trifling, in the space of four, five, or six years. This is the highest work, and the noblest employment of a young student; and if he has the strong, the capacious mind of an Owen, a Charnock, or a Witsius, he will find full work for it, not only in the course of his studies, but all the days of his life.

The scarcity of serious and evangelical ministers of every denomination, has been long complained of. If the Lord should remove a few of our aged and useful fathers, their loss will be most severely felt. The places of good and useful servants of God, are not soon filled up; an able minister of the New Testament, is not formed in a day or a year; no, not in seven or ten years: happy is that young man, who arrives to any degree of maturity, and strength of mind, in the compass of twenty years! I am sure it is worth twenty years study to be able to state clearly, and defend and improve practically, the truths of our holy religion. I dare affirm, that I have the concurring sentiments of all those, who are best able to judge in this matter.

If these things are true, then how careful and zealous ought we to be, to encourage and assist young men in our churches, who appear to be endued, not only with grace, but gifts for the ministry; or shall we sit still and say, “The Lord Jesus will provide, (by a miracle,) for all the wants of his people and churches, and there is no need to use any means at all?” But, my friends, does he do so in providence for your bodies and families? Did he give you all your wealth, and trade, and spacious houses, by a miracle?

Does he act thus in his dispensations of grace, in order to your growth in knowledge, and holiness, and the comforts of religion? Are you not obliged to use diligently all the means of grace, and constantly too, in order to have the comforts of grace?

Now ought serious christians to use time and pains to grow in knowledge and grace; and have not ministers, who are to preach the great truths of God every week to many thousands of immortal souls; have they not need of all profitable assistance from heaven and earth? And can we have the heart to refuse them any encouragement in our power, especially in their preparations for this glorious work? No; my honoured friends, and gentlemen, let us no longer lie in a state of indifference and disunion; but let us all, to a man, join our hearts, our purses, and our prayers, in this dearest and best of all causes; and, instead of starting frivolous objections, to diminish or Coll the generous dispositions of any, let us rather fan the fire into a brighter flame, and love those persons best, who are the most able and ready to promote so good a work!

And now, my dear and honoured friends, are these things so? Is the design of the christian ministry the greatest and noblest that God ever decreed, to put into the heart of man? Is it the end of the christian preacher’s office, to bring millions of immortal souls out of the ruins of the fall, into the riches of eternity; to recover souls from sin to holiness, from rebellion to obedience; from filthiness to purity; from the most horrid deformity, to the perfection of beauty; from guiltiness, to full justification by a divine and infinite righteousness; from misery to happiness; from the curse of God, to eternal blessings; from the deepest disgrace, to the highest honour; from extreme poverty, to unbounded riches; from slavery to the devil, to liberty in Christ; from the spirit and temper of a wicked world, to the spirit and dignity of the sons of God; from the ravages of moral death, to the pleasures of eternal life; from the darkness of hell, to the light of heaven; from violent enmity, to the most intense love of God; from the attachment of the passions to lust, to the full flow of affections to Christ, as the supreme beauty and good; from bearing the image of the great apostate spirit, to resemble God in a brighter manner than the angels in heaven?

Are these the sublime ends of the christian ministry? And is this to the continual and noble work of every true christian preacher?

Then, my dear friends, what encouragements should you give toward the regular education of pious and sensible young men, for his noble and divine office!

Permit me, my honoured friends, to proceed a little farther, to awaken your attention, and to rouse your generous zeal to encourage all serious and sensible young men who appear fit to be ministers of the gospel. Let me propose the following queries to your serious consideration.

Is not a wise christian minister the greatest character under heaven? If we compare him with all other characters in life, will not his shine brighter on the comparison, as much as the sun in the expanse of heaven, outshines a poor glow-worm in a ditch? If you compare him with a physician in a hospital, a counsellor in his chambers, an advocate at the bar, a merchant in his commerce, a judge on his seat, an ambassador in the court of kings, a banker amidst his treasures, a general at the head of an army, a representative of his country, a lord in parliament, or a monarch on his throne—yea, to go higher still, compare him with the stars of heaven, or an angel in glory; and a gospel minister will shine brighter on the comparison, and appear far above all the offices and characters in the whole world.

The greatest men that ever lived, were preachers of the gospel; witness Enoch, the seventh from Adam; witness Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and Paul; and let me dare so far to magnify the office, as to affirm, that if kings did but know and feel the dignity, importance, usefulness, and ends of the christian ministry, they would descend from their thrones, to ascend the pulpit, as a throne of much greater glory.

What preparation then, does this office deserve and demand; and how serious, how attentive, how active, and unweariedly diligent, ought every student to be, who desires and designs to employ himself in this glorious work to the end of his life! With what ardour and gratitude should he seize every help and guide, to his highest end! With what eagerness and delight should he embrace every means, and every friend, who is wise enough, and able to help him forwards in the grand design of preaching the glorious gospel!

My dear young friends, let me now address you. Do not your hearts burn with celestial fire, to be employed in the noblest work under heaven? Yea, let me not be thought extravagant, if I affirm that it is such a manner of serving and glorifying God, as cannot be practiced, even in heaven itself. It is such a work as, in some respects exceeds the work of heaven. There are no sinners to be converted there; no devils to be resisted; no conflicts with internal corruption; no living by faith on an invisible God and Saviour; no scorn to encounter; no persecutions and cruel mocking to be borne; but here we have them all; so that we have such graces to be exercised, and such difficulties to be encountered, as will never be found in heaven to eternity.

Amongst all the various books which have been written for the use of students of divinity, and christian preachers, I know of none equal to the Manuductio of Dr. Cotton Mather, especially if you consider the smallness of the treatise, and the peculiar pertinency and pungency of the thoughts contained in it.

I have been intimately acquainted with this excellent little book, for thirty-six years past; I first met with it in the study of my dear and honoured friend and father, the Rev. Mr. Hugh Evans, of Bristol, when I boarded at his house, in the years 1744, 1745, 1746. The book has been of exceeding great use to me ever since. I am sorry I did not publish it sooner, for the benefit of the risen generation of gospel ministers. It is with great satisfaction and delight, that I have done it now. Sensible, inquisitive, and pious young students, lie very near my heart. I feel a strong parental affection for them. I earnestly pray that they may rise to superior eminence in every part of their glorious employment. I shall rejoice to see them actuated with a noble and divine ambition to excel their predecessors, in wisdom, dignity, zeal, and diligence; and to see them glorify Christ, and allure a vast number of immortal souls into a vital union with the supreme truth, goodness, and beauty, and thus be for ever happy in his glorious presence, and infinite love.

To my own dear son, I do peculiarly present this treatise, with my additional notes and observations; and through his hands, I devote it to the service of modest, pious students, of all denominations. I leave it as a monument and proof of my tenderest affection to the churches of Christ, who are deeply interested in its contents; and shall rejoice to find that wise and religious gentlemen of property, are stirred up to do their very utmost towards encouraging a learner and evangelical education of worthy young men, who shall be ministers of the glorious gospel, when our heads are laid in the dust, and our souls adoring the Son of God, in the realms of light and glory.

John [Collett] Ryland

October 7, 1781

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 27 April 2020 at 03:00

Picking and choosing

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Studying out some of the verses from Ephesians 4, I came across the following from Paul Bayne, calling upon the saints to appreciate the diversity of Christ’s present gifts to the church. He speaks against the kind of pickiness that demands or critiques a certain kind of minister in accordance with one’s taste and choosing, rather than receives different kinds of ministers in accordance with Christ’s gracious giving. The language is more than a little archaic, but the point is clear. Bayne says that a

consideration of diversity of gifts doth reprove those that will take mislike at this or that kind, because it is not as they would have. If one speak treatably and stilly, though he lay down the truth soundly, if he apply not forcibly, he is nobody, as if every one should be an Elijah, or a son of thunder. If others, on some plain ground, belabour the conscience, Tush, he is not for them; he doth not go to the depth of his text. They could themselves, at first sight, observe as much; as if every barque that sailed did draw a like depth, yet all sorts carry their passengers safe to their haven. So in ministers, every one hath not a like insight into doctrine, yet all be God’s instruments to thy salvation. This is a malapert, itching humour, which, if you will be Christians indeed, you must lay aside. (Bayne on Ephesians, 258-259).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 23 April 2016 at 11:21

Posted in Christian living, General

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A question of priorities

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What are the priorities of preachers and teachers of God’s word to be?

You can read Carl Trueman’s answer to that question here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 6 June 2012 at 08:45

Posted in Pastoral theology

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More pastoral theology resources

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Yesterday I began posting some mini-reviews of volumes of pastoral theology. Having covered the As, here we hit the Bs. For some reason, there are lots of As and Bs, as well as Cs, but a smattering of Ds and Es, with a dearth of Qs and Xs, will even things out over time. As previously mentioned, the entire list will eventually appear on the pastoral theology resources page (see sidebar), which I hope you will visit from time to time.

I welcome comments on the list (especially on the pastoral theology page, where I can keep track more readily) and would be particularly interested to know of any other older or newer works of pastoral theology that readers might recommend. Thank you.

Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. Baxter’s sense of his obligations before God weigh heavily upon him and us in this classic text. Although at times you are almost driven to despair by the felt gravity of the calling and its duties, there is much gold to mine from even the deepest caverns. The sensitive man might wish to keep a complementary volume near at hand to encourage his soul, but anyone with ears to hear will be taught, reproved, corrected, and instructed in righteousness by this treatment of the theme. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Berry, Cicely. Your Voice and How to Use It: The Classic Guide to Speaking With Confidence. The voice director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, with some utterly unnecessary but would-be achingly cool vulgarity, gives helpful counsel on the right use of the voice. Quite technical at points, but something like this would help many of us with such things as pitch, tone, diction, variation, and a host of other pulpit failings that make us hard to hear or listen to. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bickel, Bruce R. Light and Heat: The Puritan View of the Pulpit. Really two shorter books in one, Bruce Bickel mines Puritan preachers (and some of their successors) for their thoughts on preaching in the first part, weaving it profitably together. The second part is really a comparison of two different kinds of evangelism (Puritanism vs. Finneyism, in essence). There is lots here to stimulate, pointing the reader back beyond the Puritans to Scripture to see whether or not our convictions and the practices that flow from them are what they ought to be. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Blaikie, William Garden. For the Work of the Ministry. Setting out to be brief, complete and practical, Blaikie does a cracking job. One of the old school, in the best sense, treating the nature of the ministry, the call to it, the work of it, the character required in it, with all manner of homiletical and pastoral tips and hints along the way. Not all of its emphases and nuances need to be embraced to find this a real gem. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bonar, Andrew. The Visitor’s Book of Texts: A Vital Tool for Pastoral Visitation. A very different little book, detailing the various cases which a visiting minister may find when he goes into a home or hospital (or wherever), giving some general counsels for approaching each instance, then highlighting a number of relevant texts, sometimes with thoughts or comments upon particular ones, all intended to help the visitor find appropriate Scriptures and well-directed words for ministering. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bonar, Horatius. Words to Winners of Souls. An exercise in self-examination of a painful and profitable kind. Bonar deals not only with what we ought to be, but also exposes what we too often have been and remain. He searches the heart, probing and prodding, before pointing us to the remedies for many ministerial sins and the reviving of our hearts and the rejuvenation of our work. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Borgman, Brian. My Heart for Thy Cause: Albert N. Martin’s Theology of Preaching. An odd book, this, essentially consisting of the boiled-down essence of Al Martin’s lectures on preaching filtered through Borgman the redactor. While much of the profit remains of close attention to the Biblical material on preaching and pastoring, joined with telling and apposite quotes from past masters, it seems to me a book that loses too much in translation. There is much here that is profitable, and yet the book as a whole seems unsatisfactory because it is much less than it could have been. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Boston, Thomas. The Art of Manfishing. I think that this was the work of the young Boston intended solely for his own benefit. It therefore has the virtue of unfailing honesty, insofar as any man is honest with himself. There is no show, only a man dealing with his own soul. Boston considers the promise of Christ to make us fishers of men, then looks at the ministerial duty to pursue such a calling, before asking himself how to cultivate such an art. Good stuff. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bridges, Charles. The Christian Ministry (with An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency). Bridges was ridiculously young to have so much wisdom and insight when he wrote this. With very little of his own ecclesiology intruding, Bridges gives us an overview of the ministry before considering its inefficiency connected with general causes and with the pastor’s own character (guess which bit hurts the most?). He then moves on to give many corrective helps with regard to public and private or pastoral ministry. Deservedly recognised as a classic in its field. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Broadus, John A. (ed. E. C. Dargan). A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. As long as you get the right edition (the Dargan one) you are in for a sustained and meaty treat. A treasure-house of homiletical insights, Broadus ranges far and wide to give us a grand and focused overview of the sermon. Worthy of more attention in an age when the productions of the pulpit are so often bland and diffuse. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Brown, Charles. The Ministry. Another oldie but a goodie. Fairly short and sweet, again he deals with godly character (a signal failing of many newer works), an excellent treatment of public prayer, and some delightful thoughts on pulpit ministry. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Brown, John, of Edinburgh (comp.). The Christian Pastor’s Manual. A collection of addresses by various worthies. When looking at more modern collections, it is striking how some of the same topics concerning preaching come up time and again. Has the virtue of addressing the pastoral calling and character as much as the work of preaching. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bucer, Martin (trans. Peter Beale). Concerning the True Care of Souls. Bucer is one of the sleeping giants in Reformation studies, and this is the fruit of some twenty-five years of pastoral ministry, in which he sets out the nature of the work of a ‘carer of souls’ in the context of his doctrine of the church. The linking of these two is part of the genius of the whole, which abounds in good things. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

The whole list so far is here.

People praying for pastors

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Ray Ortlund relies on Gardiner Spring to press home the pastor’s dependence on the prayers of his people, reminding us that the failures and victories of pastors are also the failures of those who fail to pray or the victories of those who plead for the blessing:

And who and what are ministers themselves? Frail men, fallible, sinning men, exposed to every snare, to temptation in every form; and from the very post of observation they occupy, the fairer mark for the fiery darts of the foe. They are no mean victims the great Adversary is seeking, when he would wound and cripple Christ’s ministers. One such victim is worth more to the kingdom of darkness than a score of common men; and on this very account, the temptations are probably more subtle and severe than those encountered by ordinary Christians. If this subtle Deceiver fails to destroy them, he artfully aims at neutralizing their influence by quenching the fervor of their piety, lulling them into negligence, and doing all in his power to render their work irksome. How perilous the condition of that minister then, whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people! It is not in his own closet and on his own knees alone that he finds security and comfort and ennobling, humbling and purifying thoughts and joys; but it is when his people also seek them in his behalf that he becomes a better and happier man and a more useful minister of the everlasting gospel.

Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit (Edinburgh, 1986), pages 223-224.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 6 December 2010 at 19:38

Posted in prayer

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More on “A Portrait of Paul”

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For those not yet bored rigid with the topic, we continue to make progress with A Portrait of Paul (more information).

Monergism Books are now offering it, in addition to Reformation Heritage Books, Westminster Bookstore, Christian Book Distributors (CBD) and Grace Books International.  No news yet on a British co-publisher or distributor.  Perhaps a case of no prophet being accepted in his own country!

People I did not even know would read the book are now endorsing the book, which is encouraging.  Here is Conrad Mbewe‘s assessment:

When I first sensed God’s call to the preaching ministry, I did a study of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. And, oh, what a study that was! It opened my eyes to the difference between ministry in the New Testament and what is in vogue today. Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker have now brought all those truths that I saw into this one volume. I, therefore, commend this book to all who want to take God’s call to the work of ministry seriously. For, in these pages is the heart and experience of a true minister of the new covenant.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 13 May 2010 at 09:26

“A Portrait of Paul”

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It seems that the time has come to break cover and shuffle into the foetid pool.  The book mentioned a few days ago is now available in the US for pre-publication orders from Reformation Heritage Books or Westminster Bookstore or Monergism Books or Christian Book Distributors (CBD) or Grace Books International. and Evangelical Press are now stocking the item.

A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ

Rob Ventura & Jeremy Walker

Blurb: What does a true pastor look like, and what constitutes a faithful ministry? How can we identify the life and labors of one called by God to serve in the church of Jesus Christ? To address these questions, Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker examine how the apostle Paul describes his pastoral relation to the people of God in Colossians 1:24–2:5. By discussing these essential attitudes, qualities, and characteristics of a faithful minister of Christ, A Portrait of Paul provides gospel ministers an example of what they should be, and demonstrates for churches the kind of pastors they will seek if they desire men after God’s own heart.


  1. The Joy of Paul’s Ministry
  2. The Focus of Paul’s Ministry
  3. The Hardships of Paul’s Ministry
  4. The Origin of Paul’s Ministry
  5. The Essence of Paul’s Ministry
  6. The Subject of Paul’s Ministry (sample)
  7. The Goal of Paul’s Ministry
  8. The Strength of Paul’s Ministry
  9. The Conflict of Paul’s Ministry
  10. The Warnings of Paul’s Ministry


John MacArthur: The apostle Paul has always been a hero whom I look to as a model for my ministry. His unrelenting faithfulness in the worst kinds of trials is a remarkable example to every pastor and missionary. In the midst of suffering, hardship, and (in the end) the abandonment of his own friends and fellow workers, Paul remained steadfast, dynamic, and utterly devoted to Christ. This invaluable study of Paul’s life from Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker is a wonderful, powerful, soul-stirring examination of Paul’s self-sacrifice and his unfaltering service to the church. It will both motivate and encourage you, especially if you’re facing trials, opposition, or discouragement in your service for Christ.

Geoff Thomas: For the first two decades of my life as a Christian, I had an abundance of role models who seemed to enflesh for me how a minister of God should live. I realize now that I even took their presence and consistent example for granted. I looked forward to the future under the protection of their mature lives of patience, wisdom, and many kindnesses. The labors of most of those men have come to an end and today I face another situation. There are now numbers of fine younger men in training and starting out on their own ministries. What grace and zeal they have, but there appears to be less role models than the company with which I was favored. What Walker and Ventura have done in this splendid book is to return to the fountainhead of Christianity, to the apostle Paul with the authority the Lord Christ gave to him, his wisdom and compassion, and examine the apostle’s relationship with one congregation, how he advised and exhorted them concerning the demands of discipleship and their relationship with fellow believers. Paul became Christ’s servant and mouthpiece to them and he has left us with a timeless inspired example. He exhorted his readers more than once to be followers of him as he followed God. With a refreshing contemporary style, and with humble submission to the Scripture, these two ministers have given to us a role model for pastoral life. This is a very helpful book and a means of grace to me.

Paul Washer: This work on the Christian ministry is a clarion call to true devotion and piety in the pastorate. The theology is pure and the language is as powerful as it is beautiful. I pray that every pastor and congregant might take up this book and read it. It will hold a place in my library beside Baxter’s Reformed Pastor, Bridges’ Christian Ministry, and Spurgeon’s Lectures. I will refer to it often. It will serve as a great antidote against all that might cause my heart to stray from Christ’s call.

Conrad Mbewe: When I first sensed God’s call to the preaching ministry, I did a study of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. And, oh, what a study that was! It opened my eyes to the difference between ministry in the New Testament and what is in vogue today. Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker have now brought all those truths that I saw into this one volume. I, therefore, commend this book to all who want to take God’s call to the work of ministry seriously. For, in these pages is the heart and experience of a true minister of the new covenant.

Steven J. Lawson: The greatest need in churches today is for godly men to shepherd the flock of God. To be sure, no church will rise any higher than the level of its spiritual leaders. Like priest, like people. To this end, Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker have done an exceptional job in providing a model for pastoral ministry, drawn from the extraordinary example of the apostle Paul. This book is built upon careful exegesis, proper interpretation, penetrating insight, and challenging application. Herein is profiled the kind of minister every church so desperately needs and what every true minister should desire to become.

Derek W. H. Thomas: In this dual-authored portrait of Paul as a minister of the gospel, Ventura and Walker have captured the very essence of ministry. On every page, we are forced to reflect upon the dimensions of apostolic ministry and urged to comply. Packed with exposition and application of the finest sort, these pages urge gospel-focused, Christ-centered, God-exalting, Spirit-empowered, self-denying ministry. I warmly recommend it.

Carl R. Trueman: This deceptively easy to read book consists of a series of reflection on Col.1:24 to 2:5 by two experienced pastors. In an age where there is much focus on technical aspects of ministry, Ventura and Walker analyse the topic in terms, first, of call and character, and then of the existential urgency with which the great doctrines of the faith are grasped by those called to the pastorate. Intended not just to be read but to be a practical guide in helping churches think through the role of the pastor, each chapter ends with a series of pointed questions, to Christians in general and to pastors in particular, which are designed to focus the minds of all concerned on what the priorities of the pastorate, and of candidates for the pastorate should be. This book is a biblical rebuke to modern trends, a challenge to those who think they may be called to the ministry, and a reality check for all believers everywhere.

Joseph A. Pipa Jr: Ventura’s and Walker’s A Portrait of Paul Identifying a True Minister of Christ makes an unique contribution to the literature on pastoral theology. Rather than approach their subject topically, they unfold Paul’s heart for and practice of ministry through an exposition of Colossians 1:24-2:5.  The authors balance careful and experimental exposition with challenging application–addressing both fellow Christians and pastors.  All serious Christians, as well as pastors, will profit from this book; it is intellectually satisfying, experimentally challenging, and practically stimulating.

Philip H. Towner: As the diverse churches of the world have demonstrated throughout history, there is no better place to turn, when confronted with the complexities of pastoral leadership, than the Scriptures.  Each church in each generation must revisit this resource and view it anew through its particular historical, theological, cultural and political lens. The authors of A Portrait of Paul engage precisely in this task. With Colossians as their main laboratory, they probe the text and engage Paul in a conversation about pastoral ministry—its priorities, foundation, and potential—and a profile of pastoral mission and leadership emerges.  All who read this book will discover an invitation to join this rich conversation and take away numerous fresh perspectives to challenge and shape their thinking.

Sam Waldron: What is A Portrait of Paul Identifying a True Minister of Christ? It is, first, the effort of two young pastors to teach themselves and their churches what it means to be a true minister of Christ. It is, second, an exposition of Colossians 1:24–2:5 which attempts to understand how Paul’s ministry gives them and their churches a paradigm of faithful ministry. It is, third, biblical exposition of Scripture in the best historic and Reformed tradition with careful exegesis, sound doctrine, popular appeal and practical application. As such, it is a very challenging book to read as Rob and Jeremy lay before us, for instance, the selflessness and suffering true ministry requires. It is, however, a good, useful, and profitable book to read. It can, and I hope it will, do much good!

Robert R. Gonzales Jr.: Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker’s A Portrait of Paul is biblically sound, pointedly practical, and sagaciously simple. In addition to an exposition of Colossians 1:24-2:5, they provide the reader with a host of citations from other pertinent texts of Scriptures as well as judicious quotes from past and contemporary authors, all of which help to trace out the contours of Paul’s life and ministry. Each chapter concludes with practical applications directed both to fellow pastors (or aspiring pastors) and also to fellow Christians. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who would seek to imitate Paul as Paul sought to imitate Christ.

Pre-order in the US at RHB or WTS.

Further information to follow as it becomes available.

Sermon preparation

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 4 April 2009 at 08:07

Posted in Pastoral theology

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John Newton on the pastoral office

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ministry-on-my-mind-newtonSome time ago I mentioned a little book called Ministry on My Mind transcribed entries from the diaries of John Newton as he wrestled with his call to vocational gospel ministry.  As I wrote then, Michael Haykin put it on the list of books every man aspiring to the pastoral ministry ought to read.

Having now had an opportunity to read it, I would heartily concur.  Honest enough to expose you, short enough to be read and re-read by you, searching enough to humble you, insightful enough to trouble you, sincere enough to shame you, careful enough to illuminate you, blunt enough to shake you.

Reading this record of Newton’s Scriptural consideration and self-examination will strip away a great deal of the fluff and faff that surrounds issues of the call in many mind and hearts.  His accurately high conception of the work of pastoral ministry is something to which every potential pastor needs to be exposed, and his questions and searchings of soul will prompt our own.  I would encourage pastors and prospective pastors to obtain and read this volume either as a reminder of or instructor in what we are to be and do.

To this end, here is a taste of Newton’s thoughts on the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2Cor 2.16):

Who is able – who has either wisdom or strength for so great a work?  What zeal, courage, diligence, faithfulness, tenderness, humility and self-denial are necessary to fill up all the various parts of the ministerial character.  Whenever I think of a minister, I necessarily suppose such a one (if honoured and useful) must have an extensive knowledge of the scripture, a large stock of divine experience, an eminent degree of discernment and prudence, an ardent thirst for the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, and a readiness and aptitude to bring forth out of his treasures those instructions the Lord has given him, according as circumstances require either for stated or occasional services.  And when such a one has filled up all his public work with propriety, I know he has done nothing, unless by a life of prayer, and waiting upon the Lord, he is continually watering the seed sown and unless his converse and behaviour amongst his hearers, evidently savour of that universal holiness he recommends from the pulpit.  I can easier conceive than express what continual need such a one will have of all the graces of the Spirit, to prevent him pulling down with one hand what he is attempting to build up with the other, while his calls to duty are so numerous and sudden, his temptations so peculiar, his hindrances so many, and corruptions still remaining in him as well as others.  How much circumspection is necessary in him, who is placed in such a point of light, that all his actions pass under constant examination of multitudes, and is sure by every mistake at once to gratify the enemies of religion, offend the consciences of the weak, and grieve the hearts of all that love the Lord and his truth?

john-newtonNor is the labour of this calling to be overlooked.  It requires great strength both of mind and body, or at least extraordinary supplies and supports to each, to be living always upon the expense, to be pressing, warning, beseeching every man, publicly, from house to house, in season, out of season.  To be able to wrestle, with God, to pour forth strong prayers and supplications, in the assemblies, families etc – to improve every opportunity that may offer of an open door to extend the knowledge and savour of the Gospel into adjacent, perhaps into distant places – O it is a most busy life – The Lord preserve me from entering upon it with confined or indolent aims: I cannot think of being a minister as some are, who yet I would hope are good.  And yet when I look back upon what I have written, when I think seriously of what I am desirous to undertake, when I look at home upon what I am, and abroad upon what I am about to rush into, what can I return to the Apostle’s question, Who is sufficient? O Lord do thou answer for me . . .

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 March 2009 at 17:03

The invention and use of gospel means

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It is easy to snipe across established boundaries.

Some of us look at men whom we consider too pragmatic, and assure ourselves that if they had any principle they would not do what they do, and they would of course be less successful.  From the other side we look at men whom we consider frigidly principled, sterile and fruitless but self-assured and unshakeable in their conviction that their very ineffectiveness is a mark of their faithfulness.  Perhaps, for many genuinely Reformed Christians, our accusations of mere pragmatism (even where legitimate in degree) mask the fact that our principles are not practically employed as they ought to be.

john-angell-james-2John Angell James addresses men who ought to be in earnest for the salvation of souls in the following excerpt from his excellent book, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times.  He calls us neither to abandon true principle nor to embrace mere pragmatism, but to cultivate a holy pragmatism in accordance with Scriptural principle, and so to seek to accomplish the ends God has given us by the invention and use of means that accord with Scripture.  It is not pleasant reading, but it is good medicine.

But this touches a THIRD thing implied in genuine earnestness, and that is the studious invention and diligent use of all appropriate means to accomplish the selected object. An earnest man is the last to be satisfied with mere formality, routine, and prescription.  He will often survey his object, his means, and his instruments: will look back upon the past to review his course, to examine his failure and success, with the causes of each; to learn what to do, and what to avoid for the future.  His enquiry will often be, What next?  What more?  What better?  And as the result of all this, new experiments will be tried, new plans will be laid, and new courses will be pursued.  With an inextinguishable ardour, and with a resolute fixedness of purpose, he exclaims, “I must succeed-How?”

And shall we ministers possess nothing of this earnestness, if we are seeking the salvation of souls?  Shall dull uniformity, stiff formality, wearisome repetitions, and rigid routine, satisfy us? Shall we never institute the inquiry, “Why have I not succeeded better in my ministry?  How is it that my congregation is not larger, and my church more rapidly increasing?  In what way can I account for it that the truth as it is in Jesus, which I believe I preach, is not more influential, and the doctrine of the cross is not, as it was intended to be, the power of God unto the salvation of souls?  Why do I not more frequently hear addressed to me, by those who are constantly under my ministry, the anxious inquiry, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’  I am not wanting, as far as I know, in the regular discharge of my ordinary duties, and yet I gather little fruit of my labours, and have to utter continually the prophet’s complaint, ‘Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?'”  Do we indeed indulge in such complaints!  Have we earnestness enough to pour forth such lamentations?  Or is it of little consequence to us, provided we get our stipend, keep up the congregation to its usual size, and maintain the tranquillity of the church, whether the ends of the ministry are accomplished or not?  Are we often seen by God’s omniscient eye pacing our study in deep thoughtfulness, solemn meditation, and rigorous self-inquisition; and after an impartial survey of our doings, and a sorrowful lamentation that we are doing no more, questioning ourselves thus?  “Is there no new method to be tried, no new scheme to be devised, to increase the efficiency of my ministerial and pastoral labours?  Is there nothing I can improve, correct, or add?  Is there any thing particularly wanting in the matter, manner, or method of my preaching, or in my course of pastoral attentions?”  Surely it might be supposed that such inquiries would be often instituted into the results of so momentous a ministry as ours; that seasons would be not unfrequently set apart, especially at the close or beginning of every year, for such a purpose.  The result could not fail to be beneficial.

Here it may be proper for us to look out of our own profession, and ask if the earnest tradesman, soldier, lawyer, philosopher, and mechanician, are satisfied to go on as they have done, though with ever so little success?  Do we not see in all other departments of human action, where the mind is really intent on some great object, and where success has not been obtained in proportion to the labour bestowed, a dissatisfaction with past modes of action, and a determination to try new ones?  And should we who watch for souls, and labour for immortality, be indifferent to success, and to the plans by which it might be secured?  In calling for new methods, we want no new doctrines; no new principles ; no startling eccentricities; no wild irregularities; no vagaries of enthusiasm, nor phrensies of the passions; no, nothing but what the most sober judgment and the soundest reason would approve; but we do want a more inventive, as well as a more fervid zeal in seeking the great end of our ministry.  Respectable but dull uniformity, and not enthusiasm, is the side on which our danger lies.  I know very well the contortions of an epileptic zeal are to be avoided, but so also is the numbness of a paralytic one; and after all, the former is less dangerous to life, and is more easily and frequently cured, than the latter. We may, as regards our preaching for instance, examine whether we have not dwelt too little on the alarming, or on the attractive themes of revelation? – whether we have not clothed our discourses too much with the terrors of the Lord? and if so, we may wisely determine to try the more winning forms of love and mercy: or whether we have not rendered the gospel powerless by a perpetual repetition of it in common-place phraseology? whether we have not been too argumentative? and resolve to be more imaginative, practical, and hortatory: whether we have not addressed ourselves too exclusively to believers? and determine to commence a style of more frequent and pungent address to the unconverted: whether we have not been too vague and general in our descriptions of sin? and become more specific and discriminating: whether we have not been too neglectful of the young? and begin a regular course of sermons to them: whether we have not had too much sameness of topic? and adopt courses of sermons on given subjects: whether we have not been too elaborate and abstract in the composition of our discourses? and come down to greater simplicity: whether we have not been too careless? and bestow more pains: whether we have not been too doctrinal? and in future, make all truth bear, as it was intended to do, upon the heart, conscience, and life.

Nor must the inquiry stop here.  There ought to be the same process of rigid scrutiny instituted as to the labours of the pastorate.  We must review the proceedings of this momentous department, for here also is most ample scope for invention as to new plans of action.  Perhaps upon inquiry we shall find out that we have neglected various channels through which our influence might, have been poured over the flock committed to our care, and shall discover many ways in which we can improve upon our former plans, in the way of meeting the inquirers after salvation, giving our aid to Sunday schools, setting up Bible classes, or visiting the flock.  What is needed is an anxious wish to be wanting in nothing that can conduce to our usefulness, a diligent endeavour to make up every deficiency, and a mind ever inquisitive after new means and methods of doing good.  Could we all but adopt the plan of setting apart a day at the close of every year for solemn examination into our ministerial and pastoral doings, with the view of ascertaining our defects and neglects, to see in what way we could improve, to humble ourselves before God for the past, and to lay down new rules for the future, we should all be more abundantly useful than we are. And does not earnestness require all this?  Can we pretend to be in earnest if we neglect these things?  The idea of a minister’s going on from year to year with either little success, or none at all, and yet never pausing to inquire how this comes to pass, or what can be done to increase his efficiency, is so utterly repugnant to all proper notions of devotedness, that we are obliged to conclude, the views such a man entertains of the design and end of his office are radically and essentially defective.[1]

[1] John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1993), 45-49.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 20 February 2009 at 18:09

The content and context of good preaching

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 17 February 2009 at 21:26

Posted in While wandering . . .

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Pastoring, patrolling and preaching

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Over the last few days it seems as if the physical needs of the flock have come to the fore.  Last weekend, one of the friends in the church fell, broke ribs and ruptured his spleen.  On Wednesday, one of the members – a man with epilepsy and special needs – fell and broke his arm, as well has having another medical appointment to which I accompanied him (one of those where it seems impossible to determine where the pastoral ends and the diaconal begins).  Alongside of these crises, there are several members with chronic conditions which seem to be erupting in various ways at this time.  Finally, there is a young woman in the church here who is shortly to undergo surgery to remove a cancerous tumour.  I therefore spent a fair amount of time in hospitals over the last week or so, and expect to do so again in coming days, seeking to minister to and encourage those whom I serve here.  I recall one very good piece of advice that a friend gave me for such times as these: “Don’t try and teach anyone something new when they are lying in a hospital bed.  Just remind them of sweet and simple truths.”  It was a good lesson.

an-earnest-ministry-jamesI also had a good time meeting with a friend to study more in John Angell James’ excellent book, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times.  In language that echoes Ryle on zeal, James describes an earnest ministry as one taken up with a single object:

The design of the pulpit is identical with that of the cross: and the preacher is to carry out the design of the Saviour in coming to seek and to save that which was lost. Preaching and teaching are the very agency which Jesus Christ employs to save those souls for which he died upon Calvary. If souls are not saved, whatever other designs are accomplished, the great purpose of the ministry is defeated.[1]

Taking the salvation of souls in the broadest sense, he urges ministers to make the conversion of sinners their great aim without neglecting the building up of those already saved.

On Friday night I went out looking again for our young friends on the park.  Though I went through various parts of town as well as Maidenbower, there was no sign.  On Saturday I was preparing to preach on the Lord’s day, and I found the going very slow.  I managed the spadework quite rapidly, but the sermon itself came slowly, largely through my own distractedness.  Having eventually completed my work, I went back out to Maidenbower, and found three lads on the square, including one whom I already knew.  I spoke with them for about half an hour, and I hope was able to impress upon them the seriousness of sin and the need of salvation, and answer some of their questions.  They find even the conversation bewildering, let alone its substance.  However, I did manage to get a mobile number for a lad who I think has some influence, and suggested that they get a few friends together and come to the church building one cold Friday or Saturday night: I would get fifteen minutes to speak to them, and then we would see if we could provide hot food and drinks.  They seemed fairly positive, and I hope to follow them and this opportunity up.

On the Lord’s day I had the Sunday School and the morning worship as my responsibility.  In the Sunday School we finally returned to the series on the Christian family, and I began to deal again with the responsibilities of parents in training and nurturing their children, beginning with the spiritual development of a child.  We’re taking Luke 2:51-52 as setting out four spheres in which we are to bring our children to maturity, under God.  After some review and preparatory material, we plunged into the need to ensure that our children learn to see the world in which they live and the life which they live in the world through the lenses of God’s Word, and the parents responsibility to bring that to bear (Dt 6.4-7).

Then in the morning worship I continued in Nehemiah 1, building on Nehemiah’s concern for God’s kingdom to consider Nehemiah’s prayer for God’s kingdom.  Considering Nehemiah’s prayer of Nehemiah 1:5-11, a prayer for the people of God and the city of God, we identified four elements in the prayer of a man who desires or delights to fear the Lord.

Nehemiah looks up in adoration and humility to the Lord God of heaven.  His whole prayer begins with and is conditioned by a Scripturally-accurate view of the living God in his sovereignty, power, awesomeness, mercy, faithfulness, revelation and attentiveness, a perspective that breeds faith and expectation in the one who prays even as it glorifies God.

Next, Nehemiah looks within in confession and repentance.  His awareness of sin lies in two directions and in two dimensions.  He is conscious of man corrupted and God offended, and he is conscious of his responsibility both as a member of and representative of God’s people, and as an individual before God.  He enters in on every level: sin is not a matter of others, of “them”, but of “we/I” and “us/me.”

Then, Nehemiah looks back in remembrance and gratitude.  He grounds himself in God’s words and God’s deeds, his promises (“I will scatter” and “I will gather”) and his saving acts.  He quotes God’s promises back to him, claiming the attention that God’s own inheritance merits.

nehemiah-viewing-ruins-walls-of-jerusalem-doreFinally, Nehemiah looks around and ahead in confidence and hope.  He builds to the point of petition, which is general, from a sense of unity.  Nehemiah consciously stands in company with all those who together desire to fear the Lord.  But he is also specific, from a sense of purpose.  Nehemiah has not been idle, but has laid plans for the glory of God and the blessing of the people and the city, plans in which King Artaxerxes is the key.  He asks God to bless his plans, and the mighty emperor becomes “this man” in the perspective of one who is dealing with the Lord of heaven.

As I went along, I sought to draw lessons for our own perspectives and prayers.  I had also hoped to show how Nehemiah’s prayer, though fine-tuned for the people of God, provides a broad outline appropriate for all who would draw near to God.  However, as I was drawing to a close, someone in the congregation was suddenly and violently stricken with a known and recurrent problem, and the service was sufficiently disrupted to render its attempted continuance pointless (if you listen to the sermon, that will explain the somewhat abrupt ending – I was jumping out of the pulpit to help!).

In addition to the follow up to all these things, I have been invited to preach at a young people’s conference in Holland in February.  I have at least six sermons, and I think I have three-ish done so far.  Most of the topics are fundamental matters of Biblical Christianity, but trying to capture the essence in a brief sermon is not a simple matter.  I am seeking to take what I call an ‘epitomising text’ for most of the sermons, and to develop the matter from there.  If you remember, I would value your prayers as I seek to prepare and then deliver these sermons in this exciting environment, rich with potential for God’s glory.

[1] James, An Earnest Ministry (Banner of Truth), 34-35.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 26 January 2009 at 12:33

Posted in Updates

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“The Gospel Ministry”

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The Gospel Ministry by Thomas Foxcroft

Soli Deo Gloria (RHB), 2008 (87pp, hbk)

This unusual but highly profitable little volume is a preacher’s own ordination sermon.  It was preached in 1717 by Thomas Foxcroft as he set out to demonstrate to the congregation that he was to serve the minister that he ought to be, to impress upon himself and others the standard which he ought to be pursuing and which the church ought to be demanding.

Taking Colossians 1.28 as his starting point – though ranging far and wide through the Scriptures – Foxcroft sets out four key doctrines: that Christ is the one grand subject which the ministers of the gospel should mainly insist upon in their preaching; that the ministers of the gospel need to be very wise and prudent in all their administrations; that laborious diligence, fervour, and indefatigable application should be the character of every gospel minister; and that, in all their ministerial labours, pastors should make the conversion and edification of men in Christ their governing view and sovereign aim.

Even taking into account that this portrait of a pastor takes a few minutes to delineate and a lifetime to cultivate, happy indeed the congregation whose young preacher set out this model at the beginning of his ministry as his goal, in dependence on God’s Spirit!

the-gospel-ministryThe book is full of that earnest, earthy pastoral theology that is so much bypassed in our day.  It is written by a man who intends to know, love and serve Christ’s people with a Christlike spirit and through a Christ-soaked ministry.  There are high points of insight and fervour throughout the work (see here, here and here, for example), and a thoroughly evangelical tone permeates the whole.  The author determines to put Christ at the centre of his work by putting him at the centre of his life.  Christ is not only the topic of the minister, but the source of all his power.  The congregation is enjoined to earnest prayer for those who seek so to serve them.

Pastors will find this a short, sharp shock, and yet also eminently sweet: a powerful, brief reminder of what we are about, of whom we serve and how we serve.  The teaching is mainly positive, and so the rebukes are incidental, and yet they hit home as we see how far short we fall of the standard of diligent godliness and sincere and outworked care that the Scriptures establish.  At the same time, there is encouragement, both with regard to the first things of pastoral ministry and its development over time, with instruction along the way.

Congregations will also find here an outline of the kind of ministry that they should pursue and expect.  The standard is not impossibly high, but the goal is distinct and the flavour clear.  Not only will this book be helpful in that respect, but it is also a call to intelligent prayer for the gospel ministers who already serve the churches, and for more men of this stamp to be raised up and thrust out by the Lord of the harvest.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 17 January 2009 at 08:16

Pastoral courage

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Thomas Foxcroft advises us as to the correct and necessary balance and relationship between public and private ministerial responsibility.  He gives this further counsel:

Private inspection or pastoral visitation is of necessity to the same purpose as the public administrations.  Hence we have ministers described in Song of Solomon 3:3 as watchmen who go about the city; and it is observable what follows: They “found me,” says the spouse.  They found her, not she them, plainly intimating that the ministers of the gospel must diligently seek out and look up the wandering and the straying, and maintain a watchful inspection over their flocks, even as the Good Shepherd looks after His sheep, going about and taking particular notice of all.  The husbandman walks about in his garden and fields to observe the growth and decay of things, and makes all needful and suitable applications.  So ministers must arm themselves with a becoming courage and resolution, and shake off that false modesty, that tame and vicious dread of offending men, which too often wretchedly prevails to the entire omission or sorry performance of this necessary and important duty; and apply themselves with all fidelity and holy boldness hereunto.  But they must take heed to manage all with utmost prudent caution and discretion, careful not to use the instruments of a foolish shepherd, but in all points to concert such measures and improve such means as are best adapted to answer the end, so that their work may succeed.[1]

[1] Thomas Foxcroft, The Gospel Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Soli Deo Gloria, 2008), 40-41.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 3 January 2009 at 23:00

Preaching Christ

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Here is Thomas Foxcroft in The Gospel Ministry once more, fairly early on in his sermon, exhorting himself and other ministers to preach Jesus in every sense:

Ministers then must study to feed their flocks with a continual feast on the glorious fullness there is in Christ; they must gather fruits from the branch of righteousness, from the tree of life for those who hunger, not feeding them with the meat which perishes, but with that which endures to everlasting life.  They must open this fountain of living waters, the great mystery of godliness, into which all the doctrines of the gospel that are branched forth into so great a variety do, as so many rivulets or streams making glad the city of God, flow and concenter.

They must endeavor to set forth Christ in the dignity of His Person, as the brightness of His Father’s glory, God manifest in the flesh; in the reality, necessity, nature, and exercise of His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, in both His state of humiliation and exaltation; in the glorious benefits of His redemption, the justification of them who believe, the adoption of sons, sanctification, and an inheritance that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for the saints; in the wonderful methods and means in and by which we are called into the fellowship of the Son our Lord, and made partakers of the redemption by Christ; in the nature, and significance, the excellency and worth, of all the ordinances and institutions of Christ, with the obligations on all to attend upon them.

Whatever subject ministers are upon, it must somehow point to Christ.  All sin must be witnessed against and preached down as opposed to the holy nature, the wise and gracious designs, and the just government of Christ.  So all duty must be persuaded to and preached up with due regard unto Christ; to His authority commanding and to His Spirit of grace assisting, as well as to the merit of His blood commending – and this to dash the vain presumption that decoys so many into ruin, who will securely hang the weight of their hopes upon the horns of the altar without paying expected homage to the scepter of Christ.  All the arrows of sharp rebuke are to be steeped in the blood of Christ; and this to prevent those desponding fears and frights of guilt which sometimes awfully work to a fatal issue.  Dark acrossnd ignorant sinners are to be directed to Christ as the Sun of righteousness; convinced sinners are to be led to Christ as the Great Atonement and the only City of Refuge.  Christ is to be lifted up on high for the wounded in spirit to look to, as the bitten Israelites looked to the brazen serpent of old.  The sick, the lame, and the diseased are to be carried to Christ as the great Physician, the Lord our Healer; the disconsolate and timorous are to be guided to Christ as the Consolation of Israel, and in us the hope of glory.  Every comfort administered is to be sweetened with pure water from this Well of salvation, which only can quench the fiery darts of the evil one.  The promises of the gospel are to be applied as being in Christ “yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor. 1:20).  So the threatenings of the law are to light and flash in the eyes of sinners as the terrors of the Lord and sparks of the holy resentment of an incensed Savior, which hover now over the children of disobedience and will one day unite and fall heavy upon them.  The love of Christ for us is to be held forth as the great constraining motive to religion, and the life of Christ as the bright, engaging pattern of it.  Progress and increase in holiness are to be represented under the notion of abiding in Christ and growing up into Him who is the Head, even Christ.  Perfection in grace is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and eternal life is a being forever with the Lord where He is, beholding His glory and dwelling in our Master’s joy.

Thus, in imitation of the apostolic way of preaching, there must be a beautiful texture of references to Christ, a golden thread twisted into every discourse to leaven and perfume it so as to make it express a savor of the knowledge of Christ.  Thus every mite cast into the treasure of the temple must bear this inscription upon it which was once the humble language of a pious martyr in the flames, “None but Christ, none but Christ,” so that everyone, beholding in the Word preached as in a glass the glory of the Lord, may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 26 December 2008 at 16:01

The gospel ministry

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The following quote is from Benjamin Wadsworth’s introduction to The Gospel Ministry by Thomas Foxcroft:

The right performance of this work [of gospel ministry] is attended with many and great difficulties, partly from the various, frequent, furious assaults of Satan; partly from the lusts of men, variously discouraging or opposing it; and partly from the weaknesses and remaining corruptions of even the best of those who engage in it.  Yet it is a work that is very honorable in itself, and of vast weight and importance.  It must be thought so if we rightly consider that it is the infinitely great, glorious, holy and heart-searching God who (in His providence) calls and commissions men to this work; that the main scope of the work is to batter down Satan’s kingdom, to pull down the strongholds of lust in the hearts of men, to promote the glory of divine grace through Christ in saving men’s precious, immortal souls, one of whcih is more worth than a world; and that those who engage in this work must give a strict account of their management to that God who employs them, who can’t be deceived and won’t be mocked, and who will require at their hands the blood of those souls who perish through their neglect, as well as graciously and abundantly reward them if they are faithful.

What fearful and wonderful work this is!  May God grant that his ministers be faithful in it, and spare us from making shipwreck of our own faith, and being mere sirens to call other men on to the rocks of eternal destruction.

I hope to bring some of Foxcroft’s own excellent counsels in the next few days.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 23 December 2008 at 21:00

A throne for Self

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James Henley Thornwell somewhere speaks of the desire to serve the living God with all one’s heart and soul and strength, and then speaks the chilling words: “. . . but self is a powerful idol.”  I recall hearing Pastor Ted Donnelly preaching on justification, and speaking of self-righteousness and self-congratulation, and the horror of finding – even in the very outward act of exalting Christ – a little voice whispering in the minister’s own mind, “Didn’t you do that well?”

I was first and most powerfully struck by this when reading a biography of the Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson, called To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson (Judson Press).  At one point (382-3), the biographer is seeking to describe a seminal moment in the ministry of Judson, a time of extreme trial (many grievous deaths in his family).  It was his father’s death that brought poignant memories to the missionary of the “glowing ambitions” his pastor father had had for him.  Anderson writes that,

Reliving these memories, Adoniram began to realise that no matter how he had rebelled, his father had succeeded in instilling in him, consciously or unconsciously, a goal of earthly ambition, an intense determination to surpass his fellows.

Judson began to search his heart, and discerned that his fundamental desire in being and doing what he had sought to be and do was not “genuine humility and self-abnegation but ambition . . . [to be] . . . first in his own eyes and the eyes of men.”  Courtney continues thus:

He had always known that his forwardness, self-pride and desire to stand out were serious flaws in his nature.  Now he began to suspect that they were more than flaws.  They made his entire missionary career up to now a kind of monstrous hypocrisy, a method of securing prominence and praise without admitting it to himself.  He had deluded himself.  But he had not deluded God.  Perhaps here was the intention in all these deaths: to teach him true humility. . . . No wonder it took death itself, by wholesale, to teach him better.  For Adoniram’s mission, God had approval; for Adoniram and his self-love, a harsh lesson.

How truly awful to have the pall of such a conclusion hanging over the scene of one’s ministerial labours: “a kind of monstrous hypocrisy, a method of securing prominence and praise without admitting it to himself.”  Such pride and self-elevation is an act of wicked folly on the part of any child of God, but how much more so for one whose very existence calls him to decrease, that Christ might increase?

Few of us need to be taught earthly ambition by our parents; we inherit it from our first parents.  The idol-factory of the heart has a great forge in which is constantly being hammered into shape a fearful throne for that most insistent god, Self.  How often do we need to pause and ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?  What is my true goal?”  Behind the facade of righteous endeavour, of generous effort, do we hide a drive to excel not for the glory of Christ, but for our own reputation?  Are we driven by love to self, or love to God?  How much, how often, we need to examine our hearts, to search our souls, remembering always that “self is a powerful idol” and that God may approve the work but condemn the motive.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 3 October 2008 at 09:49

Servants not spectators

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This is an older post from Pulpit Magazine about the ministry of the whole body of Christ.  The central thrust of this article struck me as both helpful and challenging when I first came across it, and I reproduce it here in its entirety.

I have often spoken out against all the pragmatic and “seeker-sensitive” approaches to contemporary worship because they tend to diminish the proper place of preaching and replace it with quasi-spiritual forms of sheer entertainment (music, comedy, drama, and whatnot). Any trend that threatens the centrality of God’s Word in our corporate worship is a dangerous trend.

But one of the most disturbing side effects of the seeker-sensitive fad is something I haven’t said as much about: When one of the main aims of a ministry philosophy is to keep people entertained, church members inevitably become mere spectators. The architects of the modern megachurches admit that they have deliberately redesigned the worship service in order to make as few demands as possible on the person in the pew. After all, they don’t want the “unchurched” to be intimidated by appeals for personal involvement in ministry. That’s the very opposite of “seeker sensitivity.”

Such thinking is spiritually deadly. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Practically the worst thing any churchgoer can do is be a hearer but not a doer (James 1:22-25). Christ himself pronounced doom on religious people who want to be mere bystanders (Matthew 7:26-27).

Something is seriously wrong in a church where the staff does all the “ministry” and people are made to feel comfortable as mere observers. One of the pastor’s main duties is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). Every believer is called to be a minister of some sort, with each of us using the unique gifts given us by God for the edification of the whole church (Rom. 12:6-8).

That’s why Scripture portrays the church as a body-an organism with many organs (1 Corinthians 12:14), where each member has a unique role (vv. 15-25), and all contribute something important to the life of the body. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (v. 26).

I can’t read that verse without thinking of Dizzy Dean. He was a Hall-of-Fame baseball pitcher, whose career peaked in the 1930s. His 1934 season has never been excelled by any pitcher in history. Dean won thirty games that year, a feat that hasn’t been repeated since (though Dizzy himself came close, winning 28 games the following year). But in the 1937 All-Star game, he took a hard line drive off his toe, and the toe was broken. It should not have been a career-ending injury, but Dean was rushed back into the lineup before the fracture was completely healed, and he pitched several games favoring the sore toe. That led to an unnatural delivery that seriously injured his pitching arm. The arm never fully recovered. Dizzy Dean’s major-league career was essentially over in four years.

Something similar happens in any church where there are non-functioning members. The active members of the body become overextended, and the effectiveness of the whole body suffers greatly. Even the most insignificant member, like a toe, is designed to play a vital role.

That truth has been one of the main foundations of my approach to ministry for many years. When I first became pastor of Grace Community Church in 1969, I taught a series on Ephesians, and we spent a great deal of time studying the principle of Ephesians 4:11 – that the pastor’s duty is to equip the saints, and it is their duty to shoulder the work of the ministry.

Our people quickly embraced that simple idea, and it transformed our church in a remarkable way. For one thing, we began to see dramatic growth. Within a matter of months, attendance on Sundays had ballooned to almost 1,000. About that same time, a well-known evangelical magazine asked a reporter to write an article about the growth of our church. He visited our services for several weeks, carefully observed how the ministry functioned, interviewed scores of people, and then wrote an article titled “The Church with 900 Ministers.”

That title perfectly summarized what has made Grace Church unique for all these years. Nowadays we have several thousand ministers, but the principle is still the same. Everyone is expected and encouraged to be involved in active ministry. Almost no one in our church would ever view ministry as the exclusive domain of professional clergy. If you want to be comfortable as a mere spectator, Grace Church is not the church for you.

I am not making a case for egalitarianism. Much less would I argue against the need for full-time vocational pastors who devote their whole lives to prayer, the study of the Word of God, and the training and equipping of the saints (cf. Acts 6:4; 1 Timothy 4:14-15; 5:17). The church needs leaders, and God has specifically called men to leadership and set them in places of authority in the church (cf. Hebrews 13:7, 17).

But the New Testament pattern is clear and inescapable: Every Christian is gifted and called to ministry. The spiritual gifts we are given are not for our own sake, but for the benefit of the whole body (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6, emphasis added).

In my experience, it is not difficult to motivate gifted people to minister. The gift of mercy, for example, might practically be defined as the desire combined with the ability to show mercy. A person truly gifted to teach wants to teach. All the average person needs is encouragement and opportunities to employ his or her gifts. If faithful leaders properly train, equip, and guide people to the right ministry opportunities, the church will flourish.

If you are a church leader, I hope you have embraced your duty to equip people for ministry. It is, after all, one of your main duties – if not the single most important task for leaders in today’s church.

If you’re a lay person, I hope you’ll find a place where you can use your gift in the work of the ministry. Maybe you’ll be used by the Lord to start an epidemic of lay ministry in your congregation.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 25 July 2008 at 09:30

Conflict for the Colossians

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This weekend we had friends from Texas staying at our home.  Five of the Simpson family were with us from Friday, leaving early this morning for Edinburgh.  On Friday I gave them the breakneck theologico-politico-historical tour of London, cut slightly short due to extreme weariness and the fact that they were going back into London themselves on Saturday.

Yesterday we continued our adult Sunday School classes on the Christian family, still looking at a husband’s love to his wife, and concentrating on the activities of love (nourishing and cherishing) and the tools of love (words backed up by deeds).  We briefly considered the created order (Adam as the definer and steward of words) and the redemptive pattern (God in Christ as the great Revealer and Communicator to and with his people) and began a brief tangent in which we hope to consider some principles for godly communication as husbands to our wives.

I had the evening service, in which I returned to the series on Colossians.  In Colossians 2.1 Paul opens a window on his heart so that the Colossians saints might understand his pastoral affection for them, the particular application of his labours on their behalf – Paul’s conflict for the Colossians.  We saw the apostle’s warmth of heart (contending, striving, agonising on behalf of God’s people), the concerns of his heart (those with whom he shares true spiritual unity and affinity, regardless of distance or intimate personal acquaintance), and the activity of that heart (manifesting its affection by every legitimate means, and particular through wrestling in prayer with God, against the devil, for the saints).

In Paul’s example we find a vivid portrait of a true pastor’s heart (love declared and demonstrated paving the way for exhortation and admonition), a suggestive portrait of a true Christian’s heart (concern for the wider church manifested in earnest prayer and potent petition to God), and a faint portrait of Christ’s heart, the great Pastor of the whole flock.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 June 2008 at 11:26

“Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the One-Eyed Preacher of Wales”

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Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the One-Eyed Preacher of Wales by Tim Shenton

Evangelical Press (hbk)

There are two practical problems that readers might need to overcome in this volume.  The first will afflict those without any facility in or exposure to the Welsh language, who may be deterred by the number of Welsh place names.  The second problem is the unusual habit of using two fonts in the text, one for the main narrative, and another for the quotations, an editorial habit which, if not quite a direct assault on Eye-Gate, is not exactly easy on it.

Those minor problems aside, this is a fascinating and compelling biography.  Mr Shenton writes with warmth and clarity, and an enthusiasm that becomes his subject.  Anecdotes and quotations are well employed to give a full and lively picture.  The author’s enthusiasm does not betray him into unquestioning admiration of Christmas Evans, and the portrait we are given seems comprehensive and honest.  One interesting feature is that, while Mr Shenton provides concluding overviews of Evans’ character and labours, he leaves it almost entirely to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about some of Evans’ idiosyncrasies (such as his apparent acceptance of certain dreams as revelations from God) which perhaps – in a biography such as this – deserve more critical comment.  Some of the obvious doctrinal errors with which the great preacher wrestled during his career are exposed in the course of the history, but there is less interaction with Evans’ own peculiarities than is often the case in biographies.

From humble beginnings, and with everything seemingly set against a life of holiness and usefulness, God was pleased to make Christmas Evans a pulpit giant.  Many exceeded him for understanding and balance but few surpassed or even matched the extent of his labours, and his pulpit eloquence was unparalleled.  None of this is to say that Evans’ was an ignoramus: his thirst for knowledge was insatiable, but his mind – which, fired by his imagination, had its own way of working! – appears not to have moulded the knowledge he gained into a fully worked-out system.  That said, he did wrestle long and hard with matters of Baptist church polity, though it seems rarely to have been appreciated.  Neither was he slow to engage in controversy where he felt the cause of Christ demanded it.

Evans comes across as a man of childlike faith, imagination and enthusiasm, and a vigorous passion; these same traits occasionally betrayed him into error.  His ready enthusiasm sometimes led to him being caught up in the work or issue of the moment, and robbed him of a broader and more balanced perspective.  Nevertheless, he was a man of prayer and humility, rarely slow to acknowledge the faults into which his character occasionally led him.  Sandemanianism and hyper-Calvinism, paralysing and largely heartless approaches to faith and life, both exercised some sort of grip on him at various stages of his ministry.  Nevertheless, the same passion and devotion to the cause of Christ which led him into these difficulties helped to lead him out, and the Lord God provided him with friends and guides who helped to provide straight tracks on which his imagination could run its course.

His eminence is due mainly to his astounding preaching labours.  Evans preached what he felt and felt what he preached, and employed the full wealth of his wide-ranging imagination, and ready facility with words, to convey this felt truth to his hearers.  His devotion to the cause of Christ was absolute – the sacrifices he and his wife made quickly condemn our more pampered age.  He travelled and preached tirelessly with a power and effectiveness seemingly almost unmatched (and this in an age of eminently powerful and effective preachers).  Mr Shenton helpfully includes samples from the sermons by means of which the Spirit moved the hearts of Evans’ hearers (and even in translation they show something of how abundantly God gifted his servant).

There is a wealth of practical instruction in this book for those willing to learn.  We are both encouraged and warned as we see the various strengths and weaknesses of the cast of characters who wander in and out of the narrative.  Rising above all is the example of Christmas Evans.  While there are warnings here as well, his prayerful and sacrificial existence, his utter devotion to the kingdom of Christ, his earnest desire to see souls saved and Christ exalted, all flowing into and informing his Christ-centred and impassioned preaching, ought to rouse us to plead that the Lord would once again grant preachers to his church – preachers who love God and the truth of God, and who are mightily equipped to communicate with all the faculties of their redeemed humanity that love and those truths to their congregations.  Evans is both a rebuke and a model, and Mr Shenton has done much service to the church in revealing more of this man of God to our sight.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 20 June 2008 at 07:59

True preaching

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Iain D Campbell at Reformation21 quotes from Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire to provide this marvellous portrait of blood-earnest preachers truly engaged in the work of ministry:

As preachers, they were all remarkable. There are some who preach before their people, like actors on the stage, to display themselves and to please their audience. Not such were the self-denied preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach over their people. Study­ing for the highest, instead of doing so for the lowest, in intelligence, they elaborated learned treatises, which float like mist, when delivered, over the heads of their hearers. Not such were the earnest preachers of Ross­shire.

There are some who preach past their people. Directing their praise or their censure to intangible abstractions, they never take aim at the views and the conduct of the individuals before them. They step carefully aside, lest their hearers should be struck by their shafts, and aim them at phantoms beyond them. Not such were the faithful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach at their people, serving out in a sermon the gossip of the week, and seemingly possessed with the idea that the transgressor can be scolded out of the ways of iniquity. Not such were the wise preachers of Ross-shire.

There are some who preach towards their people. They aim well, but they are weak. Their eye is along the arrow towards the hearts of their hearers, but their arm is too feeble for sending it on to the mark. Superficial in their experi­ence and in their knowledge, they reach not the cases of God’s people by their doctrine, and they strike with no vigour at the consciences of the ungodly. Not such were the powerful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others still, who preach along their congregation. Instead of standing with their bow in front of the ranks, these archers take them in line, and, reducing their mark to an individual, never change the direction of their aim. Not such were the discriminating preachers of Ross-shire.

But there are a few who preach to the people directly and seasonably the mind of God in His Word, with authority, unction, wisdom, fervour, and love. Such as these last were the eminent preachers of Ross-shire.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 19 June 2008 at 20:15

Calvin’s God-given genius

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Today I spent in London at the John Owen Centre, participating in the Theology Study Group.  On this occasion the study was guided by Gary Brady, and the book under consideration was The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven J. Lawson, his first ‘A Long Line of Godly Men Profile.’  This was one of the more accessible volumes we have read recently, and – although it was not as substantial as we might have hoped – it proved an enjoyable, profitable, and stimulating read.

In this book, Pastor Lawson identifies thirty-two keynotes of Calvin’s ministry, arranged under several headings to consider Calvin’s high view of preaching, his zeal for God’s glory, his determination to cut to the chase in preaching, his exposition of the text, his clarity of delivery, his application of its truth, and his parting shots.  In doing so, he effectively provides what is essentially a brief guide to Calvin’s homiletics.  I would have no hesitation in recommending this little volume to pastors, especially men entering the ministry, as a primer for the preaching ministry, and a stimulus to better appreciating our calling and improving on our discharge of our stewardship.  There was a good discussion, and I believe that Gary will provide an outline on his blog.  Next time, God willing, we will be considering Abraham Booth’s classic, The Reign of Grace.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 June 2008 at 21:20

Near to God in Christ

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Life has not been slow since our return from Italy. I spent some of the time in the airport with notes out, preparing to preach at our minister’s fraternal last Tuesday. My rather dull title was A faithful ministry: lessons from Colossians 1. The dullness arose from the fact that I was not sure which lessons I would concentrate on, those concerning the character and disposition of Epaphras, or some from Col 1.24-29, where Paul provides a mini-manual for ministry. In the end, I focused on the gospel minister’s tools, task and toil from Col 1.28-29, preaching twice to the brothers who gathered for the occasion. As is often the case, the last few hours brought a glut of apologies, as pastoral demands and occasional crises, together with unpredictable traffic problems, whittle us down in number. I think God helped in the preaching and hearing, and we had a good discussion which centred on the Biblical principles that enable the man of God to regulate his labours without being consumed and crushed by them.

On Wednesday I spent several hours with my father and co-pastor preparing for a congregational meeting, and then it was head down for the weekend.

On Saturday I preached at the Annual General Meeting of the Sovereign Grace Union. The SGU has been around for over one hundred years, taking a principled stand for the doctrines of grace. In that sense, it predates later organisations (such as the Banner of Truth) standing in a similar position, although it has much less prominence. The formal AGM preceded the preaching ministry, in which I surveyed Isaiah 53, pointing out the particular character of Christ Jesus’ person and work as revealed in the Servant of whom the prophet speaks. In the light of that, we then turned from the Saviour to those whom he saves, and considered our confession and our hope and our service. Despite a relatively small number in attendance, there was good fellowship, and an acknowledgement of God’s saving goodnesses toward us, and his providential care of us. The service was hosted by Providence Chapel in Chichester, where John Saunders is the pastor. The chapel is a listed building, and a fine place of worship in many respects. However, the pulpit was possibly the smallest I have ever preached in. The upper pulpit is of a height that would reduce the order of magnification required to search the night sky (you can actually look down on some of the seats in the balcony), so I preached from the lower. The trouble is that the upper pulpit hangs over the lower. With my notes in front of me, my shoulder blades were touching wood behind me, and the arch of the upper pulpit hung inches over my head (and that only if I leant gently forward). To the immediate left and right of the pulpit (and rising from it) two narrow tubes supported elegant and painfully delicate-looking glass globes, relics of the old gas-lighting system – space for the movement of hands was perhaps two or three feet. The Lord has not designed me to be static in preaching, and the pulpit seemed intended to make me so, but I managed to come through with both self and pulpit unscathed, if a little more physically constrained than usually.

On the Lord’s day, I had all three services here. My father had a long-standing engagement to preach in Droitwich at Witton Chapel (both Dad and I have preached there in the past, and we know several of the members well). In the Sunday School hour, having missed a few weeks in our studies in the Christian family, we spent some time in review, and then picked up the particular roles of husbands. We considered the character of their love (Christlike), the quality of their love (purposeful), and the anchor of their love (one-flesh union with their wives). We also paused to note that the primary tools of the man in demonstrating his love are his words, which must be accompanied by and demonstrated in his deeds. There was some discussion as to the difficulties we have in this regard, and we hope briefly to take up some principles of godly communication next week.

In the morning worship, we studied out Ephesians 2.13 under the title Far and near. We observed that once we were far off – Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and Godless -, a state that Paul calls us to remember. By contrast, now we are in Christ Jesus. Being in Christ Jesus is the only necessary condition of this change in our proximity to God, our nearness established at the moment of conversion and continuing. It is brought about by the blood of Christ. By his death he addresses the clouds of ignorance, mountains of sin, gulf of divine wrath and sea of fear that lie between us in our natural condition and the God of our salvation (Spurgeon’s imagery). He makes us near to God – this is our salvation, joy and security. The dead man is made alive through the blood of Christ; the dull Christian draws near to God by the same means, and is stirred up.

In the evening, we considered Mark 4.26-29, the parable of The growing seed. Here Christ sets forth for our exhortation and encouragement a picture of the kingdom that establishes both the extent and the limits of human agency. The sowing of the seed has been committed to Christ’s church, and is to be conducted wisely, widely, regularly, confidently and humbly. Once the seed has been sown comes the growing of the crop. At this point the agency of the sower is suspended, and a mysterious, sure and gradual process is accomplished by God himself. We are called to sow, but God reserves both the right to bless the sowing and the ensuing glory of the growing. There is an antidote here to the false guilt we so often feel with regard to those to whom we witness of Christ, but who remain unconverted up to this point – if we have faithfully performed our duty, our hands are free of blood, for we cannot make a man a Christian. Finally, there is the coming of the harvest. The expectant sower enters the scene again, waiting for the harvest to thrust in his sickle and reap. When we have done our sowing, we must be watching, waiting for the accomplishment of the purposes of Almighty God, the merciful Saviour of sinners.

Today I am off to the John Owen Centre for the Theology Study Group. More on that later, DV.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 June 2008 at 08:16

Gospel ministry and gospel confidence

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My father and fellow-pastor was away this past Lord’s day, taking a well-deserved holiday. As a result, I had the privilege of all three ministries.

In the Sunday School hour, we continued to consider the distinctive roles of men and women. As we completed our consideration of the role of women, we paused at the point of transfer to studying out the role of men to look at the various abuses of male headship and female submission to which we are prone. Because the distinctive roles of men and women are grounded upon their essential equality (in terms of created dignity, native depravity and redemptive reality), there ought to be no sense of inferiority or superiority engendered by considering what man is as man, and woman as woman, and what they are in relation to each other. However, men – in the exercise of loving leadership – should not err either by abdication nor tyranny, and women – in the pursuit of positive submission – should not err either by way of domination nor effacement. In considering this, I basically employed material from my friend and mentor Alan Dunn, drawing from his excellent and insightful if occasionally technical little volume, Headship in Marriage (in the Light of Creation and the Fall).

Then, in our morning worship, I continued a long-standing series in Colossians. We are now in the last two verses of the first chapter. Here, we see Paul as a fellow-labourer with God. As one would expect from such a man, there exists a full and precise correspondence between Paul’s activity and God’s stated purposes.

In Colossians 1.28-29, Paul identifies the gospel minister’s tools, task, and toil. The first sermon was on The gospel minister’s tools, which he uses constantly, comprehensively and specifically. The first tool is proclamation. This is the authoritative declaration of Jesus Christ, his glorious person and saving work.
This mighty river contains two currents, two subsidiary tools: admonition and instruction. The first is putting something in the mind of men, getting something laid to their hearts, driving into the will and affections, to awaken and arouse, stimulating reflection and promoting action. The second works on the understanding, definite truth and clear direction being imparted to the inquiring mind, guiding sinners to Christ and directing the child of God in faith and life to the glory of Christ. I hope to go on to consider the task and the toil in due course.

Then, in the evening, we celebrated the Lord’s supper. With the aim of preparing our minds and hearts, I preached on Romans 8.34, under the title, Uncondemnable! We set out the four pillars of Christian confidence, upon which a Christian can stand and ask heaven and earth and hell, “Who is he who condemns? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul offers four answers, any of which is sufficient, all of which together are simply unassailable: it is Christ who died; it is Christ who furthermore is also risen; it is Christ who is even at the right hand of God; it is Christ who also makes intercession for us. It was, I trust, a good day in the house of God, with the morning’s message more of a challenge, and the evening’s more of a consolation.

One particular pleasure in the evening was to have Andy and Sallyann Owen visiting with us. Apparently, my parents had been God’s means of doing good to Sallyann before she was married, and they had hoped to catch up with her. Andy heads up a ministry to the Deaf at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Andy has also authored three books assisting in this work: Signs of Life, Not Hearers Only, and Jesus Used Sign Language (all of which can be ordered through the Tabernacle Bookshop). Having recently taught through Christ’s healing of a deaf and mute man in Mark 7 at our Stepping Stones bible study, having had a substantially deaf father, and having had the privilege of being interpreted for the Deaf by a man with whom I subsequently have had fascinating conversations, it was a delight to speak with Andy and to gain some of his wisdom and insight into this challenging yet rewarding sphere of ministry.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 5 May 2008 at 20:39

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