Comfort on the Deathbed (Or: A Pastor’s Most Important Resource)

Simon Goulart was a Reformed theologian and pastor from France who served in Geneva in the middle of the 16th century.  His preaching and teaching were solidly biblical, clearly doctrinal, and very applicable.  One example of this is his biblical comfort he gave to Christians on their deathbed.  Scott Manetsch gives a good summary of Goulart’s pastoral care:

As Christians approach death, Goulart recognizes, they are frequently tempted to doubt God’s promised salvation and despair of their future hope.  In this spiritual drama, Satan is especially active.  Goulart’s discourse ‘Remedies Against Satan’s Temptations in our Final Hour’ enumerates the stinging accusations and doubts that Satan launches against God’s children as they struggle on their deathbeds.  The voice of Satan accuses: ‘You are a miserable sinner, worthy of damnation.’  ‘Your sins are too great to be forgiven.’  ‘How do you know that the promise of the gospel pertains to you?’  ‘Are you certain that your repentance and faith are genuine?’  ‘How do you know that you are among God’s elect?’  In response to each of these attacks, Goulart provides the faithful Christian a ready answer, drawn from the pages of Scripture.

For example, when Satan questions the believer’s election, the Christian responds: ‘All true believers are sheep of Jesus Christ, elected in him to eternal life.  Psalm 23 says that ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’  And Psalm 100 says ‘Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.’  So too, Jesus Christ says in John 10, ‘My sheep hear my voice.’  I have heard this voice and heeded it.  Thus, I am one of the sheep of this Great Shepherd, who has given his life to bring me into his sheepfold, having rescued me from your jaws, O roaring lion.’

Clearly, Goulart believed that God’s Word was to serve as the pastor’s most important resource in caring for Christians on their deathbeds.  Scripture is like a ‘pharmacy’ for wounded souls, he asserted.  It offers a ‘secure harbor for agitated consciences.’

The above quotes were taken from Scott Matnetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, p 297-298.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Church Is Greater Than Her Pastors (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1 In the era of celebrity pastors and famous preachers who have thousands of “likes” and (sadly) even fans, it’s very important to remember that Christ’s church is greater than her pastors.  Pastors serve for 10, 20, or 30 years; maybe sometimes they even serve 50 or 60 years.  Then they die and someone else takes their place.  The church lives on even when the pastor leaves or goes to be with the Lord.  In a rightly ordered church, everything doesn’t collapse when the pastor leaves or dies.  The church may grieve, but she doesn’t fold or dissolve.  Instead, she prays, calls a new pastor, and together they press on in the faith.  I appreciate how Francis Turretin talked about this in the third volume of his Institutes.

“…Now the church is superior to pastors, not pastors to the church; the church does not belong to the pastors, but the pastors to the church.  ‘All things are yours,’ says Paul, ‘whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas’ (1 Cor. 3:21-22).  Here he rebukes those who gloried in men as heads and for whose sake they raised dissensions and parties among the Corinthians.  He shows that they acted falsely because the church is greater than and superior to all.  Hence pastors are called servants and ministers of the church: ‘We are your servants for Jesus’ sake’ (2 Cor. 4:5).”

Earlier Turretin noted this:

“…The church is not for the sake of the ministry, but the ministry for the sake of the church.

Turretin did say more, but this is a good reminder for pastors (myself included) that we are called to serve the church and humbly minister to her.  The church doesn’t revolve around the pastor.  The church does not exist to serve the pastor.  The pastor is not the church’s lord and ruler.  Jesus is.  The church revolves around him and exists to serve and worship him.  Pastors are merely servants that point the church to Jesus.  Might we even say that pastors are in a way expendable?

The above quote and entire discussion about pastors and the church are found on pages 227-8 of Turretin’s Institutes, vol 3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

How Should a Pastor Treat His Wife? (Miller)

Image result for letters on clerical manners "samuel miller" A pastor’s marriage is a very important part of his life and ministry.  A pastor should be an excellent Christian example of what it means for a husband to serve, cherish, nourish, and love his wife in a humble, Christ-like way.  Samuel Miller (d. 1850) gave some outstanding advice along these lines:

As a clergyman ought to be the most pious man in his parish, to go before all his people in the exemplification of every Christian grace and virtue, so he ought to make a point of being the best husband in his parish; of endeavoring to excel all others in affection, kindness, attention, and every conjugal and domestic virtue.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some clergymen, who preach well on the duties of husbands and wives, are, notwithstanding, austere, harsh, tyrannical, and unkind in their own families. Whenever this is the case, it can seldom fail to be known – and, when known, can never fail to diminish, in some degree, their official influence.

But, I need not say, that your daily and hourly happiness, still more than your reputation, will be involved in this matter. It would be unseasonable here to attempt even the most cursory detail of conjugal duties. Suffice it to say, that if you should not love your wife enough to make the most unceasing attentions and kindness to her delightful ; if you should not have an affection for her so strong as to prompt you to be continually contriving something for her happiness, even at the expense of self-denial and sacrifice on your part; if the feelings of your heart should not spontaneously dispose you to bear with her infirmities, to cover her faults, to comply with all her reasonable wishes, and to respect and honor her in the presence of your family, as well as of strangers – I say, if you should not have a love for your wife which will prompt you, without constraint, to do all this, it will be vain to give you counsels on the subject.

I appreciate how Miller said a pastor should show his wife much affection, attention, and kindness.  It’s also good advice for a pastor to continually seek to make his wife happy which means he must practice much self-denial and make sacrifices for her good.  And, of course, the pastor must forgive his wife and bear with her faults, knowing that he too has many faults.  If a pastor doesn’t love his wife this way, his preaching and teaching on marriage will be done in vain.

The above quote is found in Samuel Miller’s Letters on Clerical Manners and Habits (G&C Carvill: New York, 1827) 410-411.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Pastorate: More Than The Pulpit (Bridges)

The pulpit is only part of a pastor’s ministry.  Of course, it is a major and central part of the ministry, but the pulpit is not the only part.  A pastor also has pastoral work to do; this too is an essential part of his ministry.  I appreciate how Charles Bridges explained this.  It’s also convicting for me, and a good reminder for myself:

“Let us not think that all our work is done in the study and in the pulpit.  Preaching …derives much of its power from connection with the pastoral work; and its too frequent disjunction from it is a main cause of our inefficiency.”

In other words, a major cause of a minister’s inefficiency is a separation of the pulpit and day-to-day pastoring/shepherding.  Bridges continues,

“The Pastor and the Preacher combine to form the completeness of the sacred office, as expounded in our Ordination services and in Scriptural illustrations.”

As a rightly called and ordained minister, my goal then (with God’s help) is not just to be a good preacher, but to be a good pastor as well. As he goes on to explain, Bridges notes the biblical pattern for this balance and he gives some positive effects of the joining of the pulpit and the pastoral work.

One positive effect is how the joining of the pulpit and pastoral work preserves the church from schism and builds up Christian unity.  When the pulpit and the pastoral work are both flourishing, it will help keep a congregation united.

Another blessing from a balanced preaching and pastoral ministry is gaining the confidence and love of the flock:

A pulpit ministration may command attention and respect; but except the preacher convert himself into a Pastor, descending from the pulpit to the cottage, and in Christian simplicity ‘becoming all things to all people,’ there will be nothing that fastens on the affections – no ‘bands of love.’  The people cannot love an unknown and untried friend, and confidence without love is an anomaly. …We must constantly aim at nearer contact, and closer interest with them; winning their hearts as the way to win their souls….”

These are helpful notes for pastors!  It’s a good reminder for us to pray for this kind of balanced ministry, that we would be good preachers and good pastors.  This will bring God much glory and bring much good to his people.

The above quotes are found in part 5, chapter 1 of Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Pastors Staying Put (Miller)

An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office by [Garretson, James M.] I’ve come to appreciate this wise advice Samuel Miller gave to a young pastor laboring in a town called Frederick in 1854.  I’ve taken the word “Frederick” out of the quote and left it blank so fellow pastors can apply it to their own location:

I was especially gratified with the evidence that you begin to feel yourself at home in ______.  No man will be likely to be very useful to any people to whom he does not feel bound by the ties, not only of pastoral relation but also of pastoral affection; and no one will be likely to feel much of this toward a people among whom he regards himself as only a temporary sojourner, and from whom he means to escape as soon as he can.

If you wish to benefit your flock spiritually, and, at the same time to gain spiritual and theological strength yourself, regard them as your beloved people; try more and  more to take an interest in them, and resolve, in the fear of God, to stay as long with them as Providence shall make it your duty to stay.  Depend upon it, and you will find work enough to do in _______ to employ all your strength….  Let me beg you then to sit down contented and cheerful to your work in ______, resolved if it be the will of God, to spend many years, or even your life there.”

I agree, and I’m doing my best to follow Miller’s advice.  This is an important topic in our celebrity culture where pastors might be tempted to move to a bigger congregation in a bigger city with bigger venues.  I suppose it has to do with being content, as Miller noted.  Pastors too are called to be content where God puts them – urban, suburban, or rural.  Wherever the Lord leads, there we serve and there we show Christian love and pastoral care to God’s people – as long as the Lord wills!

The above quote is found in a letter by Samuel Miller, found in James Garretson, An Able and Faithful Ministry p.324.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I’m very much looking forward to reading this book after finishing the introduction.  Here’s an edited snippet from the intro:

The reader will encounter three important themes wending their way through the chapters of this book:

First, the ministers of Geneva cannot be understood rightly unless one appreciates the religious natures of their sense of vocation. The pastors in this book emerge as men committed to the reformation of the church and devoted to the spiritual instruction and care of God’s people.

Second, it is inaccurate to portray Calvin and his pastoral colleagues as ivory-tower theologians, disengaged from the everyday concerns of their parishioners.  On the contrary, as evident in their ministries of preaching and pastoral care, the pastors of Geneva devoted much of their time and energy to addressing practical matters of Christian discipleship, enjoining townspeople and peasants alike to conduct lives characterized by faith, hope, and repentance. …’Theology for them was indeed always practical.’

Third, it will be demonstrated that while Beza, Goulart, and their pastoral colleagues jealously guarded the legacy of Calvin, they made subtle changes to the expression of pastoral ministry in Geneva in response to the practical challenges they faced.  This does not mean, however, that Geneva’s ministers after Calvin should be judged as bold innovators who betrayed Calvin’s theological and ecclesiastical program.  Their innovations were far too modest for such an assessment.  It is my primary concern not to employ a hermeneutic of suspicion when judging Geneva’s ministers, but to exercise both charity and critical subtlety in evaluating the pastoral behavior of Calvin and his colleagues in light of their unique historical and religious contexts.

Stay tuned!  I’m sure I’ll come back here with more quotes from this book as I read through it: Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 9-10.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

 

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