Tag Archives: Shepherding

“The holiness, love, compassion, care, and authority of Christ towards His church” by John Owen

“The especial design of the rule of the church in its government is to represent the holiness of Christ, love of Christ, compassion of Christ, care of Christ, and authority of Christ towards His church.

This is the great end of rule in the church, and of all the discipline which is to be exercised by virtue thereof.

Whilst this is not attended unto, when the officers and rulers of the church do not endeavour, in all the actings of their power and office, to set forth these virtues of Christ, to exemplify that impression of them which He hath left in His laws and rule, with the divine testimonies which He gave of them in His own person, they utterly deviate from the principal end of all rule in the church.

For men to act herein in a way of domination, with a visible elation of mind and spirit above their brethren; with anger, wrath, and passion; by rules, order, and laws of their own devising, without the least consideration of what the Lord Christ requires, and what is the frame of His heart towards all His disciples,—is to reflect the highest dishonour imaginable upon Christ Himself.

He who comes into the courts of the king in Westminster Hall, when filled with judges, grave, learned, and righteous, must ordinarily be allowed to judge of the king himself, his wisdom, justice, moderation, and clemency, by the law which they proceed upon and their manner of the administration of it.

But God forbid that Christians should make a judgment concerning the holiness, wisdom, love, and compassion of Christ by the representation which, as is pretended, is made of Him and them in some courts wherein church rule and discipline is administered!

When any had offended of old, their censure by the church was called the bewailing of them, (2 Cor. 12:21); and that because of the sorrow, pity, and compassion whereby, in that censure, they evidenced the compassion of the Lord Christ towards the souls of sinners.

This is scarce answered by those pecuniary mulcts and other penalties, which, with indignation and contempt, are inflicted on such as are made offenders, whether they will or no.

Certainly, those who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and have a due honour for the gospel, will, at one time or another, begin to think meet that this stain of our religion should be washed away.

The rule and law of the exercise of power in the elders of the church is the holy Scripture only.

The Lord Christ is the only lawgiver of the church; all His laws unto this end are recorded in the Scripture; no other law is effectual, can oblige or operate upon the objects or unto the ends of church-rule.

If the church make a thousand rules, or canons, or laws for government, neither any of them, nor all of them in general, have any the least power to oblige men unto obedience or compliance with them, but only so far as virtually or materially they contain what is of the law of Christ, and derive force from thence: as the judges in our courts of justice are bound to judge and determine in all cases out of and according to the law of the land; and when they do not, their sentence is of no validity, but may and ought to be reversed.

But if, wilfully or of choice, they should introduce laws or rules not legally established in this nation, judging according unto them, it would render them highly criminal and punishable.

It is no otherwise in the kingdom of Christ and the rule thereof. It is by His law alone that rule is to be exercised in it. There is nothing left unto the elders of the church but the application of his laws and the general rules of them unto particular cases and occasions.

To make, to bring, to execute, any other rules, laws, or canons, in the government of his church, is to usurp on His kingly dominion.”

–John Owen, “The True Nature of a Gospel Church,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 16 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1689/1968), 16: 135-136.

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“The first and principal duty of a pastor” by John Owen

The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word. It is a promise relating to the New Testament, that God would give unto His church ‘pastors according to His own heart, which should feed them with knowledge and understanding,’ (Jer. 3:15).

This is by teaching or preaching the Word, and no otherwise. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor, as unto the exercise of it; so that he who doth not, or can not, or will not feed the flock is no pastor, whatever outward call or work he any have in the church.

The care of preaching the gospel was committed to Peter, and in him unto all true pastors of the church, under the name of ‘feeding,’ (John 21:15–17). According to the example of the apostles, they are to free themselves from all encumbrances, that they may give themselves wholly unto the word and prayer, (Acts 6:1–4).

Their work is ‘to labour in the word and doctrine,’ (1 Tim. 5:17); and thereby to ‘feed the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made them overseers,’ (Acts 20:28): and it is that which is everywhere given them in charge.

This work and duty, therefore, as was said, is essential unto the office of a pastor. A man is a pastor unto them whom he feeds by pastoral teaching, and to no more; and he that doth not so feed is no pastor.

Nor is it required only that he preach now and then at his leisure, but that he lay aside all other employments, though lawful, all other duties in the church, as unto such a constant attendance on them as would divert him from this work, that he give himself unto it,—that he be in these things labouring to the utmost of his ability.

Without this no man will be able to give a comfortable account of the pastoral office at the Last Day…

Sundry things are required unto this work and duty of pastoral preaching; as,—

(1.) Spiritual wisdom and understanding in the mysteries of the gospel, that they may declare unto the church “all the counsel of God” and “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (See Acts 20:27; 1 Cor. 2:4–7; Eph. 3:8–11).

The generality of the church, especially those who are grown in knowledge and experience, have a spiritual insight into these things, and the Apostle prays that all believers may have so, (Eph. 1:15–19); and if those that instruct them, or should do so, have not some degree of eminency herein, they cannot be useful to lead them on to perfection.

And the little care hereof or concernment herein is that which in our days hath rendered the ministry of many fruitless and useless.

(2.) Experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls. Without this they will themselves be lifeless and heartless in their own work, and their labour for the most part will be unprofitable towards others.

It is, to such men, attended unto as a task for their advantage, or as that which carries some satisfaction in it from ostentation and supposed reputation wherewith it is accompanied.

But a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul.

And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself.

If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually.

The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words and dead as to power, instead of preaching the Gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit.

And let any say what they please, it is evident that some men’s preaching, as well as others not-preaching, hath lost the credit of their ministry.

(3.) Skill to divide the word aright, (2 Tim. 2:15); and this consists in a practical wisdom, upon a diligent attendance unto the word of truth, to find out what is real, substantial, and meet food for the souls of the hearers,—to give unto all sorts of persons in the church that which is their proper portion.

And this requires, (4.) A prudent and diligent consideration of the state of the flock over which any man is set, as unto their strength or weakness, their growth or defect in knowledge (the measure of their attainments requiring either milk or strong meat), their temptations and duties, their spiritual decays or thrivings; and that not only in general, but, as near as may be, with respect unto all the individual members of the church.

Without a due regard unto these things, men preach at random, uncertainly fighting, like those that beat the air.

Preaching sermons not designed for the advantage of them to whom they are preached; insisting on general doctrines not levelled to the condition of the auditory; speaking what men can, without consideration of what they ought,—are things that will make men weary of preaching, when their minds are not influenced with outward advantages, as much as make others weary in hearing of them.

And, (5.) All these, in the whole discharge of their duty, are to be constantly accompanied with the evidence of zeal for the glory of God and compassion for the souls of men. Where these are not in vigorous exercise in the minds and souls of them that preach the Word, giving a demonstration of themselves unto the consciences of them that hear, the quickening form, the life and soul of preaching, is lost.

All these things seem common, obvious, and universally acknowledged; but the ruin of the ministry of the most for the want of them, or from notable defects in them, is or may be no less evidently known.

And the very naming of them (which is all at present which I design) is sufficient to evidence how great a necessity there is incumbent on all pastors of churches to give themselves unto the Word and prayer, to labour in the Word and doctrine, to be continually intent on this work, to engage all the faculties of their souls, to stir up all their graces and gifts, unto constant exercise in the discharge of their duty; for ‘who is sufficient for these things?’ (2 Cor. 2:16)”

–John Owen, “The True Nature of a Gospel Church,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 16 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1689/1968), 16: 74-77.

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“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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“By God’s grace, I saved that man from suicide” by Charles Spurgeon

“Another form of strength comes of weakness, for by it our sympathy is educated. When you and I become weak, and are depressed in spirit, and our soul passes through the valley of the shadow of death, it is often on account of others.

One Sabbath morning, I preached from the text, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow-prisoners in the dark.

But I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself.

On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand upright, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets.

He said to me, after a little parleying, ‘I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.’

By God’s grace, I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay.

I tell the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants?

You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge. God’s sheep ramble very far, and we have to go after them; and sometimes the shepherds go where they themselves would never roam if they were not in pursuit of lost sheep.

You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds.

Expect to grow weaker, brethren, that you may comfort the weak, and so may become masters in Israel in the judgment of others, while, in your own opinion, you are less than the least of all saints.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1960), 221–222.

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“A minister needs to be a jack of all trades” by John Newton

“Give my love to Mr. ****. He has desired a good work; may the Lord give him the desires of his heart.

May he give him the wisdom of Daniel, the meekness of Moses, the courage of Joshua, the zeal of Paul, and that self-abasement and humility which Job and Isaiah felt when they not only had heard of Him by the hearing of the ear, but saw His glory, and abhorred themselves in dust and ashes.

May he be taught of God, (none teacheth like Him,) and come forth an able minister of the New Testament, well instructed rightly to divide and faithfully to distribute the word of truth.

In the school of Christ, (especially if the Lord designs him to be a teacher of others,) he will be put to learn some lessons not very pleasant to flesh and blood: he must learn to run, to fight, to wrestle, and many other exercises, some of which will try his strength, and others his patience.

You know the common expression of a jack of all trades. I am sure a minister had need be such an one: a soldier, a watchman, a shepherd, a husbandman, a builder, a planter, a physician, and a nurse.

But let him not be discouraged. He has a wonderful and a gracious Master, who can not only give instructions, but power, and engages that His grace shall be sufficient, at all times and in all circumstances, for those who simply give themselves up to His teaching and His service.

I am sincerely yours’s,

John Newton”

–John Newton, “Letter XVIII (August 13, 1773)” in The Works of John Newton, Vol. 6. Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 6:102–103.

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