The Pastor and Feeding Christ’s Sheep (Bucer)

Concerning the True Care of Souls Martin Bucer’s (d.1551) pastoral theology book Concerning the True Care of Souls is a wonderful resource.  I recently came across this section that I had marked up – it’s a good reminder for those of our readers who are pastors!

When St. Peter is asked for the third time if he loves the Lord, and himself for the third time protests his love, then for the third time the Lord says to him: ‘Feed my sheep.’  It is as if he were saying: ‘If you love me so much and want to show this by your actions, feed my sheep, because there is nothing you can do for me which is preferable or more pleasing to me.’

If we really love Christ, he is everything to us; therefore if anyone is called to this ministry, whatever unpleasantness, sufferings and crosses he may have to bear in the course of his ministry, he will be upheld and strengthened against all unpleasantness, sufferings, and crosses only by the fact that the Lord Jesus has commanded him to do this, and commanded it as the highest ministry of love that we can show him.  Then each one will feel as Paul did when he writes about himself in 1 Cor. 9: ‘Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.’

‘I am simply discharging the trust committed to me,’ says the dear apostle; for that should be more than enough for any Christian, if he is called to this ministry, to accept it and carry it out with all faithfulness, withstanding and suffering whatever trouble, labor, abuse, shame, suffering, and cross he may meet in the course of it. …There is so much delightful consolation for us in the fact that in this way we are showing the greatest love to our Lord Jesus, by serving him in his dear church which he has purchased with his precious blood, which is his dear spouse and his body.

Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, 192-3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Wonder, Love, and Praise (Simeon)

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae Commentary (21 vols.) I appreciated this commentary and application by Charles Simeon as he discussed the story of the fiery snakes in Numbers 21 – the story Jesus referred to in his discussion with Nicodemus (John 3:14-15):

O how are we indebted to God for the light of his blessed Gospel! Little did the Israelites know what a stupendous mercy was here exhibited to their view. Doubtless, as a mere ordinance for the healing of their bodies, they would be thankful for it; but how thankful should we be, who see in it such a wonderful provision for our souls! Let us contemplate it: God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son, Jehovah’s Fellow, made incarnate! The Deity himself assuming our nature with all its sinless infirmities, and dying an accursed death upon the cross and this too for the salvation of his own rebellious creatures! O let us never for one moment forget, that this is the means which God has appointed for our deliverance from death and hell: let us contemplate it, till our hearts are altogether absorbed in wonder, love, and praise.

Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: Numbers to Joshua, vol. 2 (London: Samuel Holdsworth, 1836), 128.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Regret or Repentance? (Poirier)

The Peacemaking Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict by [Poirier, Alfred J.] The Apostle talks about the difference between regret (worldly sorrow) and repentance (godly sorrow) in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10.  He doesn’t give a lot of detail there, but thinking of Paul’s words, other Scripture, and life’s experiences, more can be said about regret versus repentance.  Alfred Poirier does a nice job explaining the difference:

Regret and repentance differ with respect to God and self.  Regret is a result of fearing man, whereas repentance is the fruit of fearing God.  Fear of man is a snare, says Solomon (see Prov. 29:25), and one of the ways it snares us is by fostering in us a sense of regret.  We regret that others have found out about us and that we have been exposed.  In response, we run from God and attempt to cover and protect ourselves from the penetrating gaze of others, just as Adam ran from God and hid himself in the garden.  Repentance, on the other hand, runs first to God.  It throws itself before God and upon his mercy, even as David casts himself on the Lord (Ps. 51:1).

Regret and repentance also differ with respect to sin and self.  Whereas regret sorrows over not being as great as one thought, repentance sees oneself as one really is.  For example, regret bemoans, ‘I can’t believe I did that,’ but repentance confesses, ‘I can believe it, and that is only the tip of the iceberg.’  Regret laments the fruit of sin, whereas repentance sorrows over both the fruit and root of sin (Ps. 51:5).

Finally, regret and repentance differ with respect to others and oneself.  Regret or worldly sorrow leads either to self-righteousness or self-condemnation.  When we beat ourselves up, we also beat others up.  We resent others when they wrong us, and we are quick to take offense and point out their faults.  Repentance, on the other hand, leads to Christ’s righteousness.  We rejoice that we are not condemned.  WE glory in Christ’s perfect obedience and love, and soon, like Christ, we too mourn over the sins of others and seek to help them be reconciled to God (Ps. 51:12-13).

I’ve edited Poirer’s helpful explanations of the difference between regret and repentance.  You can find the full text in chapter 6 of The Peacemaking Pastor.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Suffering: The Wicked and the Righteous (Augustine)

City of God (Modern Library, paperback) I’ve read parts of Augustine’s City of God before, but I’ve recently resolved to finally finish it.  As I sit here in the library of my alma mater – Westminster Seminary in California – I want to share a helpful section of City of God.  It has to do with suffering:

…The patience of God still invites the wicked to penitence, just as God’s chastisement trains the good in patient endurance….

That being so, when the good and the wicked suffer alike, the identity of their sufferings does not mean that there is no difference between them. Though the sufferings are the same, the sufferers remain different. Virtue and vice are not the same, even if they undergo the same torment. The fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke; the same flail breaks up the straw, and clears the grain; and oil is not mistaken for lees because both are forced out by the same press.

In the same way, the violence which assails good men to test them, to cleanse and purify them, effects in the wicked their condemnation, ruin and annihilation. Thus the wicked, under pressure of affliction, execrate God and blaspheme; the good, in the same affliction,offer up prayers and praises. This shows that what matters is the nature of the sufferer, not the nature of the sufferings. Stir a cesspit, and a foul stench arises; stir a perfume, and a delightful fragrance ascends. Both the movements are identical.

This quote is found in book 1, chapter 8 of City of God.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Tension of Unbelief (Guinness)

Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness is an excellent resource for thoughtful Christian apologetics.  I’ve mentioned it here before so I won’t go into details.  But there is a section I was recently reading again – a section which is well worth posting here.  It’s based on Romans 1:18ff:

“At the core of unbelief is ceaseless, unremitting and inescapable tension and conflict.  Unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it is still always the truth, so they can never completely get away from it.  An unbeliever’s view of the world without God may contain many deep truths and have all sorts of genuine merits.  But that view of the world can never be completely true, because the unbeliever will not accept God, without whom it will always be finally false at some points.  Yet at the same time, the unbelievers’ views of the world are never completely false, because they can never get away completely from God and his truth.  Unbelief is therefore always an inherently in tension, and it can never escape this conflict.  Whatever view of the world unbelief espouses, it is always partly true but twisted, and it is always twisted, though never other than still partly true.”

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk, p. 93-4.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

On Honoring Caesar (Tertullian)

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts       Tertullian’s (145-220 AD) Apology is an outstanding early defense of Christianity.  I’ve written on Tertullian before, but here and now I want to highlight a section (chap. 31-34) where Tertullian said that Christians neither hated Caesar nor dishonored him.  Rather, they prayed for him and gave him high honor, as the Scriptures commanded.

“[Do you think that we care nothing for the welfare of Caesar?] …Most clearly the Scripture says, ‘Pray for kings, and rulers, and powers, that all may be peace with you.’ …We respect in the emperors the ordinance of God, who has set them over the nations.”

“…Why dwell longer on the reverence and sacred respect of Christians to the emperor, whom we cannot but look up to as called by our Lord to his office?  So that on valid grounds I might say Caesar is more ours than yours, for  our God has appointed him.  Therefore, as having this propriety in him, I do more than you for his welfare, not merely because I ask it of Him who can give it…but also because, in keeping the majesty of Caesar within due limits, and putting it under the Most High, and making it less than divine, I commend him the more to the favor of Deity, to whom I make him alone inferior.”

“But I place him [Caesar] in subjection to one I regard as more glorious than himself.  Never will I call the emperor God….  If he is but a man, it is his interest as man to give God his higher place.  Let him think it enough to bear the name of the emperor.  That, too, is a great name of God’s giving.  To call him God, is to rob him of his title.  If he is not a man, emperor he could not be.  Even when, amid the honors of triumph, he sits on that lofty chariot, he is reminded that he is only human.  A voice at his back keeps whispering in his ear, ‘Look behind thee; remember thou art but a man.'”

“I am willing to give the emperor this designation [lord], and when I am not forced to call him Lord as in God’s place.  …For I have but one true Lord, the God omnipotent and eternal, who is Lord of the emperor as well.”

In other words, though early Christians absolutely refused to call Caesar Lord (as in “Most High God”), they did call him lord (as in “Your Majesty”), they did pray for him, and they did show him honor.  They did not mock him, ridicule him, or make jokes about him – instead they showed him respect.  Therefore, Tertullian argued, rather than be charged with treason, Christians should have been commended for showing such great honor to Caesar.  Indeed, Christians from the past can teach us lessons for today.

(This is a re-post from June 2014)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Prophets, Suffering, and Jesus (Vos)

 In an article on Jeremiah 31:3 (I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. NIV) Geerhardus Vos explained the context of Jeremiah’s ministry as one of suffering and the burden of having a prophetic understanding of Israel’s dismal future.  In that context, a reminder of God’s love must have been like a bright, warm ray of sunshine that penetrated the weeping prophet’s darkness.  Here’s how Vos discussed it:

In taking the comfort of the prophetic promises to our hearts we do not, perhaps, always realize what after the tempests and tumults, in the brief seasons of clear shining which God interposed, such relief must have meant to the prophets themselves. For they had not merely to pass through the distress of the present; besides this they were not allowed to avert their eyes from the terrifying vision of the latter days. In anticipation they drank from the cup “with wine of reeling” filled by Jehovah’s hand.

Nor did the prophets see only the turbulent surface, the foaming upper waves of the inrushing flood, their eyes were opened to the religious and moral terrors underneath. The prophetic agony was no less spiritual than physical: it battled with the sin of Israel and the wrath of God, and these were even more dreadful realities than hostile invasion or collapse of the state or captivity for the remnant. In a sense which made them true types of Christ the prophets bore the unfaithfulness of the people on their hearts. As Jesus had a sorrowful acquaintance with the spirit no less than the body of the cross, so they were led to explore the deeper meaning of the judgment, to enter recesses of its pain undreamt of by the sinners in Israel themselves.

So we can find a preview of Christ’s sufferings in the sufferings of the prophets.

You can find this quote in Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 288.

Shane Lems