Tag Archives: Pastoral Care

“It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from His gracious person.

It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him. Nor is it for us.

In some ways the Marrow Controversy resolved itself into a theological version of the parable of the waiting father and his two sons. (Luke 15:11-32)

The antinomian prodigal when awakened was tempted to legalism: ‘I will go and be a slave in my father’s house and thus perhaps gain grace in his eyes.’

But he was bathed in his father’s grace and set free to live as an obedient son.

The legalistic older brother never tasted his father’s grace. Because of his legalism he had never been able to enjoy the privileges of the father’s house.

Between them stood the father offering free grace to both, without prior qualifications in either.

Had the older brother embraced his father, he would have found grace that would make every duty a delight and dissolve the hardness of his servile heart.

Had that been the case, his once antinomian brother would surely have felt free to come out to him as his father had done, and say:

‘Isn’t the grace we have been shown and given simply amazing? Let us forevermore live in obedience to every wish of our gracious father!’

And arm in arm they could have gone in to dance at the party, sons and brothers together, a glorious testimony to the father’s love.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 173-174.

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“What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace?” by Sinclair Ferguson

“A misshapen understanding of the gospel impacts the spirit of a minister and affects the style and atmosphere of his preaching and of all his pastoral ministry. What the Marrow Controversy actually unveiled was the possibility of acknowledging the truth of each discrete chapter of the Confession of Faith without those truths being animated by a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel.

The metallic spirit this inevitably produced would then in turn run through one’s preaching and pastoral ministry. There is a kind of orthodoxy in which the several loci of systematic theology, or stages of redemptive history, are all in place, but that lacks the life of the whole, just as arms, legs, torso, head, feet, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth may all be present—while the body as a whole lacks energy and perhaps life itself. The form of godliness is not the same as its power.

Confessional orthodoxy coupled with a view of a heavenly Father whose love is conditioned on his Son’s suffering, and further conditioned by our repentance, leads inevitably to a restriction in the preaching of the gospel.

Why? Because it leads to a restriction in the heart of the preacher that matches the restriction he sees in the heart of God! Such a heart may have undergone the process that Alexander Whyte described as “sanctification by vinegar.” If so, it tends to be unyielding and sharp edged. A ministry rooted in conditional grace has that effect; it produces orthodoxy without love for sinners and a conditional and conditioned love for the righteous.

In the nature of the case there is a kind of psychological tendency for Christians to associate the character of God with the character of the preaching they hear—not only the substance and content of it but the spirit and atmosphere it conveys. After all, preaching is the way in which they publicly and frequently “hear the Word of God.”

But what if there is a distortion in the understanding and heart of the preacher that subtly distorts his exposition of God’s character? What if his narrow heart pollutes the atmosphere in which he explains the heart of the Father?

When people are broken by sin, full of shame, feeling weak, conscious of failure, ashamed of themselves, and in need of counsel, they do not want to listen to preaching that expounds the truth of the discrete doctrines of their church’s confession of faith but fails to connect them with the marrow of gospel grace and the Father of infinite love for sinners. It is a gracious and loving Father they need to know.

Such, alas, were precisely the kind of pastors who gathered round poor Job and assaulted him with their doctrine that God was against him. From their mouths issue some of the most sublime discrete theological statements anywhere to be found in the pages of the Bible.

But they had disconnected them from the life-giving love of God for his needy and broken child Job. And so they too “exchanged the truth about God for the lie.” (Romans 1:25)

This will not do in gospel ministry. Rather, pastors need themselves to have been mastered by the unconditional grace of God. From them the vestiges of a self-defensive pharisaism and conditionalism need to be torn. Like the Savior they need to handle bruised reeds without breaking them and dimly burning wicks without quenching them.

What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace; someone who sees God bringing prodigals home and runs to embrace them, weeps for joy that they have been brought home, and kisses them—asking no questions—no qualifications or conditions required?

In these respects the Marrow Controversy has a perennial relevance to all Christians. But it has a special relevance to gospel preachers and pastors.

It raises the question: What kind of pastor am I to my people? Am I like the father?

Or am I, perhaps, like the elder brother who would not, does not, will not, and ultimately cannot join the party?

After all, how can an elder brother be comfortable at a party when he still wonders if his once-prodigal brother has been sorry enough for his sin and sufficiently ashamed of his faults?”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 71-73.

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“The matchless love the Father has for us” by Sinclair Ferguson

“When and how did God show His grace to us? Were there conditions to be met in us prior to Christ’s grace? Clearly not, since it was:

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. (Romans 5:6-10)

What conditions were met in us in order for God to send His only Son into the world to die for sinners? None. Indeed there can be none.

The Scriptures affirm that the love of God for us is the reason for the death of Christ. That is the emphasis of John 3:16. God (i.e., the Father, since here “God” is the antecedent of “his … Son”) so loved the world that He gave His Son for us. The Son does not need to do anything to persuade the Father to love us; He already loves us!

The subtle danger here should be obvious: if we speak of the cross of Christ as the cause of the love of the Father, we imply that behind the cross and apart from it He may not actually love us at all.

He needs to be “paid” a ransom price in order to love us. But if it has required the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us (“Father, if I die, will you begin to love them?”), how can we ever be sure the Father Himself loves us—“deep down” with an everlasting love?

True, the Father does not love us because we are sinners; but He does love us even though we are sinners. He loved us before Christ died for us. It is because He loves us that Christ died for us!

We must not confuse the truth that our sins are forgiven only because of the death and resurrection of Christ with the very different notion that God loves us only because of the death and resurrection of Christ.

No, He loved us from the first of time and therefore sent His Son, who came willingly, to die for us. In this way a right understanding of the work of Christ leads to a true understanding of the matchless love the Father has for us.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 65–66.

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“A pastor who has been mastered by the unconditional grace of God” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Beloved, men who have only a conditional offer of the gospel, will have only a conditional gospel.

The man who has only a conditional gospel knows only conditional grace.

And the man who knows only conditional grace knows only a conditional God.

And the man who has only a conditional God will have a conditional ministry to his fellow men.

And at end of the day, he will only be able to give his heart, and his life, and his time, and his devotion to his people… on condition.

And he will love and master the truth of the great doctrines of grace, but until grace in God Himself masters him, the grace that has mastered him will never flow from him to his people.

And he will become a Jonah in the 20th century, sitting under his tree with a heart that is shut up against sinners in need of grace, because he thinks of God in conditional terms.

And that, you see, was the blight upon the ministry in the Church of Scotland of those days, men who were thoroughly Reformed in their confessional subscription, but whose bowels, whose hearts, were closed up to God’s people and to the lost in all the nations.

Wasn’t it Alexander Whyte of Freesen Georges that used to say there was such a thing as sanctification by vinegar that makes men accurate and hard? And that’s what they were.

When your people come and have been broken by sin, and have been tempted by Satan, and are ashamed to confess the awful mess they have made of their life, it is not a Calvinistic pastor who has been sanctified by vinegar that they need.

It is a pastor who has been mastered by the unconditional grace of God, from whom ironclad orthodoxy has been torn away, and the whole armor of a gracious God has been placed upon his soul — the armor of One who would not break the bruised reed or quench the dimly burning wick: the God of free grace.

It’s the pastor who will say, ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to have you, but I have prayed for you; and when you are converted, strengthen the brethren.’

You see, my friends, as we think together in these days about a godly pastor… What is a godly pastor?

A godly pastor is a pastor who is like God, who has a heart of free grace running after sinners.

The godly pastor is the one who sees the prodigal returning, and runs and falls on his neck and weeps and kisses him; and says, ‘This my son was dead; he was lost and now he is alive and found.’

So that we discover, even in the stretching of our minds over this Marrow Controversy, that the first pastoral lesson we learn is really a question:

What kind of pastor am I to my people? Am I like the Father? Or am I like the elder brother, who would not go in?

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, “The Marrow Controversy Lecture #1: Historical Details,” p. 13. Consider taking a few minutes to listen to this powerful exhortation from Dr. Ferguson, that I trust will serve your soul.

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“Over-long sermons” by John Newton

“Secondly (as we say), as to long preaching. There is still in being an old-fashioned instrument called an hour-glass, which in days of yore, before clocks and watches abounded, used to be the measure of many a good sermon, and I think it a tolerable stint.

I cannot wind up my ends to my own satisfaction in a much shorter time, nor am I pleased with myself if I greatly exceed it. If an angel was to preach for two hours, unless his hearers were angels likewise, I believe the greater part of them would wish he had done.

It is a shame it should be so: but so it is; partly through the weakness and partly through the wickedness of the flesh, we can seldom stretch our attention to spiritual things for two hours together without cracking it, and hurting its spring: and when weariness begins, edification ends.

Perhaps it is better to feed our people like chickens, a little and often, than to cram them like turkeys, till they cannot hold one gobbet more. Besides, over-long sermons break in upon family concerns, and often call off the thoughts from the sermon to the pudding at home, which is in danger of being over-boiled.”

–John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Vol. 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1824/2006), 2: 163.

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“250,000 published words per year” by Scott Manetsch

“Calvin’s literary corpus is well known, with around one hundred discrete volumes published from the time he arrived in Geneva in 1536 until his death twenty-eight years later. During the 1550s, Calvin’s literary output ranged from 100,000 to a remarkable 250,000 published words per year.

Late nights spent writing at his desk by candlelight or long days spent dictating from bed inevitably took a toll on his health and spirits: ‘I get so tired from that endless writing that at times I have a loathing for it, and actually hate writing,’ Calvin complained to Bullinger in 1551.

But true religion needed to be defended in print as well as from the pulpit. ‘I would be a real coward if I saw God’s truth being attacked and remained quiet without a sound.'”

–Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 225-226.

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“God is the fountain of all good things” by Simon Goulart

“The eternal and blessed life with God in heaven, accompanied by rest and unspeakable glory, is the goal of the faith of Christians.

This is the harbor of their hope, the refuge of all their desires, the crown of their consolation that they will certainly enjoy, having escaped from the travails of this miserable and fleeting earthly life, indeed, from death itself.

They will receive in heaven glorified bodies, healed of all evils, no longer afflicted by sin, ignorance, errors, illness, sadness, worry, fear, anguish, or enemies.

They will be delivered from all pain and suffering.

They will enjoy fully and completely the Lord their God, the fountain and inexhaustible treasure of all good things, who will pour out on them all His goodness, His infinite joy, with which He will satisfy all their thoughts and desires.

They will see Him and contemplate Him face-to-face, without any clouds to obscure Him.

They will learn of God’s wisdom with regard to the creation and redemption of His elect by means of Jesus Christ, and the reasons for all His all-powerful and wondrous works.

The eternal Father will disclose His burning and unspeakable love for them, which He demonstrated by sending His Son into the world to draw them from death into eternal life.

His children will be moved by His gracious work, filled with wonder, contentment, and ineffable delight, and will love their heavenly Father with a burning love, submitting themselves fully to His wisdom with eager joy.

And they will submit to Him as their only sovereign and greatest good. And they will rejoice with continuous joy in His presence, magnifying His glory, singing of His goodness along with the holy Angels and the entire Church triumphant.

There they will see Jesus Christ, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the faithful who have preceded them, including their family members and friends who died in repentance and faith.

This entire company together, with one heart and voice, will recall the goodness and infinite blessings God has shown them, celebrating with songs of thanksgiving the praises of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thus eternal life is the end and fulfillment of all good things for which God has purchased us through His Son.

This is the goal on which our gaze should be fixed throughout our earthly pilgrimage.

This is the treasure that we should unceasingly desire.

This is the hour and the blessing to which all the plans and efforts of our lives should be inclined.

This is our true country, our permanent city, in which our citizenship has been acquired by the merit of the death of Jesus Christ.

This is the home that we long for, amidst the banishments, the weariness, the dangerous fears of this valley of misery and the shadow of death.

This is the safe refuge and the beautiful harbor toward which we sail amidst so many waves and storms that constantly trouble the world.

This is the blessed land where we will dwell by means of death.”

–Simon Goulart, Christian Discourses XXVIII, 322-327. As quoted in Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 297-298.

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