Prayer and Study, Study and Prayer (Shedd)

Homiletics and Pastoral Theology: With an Appendix (WGT Shedd)
Shedd, Pastoral Theology

Serious Christians are students of the Word.  We seek the truth in God’s Word, we find it there, and we learn more about it as we grow, study, and read.  We memorize verses, try to understand biblical concepts, and we desire to live as Scripture calls us to live.  We are students of the Word of truth.

However, as W. G. T. Shedd wrote about studying the Word, 

It is not sufficient to commune with the truth; for truth is impersonal. We must commune with the God of truth. It is not enough to study, and ponder, the contents of religious books, of even the Bible itself. We must actually address the author of the Bible, in entreaties and petitions.

There can, consequently, be no genuine religion without prayer. And the degree of religion, will depend upon the depth and heartiness of prayer. It does not depend so much upon the length, as the intensity of the mental activity. A few moments of real and absorbing address to God, will accomplish more for the Christian, in the way of arming him with spiritual power, than days or years of reflection, without it.

 Shedd then applies study and prayer to the pastor’s life:

Well, therefore, may we lay down, as the first rule for the promotion of piety in the clergyman, the great and standing rule for all Christians. Let him not be satisfied with studying, and pondering, the best treatises in theology, or with studying, and pondering, even the Bible itself. Besides all this, and as the crowning and completing act, in the religious life, let him actually, and really pray. Let him not be content with a theological mood, with a homiletic spirit, with a serious and elevated mental habitude. Besides all this, and as a yet higher and more enlivening mental process, let him truly, and personally address his Maker and Redeemer, in supplication. Let him not attempt to promote piety in the soul, by a merely negative effort,—by neglecting the cultivation of the mind, and undervaluing learning and study. If the clergyman is not spiritually-minded, and devotedly religious, with learning and studiousness, he certainly will not be so without it. Neglect of his intellectual and theological character, will not help his religious character. Let him constantly endeavor to advance the divine life in his soul, by a positive, and comprehensive method. Let him consecrate, and sanctify all his study, and all his meditativeness, and all his profound and serious knowledge, with prayer.

 William G. T. Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1872), 336–337.

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


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No Matter How Wretched… (Bucer)

 Martin Bucer’s writing on pastoral theology is an outstanding Reformation resource on this topic.  It’s called Concerning the True Care of Souls.  There are many excellent parts in it, but one that stood out to me today as I was reading my underlines is this one on the free offer of the gospel in the pastoral ministry:

“… it is not the Lord’s will to reveal to us the secrets of his election; rather he commands us to go out into all the world and preach his gospel to every creature.  He says: ‘into all the world’ and ‘to every creature.’  The fact that all people have been made by God and are God’s creatures should therefore be reason enough for us to go to them, seeking with the utmost faithfulness to bring them to eternal life.

That is why the Lord has expressed it in general terms: ‘to every creature.’  He does not want to be invited to his banquet only those who show themselves to be citizens and inhabitants of his city, but he tells his servant: ‘go out into the streets and alleys and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’   And again: ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in.’  From this the Lord teaches us that his ministers are simply to endeavor to lead to his church and to the perfect fellowship of his salvation all those who wish to come, no matter how wretched and corrupted they may be – indeed, not only to lead but to urge and compel them.

Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, p. 77.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

“The Lord Laughed at Me” (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.1: The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work When Augustine, the great African theologian of the early church, first became a leader in the church, he was not prepared.  Using the imagery of a ship’s crew, Augustine said he was appointed to “the second place at the helm” although he “knew not how to handle an oar.”  He said that at the time he thought he knew how to lead in the church, and he had even rebuked the faults of many “sailors” before he learned the nature of their work by experience.  He had criticized other pastors before he became one himself!

Once he started his duties he quickly realized his criticism of other pastors was unfounded and that he himself was ill prepared to be a leader.  He said it was a rebuke of God when he realized his own inadequacy – and it led him to a sorrow that even his friends could not console.  It’s not like Augustine had no idea about the difficulties of the ministry.  He knew of them:

…My experience has made me realize these things [difficulties] much more both in degree and in measure than I had done in merely thinking of them: not that I have now seen any new waves or storms of which I had not previous knowledge by observation, or report, or reading, or meditation; but because I had not known my own skill or strength for avoiding or encountering them, and had estimated it to be of some value instead of none. The Lord, however, laughed at me, and was pleased to show me by actual experience what I am.

Augustine even said that his inadequacy was a source of personal grief:

Moreover, it is true that I did not at any earlier period know how great was my unfitness for the arduous work which now disquiets and crushes my spirit. 

In other words, Augustine thought he could handle the difficulties of the ministry, but quickly realized that his own strength and skill were of no value.  By experience he learned that he wasn’t as strong and skillful as he thought: it was as if God was laughing at Augustine for thinking he could do something on his own that he clearly could not do on his own.  This makes me think of a three-year-old boy taking the shovel from his dad and proclaiming that he can clear the six inches of snow off the driveway by himself.  The dad would chuckle, hand him the shovel, and let him try!

How did Augustine deal with his inadequacy and grief?  He looked to God for mercy and turned to Scripture and to God in prayer:

But if He has done this not in judgment, but in mercy, as I confidently hope even now, when I have learned my infirmity, my duty is to study with diligence all the remedies which the Scriptures contain for such a case as mine, and to make it my business by prayer and reading to secure that my soul be endued with the health and vigour necessary for labours so responsible.

Later in this letter that I’ve been quoting from Augustine asks Bishop Valerius if he could take a sort of study leave or sabbatical to pray and study the Word.  This, he said, would better enable him to face the difficulties of the ministry and make him a better leader.  This letter of Augustine to Valerius is a good one for pastors or future pastors to read and note: even Augustine struggled mightily as a pastor!  He was humbled for thinking he could do it by his own strength and skill.  And he learned from the difficult experience to turn to God in prayer for help and his Word for strength.

You can find this entire letter in the first volume of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers’ set – letter 21.4 (Schaff, Philip, ed. The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work. Vol. 1. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church, OPC
Hammond, WI

Considering Pastoral Ministry? (Newton)

  If you’re a man considering the pastoral ministry, you’ll want to read John Newton’s words on this topic  from his sermon called “The Publication of the Gospel.”  To be sure, this is also helpful for those who are currently serving as a pastor.  By the way, the pastoral call and ministry is not just about doctrinal knowledge!  Here’s Newton:

The first lesson received and learned by those who are taught of God, is a conviction of guilt, ignorance and misery — and then they begin to learn the importance, necessity, and design of the Gospel. The man who is thus instructed, if the Lord be pleased to call him to the office of teaching others, will in due time proceed to deliver to the people, what he has himself learned; not with hesitation, uncertainty or indifference, not what he has acquired by hearsay or from books, but he has the witness in himself (I John 5:10) . His heart teaches his mouth (Proverbs 16:23). He believes, therefore he speaks. He simply and freely declares that which he himself has known and seen, and tasted of the word of life. And speaking from the fulness of his heart, with an earnestness inspired by the greatness and importance of his subject, he speaks to the heart and feelings of his hearers, and impresses a manifestation of the truth upon their minds.

That the desire of preaching this Gospel when known, if it be a right desire, must likewise be given. If a man should attempt the service, without counting the cost, or considering the consequences, he will most probably be disgusted and wearied. And if, beforehand, he seriously and properly considers what he is about to engage in, and has a due sense of his own weakness, he will tremble at the prospect, and direct his thoughts to some other employment, unless his call and support be from on high. What courage, wisdom, meekness, and zeal appear requisite, in the view of such an inquirer, to qualify a man for preaching, and continuing to preach, a doctrine so unpleasing to the world, as the doctrine of the cross has in all ages proved! What opposition, snares and difficulties, what fightings from without, what fears within , may be expected! Surely, he will be ready to shrink back, and to say, Who is sufficient for these things? But the Lord, by the constraining sense of His love, and by giving a deep impression of the worth of souls, and by exciting in the mind a dependence upon His all-sufficiency, can and does encourage those whom He calls and chooses to serve Him in the Gospel. In themselves they are quite unequal to what is before them, but they obey His voice; they trust in His promises for guidance and protection, and are not disappointed. We are therefore directed to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send, or rather (according to the force of the Greek word), thrust forth labourers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38)

John Newton, “The Publication of the Gospel,” in Newton’s Works, vol. IV.

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

The Center Point of Religious Life: Corporate Christian Worship (Bavinck)

 In Kampen on November 28, 1889, Herman Bavinck gave a lecture to seminary students at the theological school there.  The lecture was called “Eloquence” and it was all about Christian preaching.  Due to demand, Bavinck wrote this lecture out and it was later published.  Just recently it has been translated into English and made available in the book called Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers (translated and edited by James Eglinton).  There are other selections in this book as well, such as an article by Bavinck called “The Sermon and the Service” and one of his few surviving written sermons called “The World-Conquering Power of Faith.”  Anyway, it’s an outstanding resource and I very much enjoyed it.  If you’re a preacher, I highly recommend it.  If you’re not, I’d say: get one for your pastor!  Below are a few paragraphs I underlined that I’d like to share.  It’s from the foreword to “Eloquence.”  (Note: the (brackets) are mine and are added for clarification.)

These new circumstances (e.g. secularization, a waning of the knowledge of the truth, ignorance of the Bible and catechism) place a costly obligation on the church and call its ministers to an ever more faithful care for the office entrusted to them, especially in the ministry of the word. In content and form, the church’s gatherings may not be inferior to the [secular] meetings that call to the people day and night.  The church’s gatherings are and, by virtue of the divine institution, must remain the center point of the religious life, the source of spiritual power, the inspiration for the work everyone is called to do, by the sweat of his brow, each weekday.

Whatever influence there may be from the word in print or spoken that reaches us from elsewhere, it cannot be compared with the blessing there is for heart and life, family and society, in the word spoken to us in the gatherings of the congregation.  Here alone do we find the ministry of God’s Word and the sealing of his covenant. Here, Christ himself lives in our midst and works by his spirit, here we taste the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the principle of eternal life. The Sabbath is the best of days; no other day is like it. And the church is the meeting of God with his people; no other gathering can take its place to compensate for its loss.

I agree!  These are helpful words for us to remember today since such a high view of corporate worship is not the norm.  May God give his all people this kind of outlook on weekly corporate worship and preaching.

Herman Bavinck, “Eloquence”, in Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers (edited and translated by J. Eglinton), p. 18-19.

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

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