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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