Jon Payne on John Owen and the Means of Grace

Word, sacraments and prayer are the means of grace. Owen is needed, because our churches are losing their Reformed moorings because of an over-emphasis on urban culture, and a substitute of our own means of grace for God’s means of grace.

Owen was raised by a non-conformist father. His time at Oxford was long and fulsome. He went to hear Edmund Calamy, but, in God’s providence, Calamy was not there. Yet the Lord used the substitute’s message to work powerfully in Owen’s life. Married Mary Rook. Had 11 children, only 1 of whom lived to adulthood. Owen was an ecclesiastical statesman, as being chaplain to Oliver Cromwell.

Public worship and liturgy was a hugely controversial subject at the time, and figured large in Owen’s work. As Mohler would say, if you want to know what a church is really like, go worship with them and listen to the preaching. You will learn who they are by looking at their worship. Lex credendi, lex orandi: the law of belief is the law of worship. If there is such a thing as acceptable worship, then there is such a thing as unacceptable worship. The persons of the worshipers need to be accepted first. Secondly, worship can only be of God’s own appointment. Evangelical graces need to be exercised in worship. Getting worship outwardly correct is not enough. There needs to be a subjectively active and pious attendance on worship.

God’s means of grace are efficacious: they work! In our modern age where people no longer believe this, we hear from the Word that the means of grace work as efficacious for salvation. Owen didn’t write anything on preaching. The sermons we have are parliament sermons, not his normal week to week sermons. Owen’s sermons on the Lord’s Supper are rich sacramental theology (and are in volume 9).

Jon Payne on Charles Simeon

The overall topic of the pre-conference is “Recovering a Reformed Ministry.”

God rests too inconsequentially on ministers and on ministry. He means this, of course, in the sense that we are not aware enough of God, not that God is at fault in any way.

Simeon’s life and ministry are a good corrective to problems in ministry today. He preached for over 54 years. For decades, Simeon was the object of scorn and derision by students at Cambridge. And yet, he persevered in preaching the true gospel. Born in 1759. Eton at that time was completely devoid of true piety. Simeon entered into Cambridge, which was no different. Simeon thought, upon being required to attend communion, that Satan was just as qualified to attend communion as him. He read William Law’s book on what was required of man, a very moralistic book. Then he read a different book that set out the substitutionary atonement, which converted him.

Simeon faced enormous difficulty in his church at Cambridge, where the people completely rejected him, and found many ways to make his life extremely difficult for many years. The students once threw eggs in his face. Simeon knew that the ministry would not be easy. So many stood against him. But Simeon knew he was on the Lord’s side. He was first and foremost a preacher.

Simeon preached the gospel, but did not forget the imperatives of the Bible. Our anemic preaching of the third use of the law is highly detrimental to the Lord God.

We need to preach when it is convenient and when it is not. Consistently cultivate personal, biblical piety. Cultivate humility. Simeon believed that downward was upward. We are making disciples of Jesus Christ, not disciples of us. We should not neglect the global task of the gospel just because of the local church ministry. Invest in the next generation of ministers. Never negotiate the primacy of preaching.

Live-Blogging PCRT

I will be live-blogging PCRT today through Sunday. The overall topic is the historical Adam. The pre-conference is starting with Rick Phillips doing a devotional on John 6:1-13, the story of the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus is training the disciples (looking at verses 5-6). It is a primer in ministry. There are four points.

1. The motive for ministry- Note the contrast between the great compassion that Jesus found in the people versus the disciples’ lack of compassion. The disciples in Luke say “send them away.” This is an attitude that many people have towards needy people. We need to be discerning in this. The social gospel has often replaced the real gospel. He takes direct aim at the bad versions of “redeem the culture.” Obviously, we need to have two premises (via John Piper). We need to have the greatest compassion on the those with the greatest need, and we need to focus on the greatest length of need. And the greatest need in both categories is the gospel of salvation by faith. The only true motive for the pastoral ministry is the compassion of Christ for the lost and for the sheep. Being able to pontificate on matters of every subject when people have no choice but to listen to you should not be the motive (ouch! LK). Our motive should not be the joy of digging into the Bible, as beautiful a thing as that is, or the reading of learned books (again, ouch! LK).

2. Our calling in ministry- Note that Bethsaida was the hometown of 3 of the disciples, and so they must have known the resources of that town, and they therefore despaired of providing the food for these people. Then Andrew brings someone to Jesus (which is something that he always does). Our calling is to take what we have and faithfully give it to Jesus- put it in His hands. The little boy gives what he has to Jesus. How much should we give? Everything! As soon as he gives it to Jesus, Jesus starts working. As Pink says, Jesus does not scorn the loaves because they are small and few.

3. God’s provision for us in ministry- We have a divine provision for our ministries in this life. Jesus will go on to say in John 6 that He is the bread of life. The disciples are looking down: where is the food, the money, the resources? Jesus looks upward to God, and thus accesses the infinite riches of God Almighty. George Müller’s example is wonderful in this regard. He did not look down, but always looked up in prayer. We do not have because we do not ask.

4. The boldness of faith we are to exercise in ministry. Verses 11-13 show the disciples beginning to act in faith. The Lord didn’t multiply the loaves and fishes before they started to ministry, but during the time when they were serving. We have no idea of the magnitude of what God will do through us.


Two Verses, Twelve Questions

(Posted by Paige)

Here’s a whimsical Bible puzzle for you to bat around. These two verses have recently caught my attention and raised a handful of questions in my mind:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Here are twelve of my many questions. Tackle any that interest you, too!

1. What did the disciples assume about faith?

2. Were they correct in their assumption?

3. What did they assume about Jesus?

4. What did they expect Jesus to accomplish for them?

5. Is Jesus’ response intended as an affirmation or a correction of their request?

6. What does Jesus imply about faith?

7. Why a mulberry tree? Is there any symbolism here?

8. Is Jesus describing something that might literally happen, or is he using poetic hyperbole?

9. If hyperbole, what’s his point?

10. Is this the same message that Jesus intends in Matt. 17:20 (“…if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”)

11. Why is this exchange recorded here in Luke (i.e., in this particular location in the Gospel)? Are the apostles reacting to something, or has Luke collected similar material together?

12. How is this exchange related to what has come before and what will follow?

Bonus question: What would you emphasize if preaching from this passage?

OT Israel & NT Church: A History-of-Homiletics Question

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a research question that might interest some readers.

I am trying to trace the history of a certain approach to the application of OT texts to the church, in which promises or commands spoken to historical Israel are understood to have a secondary and continued relevance for the “New Israel.” There may be something of an allegorical quality to such applications, as the concrete details of the OT setting are translated into the spiritual realities of the New (e.g., “land” and “temple” become the people of God themselves) – but as a hermeneutical approach it differs from pure allegory in that it doesn’t completely disregard the original historical context of a passage. It just doesn’t locate the significance of the text in that historical context, but finds the main pastoral value of the passage in its application to the church, whether spiritual or practical.

A simple example:

Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. (2 Chr. 7:15f.)

Application: Because the church is God’s new temple, we can be reassured by these verses that he has consecrated us, and that he will hear our prayers and dwell among us.

I would be interested to know if what I am describing rings any bells for anyone, and if you can identify for me any voices from past eras in Christian history who tended to write and preach in this way when working with OT texts. I am curious to know the roots of this approach, since it seems to differ in emphasis from a primarily redemptive-historical hermeneutic.

Comments on the pastoral value of this approach to preaching would also be interesting.

(Please note that what I am describing is a much “lighter” approach to OT application than theonomy, so let’s not make this another theonomy thread.)

Preachers To Whom I Listen

I thought this might be a helpful post telling people about some good preachers, and where to find their sermons. These are listed in alphabetical order by last name. Now, I’m sure that there are many great Reformed and Presbyterian preachers that I don’t have listed here. If there are names that are not listed here that you think should be, list them in the comments. I am only looking for Reformed confessional preachers, or Reformed Baptist confessional (as in, London Baptist Confession) preachers. It would be great to have a relatively complete listing, along with the link to where you can find their sermons. It is my goal to listen to one or two sermons from every one of these men through the course of the next year.

Logan Almy, Thabiti Anyabwile, Andrew Barnes, Nick Batzig, Joel Beeke, Alistair Begg, Michael Brown, Iain Campbell, Brian Carpenter, Kevin Carr, Stafford Carson, Jim Cassidy, Andrew Compton, Iain Duguid, Reed DePace, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Ron Gleason, Liam Goligher, Fred Greco, Martin Hedman, Michael Horton, Chris Hutchinson, Danny Hyde, Gary Johnson, Lee Johnson, Matthew Judd, Daniel Kok, Steven Lawson, Sean Lucas, Ryan McGraw, Joe Morecraft, Danny Patterson, Jon Payne, Rick Phillips, Tim Phillips, Ken Pierce, John Piper, Guy Richard, Kim Riddlebarger, Art Sartorius, R.C. Sproul, Jason Stellman, Derek Thomas, John Tweeddale, Andy Webb, Wes White

Seventeen Points of Denominational Renewal, part 1

Rev. Jon Payne’s motion, which became the Northwest Georgia Presbytery’s motion, which was adopted at our 38th General Assembly, has seventeen points related to true denominational renewal. This resolution passed by an overwhelming margin. I’d like to post a few thoughts on these excellent points. Our denomination has passed it, and therefore we should give it due weight.

The first five points relate to the worship of God. They are preaching, sacraments, Sabbath, the Regulative Principle of Worship, and private, family, and corporate worship of God. Let’s take them one at a time.

Preaching is God’s ordained way of getting the Word to people. The Reformed dictum was that the preached Word of God is the Word of God. This generalization is understood to be qualified, of course, by the caution that the preaching must be accurate to what the text says in order to be the Word of God. Nevertheless, this qualification does not take the teeth out of the equation. This preaching, as Payne notes, must be “exegetical, Christ-centered, application-filled, expository preaching.” Notice that this is first in position, as taking pride of place, as it should. Recovery of this will result in the recovery of all the other points. For the rest of the points constitutes a great deal of the whole counsel of God, which is indeed what should be preached.

Sacraments are efficacious. Notice the presence of the word “efficacious” in the second paragraph. While we will not go Federal Vision on this issue, nevertheless, we need to remember that the Sacraments are ordinary means of grace. What kind of grace is conveyed to worthy recipients is a discussion for another time (it’s been discussed ad nauseum on this blog!). The point is that the signs are not empty signs. In other words, we do need a high view of the efficacy of the Sacraments. We need to use them as God has ordained. It is very easy to forget them, and it is also very easy to use them improperly. The Larger Catechism has a great deal to say about how we should use the Sacraments. We would do well to remind ourselves of these truths.

The Sabbath is becoming much neglected these days. I can hardly count the number of young men coming out of seminaries these days who take exception to the Catechism on the Fourth Commandment. They usually go further than this and deny that the purpose of the day is worship, and not some kind of idleness. I have even heard people denying that work is forbidden on the Sabbath day. Now, some of these men have actually done all the research into why and how the Westminster divines wrote what they wrote on the subject of the Sabbath. However, most of the time, they take an exception there only because it is fashionable to do so, and they haven’t a clue as to why the divines wrote what they did. They have done no exegesis of Isaiah 58:13-14. Therefore, they often have no clue as to why the “no recreation” clause is in the Larger Catechism.

The Regulative Principle is also coming under attack. Our Reformed forefathers would be incredulous, to tell you the truth, at some of the attacks on this doctrine that have come up within supposedly Reformed circles. Outright denial of this doctrine, or complete redefinition, is commonplace nowadays. The Regulative Principle is quite simply this: if the Bible has not commanded us to do a certain thing in worship, then we may not do it. If the Bible doesn’t mention it, then it’s forbidden. While this is stated negatively here, it actually has an extremely positive meaning: we are not bound in our conscience to do anything in worship invented by man. Humanity has no right to bind the conscience. Only the Word of God binds our conscience. Sometimes the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of justification receive so much of the limelight that we forget that the RPW can really be described as the third great principle of the Reformation alongside the other two of Scripture and justification. Probably the reason why it is not viewed that way is because the Lutherans do not accept this principle.

Fifthly, private, family, and public worship of God is what we were made to do. This is our highest purpose in life. It is more important than work, play, entertainment, eating, drinking, sports, arts, education, or even evangelism. John Piper understands this, which is why he said, “Evangelism exists because worship doesn’t.” Exactly. Evangelism exists for the purpose of our being God’s instruments to create worshipers of God. That’s the goal of evangelism. And we need to worship God on all these levels (private, family, and public) because each of these levels defines who we are in relation to God. God’s Word speaks to us on these three levels, and so also must we speak back to God on these three levels.

Isaiah As Preacher

I didn’t find this section of Old’s book quite as helpful as some other sections. However, that is probably because I have already done a fair bit of work on Isaiah, and thus found him saying fewer good insights that I hadn’t already found in other commentators. Nevertheless, there are still good things here, and for those who haven’t spent much time in Isaiah studies, there will probably be many helpful things. I will be treating here both his section on “Isaiah,” and his section on “Deutero-Isaiah,” since I do not regard the two sections of the book as having been written by different authors.

Old notes that Isaiah may well have been both priest and preacher (p. 61). He makes a very important point when he argues that “the prophet is not merely the mouthpiece of God, who in some sort of trance utters the words or God quite apart from his own intelligence. The prophet understands the oracle; he is a witness to its truth and an advocate of its application” (p. 63). Of course, this statement needs qualification. Not all prophets understood everything about which they spoke. Peter tells us that the prophets longed to look into these things, what manner or time the Spirit in them was indicating when the Spirit told them about Jesus. However, Old’s point has more to do with the fact that the prophets were not just mindless automatons, copying down God’s words like a machine. The theory of concursus comes into play here: God worked through the individual authors’ experiences, personalities, eccentricities, in short everything that made up that person. Thus Paul does not sound like John. Yet each were inspired to write what God told them to write, and to do so in a way that is without error.

What Kind of Preaching?

Hughes Oliphant Old, in volume 1 of his history on preaching, gives us five kinds of preaching that have been more or less dominant in the history of the church: expository preaching, evangelistic preaching, catechetical preaching, festal preaching, and prophetic preaching.

The definitions of these different types of preaching are helpful. Expository preaching is “the systematic explanation of Scripture done on a week-by-week, or even day-by-day, basis at the regular meeting of the congregation” (9). He argues that the lectio continua method (picking up the next week where the previous week left off) is the purest form (10), but there have been other methods, such as Spurgeon.

The second kind of preaching is evangelistic, which, “in its more proper sense announces that the time is fulfilled; the time has come. Much of the preaching of the prophets was the preaching of repentance” (11). This kind of preaching does not usually focus on a particular text. He argues that Jesus models both of the first two kinds of preaching (11).

The third kind is catechetical, which “is by its very nature systematic,” and “assumes that those to whom the preaching is addressed have made the basic commitment to follow Christ and the Christian way of life. Catechetical preaching therefore outlines basic Christian teaching, often by explaining the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments” (13).

Festal preaching is preaching based on the feast days of the church. The Reformed church mostly abandoned this form of preaching.

Prophetic preaching assumes that “God often has a particular word for a particular time and a particular place” (16). Of course, we do not wish to state that God is continuing His revelation. Think of this kind of preaching as reacting to the current situation in the world or in the community.

I believe the minister of the Word needs to be fundamentally an expository preacher with elements of most of the other kinds thrown in regularly and in some ways constantly. For example, in the weekly exposition, he will need to evangelize and to say that the time for salvation is now. Old did a great job of delineating the various kinds of preaching. However, he forgot to mention that these categories can be somewhat fluid. The expository preacher also needs to explain Christian doctrine regularly in his preaching, and also needs to address the current needs of the community and the world (which are always based on their need for the Gospel). This is not to take away from Old’s excellent taxonomy. However, we do need to realize the importance of elements from various kinds of preaching, and use everything at our disposal to preach Christ, and Him crucified.

The Holy Spirit is not limited to any one of these methods. However, we do usually tie the Holy Spirit to the Word most often in Reformed circles, and rightly so. It would therefore seem to me that the preaching of books of the Bible would be the most effective way of ministering to God’s people, recognizing that we need some of those other things also.

Why Johnny Can’t Preach

T. David Gordon has just come out with a very interesting book with the title listed above.

If you liked reading Neil Postman or Kenneth Myers, then you will like this book as well. It’s short, and you can read it in about two hours. However, this short book manages to put its finger on the pulse of what is wrong with preaching today in our culture.

The basic thesis is that the electronic media have so shaped our culture that preachers cannot read the text with understanding, provide order and flow in their sermons, preach Christ, exposit the text, or provide instruction. Instead, they tend to read the text in a way that confirms what they already know, rather than taking the time to read the text well so as to be changed by it.

All throughout this book, I was feeling a huge weight of electronic media crushing in all around me, with a gleam of hope shot through this book, such that I felt that there is a way to avoid jejune preaching, if only we as preachers could learn how to read texts not just for their informational content, but also for the way in which it is said, and how that realization could impact how we preach.

It is impossible to be bored when reading T. David Gordon. He has a great sense of humor, and has all the qualities of writing which he laments preachers don’t have. An example of his humor:

Several of the more incompetent preachers I’ve heard have jumped on the emergent bandwagon, and their ministerial careers are undergoing a resurgence now, as people flock to hear their enthusiastic worship leaders and to ogle their PowerPoint presentations. Their churches are no longer moribund, but then the annual carnival isn’t, either-it, too, is full of enthusiasm, activity, and lively entertainment. But I’m not sure these emergent activities have any more spiritual effect than the pig races at the carnival (p. 32, fn10).

Buy this book for your pastor. If you are a pastor, buy it. Do not be offended at the title (parishioners who buy this book for their pastor might have to be careful about that landmine!). This book will help you be a better preacher, because it will help you focus on what is important in preaching.

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