Saturday, October 25, 2008
The ancient pantheons or mythological divinity - Greek, Roman, Germanic, and Nordic were all very family like, they were all headed by a patriarch and were all prone to all the inter-family squabbling so common to mankind.
Odin may be the most interesting thing about the Thor sagas told at Marvel. hey have recently killed him off and Thor has replaced him on the throne of Asgard, and the book is suffering for it. The father son relationship between Odin and Thor - Odin's efforts to both teach Thor what it means to be a "god" of Asgard, and to allow Thor to suffer the pain of learning many of those lessons on his own was, and I hope can return to being, a very compelling narrative and worthy of any comic reader.
The TV show Smallville has long since reduced itself to the typical teen angst crap on a super-hero canvas, but in its early days when Clark was young and his earthly father alive, it shared with this trait with the Asgardian sagas, but Thor and his father Odin did it first and they did it best.
The death of Odin in the comics, not unlike the death of Jonathon Kent on the TV show, have reduced the value of these comics tremendously. As boys become men, they experience much the same exhilaration that man would discover on finding his "powers" and only a father can tame that very ugly beast in a young man.
Comics are often a window on society and no more so than in this instance. We are not better for it.
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Friday, October 24, 2008
What Happened To Protestants?
“The churches’ desperate hunger to mean more in politics and economics had the perverse effect of making them less effective opponents of the political and economic pressures on the nation. They mattered more when they wanted to matter less.”I wrote about this piece at Article VI Blog when it was contemporary and made some socio/politcal comments, but here I want to discuss it from the standpoint of the church.
There is a seductiveness to American politics that makes us think we should just dive right in. And yet, that is not what the church is called to do. The Reformation was necessitated largely because THE CHURCH had become a political entity not and ecclesiastical/spiritual one. When the church does politics directly, we run the risk of, and in many cases already have, making the same error.
The church has but a single mission - make disciples. First, please note, I say disciples, not converts. But more importantly, no discussion of social justice. Now both of those things are vitally important, but they are NOT the mission of the church - they are the calling of members of the church, and that is a radically important distinction.
In America we have such an agglomeration of institutions doing those callings that it is often easy to confuse the calling of the members with the mission of the church, and therefore, the church with those institutions.
With the death of mainline Protestantism Bottum so rightly discusses, those institutions that are truly, distinguishably CHURCH are dying - and that is a problem. When we lose those institutions, it becomes increasingly likely that we will lose sight of the mission altogether. Congregations will be expressions of callings, but the mission of the church will be lost.
Of course, the Catholic church remains, and probably always will. Some mainlines are strong internationally as well - Anglicanism in Africa is fascinating to me. And as I said at Article VI Blog, the future of the Mormon church is fascinating, while still heterodox, they are moving in our direction in an extremely rapid fashion and their institutional strength is amazing.
While I can observe and comment on these trends, in the end there is little I alone can do about them. There are not currently in America enough people interested in making denominationalism work again for even the best leader, which I most assuredly am not, to revive it.
But what I can do is twofold. For one, I can remain loyal to denominationalism's remnants. As my own PC(USA) moves through senility towards death, I do wonder where I will head if death comes. But more importantly I can concentrate on the mission of the church. I can be discipled, and I can disciple. I can carry on the mission.
Are you? I need the help.
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"In light of the rising frequency of human/grizzly bear conflicts, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is advising hikers, hunters, and fishermen to take extra precautions and keep alert of bears while in the field.
"We advise outdoorsmen to wear noisy little bells on their clothing so as not to startle bears that aren't expecting them. We also advise outdoorsmen to carry pepper spray with them in case of an encounter with a bear.
"It is also a good idea to watch out for fresh signs of bear activity. Outdoorsmen should recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear manure: Black bear manure is smaller and contains lots of berries and squirrel fur. Grizzly bear manure has little bells in it and smells like pepper-spray."
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Thursday, October 23, 2008
To The Cross...
Like a great Jazz artist, Purves weaves key themes through the text: the Mystic Union with Christ (that when we are His, we're united with him...thus his righteousness is exchanged for our rags, and vice versa) and the Vicarious Ministry of Jesus Christ (that even now he reigns, he continues to serve as the High Priest in the Heavenlies, and He offers His worship to the Father). Thus everything important is being done.As I read Russ, the phrase that titles this post ran through my mind. The scriptural passage that best describes what Russ refers to here is Gal 2:20:
None of these are new to me....cognitively I was aware of them and their implications long ago. However Purves shows some great wisdom in making us aware that intellectually knowing a truth is not the same as living into it: “More elusive is the deep conversion of mind, will and heart where we know the inner reality of being laid hold of by Christ in the Spirit, so we share in his active obedience to, communion with and mission from the Father. From my observation it requires the pains of ministry in midcareer to prepare a person for the radical transformation of ‘I, yet not I, but Christ.’”(111)
From my vantage point, I see pastors who talk about the transformational power of Christ, but live as practical atheists....little prayer beyond the obligitory few sentences at the start of a committee meeting. Little brokenheartedness before the Lord. Sure we can pray, but then let's get on to something practical for Pete's sake. As though Jesus' work wouldn't get done without them. And there's a vast moneymaking industry of conferences, publishing houses, gurus, and seminars designed to give you the magic keys to effective ministry. I suggest that none of the people involved in this industry would deny the truths that Purves lays out. Yet in the room are palpable and false excitements that betray where the treasure is buried. [emphasis added]
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.Note where this journey with Christ leads us - THROUGH the crucifixion to the resurrection. Much as the resurrection completes the salvation Christ brings, it is meaningless without the crucifixion. The Easter story starts Thursday night, NOT Sunday morning.
Failure is our teacher - crisis our guru. And if we reflect on that fact, we should do so with gratitude. You see the real good news of Easter is that it is ONLY failure that is our teacher and ONLY crisis that is our guru. Without the Easter story there would be only death, no lessons, no learning, no transformation.
Did you ever wonder if when Optimus Prime and the boys do this:
it hurts? I have no idea, but I do know this - they are designed to transform. We are not. There is a reason their human companions don't just pick up the knack to turn into vehicles. I mean that is gonna hurt a bit more like this:
only hopefully with a much prettier result.
Have you been to the cross?...or are you busy avoiding it?
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Doin' The Shuffle
A lot of my interaction with students, pastors and church planters is over the issues of post-Christendom and the revolutionary change required of us who seek to engage those outside Christ with the gospel. It truly is stunning to recognize how things have changed in this country over the last fifty years. Over and over again I hear the stories of churches and the lament "all we're doing is shuffling discontented believers from one form of church to another." Or I hear "another mega church has moved into the area and emptied out three traditional local churches." It's post Christendom and we're competing for customers.Anyone note the similarity to "Wal-Mart" in that pull quote? You know the complaint that Wal-Mart moves in and all the locals go out of business. Living in a major urban area as I do, I never really thought about it until I visiting my ancestral home in Mississippi. The coming of Wal-Mart has literally shifted the entire town. Downtown is dead as a doornail and all the retailers, all friends as my great-grandfather was one of them, are just gone. You shop at Wal-Mart, or you don't shop.
Now in business, competition is competition, it makes us stronger, but what about in the kingdom? Well, I guess if I thought mega-churches brought better Christianity, instead of the Christianity-light that I think they bring, I might feel the same way. You see the problem is that, as sinners, people do not necessarily want what we have.
Which points out a fallacy in the notion of "post-Christendom." One must ask, was there any more discipleship, genuine life transforming, Christ-centered, discipleship in "Christendom" than there is in today's culture-soaked mega-barn, media driven church? We must not confuse cultural dominance with discipleship. We must not confuse a pervasiveness of intellectual ascension with real, genuine life transforming faith and belief.
What we must remember is that the product we sell is not the church, nor is it contained in the church. The product we sell is nothing short than God Almighty, incarnate in Jesus Christ, and evident in the transformation of our lives. The church is nothing more than where we get together to talk about it - that is all the church has ever been. whether it was the church astride Europe as an empirical power, or the church persecuted and hidden in basements in the Soviet Union.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Culture has changed, but our mission, the work God has given us to do has not.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Effectiveness and Burn Out
Something’s wrong. We pastors are the stewards, the spokespeople, the advocates of a message of hope, life, and peace. And yet so few of us seem to be experiencing these qualities in our own lives. Something’s wrong. In a world saturated with fear, insecurity, and stress, we are to show a different way. And yet those at the center of the church are burning out and leaving ministry at a rate of 1,500 per month. If that’s what’s occurring at the heart of the church, why would anyone on the fringe want to move in closer?Well, yes and no. Too many, way too many, pastors get into the business looking for something for themselves. The nature of "up front" ministry is such that I expect a high turnover rate. It looks far more attractive a career choice than it actually is. To me one of the key questions is "Why?" Well, let's start with one key phrase in that pull quote, "...some pastors “admitted they promoted growth models that were incongruent with their values...." That kind of cognitive dissonance is going to burn anybody out. Note that they do so for "validation." OOPS! Getting into ministry for validation is just a bad idea. Actually, getting into pretty much anything for validation is a bad idea. People are too self-centered, too egotistical, too sinful to provide any of us with the validation we are looking for.
I’ve just read an article by two Christian counselors about the soul-killing impact of church ministry on leaders. (The statistic above comes from them.) They note that the pressure to grow the church is a significant factor leading to pastoral burn out. And some pastors “admitted they promoted growth models that were incongruent with their values because of a desperate need to validate their pastoral leadership.” It seems too many of us have our identities wrapped up in the measurable outcomes of our work rather than in the life-giving love of the Christ we proclaim. Something’s wrong.
Now, having said all that, the essential point of the Ur post - that there is something very sick in the church using the measures of success we do is dead nuts on.
Consider a chapter titled “Bigger is Better” from a popular ministry book. The authors write, “A church should always be bigger than it was. It should be constantly growing.” Talk about pressure. The problem is this standard doesn’t hold water when applied to Jesus himself. John 6 describes the scene where “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” After teaching some weird stuff about drinking his blood and eating his flesh, the crowds who were drawn by Jesus’ miracles decided they had had enough. Did Jesus’ shrinking ministry mean he was an ineffective leader? Why do we hold ourselves to a standard that Jesus’ doesn’t apply to himself?That is something I agree with wholeheartedly - All I am saying here is that pastoral burnout is not necessarily a symptom of that particular disease. We are dealing with two separate but related problems here. The problems are related in that the only way to really turn this around is with genuine, called leadership. Leadership that seeks not to be validated, but to serve God. Leadership that actually leads as opposes to follows the latest trend. Leadership that shapes the desires of its congregations, not caters to them.
The key to this, I believe, is to change what constitutes leadership in the church. Leadership does not come by virtue of position, or education, though those things help. We need to look less to corporate models of leadership and more to I Timothy - though I think they are more similar than we might suspect.
Most of all the church needs to MAKE leaders, not find them. Our job does not stop when people are saved. Why did Jesus have disciples? Who were the twelve, but those people that Jesus spent most of His earthly ministry making into leaders for His church? We focus all our energy on "growing the church" when it should be on "building disciples," who in turn build disciples, who in turn....
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Monday, October 20, 2008
...I couldn't help but think, is this an example of what some would call the feminization of society, or the church? Hasn't alpha leadership been considered a male thing, while collaboration and community have been considered female? And, now that men are starting to speak out about the value, or even the superiority, of more cooperative means of accomplishing things, is this evidence that they are feminized?But she then goes on and points out that such is a bit of a straw man:
And here's one of the reasons I think the above-mentioned types of leadership have little to do with gender,...So Bonnie and I have a basic agreement here, but I do want to point out that there is a feminization problem in the church, and it is related to this. Now to be frank. i think "feminization" is a poor word choice, I would prefer to call it "emotionalization," a trait that can be associated with the feminine, but they are not necessarily a package.
The problem we face is when we elevate the feeling over the fact; happiness over salvation; "feeling good about yourself" over morality. The leadership model Bonnie calls, "community and collaboration" is not the problem, but from it problems can arise when we hold the community above the mission and the collaboration above action. I have been in far too many places where "can't we all just get along" mattered more than getting anything done.
The bottom line is this. Leadership, whether command and control or community and collaboration is only as good as the leaders themselves. As I argue and Bonnie quotes, community and collaboration provides some checks and balances towards that end, but I have seen them fail as mightily as in any other system.
True Christian leadership is less about the system and more about the leader. If you are a Christian leader, or aspire to be one, before you study systems and management, before adopt a "leadership style," before you study your organization's culture, evaluate yourself and look to God. And then, do that every day, before the day begins. Carry the lesson of humility such an examination MUST give you (else it was a poor attempt) throughout your day.
God is changing the world one person at a time. That means you should start with yourself.
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Sunday, October 19, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
Robert Murray McCheyne, who often said, “Live so as to be missed,” was born May 21, 1813 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Twenty-nine years later he succumbed to typhoid fever, but how God used him!
With a mind quick in attainment, he could name and write the Greek alphabet at the age of 4 and later memorized long passages of Scripture. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1830 with training in music, geography and modern languages and entered Divinity Hall at the age of eighteen to prepare for the Christian ministry.
Licensed to preach at the age of twenty-two and ordained at twenty-three, he was Minister of St. Peter’s Church, Dundee and served as the Secretary of Association of Church Extension.
Although busy day and night with his growing flock, the needs of the world at large lay heavy on his soul. He grasped every opportunity to preach and traveled much. His philosophy was “there is a great difference between preaching doctrine and preaching Christ”; which apparently God honored as shortly before his passing, God’s Spirit broke forth in his church in Dundee with a mighty revival and in many other places he had visited.
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom, preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” - 2 Tim. 4:1,2.
1. Where faithful ministers stand: “Before God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no more responsible situation in the whole world than that in which a faithful minister stands.
(1) Before God. This is true in two ways.
First, As a sinner saved by grace. He was once far off, but is now brought nigh by the blood of Jesus. Having “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh,” he draws near. He stands within the veil, in the holiest of all, in the love of God. He is justified before God. A faithful minister is an example to his flock of a sinner saved. God says to him as He did to Abraham, “Walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” He can say with Paul, “I was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, but I obtained mercy.” A faithful minister is like Aaron’s rod, that was laid up beside the ark of God and budded there.
Second, As a servant. In the East, servants always stand in the presence of their master, watching his hand. The Queen of Sheba said to Solomon: “Happy are these Thy servants, which stand continually before Thee, and hear Thy wisdom.” So it is said of the angels, that “they do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.” Even when most engaged in the service of the saints, they feel under His all-seeing, holy, living eye. So ought faithful ministers to feel. They should feel constantly in His presence: under His soul-piercing, gentle-guiding, holy, living eye. “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous.” Ah! how often we feel we are before man! Then all power withers, and we become weak as other men; but oh, how sweet to feel in the presence of God, as if there were no eye on us but God’s! In prayer, how sweet to feel before Him; to kneel at His footstool, and to put our hand upon the mercy-seat - no curtain, no veil, no cloud between the soul and God! In preaching, how sweet to say, like Elijah, when he stood before Ahab, “I stand before the Lord God of Israel!” To stand at His feet, in His family, in His pavilion, oh, believers, it is then we get above the billows! The applause of men, the rage and contempt of men, then pass by us like the idle wind which we regard not. Thus is a minister like a rock in the ocean; the mountain-billows dash upon its brow, and yet it stands unshaken.
(2) Before Jesus Christ. This also is true in two ways:
First, The faithful minister has a present sight of Christ as his Righteousness. He is like John the Baptist. “Seeing Jesus coming unto him, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!” Or like Isaiah, he saw “His glory and spake of Him.” His own soul is ever watching at Gethsemane and at Golgotha. Oh, brethren, it is thus only we can ever speak with feeling, or with power, or with truth, of the unsearchable riches of Christ! We must have the taste of the manna in our mouth, “milk and honey under our tongue,” else we cannot tell of its sweetness. We must be drinking the living water from the smitten rock, or we cannot speak of its refreshing power. We must be hiding our guilty souls in the wounds of Jesus, or we cannot with joy speak of the peace and rest to be found there. This is the reason why unfaithful ministers are cold and barren in their labours. They speak, like Balaam, of a Saviour whose grace they do not feel. They speak, like Caiaphas, of the blood of Christ, without having felt its power to speak peace to the troubled heart. This is the reason why many good men have a barren ministry. They speak from clear head-knowledge, or from past experience, but not from a present grasp of the truth nor from a present sight of the Lamb of God. Hence their words fall like a shower of snow: fair and beautiful but cold and freezing. The Lord give us to stand in the presence of the Lord Jesus.
Second, The faithful minister should feel the presence of a living Saviour. A minister should be like the bride in the Song: “Leaning upon her beloved.” This was Jeremiah’s strength (1:8): “Be not afraid of their faces, for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.” So it was with Paul (Acts 18:9,10): “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.” So Jesus told all the disciples: “Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me not; but ye see Me: because I live, ye shall live also.” And again He says expressly “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Yes, brethren, Christ is as truly walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, as truly in this place today, as if you saw Him with your bodily eyes. His humanity is at the right hand of God, appearing in the presence of God for us. His Godhead fills all in all. Thus He is with us, standing at our right hand, so that we cannot be moved. It is sweet to know and feel this. Thus only can we be sustained amid all the trials of the ministry. Are we weary? we can lean, like John, upon His bosom. Are we burdened with a sense of sin? we can hide in the clefts of that Rock of Ages. Are we empty? we can look up to Him for immediate supply. Are we hated of all men? we can hide under His wings. Stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, and then you may smile at Satan’s rage, and face a frowning world. Learn here also the guilt of refusing a gospel ministry: “He that refuseth you, refuseth Me; and he that refuseth Me, refuseth Him that sent Me.”
(3) Within sight of judgment - “Who shall judge the quick and dead.” Ministers and their flocks shall meet together before the throne of the Lord Jesus. That will be a solemn day. They have many solemn meetings on earth. An ordination day is a solemn day. Their meetings from Sabbath to Sabbath are solemn meetings; and sacrament days are very solemn days. But their meeting at the judgment-seat will be by far the most solemn of all. Then:
First, The minister will give his account, either with joy or with grief. He will no more meet to plead with the people, or to pray with them, but to bear witness how they received the word. Of some he will give account with a joyful countenance: that they received the word with all readiness of mind, that they were converted and became like little children; these will be his joy and crown. Of most with grief: that he carried the message to them, but they would not come - they make light of it; or perhaps they listened for a while, but drew back into perdition. He will be a swift witness against them in that day. “Depart, ye cursed.”
Second, Then the people will give their account of the minister. If he was faithful, if he made it his meat and drink to do the will of God, if he preached the whole truth with seriousness, urgency, love, if he was holy in his life, if he preached publicly, and from house to house: then that minister shall shine like the stars. If he was unfaithful, if he fed himself, but not the flock, if he did not seek the conversion of souls, did not travail in birth, if he sought his own ease, his own wealth, his own praise, and not their souls: then shall the loud curses of ruined souls fall on that wretched man; and God shall say, Take the unfaithful servant, and bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness. Oh, believers, it is the duty of ministers to preach with this solemn day in mind! We should stand, like Abraham, looking down on the smoke of Sodom; like John, listening to the new song and golden harps of the New Jerusalem. Would not this take away the fear of man? Would not this make us urgent in our preaching? You must either get these souls into Christ, or you will yet see them lying down in everlasting burnings. Oh, brethren, did I not say truly that the place where a minister stands is the most solemn spot in all this world!
2. The grand business of the faithful minister. Described in two ways: First, Generally: Preach the Word; Second, More in detail: Reprove, rebuke, exhort.
(1) Preach the Word. The grand work of the minister, in which he is to lay out his strength of body and mind, is preaching. Weak and foolish as it may appear, this is the grand instrument which God has put into our hands, by which sinners are to be saved, and saints fitted for glory. It pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe. It was to this our blessed Lord devoted the years of His own ministry. Oh, what an honour has He put upon this work, by preaching in the synagogues, in the temple, and by the blue waves of Galilee, under the canopy of heaven! Has He not consecrated this world as preaching ground? This was the grand work of Paul and all the apostles, for this was our Lord’s command: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel.” Oh, brethren, this is our great work! It is well to visit the sick, and well to educate children and clothe the naked. It is well to attend presbyteries. It is well to write books or read them. But here is the main thing: preach the Word. The pulpit is, as George Herbert says, “our joy and throne.” This is our watch-tower. Here we must warn the people. The silver trumpet is put into our hand. Woe be unto us if we preach not the gospel!
The Matter - The Word. It is in vain we preach, if we preach not the Word, the truth as it is in Jesus.
First, Not other matters. “Ye are My witnesses.” “The same came to bear witness of that light.” We are to speak of nothing but what we have seen and heard from God. It is not the work of the minister to open up schemes of human wisdom or learning, not to bring his own fancies, but to tell the facts and glories of the gospel. We must speak of what is within the word of God.
Second, Preach the Word, the most essential parts especially. If you were with a dying man, and knew he had but half an hour to live, what would you tell him? Would you open up some of the curiosities of the Word, or enforce some of the moral commands of the Word? Would you not tell him his undone condition by nature and by wicked works? Would you not tell him of the love and dying of the Lord Jesus? Would you not tell him of the power of the Holy Spirit? These are the essential things which a man must receive or perish. These are the great subject-matters of preaching. Should we not preach as Jesus did when He went to Emmaus, when He began at Moses and all the prophets, and expounded to them the things concerning Himself? Let there be much of Christ in your ministry, says the excellent Eliot. Rowland Hill used to say, “See there be no sermon without three R’s in it: Ruin by the fall, Righteousness by Christ, and Regeneration by the Spirit.” Preach Christ for awakening, Christ for comforting, Christ for sanctifying. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Third, Preach as the Word. I would humbly suggest for the consideration of all ministers, whether we should not preach more in the manner of God’s word. Is not the Word the sword of the Spirit? Should not our great work be to take it from its scabbard, to cleanse it from all rust, and then to apply its sharp edge to the consciences of man? It is certain the fathers used to preach in this manner. Brown of Haddington used to preach as if he had read no other book than the Bible. It is the truth of God in its naked simplicity that the Spirit will most honour and bless. “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth.”
(2) Reprove, rebuke, exhort. - The first work of the Spirit on the natural heart is to reprove the world of sin. Although He is the Spirit of love, although a dove is His emblem, although He be compared to the soft wind and gentle dew; still His first work is to convince of sin. If ministers are filled with the same Spirit, they will begin in the same way. It is God’s usual method to awaken them, and bring them to despair of salvation by their own righteousness, before He reveals Christ to them. So it was with the jailor. So it was with Paul: he was blind three days. A faithful minister must lay himself out for this. Plough up the fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Men must be brought down by law work to see their guilt and misery, or all our preaching is beating the air. Oh, brethren, is this our ministry? Let us do this plainly. The most, I fear, in all our congregations are sailing easily down the stream into an undone eternity, unconverted and unawakened. Brethren, they will not thank us in eternity for speaking smooth things: for sewing pillows to their arm-holes, and crying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace. No, they may praise us now, but they will curse our flattery in eternity. Oh, for the bowels of Jesus Christ in every minister, that we might long after them all! Exhort. — The original word means to comfort: to speak as the Com¬forter does. This is the second part of the Spirit’s work, to lead to Christ, to speak good news to the soul. This is the most difficult part of the Christian ministry. Thus did John: “Behold the Lamb of God.” Thus did Isaiah: “Comfort ye, comfort ye.” Thus did our Lord command: “Go, preach the gospel to every creature.” It is true this makes the feet of the gospel messenger beautiful on the mountains. He has to tell of a full, free, Divine Saviour.
And here I would observe what appears to me a fault in the preaching of our beloved Scotland. Most ministers are accustomed to set Christ before the people. They lay down the gospel clearly and beautifully, but they do not urge men to enter in. Now God says, Exhort, beseech men, persuade men; not only point to the open door, but compel them to come in. Oh to be more merciful to souls, that we would lay hands on men and draw them in to the Lord Jesus!
3. The manner.
(1) With long-suffering. There is no grace more needed in the Christian ministry than this. This is the heart of God the Father towards sinners: “He is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish.” This is the heart of the Lord Jesus. How tenderly does He cry, “0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I,” etc. This is the mind of the Holy Spirit in striving with men. He will not always strive, but oh, how long He does strive with meal Dear believers, had He not striven long with us, we would this day have been like Lot’s wife, monuments of grace resisted. Now, such ought ministers to be. Above all men, we need “love that suffers long and is kind.” Sometimes, when sinners are obstinate and hard-hearted, we are tempted to give up in despair, or to lose temper and scold them, like the disciples calling down fire from heaven. But, brethren, we must be of another spirit. The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Only be filled with the Spirit of Christ, and it will make us patient toward all. It will make us cry, “How often would I,” etc.
(2) With doctrine. Some good men cry, Flee, flee, without showing the sinner what he is to flee from; and again, they cry, Come, come, without showing plainly the way of pardon and peace. These men act as one would do who should run through the streets crying, Fire, fire, without telling where. In the preaching of the apostles you will observe the clear and simple statement of the truth preceding the warm and pathetic exhortation. This has always been followed by the most judicious and successful divines.
It behooves ministers to unite the cherub and the seraph in their ministry: the angel of knowledge and the angel of burning zeal. If we would win souls, we must point clearly the way to heaven, while we cry, Flee from the wrath to come. I believe we cannot lay down the guilt of man, his total depravity, and the glorious gospel of Christ too clearly; that we cannot urge men to embrace and flee too warmly. Oh for a pastor who unites the deep knowledge of Edwards, the vast statements of Owen, and the vehement appeals of Richard Baxter!
(3) With urgency. If a neighbour’s house were on fire, would we not cry aloud and use every exertion? If a friend were drowning, would we be ashamed to strain every nerve to save him? But alas! the souls of our neighbors are even now on their way to everlasting burnings, - they are ready to be drowned in the depths of perdition. Oh, shall we be less earnest to save their never-dying souls, than we would be to save their bodies? How anxious was the Lord Jesus in this! When He came near and beheld the city, He wept over it. How earnest was Paul! “Remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” Such was George Whitfield; that great man scarcely ever preached without being melted into tears. Brethren, there is need of the same urgency now. Hell is as deep and as burning as ever. Unconverted souls are as surely rushing to it. Christ is as free and par¬don is as sweet as ever! Ah! how we shall be amazed at our coldness when we do get to heaven!
(4) At all times. Our Lord went about continually doing good; He made it His meat and drink. “Daily in the temple.” So should we. Satan is busy at all times; he does not stand upon ceremony; he does not keep himself to Sabbath-days or canonical hours. Death is busy. Men are dying while we are sleeping. About fifty die every minute; nearly one every second entering into an unchangeable world! The Spirit of God is busy. Blessed be God, He hath cast our lot in times when there is the moving of the great Spirit among the dry bones. Shall ministers then be idle, or stand upon ceremony? Oh that God would baptize us this day with the Holy Ghost and with fire, that we might be all changed as into a flame of fire, preaching and building up Christ’s Church till our latest, our dying hour!
My Dear Brother, it is not many years ago since you and I played together as children, and now, by the wonderful providence of God, I have been appointed to preside at your ordination to the office of the holy ministry. Truly His way is in the sea, and His path in the deep waters. Do not think, then, that I mean to assume an authority which I have not. I cannot speak to you as a father, but as a brother beloved in the Lord let me address a few words of counsel to you.
(1) Thank God for putting you into the ministry — “I thank Christ Jesus my Lord for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” “To me, who am less than the least of all saints,” etc. Oh, brother, thank God for saving your soul; for sending His Spirit into your heart, and drawing you to Christ! But this day you have a new cause of thankfulness in being put into the ministry. It is the greatest honour in this world. “Had I a thousand lives, I would willingly spend them in it; and had I a thousand sons, I would gladly devote them to it.” True, it is an awfully responsible office: the eternity of thousands depends on your faithfulness; but ah! the grace is so full, and the reward so glorious. “If,” said the dying Payson, “If ministers only saw the preciousness of Christ, they would not be able to refrain from clapping their hands with joy, and exclaiming, I am a minister of Christ! Jam a minister of Christ!” Do not forget, then, dear brother, amid the broken accents of confession from a broken heart, to pour out a song of thankfulness. Thanks be to God, for my own part, during the few years I have been a minister; I can truly say that I desire no other honour upon earth than to be allowed to preach the everlasting gospel. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.
(2) Seek the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The more anointing of the Holy Spirit you have, the more you will be a happy, holy, and successful minister. You remember the two olive-trees that stood close by the golden candlestick, and emptied the golden oil out of themselves. These represent successful ministers, anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth. The Lord make you like one of them. Remember John the Baptist.- “He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, and many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.” The Lord fill you in like manner, and then you will be a converting minister. Remember the apostles. Before the day of Pentecost they were dry, sapless trees, - they had little fruit; but when the Spirit came on them like a mighty rushing wind, then three thousand people were pricked to the heart.
Oh, brother, plead with God to fill you with the Spirit, that you may stand in His counsel, and cause the people to hear His words, and turn many from the evil of their ways. You know that a heated iron, though blunt, can pierce its way ever where a much sharper instrument, if cold, could not enter. Pray that you may be filled with the fire of the Spirit, that you may pierce into the hard hearts of unconverted sinners.
(3) Do not rest without success in your ministry. Success is the rule under a living ministry; want of success is the exception. “The want of ministerial success,” says Robinson, “is a tremendous circumstance never to be contemplated without horror.” Your people will be of two kinds:
First, The Lord’s people, those who are already in Christ, seek for success among them. He gave some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints. Never forget Christ’s words: “Feed My sheep, feed My lambs.” Be like Barnabas, a son of consolation. Exhort them to cleave to the Lord. Do not say, “They are safe, and I will let them alone.” This is a great mistake. See how Paul laid out his strength in confirming the dis¬ciples. Be a helper of their joy. Do not rest till you get them to live under the pure, holy rules of the gospel.
Second, The great mass you will find to be unconverted. Go, brother, leaving the ninety-nine, go after the one sheep that was lost. Leave your home, your comforts, your bed, your ease, your all, to feed lost souls. The Lord of glory left heaven for this; it is enough for the disciple to be as his Master. It is said of Alleine, that “He was infinitely and insatiably greedy for the conversion of souls.” Rutherford wrote to his dear people, “My Witness is above, that your heaven would be two heavens to me, and the salvation of you all as two salvations to me.” The Lord give you this heavenly compassion for this people. Do not be satisfied without conversion. You will often find that there is a shaking among the dry bones, a coming together bone to his bone, skin and flesh come upon them, but no breath in them. Oh, brother, cry for the breath of heaven! Remember a moral sinner will lie down in the same hell with the vilest.
(4) Lead a holy life. I believe, brother, that you are born from above, and therefore I have confidence in God touching you, that you will be kept from the evil. But oh, study universal holiness of life! Your whole usefulness depends on this. Your sermon on Sabbath lasts but an hour or two; your life preaches all the week. Remember, ministers are standard-bearers. Satan aims his fiery darts at them. If he can only make you a covetous minister, or a lover of pleasure, or a lover of praise, or a lover of good eating, then he has ruined your ministry for ever. Ah! let him preach on fifty years, he will never do me any harm. Dear brother, cast yourself at the feet of Christ, implore His Spirit to make you a holy man. Take heed to thyself, and thy doctrine.
(5) Last of all, be a man of prayer. Give yourself to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word. If you do not pray, God will probably lay you aside from your ministry, as He did me, to teach you to pray. Remember Luther’s maxim, “Bene orâsse est bene studuisse.” Get your texts from God, your thoughts, your words, from God. Carry the names of the little flock upon your breast, like the High Priest; wrestle for the unconverted. Luther spent his three best hours of the day in prayer. John Welch prayed seven or eight hours a day. He used to keep a plaid on his bed, that he might wrap himself in it when he rose during night. Sometimes his wife found him on the ground lying weeping. When she complained, he would say, “Oh, woman, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I know not how it is with many of them!” Oh that God would pour down this spirit of prayer on you and me, and all the ministers of our beloved Church, and then we shall see better days in Scotland. I commend you to God, etc.
Dear Brethen: I trust that this is to be the beginning of many happy days to you in this place. Gifts in answer to prayer are al¬ways the sweetest. I believe your dear pastor has been given you in answer to prayer, for I do not think your wonderful unanimity can be accounted for in any other way.
(1) Love your pastor. So far as I know him, he is worthy of your love. I believe he is one to whom the Lord has been very merciful, that God has already owned his labours, and I trust will a thousand times more. Esteem him very highly in love for his work’s sake. You little know the anxieties, temptation, pains and wrestlings, he will be called on to bear for you. Few people know the deep wells of anxiety in the bosom of a faithful pastor. Love and reverence him much. Do not make an idol of him; that will destroy his usefulness. It was said of the Erskines, the men could not see Christ over their heads. Remember, look beyond him and above him. Those that would have worshipped Paul were the people who stoned him. Do not stumble at his infirmities. There are spots upon the sun and infirmities in the best of men. Cover them, do not stumble at them. Would you refuse gold because it was brought you in a ragged purse? Would you refuse pure water because it came in a chipped bowl. The treasure is in an earthen vessel.
(2) Make use of your pastor. He has come with good news from a far country. Come and hear.
First, Wait patiently on his ministry. He does not come in his own name. The Lord is with him. If you refuse him, you will refuse Christ; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.
Second, Welcome him into your houses. He is coming, like his Master, to seek that which was lost, and to bind up that which is broken; to strengthen that which was sick, and to bring again that which was driven away. You all have need of him, whether converted or not. Remember there is an awful curse against those who receive not gospel messages. He will shake the dust off his feet against you, and that dust will rise against you in judgement.
Third, Do not trouble him about worldly matters. His grand concern is to get your soul saved. He is not a man of business but a man of prayer. He has given himself to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.
Fourth, Go freely to him about your souls. “The minister’s house was more thronged than ever the tavern had wont to be.” These were happy days. There is no trade I would like to see broken in this place but that of the taverners. It is a soul-destroying trade. I would like to see the taverns emptied, and the minister’s house thronged. Do not hesitate to go to him. It is your duty and your privilege. It is your duty. It will encourage him, and show him how to preach to your souls. It is your privilege. I have known many who got more light from a short conversation than from many sermons.
Fifth, Be brief. Tell your case. Hear his word and be gone. Remember his body is weak, and his time precious. You are stealing his time from others or from God. I cannot tell you what a blessing it will be if you will be very short in your calls. The talk of the lips tendeth to penury.
(3) God’s children, pray for him. Pray for his body, that he may be kept strong, and spared for many years. Pray for his soul, that he may be kept humble and holy, a burning and a shining light, that he may grow. Pray for his ministry, that it may be abundantly blessed, and that he may be anointed to preach good tidings. Let there be no secret prayer without naming him before your God and no family prayer without carrying your pastor in your hearts to God. Hold up his hands so that Israel will prevail against Amalek.
(4) Unconverted souls, prize this opportunity. I look on this ordination as a smile of Heaven upon you. God might have taken away ministers from this town instead of giving us more. I believe the Lord Jesus is saying, “I have much people in this city.” The door is begun to be opened this day. The Spirit is beginning to shine. Oh that you would know the day of your visitation! This is the market-day of grace beginning in this end of the town, and you should all come to buy. Oh that you knew the day of your visitation! Some, I fear, will be the worse for this ministry and not the better. The election will be saved and the rest be blinded. Some will yet wish they had died before this church was opened. Be sure, dear souls, that you will either be saved, or more lost, by this ministry. Your pastor comes with the silver trumpet of mercy. Why will ye turn it into the trumpet of judgment? He comes with glad tidings of great joy. Why should you turn them into sad tidings of endless woe? He comes to preach the acceptable day of the Lord. Why will ye turn it into the day of vengeance of our God?
16th December 1840.
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