Cotton Mather: Directions For A Candidate Of The Ministry

This month I celebrated my 34th birthday. My in-laws gave me four books for my birthday. They have been tremendous blessings already!

The first of the four that I read was Cotton Mather’s Directions For A Candidate of the Ministry, edited by Nate Pickowicz.

The first time I ever heard this book mentioned was in a message by John MacArthur on 1 Timothy. He quotes, at length, part of the introduction to the book written by John Ryland. The quote changed my perspective on the gloriousness of the pastoral ministry and the remarkable privilege God has given pastors all over the world.

Ryland describes the wonders when he writes,

“The office of the Christian Ministry, rightly understood, is he most honorable and important that nay man in the whole world can 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!” (Mather, 23)

Brother pastors, do you feel the enormous weight that falls upon our shoulders? Have you considered the remarkable wonder that God called us, sinful though we are, to be His spokesmen?

Not only is the calling remarkable, but the work of the pastor is unrivaled. Ryland continues,

“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 colors, and to 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.” (Mather, 23-24)

When MacArthur read this quote, I was weeping. That God should call me to such a high and lofty office is beyond my ability to comprehend. Were it not for His salvation and sanctification, I would immediately run from the task. Yet, I was compelled to read more of Cotton Mather’s work. If the introduction to the book is this profound and soul-stirring, what would the rest do?

I began searching for the work and came up disappointed. I had failed through numerous searches. I gave up. Through the course of events I began receiving a catalog from Reformation and Heritage Books. In that magazine I saw many books that I would love to digest. One thing led to another, and I eventually found Mather’s book! I could not believe it. So, when my mother-in-law asked for birthday ideas, I immediately passed this along.

The book exceeded all my expectations. It would be an exaggeration to say every page was gold, but it would not be too far off to say that at least every other page is gold.

I do not want to offer a full review, but I do want to highlight a few of the points that stirred my affections for God and excited my heart for the work.

Cotton’s second chapter is titled, “The True End of Life.” The true end of life, as biblically stated, is to glorify God. I have read a dozen books or so on ministry, and few if any begin with the glory of God.[1] Mather’s work builds off the wonderful privilege of human beings to glorify their Creator. He prays,

“May my life be such a continual homage to the Glorious GOD, as He may through His Christ look down with delight upon.” (Mather, 42)

He offers several questions with which the minister may poke and prod his own heart and soul on pages 48-51. I am to glorify God in my reading, my exegetical work, my prayers, my visits, etc. There is nothing more essential to do than to glorify God. It is, as the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “the whole duty of man.”

The rest of the book builds from this theological foundation, offering practical advice on reading, studying, language acquisition and retention, how to read Scripture, how to read works of theology, personal health and well being, and even general rules with which to govern one’s life.

I recommend this book heartily. As of yet, it is one of the most profound works on the office of the minister that I have read. Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor is on the same field in terms of sheer brilliance and digestibility. If you are a minister, purchase this gem and live it out. If you know of a pastor, buy this book for them. It will be a blessing to their soul, and will only provide you richer foods upon which you will eagerly dine.

No matter what you do, may God be glorified!

[1] One exception would be John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. The second chapter addresses God’s glory.

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Jonathan Edwards and Preaching

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I recently finished reading The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards, by John Carrick. Edwards is by far my favorite preacher. I feel a connection with him through his writings and sermons. When I read one of his sermons, my heart is ushered into the presence of God in sweet and delightful communion. I think that is the main reason I admire the gifted Northampton preacher.

I found one aspect of the book particularly helpful: Edwards’ delivery. Carrick addresses various aspects of the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, from introductions to conclusions and everything in between. His treatment of Edwards’ delivery was a special blessing and encouragement to my soul. I share this with the hope that it may prove helpful and encouraging to someone else.

After spending several pages debunking the myth that Edwards was a boring preacher (pages 409-421), Carrick addresses the views of others on Edwards’ preaching. One gentlemen, a Dr. West of Stockbridge, is reported as answering Sereno Dwight’s question regarding the preaching of Jonathan Edwards with the following words:

               “But, if you mean by eloquence, the power of presenting an important truth before an audience, with overwhelming weight of argument, and with such intenseness of feeling, that the whole soul of the speaker is thrown into every part of the conception and delivery; so that the solemn attention of the whole audience is riveted, from the beginning to the close, and impressions are left that cannot be effaced; Mr Edwards was the most eloquent man I ever heard speak.”[1]

As a younger preacher, I found great encouragement in these words. In the midst of preachers like John Piper, R C Sproul, and David Platt, how in the world could I ever preach like them? My gifts are not like theirs. So, in my focus of other preachers I can easily become discouraged. Paul warns against this type of comparison (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 and 2 Corinthians 10:12). I found encouragement, because Jonathan Edwards may not have been the most boisterous preacher of his day (think of the fact that George Whitefield was a contemporary!). Yet, he was still a powerful preacher.

May God encourage our hearts, as we exercise and develop our gifts, to be preachers who faithfully preach the Word of Life.

[1] As quoted from Works, cxc in John Carrick, The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 429.

You can access Yale’s online edition of the works of Jonathan Edwards for free, here.

Guided by Gurnall: Part Four

It has been over four months since my last post concerning Gurnall’s exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20. These last few months have been packed, with an increased workload at church and the addition of a little baby, I have had my hands full!

Today I was afforded a little time during my lunch hour to pick up Gurnall’s gargantuan book (it is 600 pages!). William Gurnall is discussing the phrase, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” He is commenting on the saints’ use of this doctrine for practical life. His first use is, “Is the almighty power of God engaged for the saints’ defence [sic]?” (Gurnall, 33) His last comment is worth repeating, and more than that, worth your meditation.

God so loves his saints, that he makes nothing to give whole nations for their ransom. He ripped open the very womb of Egypt, to save the life of Israel his child, Is. xliii. 3. (Gurnall, 34)

What an incredible thought! More than this, however, is the glorious truth that God sent His only Son (see John 3:16 and 1 John 4:9). Having a son of my own, I cannot imagine trading his life for the life of anyone. More than this, God gave His Son for us, while we were sinners (Romans 5:8). That is, we were actively rebelling against God when His grace saved us (see Ephesians 2:1-3, 4-8).

This almighty power, then, is a gift of God to be used for our spiritual warfare. Think about that today!

 

 

For more from this series, see:

 

Guided by Gurnall: Introduction

Guided by Gurnall: Part One

Guided by Gurnall: Part Two

Guided by Gurnall: Part Three

“Principles for Lyrics”

I’ve been working my way through The Pastor’s Book, and I am currently in the section addressing music. In the chapter ‘Hymns and Songs,’ Douglas Sean O’Donnell offers four principles for the selection of lyrics. I found them very helpful, and so I am passing them along:

  1. Our lyrics should reflect God’s lyrics
  2. Our lyrics should edify others and exalt God
  3. Our lyrics should raise religious affections, not ridiculous emotionalism
  4. Our lyrics should be theologically comprehensive and balanced

From R Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry, published by Crossway.

God’s Decree and the Westminster Divines

Some times brevity can be an incredible tool. I am not a brief person. I usually find myself apologizing for speaking too long, writing too much, and for exceeding the normal ramifications for conversation.

I keep a small copy of The Westminster Confession of Faith in my car to read during times when I did not bring another book.

Chapter three addresses Of God’s Eternal Decree. The Westminster divines wrote,

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

This is a profoundly brief and theologically accurate statement. It is weighty. It is worth your time of meditation. Our God is sovereign. What a comforting thought! What a spring of refreshment for our parched souls! Delve into the depth of the wonders of God’s sovereignty. Look at current events as tools in the hands of the Master. Marvel at the mysteries of grace.

Guided by Gurnall: Part Three

I wanted to share a few gems in my reading of Gurnall. In this section, Gurnall is working through the doctrine that we should “strongly believe that this almighty power of God is theirs, that is, [is] engaged for their defence and help, so as to make use of it in all straits and temptations.” (Gurnall, 28) It is based on the verse, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10, KJV)

Enjoy these challenging thoughts:

“This goodly fabric of heaven and earth had not been built, but as a stage whereon he would in time act what he decreed in heaven of old, concerning the saving of thee, and a few more of his elect.” (Gurnall, 29)

I love the phrase “this goodly fabric of heaven and earth” and how Gurnall uses it as a display to the magnificent grace of God in salvation.

Here’s another one:

He that was willing to expend his Son’s blood to gain them, will not deny his power to keep them. (Gurnall, 29)

Perhaps you are struggling with assurance. You may be battling temptation after temptation, wondering how a Christian could struggle so mightily with such wickedness. Yet, if you have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ then you are securely kept by the blood of Jesus Christ. Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.

The final quote is a prayer offered to God. Use it to draw your heart closer to the glorious God:

“How much less will God yield up a soul unto its enemy when it takes sanctuary in his name, saying, ‘Lord, I am hunted with such a temptation, dogged with such a lust, either thou must pardon it, or I am damned; mortify it, or I shall be a slave to it; take me into the bosom of thy love, for Christ’s sake; castle me in the arms of thy everlasting strength, it is in thy power to save me from, or give me up into, the hands of my enemy. I have no confidence in myself or any other: into they hands I commit my cause, my life, and rely on thee.'” (Gurnall, 30)

“Conscience”: A Review

I recently attended a Pastors’ Conference at Virginia Beach Theological Seminary. This is the second conference I have attended, and I have thoroughly enjoyed both times. The faculty and staff are sweet people. They are focused on the right preaching and teaching of the Word of God.

In addition to hosting guests who are gifted (Heath Lambert at the first conference; Dave Doran and J. D. Crowley at the second), the seminary offers a free gift to a certain number of guests. The gift for this conference was Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley’s Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ, published by Crossway.

The book is divided into 7 chapters:

  1. What is Conscience?
  2. How Do We Define Conscience from the New Testament?
  3. What Should You Do When Your conscience Condemns You?
  4. How Should You Calibrate Your Conscience?
  5. How Should You Relate to Fellow Christians When Your Consciences Disagree?
  6. How Should You Relate to People in Other Cultures When Your Consciences Disagree?
  7. A Closing Prayer

The book is relatively short (149 pages, which includes two appendices).  However, its brevity does not demean its treatment of the subject.

I will admit, I was not altogether eager to read this book. Sure, the title sounded interesting, but it’s not a textual criticism book, or commentary. However, one page in and I was extremely thankful to have received this book.

As a student pastor, I interact with students and families with a wide range of consciences. This book has been a tremendous help in changing the way I view my own conscience and that of others. Pastors, you will be helped by digesting this work.

The strength of the work lies in its focus on Scripture. Every chapter (with the exception of the chapter on prayer) quotes Scripture. Thus, Naselli and Crowley anchor their work in the safety and security of Sacred Scripture. More than this, they provide a biblical treatment (at least from the New Testament) of conscience. They walk through each verse that addresses the conscience and then extrapolates its meaning and usage. Additionally, they treat both the positive and negative aspects of the conscience and what it does. Finally, they end the chapter (chapter two) with several conclusions, based on Scripture, which form the framework for the remainder of the book.

They spend the next few chapters covering how one’s conscience affects oneself, how to tune one’s conscience with God’s Will, and then how to handle disagreements between one’s own church members and members of different cultures.

I want to end with how I think this could benefit the church.

  1. For the conservative (possibly fundamentalist) Christian:

    This book can help you understand the Scriptures better. It will help bring certain passages to your mind, and should you be open to the teachings of the Sacred Text, your knowledge of how our consciences work and what is a matter of conscience and what is unbiblical. Specifically, I recommend chapters four and five. Even if it does not change your convictions (which, if they change, were they truly convictions?), it will help understand the struggles between the strong and the weak brothers found in Romans chapter 14. Thus, you will be better equipped to shepherd those who are both strong and weak in the faith.

  2. For the liberal (possibly antinomianism) Christian:

    Freedom seems to be the word summarizing evangelicals today. Is alcoholic consumption wrong? We are free. Can we listen to secular music? We are free.

    Of course, this is an oversimplified. However, the desire for freedom (which is quite biblical, and its abuse unbiblical) should never outweigh the spiritual growth of a fellow believer. Conscience implores the strong (which, contextually is the freer of the two) to consider the weak and limit freedom for their spiritual growth.

    This book will help anchor the discussion of freedom in the body of Christ. Our goal, whether weak or strong, is God’s glory and our good.

 

Brothers and sisters, read and meditate on this work and the Scriptures referenced, and you will be better equipped to handle: 1) your own conscience, 2) interacting with other consciences, 3) avoid conflict by limiting freedom for the sake of Christ.

Tolle lege!