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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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

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)

Guided by Gurnall: Part Two

It has been a while since last we visited Gurnall’s exposition on Ephesians 6:10-20.

You can check out the previous posts here and here.

We pick up in verse ten, where Paul writes, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”

We are now on page 25 of Gurnall’s work, and an incredible thought came from his pen. He is working with “An amplification of the direction, ‘and in the power of his might’”. (Gurnall, 24) His goal is to present several doctrinal implications and their respective outflow in the life of the believer. It is wonderful. In his exposition, however, he develops an idea that I shall reproduce in its entirety:

As a father in rugged way gives his child his arm to lay old by, so doth God usually reach forth his almighty power for his saints to exercise their faith on, [as He did for] Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose faith God tried above most of his saints before or since, for not one of those great things which were promised to them did they live to see performed in their days. And how doth God make known himself to them for their support, but by displaying this attribute? ‘I appeared unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by the name of God Almighty,’ Ex. vi. 3.This was all they had to keep house with all their days: with which they lived comfortably, and died triumphantly, bequeathing the promise to their children, not doubting, because God Almighty had promised, of the performance. (Gurnall, 25)

Whoa! I suggest you read and reread that again. Though the language is archaic, its point is nonetheless potent. These men lived incredible lives of faith on the Word of God. How wonderfully limited this Word was! And yet, the faith was not in the amount or clarity of words, but in the One Who is the Word. I was gripped by two thoughts:

  1. If these men were able to accept the revelation given by God, though limited in comparison to today, how can I speak otherwise.By this I mean, how can I question God with the vast amount of revelation we have in the Scriptures? Though by human nature I may seek more knowledge, greater clarification, or understanding to God’s work in the world, this should never leave me frustrated or angry with God. I must rejoice in the vast amount of revelation that I so often take for granted.
  2. Secondly, do I enjoy the blessings of God more than the God of the blessings? I think this happens to everyone. It is easy to enjoy the creaturely blessings with which God blesses us. While working through Gurnall’s work I have also been reading Ephesians almost daily. The opening paragraph speaks of the spiritual blessings believers have in Christ. Paul, however, opens with the focus on God. He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:3, ESV) God, let my focus remain on You and You alone!

I close with the words of a prayer titled Longings After God, from Banner of Truth’s Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.

My Dear Lord,

I can but tell thee that thou knowest

               I long for nothing by thyself

               Nothing but holiness

               Nothing but union with thy will.

Thou has given me these desires,

               And thou alone canst give me the thing desired.

My soul longs for communion with thee,

               For mortification of indwelling corruption,

                              Especially spiritual pride.

How precious it is

               To have a tender sense and clear apprehension

                              Of the mystery of godliness,

                              Of true holiness!

What a blessedness to be like thee

               As much as it is possible for a creature to be like its creator!

Lord, give me more of thy likeness;

Enlarge my soul to contain fullness of holiness:

Engage me to live more for thee.

Help me to be less pleased with my spiritual experiences,

               And when I feel at ease after sweet communings,

               Teach me it is far too little I know and do.

Blessed Lord,

               Let me climb up near to thee,

               And love, and long, and plead, and wrestle with them

               And pant for deliverance from the body of sin,

               For my heart is wandering and lifeless,

               And my soul mourns to think

                              It should ever lose sight of its beloved.

Wrap my life in divine love,

               And keep me ever desiring thee,

Always humble and resigned to thy will,

               More fixed on thyself,

               That I may be more fitted for doing and suffering.

 

Guided by Gurnall: Part One

We continue our guided tour through Ephesians 6:10-20 with William Gurnall. I have been blessed, encouraged, and convicted by Gurnall’s exposition. I’m only 17 pages in!

William Gurnall wrote this about Jesus, encouraging believers to “be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.”

“For prowess, none to compare with him: he never turned his head from danger: no, not when hell’s malice and heaven’s justice appeared in field against him; knowing all that should come upon him, [he] went forth and said, ‘Whom seek ye?’ Jn. xviii. 4. For success insuperable: he never lost battle even when he lost his life: he won the field, carrying the spoils thereof in the triumphant chariot of his ascension, to heaven with him: where he makes an open show of them to the unspeakable joy of saints and angels.” (16-17)

These are so powerful! I especially love, “when hell’s malice and heaven’s justice appeared in field against him; knowing all that should come upon him, [he] went forth and said, ‘Whom seek ye?’ Jn. xviii. 4.” Our Savior, the Captain of our faith (Hebrews 2:10), is truly the Mighty God.

Guided by Gurnall: Introduction

This initial post will be an ongoing project as I work my way through William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour, published by Banner of Truth.

This series of sermons comes from Ephesians 6:10-20.

In one of his dedications he writes, “The subject of the treatise is solemn; A War between the Saint and Satan, and that so bloody a one, that the cruelest which was ever fought by men will be found but sport and child’s play to this. It is a spiritual war that you shall read of; and that not a history of what was fought many ages past and is now over, but of what is now doing—the tragedy is at present acting—and that not at the furthest end of the world, but what concerns thee and every one that reads it. The stage whereon this war is fought is every man’s own soul. Here is no neuter in this war. The whole world is engaged in the quarrel, either for God against Satan, or for Satan against God.” (emphasis his, Gurnall, v)

With these solemn, weighty words, I was eager to engage! What depths of the Scriptures has Gurnall dove that will draw strength for me in this war? It only took a few pages into the very first verse (Ephesians 6:10) before Gurnall began to tune my heart to the power of God’s Word.

For this first guide, I shall take Gurnall’s first point, namely “The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sins which have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet.” (emphasis his, Gurnall, 13)

He goes on to write, “So David, ‘I have kept myself from iniquity.’ Now what courage and resolution does this require?” (Gurnall, 13) He then uses Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac as unable to equal the power our “bosom sins” hold over us, how desperate and difficult the task truly is. He passionately cries, “Yet, what was that to this? Soul, take thy lust, thy only list, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused most joy and laughed, from which thou hast promised thyself the greatest return of pleasure or profit; as ever thou lookest to see my face with comfort, lay hands on it and offer it up: pour out the blood of it before me; run the sacrificing knife of mortification into the very heart of it; and this freely, joyfully, for it is no pleasing sacrifice that is offered with a countenance cast down—and all this now before thou hast one embrace more from it. Truly this is a hard chapter, flesh and blood cannot bear this saying; our lust will not lie so patiently on the altar, as Isaac, or as a ‘Lamb that is brought to the slaughter which was dumb,’ but will roar and shriek; yea, even shake and rend the heart with its hideous outcries.” (Gurnall, 13)

Paul opens this section of the Christian and the war by encouraging, “Finally, be strong in the Lord…” (Ephesians 6:10, ESV) Gurnall’s exhortation is drawn from this one verse. Actually, it is the idea found in “be strong”. He denotes this doctrine as “The Christian of all men needs courage and resolution.”

I sat in my living room floor floored. I have read that verse dozens of times, and never has its power and implications hit me as hard as when exposited by this Puritan preacher.

Have you seen the seriousness of the battle at hand? Do you see the need for courage in God for this fight? Do you see how vicious, destruction, and unrelenting the enemy of sin is to your soul? I have not felt the weight of it until now. And lest you leave this initial post discouraged at how great the battle is and how malevolent our inner-enemy is, remember from Whom our strength comes: it is the God who, when He speaks, things happen (Genesis 1:3), it is the God at whose presence the whole earth trembles (Psalm 33:8; 114:7), it is the God who made an open show of our dastardly enemies (Colossians 2:15). Take courage, be strong in the Lord, and fight!

John Owen famously preached, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” (On the Mortification of Sin) Brothers and sisters, let us be killing sin.

How to Sanctify God: Practical Progress from the Puritans, Part Three

How do we sanctify God? We have been looking at this thought, brought from the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9. Thomas Manton, a Puritan preacher, has walked us through very practical ways in which we can sanctify God. We have noticed how God is sanctified upon us in judgment and by us in our lives. We can sanctify God in thoughts, words, and actions. (Manton, 86) We have examined how to sanctify God in thoughts and words, and now we will look at how to sanctify God in our actions.

Manton begins by dividing our actions into two things: worship and ordinary conversation (or lifestyle).

Sanctifying God in Worship

Manton writes, “In our worship, there God especially will be sanctified.” (Manton, 87) He goes on to write, “God is very tender of his worship: sancta sanctis, holy things must be managed by holy men in a holy manner. Therefore, what is it to sanctify God when we draw night to him? To have a more excellent frame of heart in worship than we have about other things.”

When we worship God, we must remember Who we are worshiping. Manton cites Ecclesiastes 5:1. Feel the reverence and seriousness of this verse, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” We would do well to consider the seriousness of worship. I am slowly (very slowly) working my way through R. Kent Hughes and Douglas Sean O’Donnell’s The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry. The very first chapter addresses Sunday worship. In the chapter, specifically pages 32-38 provide a walkthrough of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 in which they address the seriousness of worship.

Manton ends the section with these weighty words, “We must not go about these holy services hand over head, but with great caution and heed.” (Manton, 87)

Sanctifying God in Ordinary Conversation

Our lives can either sanctify God or dilute His good Name. Manton quips that to sanctify God is, “When our life is ordered so that we may give men occasion to say, that surely he is a holy God whom we serve.” (Manton, 87) This, according to Manton, can be accomplished two ways:

  1. “When you walk as remembering you have a holy God.” (Manton, 87) We should build our lives around the truth that God is holy. The Wesminster Confession of Faith describes God as, “…most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands.” (WCF 2.2) In another point Manton observes that God’s holiness “…is that which God counteth to be his chief excellency, and the glory which he will manifest among the sons of men.” (Manton, 88) God is, according to the angels, holy, holy, holy (see Isaiah 6:3). When we remember that God is holy, our lives will be different. We will seek to be like our holy God in our speech (Ephesians 4:29) and in our interactions with each other (Ephesians 5:1-6:9). Manton, bridging off this idea, comments, “Therefore you must be watchful and strict.” (Manton, 87)
  2. “When you walk as discovering to others you have a holy God.” (Manton, 87) This is a wordy way of saying practice what you preach. One of the greatest hindrances to the Christian faith is hypocrisy. If you want some proof of this, check our Barna’s research on this. Manton notes the issues surrounding this, “A carnal worshipper profaneth the memory of God in the world.” (Manton, 88) One of the dangers of living a life rightly structured is human moralism. Not unaware of this, Manton warns, “We should discover (or make known) more than a human excellency, that so those which look upon us may say, These are the servants of the holy God.” (Manton, 88) When Christians sanctify God in action they “discovereth what a God he hath.” (Manton, 88)

So, Christian, are you sanctifying God? We have noted three ways in which we can sanctify God: in thought, speech, and action. Let every aspect of our being sanctify God!