Tag Archives: Faithfulness

“He taught and exemplified for me the grace of God in the gospel of Christ” by Sinclair Ferguson

“’Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen in Israel this day?’ (2 Samuel 3:38)

David’s poignant words on the death of Abner will have come instinctively to the minds of many Christians throughout the world on hearing of the death, on 30 July 1997, of William Still, minister of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen.

Ill-health in the last two years had increasingly limited Mr. Still’s ministry to preaching on Sundays, and on 8 May 1997, the date of his eighty-sixth birthday, he demitted the pastoral church of the congregation he had served with unstinting devotion for fifty-two years.

The fruit of his ministry in the university city of Aberdeen has spread, both in personal influence and in prayer, to the ends of the earth in the multitude of spiritual sons and daughters who constitute his true children (he remained single throughout his life).

His example of biblical ministry has been a beacon to guide and encourage countless gospel ministers; his deep pastoral love for his own congregation, his commitment to shaping a truly Christian fellowship, his investment of profound personal care and prayer in the lives of countless people– students who sat under his ministry while at college, as well as many others– and, in addition, the penetrating insights of his writings– these constitute his spiritual legacy.

Mr. Still believed that, in some senses, his one lengthly ministry was really several ministries. Certainly it passed through various stages. In the post-war years there were bright and busy evangelistic meetings with large numbers of converts ‘falling into the Lord’s hands like plums,’ as he put it.

Then came the first revolution: he ‘stumbled’ on expository preaching as on successive Sundays he found himself, as if by accident, preaching consecutively through a portion of Romans. As he began to see the effect of such preaching he sensed that here was a wiser, richer, more fruitful and more lasting way in which true Christian character would be built; now he must go deeper.

The extravagances came to an end; extensive corporate prayer on Saturday nights became the order of the day– and would remain so throughout the years. The apostolic model: ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4) became the staple diet of congregational life.

He continued to find the light of Scripture breaking into and reshaping his thinking– and as he did so, he drew the congregation through the experience with him!– until his theology became increasingly moulded by Scripture and distinctively Reformed in character.

He preached (and wrote) his way through the entire Bible several times. And it is doubtful if any living minister has so lovingly and enthusiastically read the chapters of the Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith to his congregation the way Mr. Still frequently did.

Certainly few others will have read with such enthusiasm so much of John Owen’s writings (as well as portions of John Murray’s commentary on Romans) to the teenagers and students who at various times and in different places sat under his ministry!

In this covenant theology Mr. Still found a doctrinal resting-place and focus for his growing convictions on the nature of the life of the church.

Those who knew Mr. Still well personally will recognize that these paragraphs do not begin adequately to express the many-sidedness of his life and work, or what it was like actually to sit under his ministry and to be cared for and pastored by him.

Perhaps, therefore, a few words of a more personal nature may be added without intruding into this brief tribute.

I first came to hear Mr. Still preach when I was seventeen. For three decades thereafter he taught and exemplified for me the grace of God in the gospel of Christ and, for all the age gap, made me his friend.

He invested loving care, prayer and time in my life in a manner and to a depth which would be impossible to describe. He was, at various times, counsellor, encourager, comforter and cautioner.

He cared for and loved my family; he sorrowed with us in our griefs and rejoiced in our joys; he seemed to take more delight than we ourselves did in any hint of fruitfulness, success or honour we experienced.

And he always sought to think the best of us.

Perhaps the most touching thing of all for me personally was to witness the way his being seemed to melt with a mixture of humble incredulity and thankful gratitude to the Lord whenever we tried to express to him what his life and ministry had meant to us.

What was especially remarkable about all this is how the same quality of love could have been showered on so many others.

Yet it was; we knew it, as did they. It would grieve him, I know, if I did not immediately add that this was all of grace. But it was also very evidently of grace.

He had clearly learned from the Lord Jesus how to love many with the same love which was simultaneously completely individualised.

Perhaps I can say nothing more telling about Mr. Still than that since his death every time I have thought of how he now contemplates the face of the Lord Jesus Christ a further thought has immediately and instinctively followed: How glorious that Saviour must be who can and does recreate His grace so lovingly in such frail humanity!

William Still was a burning and a shining light. Those who knew him best will inevitably feel that they will not see his like again, and sense an unrepayable debt for the privilege of receiving his ministry and the Christ-centred affection of his pastoral care.

He walked with God and has entered into his rest in the Saviour whom he trusted and loved; his works will follow him.

He was, indeed, a prince and a great man (2 Samuel 3:38).”

–Sinclair Ferguson, “William Still (1911-1997), Minister of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen, 1945-1997,” The Banner of Truth Magazine, No. 409 (Oct. 1997): 6-10.

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“A constant unvaried ministry of love” by Islay Burns

“The simple annals of a country pastor’s daily life are uniform and uneventful, and afford little scope for the biographer’s pencil. Interesting and precious as any work done on earth in Heaven’s eyes, it is the obscurest possible in the world’s regard.

Angels look down upon it; busy, eager, bustling men heed it not. A calm routine of lowly, though sacred duties, a constant unvaried ministry of love, it flows on in a still and quiet stream, arresting no attention by its noise, and known alone to the lowly homes it visits on its way, and the flowers and the fields it waters.

The young pastor of Dun was no exception to this.

He preached the Word.

He dispensed the sacred Supper.

He warned the careless.

He comforted the sorrowing.

He baptized little children.

He blessed the union of young and loving hearts.

He visited the sick and the dying.

He buried the dead.

He pressed the hand, and whispered words of peace into the ear of mourners.

He carried to the poor widow and friendless orphan the charity of the Church and his own.

He slipt in softly into some happy home and gently broke the sad news of the sudden disaster far away.

He lifted up the fallen one from the ground.

And he pointed to Him who receiveth the publicans and the sinners.

These things and such as these, he did in that little home-walk for twenty successive years day by day; but that was all.

There is much here for the records of the sky, but nothing, or next to nothing, for the noisy annals of time.

Such as the work was, however, he did it, as all who knew him witnessed, faithfully and well, with a calm, serious, conscientious, cheerful, loving diligence that was the fruit of faith and prayer; always at his work, and always happy in it, and desiring nothing better or higher on earth.”

–Islay Burns, The Pastor of Kilsyth: The Life and Times of W.H. Burns (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1860/2019), 43-44.

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“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever, was the sum and substance of his preaching” by Islay Burns

“In calling to remembrance, brethren, the former days, you cannot fail, as a congregation, to cherish the most profound and affectionate reverence of the memory of your departed pastor.

During a ministry extended considerably beyond the ordinary allotments of Providence, nearly forty years of which he laboured among you with all good fidelity in every department of pastoral duty, how weighty are the responsibilities under which you are placed for his invaluable services!

Of those services, it is hardly possible to form an exaggerated estimate. With talents of a decidedly superior order, literary and theological acquirements alike accurate and varied, depth and tenderness of spirit in addressing all classes of hearers, and pre-eminently distinguished by the Spirit of grace and of supplication—our beloved and lamented father was truly a master in Israel.

In season and out of season, when he had long passed the ordinary term of ministerial service, that aged disciple was ever found on the watchtowers of Zion. ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever,’ was the sum and substance of his preaching.

He loved to dwell on the glory of His person, the perfection of His righteousness, the merit of His atoning sacrifice, and the prevalence of His intercession. His speech and his preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

Most faithfully, earnestly, and affectionately did he expound the doctrines, enforce the precepts, announce the terrors, and press home the exceeding great and precious promises of the word of life. He shunned not to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

As a scribe, instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, your late revered pastor brought forth out of his treasure things new and old, adapted alike to the conversion of the ungodly, and to the edification and comfort of the children of God.

His theology was that of the good olden school of our Scottish forefathers, the Erskines, Fishers, and Bostons, of the last century, those men, mighty in the Scriptures, whose names are identified with all that is sound in doctrine, and powerful in appeals to the conscience and the heart.

His trumpet never gave an uncertain sound, but sent forth its voice not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth. To how many in this congregation and neighbourhood, and in other places which occasionally enjoyed his ministrations, he was the savour of life unto life? He only knows unto whom all things are naked and opened. The day will declare it.

Those seasons of spiritual revival with which this is parish with signally blessed bore testimony to the seal which is Divine Master was pleased to affix to his servant’s fidelity; and may we not humbly hope that his removal hence may be still to some even as life from the dead?

It is not of the public services only of your late honoured pastor that it is our privilege this day to speak. Following the footsteps of the apostle of the Gentiles, whose spirit he had largely imbibed, he taught you publicly, and from house to house, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that he might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

And were not those pastoral labours, whether in the family or among the lambs of the flock (for the young were very dear to his heart), or at the beds of the sick and the dying, or in the chambers of bereavement, and loneliness, and grief– all conducted in the spirit of Him who was meek and lowly in heart– who did not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax—who spake a word in season to satiate every weary soul, and to revive every sorrowful soul?

Need I dwell on the bright example of Christian wisdom, consistency, and devotedness which shone forth in his daily life and conversation?

Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably he behaved himself among you that believe. As ye know how he exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.”

–Islay Burns, The Pastor of Kilsyth: The Life and Times of W.H. Burns (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1860/2019), 179-181. This excerpt is from a sermon by Rev. Dr. Smyth of Glasgow preached at the funeral of W.H. Burns on May 13, 1859.

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“A most ordinary pastor” by D.A. Carson

“Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais and beyond testify how much he loved them.

He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book.

He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough.

He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity.

He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says, ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.’

His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them.

He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle.

His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive.

He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation.

In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded.

Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man-he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor-but because he was a forgiven man.

And he heard the voice of Him whom he longed to hear saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.'”

–D.A. Carson, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 147-148.

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