Tag Archives: ministry

William Ames’ Exhortation to Students of Theology

Posted on 26. Oct, 2009 by .


William AmesSince the good Doctor, Mark Jones, posted recently about John Owens’ advice to theological students, I thought it would be a fun exercise to write a post on “the learned Doctor” William Ames’ advice to theological students. William Ames (1576–1633) was an Englishman who was “exiled” to the Netherlands for the end of his life and ministry. If any of you know much about the Dutch, you’ll understand the great blessing Ames had in teaching at the University of Franeker in the province of Friesland (laugh if you get the tongue-in-cheek joke). On May 23, 1622, the independent-minded, some would say stubborn, Frieslanders’ installed Ames at their small but “gracious academy of Friesland.” A little over  year later he gave a lecture entitled, Parenesis ad studios theologiae, habita Franekerae, Aug. 22, anno 1623, “An Exhortation to the Students of Theology, Dwelling in Franeker, August 22, the Year 1623.” This lecture was translated in 1958 by Douglas Horton and is available through Inter-Library Loan or through sending me a few guilders (alright, just e-mail me for the .pdf).

Ames begins by defining the nature of theology as he did in his Medulla theologica, also published in 1623, in which Ames said so famously, “Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God.” In his exhortation, Ames said it was necessary for the University to “call theology away from questions and controversies, obscure, confused, and not very essential, and introduce it to life and practice so that students would begin to think seriously of conscience and its concerns.” No doubt Ames’ definition and populist concern reflects his relationship towards Johannes Maccovius, whom he considered too speculative.

First among Ames’ concerns was to counter what he perceived as a lack of understanding by students of “the proper end of theology.” He discussed this using 1 Timothy 4:16 as his text, which says the minister must be aware of his teaching since it saves himself and his hearers. This meant that students need to know that they were to be devoted to the glory of God and the edification of the church. Contrary to this concern for the proper end of theology were those who entered the ministry for financial gain or just like they would enter a business. God help us from this attitude in ourselves and for us so privileged, in purging this attitude from those we are shepherding towards the ministry as seminary students.  While these were “useless weights to the church,” Ames said “the greater marvel is the grace and providence of God, by which it has come about that up till now the church has lived on, although burdened to an unhappy degree by men of this hireling kind.” Amen! Ames also linked his concern for the proper end of theology with the conscience, saying, “The mirror in which the image of eternal truth is reflected must be pure and clean. As far as possible there ought to be no stains of vice or flaws of selfishness in that heart in which the divine wisdom is to tabernacle.” How important a godly character is to the preparation for the ministry! Cleanse your mind, seminary students, of greed, pride, arrogance, anger, envy, and contentiousness, to name a few areas. I remember those seminary days well.

Ames’ second concern was to impress upon his students the high calling of the ministry: “What can be thought more important or useful than the profession of the ministry? Here one does not treat of lands and estates and similar earthly matters, as in civil law, but of the supremest good and the highest heaven, not of temporal bodily health, as in medicine, but of salvation and eternal life. Not here, as elsewhere, do they enquire into the sentiments, orders, decisions, and rulings of men, but into the eternal wisdom of God and His perfect will.” I don’t know if I’ve ever read it better than this.

Ames’ third concern was to show that the ministry concerned not only doctrine, but method and practice, using the illustration of physicians of old who divided their discipline into these three areas. This was important, because, as Ames said, “Our ministers, however, think themselves to be quite prepared for all the parts of their office if they know only the doctrines—and would they knew them!” It is for this reason that the Scriptures were to be studied for doctrine and for the practice of godliness. What does this mean for us? It means that just because you like to read, just because you like theology, and just because you are able to cite a few passages of Scripture, from Calvin, or from the Confessions to make a point does not mean you are being called into the ministry.

In conclusion, like a good Ramist, Ames ended his exhortation with the use of his word concerning the end of theology, the high calling of the ministry, and the need to study for purposes of doctrine and godliness. Here Ames spoke to his students about “theological exercises,” which were the ways the things they learned were sharpened and put into practice. Ames’ exhortation to his students was that they participated in disputations, that is, formal theological debate. They needed to engage in rehearsing their sermons so that they would benefit their hearers; they need to pray; they needed to engage in holy meditation; and as fellow students, they needed to exhort, admonish, and console each other as brothers in the Lord. May God help us to do so.

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Lessons from a Letter of Call to John Owen

Posted on 20. Oct, 2009 by .


Today was a day dedicated to reading. I did so sitting outside at my favorite fish market in Carlsbad and reading through The Correspondence of John (1616–1683): With an Account of his Life and Work, ed. Peter Toon (Cambridge and London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1970). I was fascinated to read letter 71, “From the General Court of Massachusetts,” dated October 20, 1663 (pp. 135–136). This letter is what we call a letter of call from one congregation to a minister, seeking to impress upon him their desire for him to come.

There are several lessons that the church doing the calling can learn. Normally, we pastors speak to others about what they should say or what they should look for. Here I want to exhort elders, sessions, consistories, and congregations as to what to say, based on this letter to Owen.

First, the congregational church of Boston asked Owen “to come over and help us.” Alluding to the Macedonian man’s call to the apostle Paul, you need to remember that this is no mere perfunctory or business acquisition, but this is a spiritual task. You are seeking the spiritual help of a man of God.

Second, especially if you are a congregation in an average place without great attractions, sites, or a big city scene, listen to what the leaders of Boston said to Owen: “We confess the condition of this wilderness doth present little that is attractive, as to outward things.” Again, you are not trying to wine and dine a new CEO. You are calling a pastor so be honest.

Third, continuing this theme of honesty, listen to how the writers described themselves to Owen: “the persons that call you, are unworthy sinful men, of much infirmity, and may possibly fall short of your expectation.” Wow. You don’t hear that these days. Speaking from experience, I know I would have been more impressed by this sheer honesty concerning the sinfulness of man than with all the lengths to which men went to impress and put their best foot forward.

In short, as Reformed Christians, if we are involved in the calling of a minister, be honest, be realistic, and be sincere.

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John Owen on Multi-Campus Ministries

Posted on 10. Sep, 2009 by .


John-Owen-4-717227Was John Owen a prophet? Not quite, but read below.

While preparing my final ThM paper on John Owen’s, A Brief Instruction in the Worship of God and Discipline of the Churches of the New Testament (Works 15, 447–530), I came across the following gem (Works 15, 496–499). In this section Owen spoke of what is called today the “multi-campus ministry.” You know what I mean, right? When one pastor “serves” several gatherings/congregations/sites/campuses, most often than nought, by shepherding his flock via a video screen? Isn’t that in the original Greek of John 10:14? “I am the good shepherd. I know my own campuses and my own sites know me by my image on the big screen in front of them.” Alright, back to the point.

The background to Owen’s words here in this section may very well be the medieval phenomenon of jus patronatus, in which among others, bishops and priests were enabled to have “beneficences” in more than one parish, making their living off of several congregations while not really serving any of them. After all, that was what the “site pastor” was for, right? Anyways, what is interesting is how some Reformed churches dealt with this situation. The great Synod of Dort (1618–19) dealt with jus patronatus. While not abolishing it, the Synod sought to curb its abuse (Session 156, 157).

Owen’s lesson for all Reformed and Presbyterian pastors and seminary students is clear: before you listen to some advocates (since some have complained that I am “picking” on one advocate, here is another) of “modern ministry” and start planning your multi-campus, multi-media, church network, listen to Owen—better yet, listen to Jesus who knew his sheep by name and listen to Paul, who spent time in every single home of his parishioners in Ephesus (cf. Acts 20)!  You are called to shepherd souls, not be a rock star, pop idol, or media mogul. Get over yourself and get to pastoring like the Puritans: preach, pray, and visit your people.


Question 26—May a person be called to, or be employed in, a part only of the office or work of the ministry; or may he hold the relation and exercise the duty of an elder or minister unto more churches than one at the same time?


Neither of these has either warrant or precedent in the Scripture; nor is the first of them consistent with the authority of the ministry, nor the latter with the duty thereof, nor either of them with the nature of that relation which is between the elders and the church. Acts xiv.23; 1 Pet. v.2; Acts xx.28.


The second part of the question is concerning the relation of the same person to more churches than one at the same time, and his undertaking to discharge the duty of his relation unto them, as elder or minister. And this also is irregular and unwarrantable. Now, a man may hold the relation of an elder, pastor, or minister unto more churches than one, two ways:

1. Formally and directly, by an equal formal interest in them, undertaking the pastoral charge equally and alike of them, being called alike to them, and accepting of such a relation.

2. Virtually, when, by virtue of his relation unto one church, he puts forth his power or authority in ministerial acts in or towards another.

The first way is unlawful, and destructive both of the office and duty of a pastor; for as elders are ordained in and unto the churches respectively that they are to take care of, Acts xiv.23, Titus i.5, and their office-power consists in a relation unto the church that they are set over, so they are commanded to attend unto the service of the churches wherein and whereunto they are so ordained, Acts xx.28, 1 Pet. v.2, and that with all diligence, care, and watchfulness, as those that must give an account, Heb. xiii.17, which no man is able to do towards more churches than one, the same duty being at all times to be performed towards all. And because the whole authority of the elders, pastors, or bishops of churches, is ministerial, 1 Cor. iv.1, consisting in a power of acting upon the command of Christ, they are bound in their own persons to the discharge of their duty and office, without the least pretence of authority to delegate another, or others, to act their part or to do their duty; which would be an effect of autocratical authority, and not of obedience or ministry.

The latter way, also, of relation unto many churches is unwarrantable: for,

1. It hath no warrant in the Scripture; no law or constitution of Christ or his apostles can be produced to give it countenance; but elders were ordained to their own churches, and commanded to attend unto them.

2. No rule is given unto any elders how they should behave themselves in reference unto more churches than one, in the exercise of their ministerial power, as there are rules given unto every one for the discharge of that duty in the church whereunto he is related.

3. There is no example to give it countenance recorded in the Scripture.

4. The authority to be put forth hath no foundation.

(1.) Not in the gifts they have received; for the ministerial power is not an absolute ability or faculty of doing what a man is able, but a right, whereby a man hath power to do that rightly and lawfully which before he could not do. This, gifts will not give to any; for if they did, they would do it to all that have received them.

(2.) Not in their election; for they are chosen in and by that church whereunto they stand in especial relation, whose choice cannot give ministerial power over any but themselves.

(3.) Not in their setting apart by fasting, prayer, and imposition of hands; for this is only unto that office-work and power whereunto they are chosen. They are not chosen for one end, and set apart for another.

(4.) Not from the communion of churches; for that gives no new power, but only a due exercise of that which was before received.

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John Owen on Liturgies and Laziness

Posted on 08. Sep, 2009 by .


John-Owen-4-717227In his Discourse Concerning Liturgies, and Their Imposition (Works 15, 1–55), written just before the Act of Uniformity in 1662, John Owen (1616–1683) made a major point of using Ephesians 4. In fact, in all my reading of Owen and his liturgical writings, Ephesians 4 serves as a recurring passage. What Owen drew out of this passage is the fact that the ascended Jesus Christ by his Holy Spirit has promised to equip his ministers to edify his people. Against the argument of the Angllican prelates, who argued that liturgies were necessary because of their ministers’ lack of ability to pray extemporaneously, Owen retorted with a conundrum: this either is blasphemy because what it says is that Jesus no longer gifts his Church as he did in the days of the apostles as he promised or those in the ministry without such gifts were negligent and careless in not improving whatever gifts they did have. Because of the lack of improvement of gifts, Owen said, “I wish, then, we might, in the fear of the Lord, consider whether the remedy [i.e., composing liturgies] were well suited unto the disease [i.e., negligent and ungifted ministers].”

Throughout this Discourse Owen argued in a typically dispassionate, cogently argued manner, but his experimental theology bursted forth in a passionate way, when he said:

I suppose all impartial men will grant that there ought to have been a return unto Him endeavoured from whom that were gone astray . . . Finding themselves at the loss wherein they were, should they not have searched their hearts and ways, to consider wherefore it was that the presence of Christ was so withdrawn from them, that they were so left without the assistance which other ministering in their places before them had received? Should not they have pulled out their single talent, and fallen to trading with it, that it might have increased under their care? Was not this the remedy and cure of the breach made by them, that God and man expected from them? Was it just, then, and according to the mind of Christ, that, instead of an humble returnal unto a holy, evangelical dependence on himself, they should invent an expedient to support them in the condition wherein they were, and so make all such returnal for hereafter needless? (Works 15, 27–28)

What use are Owen’s words for us today? To my brothers in the ministry and those preparing for the ministry, stir up the gifts that your Lord Jesus Christ has placed within you by the power of his Holy Spirit! Fan your flame (2 Tim. 1:6). Work hard at preaching the law with force and work hard at applying the tender words of the gospel to your people’s souls. And exert yourselves in praying as men standing between God and man, heaven and earth. Administer the sacraments with passion as they are a foretaste of heaven.

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Mondays with Manton (1)

Posted on 07. Sep, 2009 by .


MantonThomas Manton (1620–1677) was called “the king of preachers” at his funeral. Anyone that has ever used his expositions of James or Jude for their sermon preparation knows this to be true. All told, his Works comprise twenty-two volumes and over 10,500 pages, most of which are sermons. Reformation Heritage Books sells the reprinted twenty-two volume set for an amazing price of only $250. Google Books has the complete set. Here is volume 1.

Among his expositions of Scripture are “Christ’s Temptation and Transfiguration Practically Explained and Improved in Several Sermons” (Works 1, 258–336). In Sermon 1 on Matthew 4:1, Manton followed the classic Puritan plain style of preaching, opening with the scope of the text, structuring his sermon along the lines of the text itself, deriving doctrines, and offering uses of those doctrines for his hearers’ souls’ sake. This sermon is full of biblical imagery, doctrine and comfort. Listen to this line as Manton expounded the lesson that temptations come not by chance but from God himself: “If tempted, when we are in Satan’s hand, remember Satan is in God’s hand” (Works 1, 259). Beautiful! Sounds like Luther’s famous line, “The devil is God’s devil.”

In expositing the point that Christ’s temptation occurred immediately before he entered his prophetical office, Manton offers the following lesson: “Experience of temptations fits for the ministry” (Works 1, 261). Manton did not merely moralilze this principle out of thin air to perk up his congregations’ attention, but he derived it from the Christology of the text itself. His point was that we as ministers are prepared for the ministry just as Christ was prepared for his prophetic office by means of temptation. Why? What was the purpose of Christ’s being tempted first, and congruously, what is our purpose in undergoing temptations? God’s purpose for Christ as for us was “for the recovery of poor souls out of their bondage into the liberty of the children of God” (Works 1, 261). In a word, Christ was tempted that he might help those who are tempted. And the same is true of us as ministers of the gospel. We cannot help those in bondage to sin unless we ourselves know what it is to be filthy, depraved sinners who constantly feel the Devil’s breath upon the back of our necks. Manton went on to say that God gave his Son to temptation by the Devil that “he should experimentally feel the power of the tempter” that assaults and endangers our souls (Works 1, 261).

Have we as ministers come to grips with just how depraved our sinful nature is? Are we in a constant and conscious war with Satan? We must for we minister best what we know and need ourselves. As Manton concluded:

Ministers should not only be men of science, but of experience.

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