Samuel Hieron (bap. 1572-1617): A pastor’s prayer for himself and his ministry



The following prayer of a pastor for himself and his ministry is attributed to Samuel Hieron (bap. 1572-1617), fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and afterwards vicar of Modbury, Devon (parish church of St George, Modbury, pictured):

Holy, O Lord, and honourable is that service, to which it hath been thy gracious pleasure to depute me. The matter I am chiefly to be busied in, is thine own counsel; they be thy oracles, and the seals of righteousness, the dispensation whereof thou hast committed to me. Thou hast made me an overseer of a part of that flock, which thou didst purchase with thine own most precious blood; thou hast called me to be a messenger, and an interpreter, to declare unto men thy righteousness, to watch for their souls, among them to declare thy secrets, and to pray them even in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled unto thee.

What man among all the sons of Adam, is worthy of this honour? And who is sufficient for these things? When as, oh most merciful Father, I think upon the weight of that charge which thou hast put upon me, and consider again mine own weakness and insufficiency, who am a man of polluted lips, and even as a child unable to speak the secret of thy Gospel as becometh me; methinks I may well cry out with the prophet, Woe is me, I am even undone; how shall I stand upright under such a burden?

But when I look back into my own conscience, and find there a comfortable witness, that I have not thrust in myself for a pastor, and remember also what is registered in the Word, how thou makest thy power perfect in weakness, and choosest the feeble things of the world for weighty purposes, it is a kind of enlivening to my spirits, and refreshing to my discouraged and drooping thoughts, I am thereby emboldened to press nearer to thy throne of grace.

Oh thou who both callest whom thou pleasest, and makest those able whom thou callest; be merciful unto me (even with the strength and intention of my desires I most humbly pray thee) make my heart a very treasury of saving knowledge, fill it with soundness of judgment and a large measure of spiritual understanding, that my whole drift may be to fulfil that ministry which I have received. Let my lips preserve knowledge, that many may be fed thereby, and give me a door of utterance, that I may open my mouth boldly, as I ought to speak, and both shew thy people their sins, and be able to minister a word in due season to him that is weary.

In my preaching vouchsafe me both diligence and humility. Diligence; that I may still be instant, never fainting in my mind for the small success of my labours, or for those storms which Satan raiseth up against the faithful in dispensing of thy truth: and humility, that I may not seek mine own glory and applause with men, but the bringing in sheaves into thy garner, and the gathering of saints into thy fold. And for this cause teach me to take heed of the affectation of words, and of seeking to abound with the enticing speech of man’s wisdom, choosing rather by the plain evidence of the Spirit to approve myself to men’s consciences in thy sight, than by a vain blast of words to gain an opinion of eloquence and learning before men.

And for the better furtherance of this great work, make me careful to know the state of my flock, and to hearken after their courses, to observe their carriage and opinions, and to find their especial sins, that so my speeches may be as words in season, even like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

Make me wise in judging, skilful in separating the precious from the vile; bold, but yet pitiful and compassionate: in reproving resolute, especially in those things which are fit to be urged; and far from yielding in the smallest things which may strengthen them in evil, and be a stop in their speedy reformation.

Let it be even my whole business to seek that which is lost, and to study how to bring those out of the snares of the Devil which are taken by him at his will.

Make my face strong, and my forehead as the adamant against their faces which shall either scorn or withstand thy truth; let me make ready my back for the smiters, and not hide my face from shame and spitting; no nor to account even of life itself, so that I may finish my course with joy; and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of thy grace.

Frame me to diligence and painfulness in my private employments, in reading, in study, in meditation and prayer, that I may be a workman not needing to be ashamed, and that men may see how I go on, and profit in my calling.

Let my life be a pattern of holiness to my flock; let there be no fighting betwixt my behavior and my doctrine, but that my very course and carriage, and ordinary speeches may savour of grace, that so I may give no offence, either to those that depend upon me, or to those who desire to have some occasion and matter of reproach.

Make me circumspect in my family, overseeing the ways of my household, knowing how many eyes are upon me and mine; and how soon by Satan’s teaching men will make the worst of every little trespass. And because, oh Lord, the businesses of this world are a great withdrawment, and the pretence of caring for posterity, doth kill the zeal of many, and lead them into doolish and noisome lusts; therefore, I beseech thee, suppress within me all earthly-mindedness; keep me from entangling myself with the affairs of this world; let it be enough for me that I have a nail in the holy place, and a room among the servitours of thy Church.

As for those which belong unto me, let me neither be without care; for that were worse than infidelity, nor yet so taken up, that I should forget my chiefest business; but let me assure myself, that thou wilt be my God, and the God of my seed, and wilt not leave them destitute of earthly blessings, for whom thou hast provided an eternal inheritance. With this hope make me to go on with cheerfulness; doing that whereto thou hast called me, and leaving thee to provide and care for the rest. Thou oh Lord knowest the desires of my soul, thou best understandest what things are fittest for me, in respect of that great calling to which thou hast ordained me, and what I most stand in need of: Supply me I beseech thee out of thy fulness, and crown my labours in the ministry with the conversion of such souls as are ordained unto life; and that for the Son’s sake, who is the chief Shepherd, to whom let my soul and spirit give honour, glory, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

Charles Bridges (1794-1869): Preaching from the heart

Charles Bridges

“The Minister, that does not manifestly put his heart into his sermon, will never put his sermon into the hearts of his people. Pompous elocution, attempts at theatrical display, or affected emotions, are indeed most repugnant to the simple dignity of our office. A painted fire may glare, but will not warm. Violent agitations, without correspondent tenderness of feeling, will disgust instead of arresting the mind. Preaching is not (as some appear to think it) the work of the lungs, or the mimicry of gesture, or the impulse of uncontrollable feeling; but the spiritual energy of a heart constrained by the love of Christ, and devoted to the care of those immortal souls, for whom Christ died.”

– Charles Bridges (1794-1869), The Christian Ministry, p. 320

John Calvin (1509-1564) on submission to ecclesiastical authority


The early church father Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258) once said: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.” John Calvin (1509-1564) picks up on this phrase in his treatment of the Church, and in particular with regard to submission to ecclesiastical authority. In our day and age where consumerism and individualism, among other factors, lead to a general reluctance to submit to divinely ordained authority (if not outright anarchy), these words are quite prophetic:

“…by the faith of the gospel Christ becomes ours, and we are made partakers of the salvation and eternal blessedness procured by him. But as our ignorance and sloth (I may add, the vanity of our mind) stand in need of external helps, by which faith may be begotten in us, and may increase and make progress until its consummation, God, in accommodation to our infirmity, has added such helps, and secured the effectual preaching of the gospel, by depositing this treasure with the Church. He has appointed pastors and teachers, by whose lips he might edify his people (Eph. 4:11); he has invested them with authority, and, in short, omitted nothing that might conduce to holy consent in the faith, and to right order. In particular, he has instituted sacraments, which we feel by experience to be most useful helps in fostering and confirming our faith…

I will begin with the Church, into whose bosom God is pleased to collect his children, not only that by her aid and ministry they may be nourished so long as they are babes and children, but may also be guided by her maternal care until they grow up to manhood, and, finally, attain to the perfection of faith. What God has thus joined, let not man put asunder (Mark 10:9): to those to whom he is a Father, the Church must also be a mother…

…let us learn, from her [the visible church’s] single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels (Mt. 22:30). For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars…

But let us proceed to a full exposition of this view. Paul says that our Saviour ‘ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:10-13). We see that God, who might perfect his people in a moment, chooses not to bring them to manhood in any other way than by the education of the Church. We see the mode of doing it expressed; the preaching of celestial doctrine is committed to pastors. We see that all without exception are brought into the same order, that they may with meek and docile spirit allow themselves to be governed by teachers appointed for this purpose. Isaiah had long before given this as the characteristic of the kingdom of Christ, ‘My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever’ (Isa. 59:21). Hence it follows, that all who reject the spiritual food of the soul divinely offered to them by the hands of the Church, deserve to perish of hunger and famine. God inspires us with faith, but it is by the instrumentality of his gospel, as Paul reminds us, ‘Faith cometh by hearing’ (Rom. 10:17). God reserves to himself the power of maintaining it, but it is by the preaching of the gospel, as Paul also declares, that he brings it forth and unfolds it. With this view, it pleased him in ancient times that sacred meetings should be held in the sanctuary, that consent in faith might be nourished by doctrine proceeding from the lips of the priest. Those magnificent titles, as when the temple is called God’s rest, his sanctuary, his habitation, and when he is said to dwell between the cherubims (Ps 32:13, 14; 80:1), are used for no other purpose than to procure respect, love, reverence, and dignity to the ministry of heavenly doctrine, to which otherwise the appearance of an insignificant human being might be in no slight degree derogatory. Therefore, to teach us that the treasure offered to us in earthen vessels is of inestimable value (2 Cor. 4:7), God himself appears and, as the author of this ordinance, requires his presence to be recognised in his own institution. Accordingly, after forbidding his people to give heed to familiar spirits, wizards, and other superstitions (Lev. 19:30, 31), he adds, that he will give what ought to be sufficient for all—namely, that he will never leave them without prophets. For, as he did not commit his ancient people to angels, but raised up teachers on the earth to perform a truly angelical office, so he is pleased to instruct us in the present day by human means. But as anciently he did not confine himself to the law merely, but added priests as interpreters, from whose lips the people might inquire after his true meaning, so in the present day he would not only have us to be attentive to reading, but has appointed masters to give us their assistance. In this there is a twofold advantage. For, on the one hand, he by an admirable test proves our obedience when we listen to his ministers just as we would to himself; while, on the other hand, he consults our weakness in being pleased to address us after the manner of men by means of interpreters, that he may thus allure us to himself, instead of driving us away by his thunder. How well this familiar mode of teaching is suited to us all the godly are aware, from the dread with which the divine majesty justly inspires them.

Those who think that the authority of the doctrine is impaired by the insignificance of the men who are called to teach, betray their ingratitude; for among the many noble endowments with which God has adorned the human race, one of the most remarkable is, that he deigns to consecrate the mouths and tongues of men to his service, making his own voice to be heard in them. Wherefore, let us not on our part decline obediently to embrace the doctrine of salvation, delivered by his command and mouth; because, although the power of God is not confined to external means, he has, however, confined us to his ordinary method of teaching, which method, when fanatics refuse to observe, they entangle themselves in many fatal snares. Pride, or fastidiousness, or emulation, induces many to persuade themselves that they can profit sufficiently by reading and meditating in private, and thus to despise public meetings, and deem preaching superfluous. But since as much as in them lies they loose or burst the sacred bond of unity, none of them escapes the just punishment of this impious divorce, but become fascinated with pestiferous errors, and the foulest delusions. Wherefore, in order that the pure simplicity of the faith may flourish among us, let us not decline to use this exercise of piety, which God by his institution of it has shown to be necessary, and which he so highly recommends. None, even among the most petulant of men, would venture to say, that we are to shut our ears against God, but in all ages prophets and pious teachers have had a difficult contest to maintain with the ungodly, whose perverseness cannot submit to the yoke of being taught by the lips and ministry of men.  This is just the same as if they were to destroy the impress of God as exhibited to us in doctrine. For no other reason were believers anciently enjoined to seek the face of God in the sanctuary (Ps. 105:4) (an injunction so often repeated in the Law), than because the doctrine of the Law, and the exhortations of the prophets, were to them a living image of God. Thus Paul declares, that in his preaching the glory of God shone in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The more detestable are the apostates who delight in producing schisms in churches, just as if they wished to drive the sheep from the fold, and throw them into the jaws of wolves. Let us hold, agreeably to the passage we quoted from Paul, that the Church can only be edified by external preaching, and that there is no other bond by which the saints can be kept together than by uniting with one consent to observe the order which God has appointed in his Church for learning and making progress.”

– John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.i.1, 4, 5

John Preston (1587-1628): No man will repent and believe, unless the Holy Spirit enable him



John Preston’s (1587-1628) work The Breastplate of Faith and Love consists of 18 sermons on Romans 1:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, and Galatians 5:6. The following is an excerpt from his second sermon on 1 Thessalonians 1:3, p. 48-55:

“[F]or [a man] to take CHRIST so as to deny himselfe for him, to take him so, as to mortify his lusts, so as to take up his crosse, so as to obey CHRIST, to follow him in all things, this is a thing that no man is able to do, unless GOD enable him to it, with his almighty power. For the heart of every man, by nature, is so shut up against CHRIST, that it will give no entrance to him, he may stand and knocke long enough; unless GOD himselfe shake off the bolts, and open the gates, and breake open these everlasting doores, that the King of Glory may come in, we will not admit him, but keepe him out.

Every man naturally hath a hard heart, that cannot repent, that cannot turne from sin, he will be content perhaps to take Christ for a Saviour, but to take him so as to obey him, and feare him, so as to love him: this no man will do, or can do, unless the Holy Ghost enable him.

But, you will aske, How doth the Holy Ghost do it?

The Holy Ghost doth it by these three acts. First, by putting an efficacy into the Law, and making that powerful, to work on the heart, to make a man poore in spirit, that so he may be fit to receive the Gospel. For the Law, though it be fit to humble a man, yet it is no worker of sanctification. If a man were able to do any thing, he were able to see the righteousness the Law requires, and how far he is from it, and to discerne the curse upon the not doing of it, and yet this he is not able to do, without the spirit of bondage: the spirit of bondage must make the Law effectual, as well as the spirit of Adoption doth the Gospel. That is, except the LORD himselfe press the Law on our hearts, so as to cause it to make sin appeare to us, we, that are the Ministers of GOD, may discover your sins, we may shew you the rectitude required in the Law, we may shew you the danger, yet all will be to no purpose, unless God awaken you: if he will set sin upon the conscience to worry a man, to plucke him downe, when GOD shall charge sin on him, that he shall feele the weight and burden of it, when he shall sharpen sin, and cause it to use its sting, this makes a man fit to receive CHRIST: otherwise, if the sons of Thunder should speake to men, if we should come in the spirit and power of Eliah, nay, if GOD himself should thunder from heaven, all would not move the heart of a man, all would not awaken him to see his sins, till God himselfe shake the heart.

To convert the Gaoler [Jailer], in Acts 16. the foundation of the Prison was shaken; which was a resemblance of the shaking of his heart: we may as well shake the Earth, as strike the heart of a sinner without the work of GOD. For, though the Law be a sword, yet unless GOD take that sword into his hand, and strike therewithall himselfe, it shall not be able to wound a sinner. Therefore the first work of the Holy Ghost is to awaken a sinner, to set sin upon him, that he may be fit to receive CHRIST.

Secondly, when this is done, that the heart is thus prepared by the Spirit, then the Holy Ghost shewes us what we have by CHRIST, he shewes the unsearchable riches of CHRIST, what is the hope of our calling, and the glorious inheritance prepared for the Saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power in them that believe. I say, we neede the Spirit to shew these things.

But, you will say, a man may see these things without the helpe of the Spirit.

It is true, in some manner you may, but not in such a manner as shall affect you. For there is a manner of seeing proper only to the Saints, and that is the proper work of the Spirit in them, when we shall so see them, as to be affected with them. Otherwise, you may reade the Scriptures a thousand times over, you may understand them, yet you shall not be affected with them, till the Holy Ghost shew them unto you. This is the secret of GOD, that he revealeth to those whom he meaneth to save; that is, when he presents these spiritual things prepared for us in Christ, in such a manner, as that we shall love them, and embrace them; when we shall not only see the truth of them, but the goodness of them; when GOD shall not only shew us the advantages we have by Christ, but the excellency of Christ, so that we shall be in love with his person, as well as to be ready to receive the priviledges with him.

Now this is done by the Spirit: 1. Cor. 2. 12. We have received the Spirit of GOD, by which we know the things that are given us of GOD, and they are revealed to us by the Spirit. They are two or three times repeated in that Chapter; as if he should have said, If you saw them no more than other men do, than natural men do, you would be no more affected with them, than they are: but when you have the Spirit of GOD to shew you the things that are given you of GOD, that is the thing that works upon you, and affects you. And so in Joh. 14. 21. saith CHRIST, I will come to him, and shew my selfe to him: When CHRIST sheweth himselfe to a man, it is another thing than when the Ministers shall shew him, or the Scriptures nakedly read do shew him: for when Christ shall shew himselfe by his Spirit, that shewing draweth a mans heart to long after him, otherwise we may preach long enough, and shew you that these spiritual things, these priviledges are prepared for you in Christ, but it is the Holy Ghost that must write them in your hearts; we can but write them in your heads: Therefore the Lord taketh that as peculiar to himselfe: I will write my Law in your hearts. That is, I will make you affected with the things that I shew you, and this is the teaching of GOD. There is a teaching by men, and a teaching by GOD, that is, when God shall enable a man to see things in good earnest; otherwise it will be but as a man that sees a thing, when his minde is upon another matter: so, we shall see, and not see: but when the Holy Ghost shall shew you these things, you shall see indeed, till then, you may heare oft enough of these things, but your hearts will be minding other matters; some about their profits, and some their pleasures, &c. but when the Holy Ghost shall shew you these things; that is, when he presents them to us, that draweth the heart from minding other things, to seeke after CHRIST, to long after him, and not to content your selves, till you be united to him.

But, besides this, there is a third act of the Holy Ghost, by which he works it, and maketh this faith effectual, and that is the testimony that the Spirit gives to our spirits, telling us that these things are ours: when the heart is prepared by the Law, and when these things are so shewed unto us, that we prize them, and long after them, yet there must be a third thing, that is, to take them to our selves, to believe that they be ours; and there needeth a work of the Spirit for this too: for, though the promises be never so cleare, yet, having nothing but the promises, you will finde that you will never be able to apply them to your selves: but when the Holy Ghost shall say, Christ is thine, and these things belong to thee, and GOD is thy Father; when the Spirit shall beare witness with our spirits, by an immediate work of his owne, then we shall believe. This is necessarily required, and without this we shall not believe. It is true, the holiest man doth it two wayes.

One is by clearing of the promises, shining into our hearts, by such a light as makes us able to discerne them, and to believe them, and to assent to them.

But besides that, he doth it by an immediate voice, by which he speaketh immediately to our spirits, that we can say, as they said, Joh. 16. Now thou speakest plainly, and speakest no parable, we understand thee fully: so, till the Holy Ghost speake to us, we are in a Cloud, GOD is hid from us, we cannot see him clearly, but when we have this Spirit of Adoption, to give us this witness, then we believe plainly indeed. Therefore in Isay 57. 19. saith the Lord, I create the fruit of the lips, Peace, &c. That is, the Ministers may speake peace to you, but unless I go and joine with the Minister, except I adde a power of mine owne; that is, such an almighty power as I used in the Creation, it shall never bring peace to you. I create the fruit of the lips; that is, the words of the Minister to be peace, otherwise they would be ineffectual. Therefore, I say, there must be a work of the Spirit to persuade a man in such a case. And you shall finde by experience, let a Minister come to them that are in despaire, they will not apprehend the promises, though we use never so cleare reasons, though we argue with them never so long, and never so strongly, we shall finde that all will do nothing, it will be but labour spent in vaine, till GOD himselfe open the Clouds, till he will smile on a man, and send his Spirit into the heart, to give a secret witness to him, till there be a work of his owne joining with the promises, we finde by experience that our labour is lost.

It is true, we ought to do this, and every man is bound to looke to the Word: for, faith cometh by hearing; and to hearken to the Ministery; for it is Gods ordinance to breed faith in the heart, but yet till there be a work of the Spirit, a man shall never be so persuaded, as to have any sure and sound comfort by it.”

Martin Bucer (1491-1551): How those are to be strengthened who have somewhat greater affection for the world than the Lord desires



“When there are those who value the world’s favour and disfavour too highly, so that they do not acknowledge and praise Christ our Lord and his word joyfully enough, they must always have it clearly impressed upon them that the Father has given Christ our Lord all power and jurisdiction in heaven and on earth, that he alone can and will bestow on us everything that is good and turn away all that is evil, and that the whole world is nothing and can do nothing of itself. And also that on that day he will acknowledge before his heavenly Father and his holy angels those who have acknowledged him here before this adulterous world, and will disown those who have disowned him before this world.”

– Martin Bucer (1491-1551), Concerning the True Care of Souls (Von der waren Seelsorge), p. 170

Richard Baxter (1615-1691): There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline


“7. There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline; each must be predominant, according to the quality or character of the person, or matter, that we have in hand. If there be no severity, our reproofs will be despised. If all severity, we shall be taken as usurpers of dominion, rather than persuaders of the minds of men to the truth.

8. We must be serious, earnest, and zealous in every part of our work. Our work requireth greater skill, and especially greater life and zeal than any of us bring to it. It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and to deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of the Redeemer. It is no easy matter to speak so plainly, that the most ignorant may understand us; and so seriously that the deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly, that the contradicting cavillers may be silenced. The weight of our matter condemneth coldness and sleepy dullness. We should see that we be well awakened ourselves, and our spirits in such a plight as may make us fit to awaken others. If our words be not sharpened, and pierce not as nails, they will hardly be felt by stony hearts. To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all.

9. The whole of our ministry must be carried on in tender love to our people. We must let them see that nothing pleaseth us but what profiteth them; and that what doeth them good doth us good; and that nothing troubleth us more than their hurt. We must feel toward our people, as a father toward his children: yea, the tenderest love of a mother must not surpass ours. We must even travail in birth, till Christ be formed in them. They should see that we care for no outward thing, neither wealth, nor liberty, nor honor, nor life, in comparison of their salvation; but could even be content, with Moses, to have our names blotted out of the book of life, i. e. to be removed from the number of the living: rather than they should not be found in the Lamb’s book of life. Thus should we, as John saith, be ready to ‘lay down our lives for the brethren,’ and, with Paul, not count our lives dear to us, so we may but ‘finish our course with joy, and the ministry which we have received of the Lord Jesus.’ When the people see that you unfeignedly love them, they will hear any thing and bear any thing from you; as Augustine saith, ‘Love God, and do what you please.’ We ourselves will take all things well from one that we know doth entirely love us. We will put up with a blow that is given us in love, sooner than with a foul word that is spoken to us in malice or in anger. Most men judge of the counsel, as they judge of the affection of him that gives it: at least, so far as to give it a fair hearing. Oh, therefore, see that you feel a tender love to your people in your breasts, and let them perceive it in your speeches, and see it in your conduct. Let them see that you spend, and are spent, for their sakes; and that all you do is for them, and not for any private ends of your own. To this end the works of charity are necessary, as far as your estate will reach; for bare words will hardly convince men that you have any great love to them. But, if you are not able to give, show that you are willing to give if you had it, and do that sort of good you can. But see that your love be not carnal, flowing from pride, as one that is a suitor for himself rather than for Christ, and, therefore, doth love because he is loved, or that he may be loved. Take heed, therefore, that you do not connive at the sins of your people, under pretense of love, for that were to cross the nature and end of love. Friendship must be cemented by piety. A wicked man cannot be a true friend; and, if you befriend their wickedness, you show that you are wicked yourselves. Pretend not to love them, if you favor their sins, and seek not their salvation. By favoring their sins, you will show your enmity to God; and then how can you love your brother? If you be their best friends, help them against their worst enemies. And think not all sharpness inconsistent with love: parents correct their children, and God himself ‘chastens every son whom he receiveth.’ Augustine saith, ‘Better it is to love even with the accompaniment of severity, than to mislead by (excess of) lenity’.”

– Richard Baxter (1615-1691), The Reformed Pastor, p. 117-118

George Whitefield (1714-1770): Letters to students


In keeping with recent posts from 18th century English theologians (namely Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge), together with another recent post, 20 points of advice to prospective students of theology, I now turn to two letters from George Whitefield (1714-1770), both written to students. The first letter was written to seminary students at Philip Doddridge’s Northampton Academy, the second to students at Harvard and Yale:


Philadelphia, Nov. 10, 1739


The cordial love I bear you will not suffer me to neglect writing to you; as God has been pleased to bless my ministry to your souls, so I think it my duty to watch over you for the good, and assure you constantly you are all upon my heart.

Your last letter gave me great pleasure – but it was too full of acknowledgments, which I by no means deserve. To Him alone, from whom every good and perfect gift comes, be all the thanks and glory.

I heartily pray God that you may be burning and shining lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Though you are not of the Church of England, yet if you are persuaded in your own minds of the truth of the way wherein you now walk, I leave it. However, whether Conformists or Nonconformists, our main concern should be to be assured that we are called and taught of God – for none but such are fit to minister in holy things.

Indeed, my dear brethren, it rejoiced me much to see such dawnings of grace in your souls, except that I thought most of you were bowed down too much with a servile fear of man. But as the love of the Creator increases, the fear of the creature will daily decrease in your hearts. Nicodemus, who at first came by night to our Lord, afterwards dared to own Him before the whole council in open day. I pray God make you all thus minded. For unless your hearts are free from worldly hopes and worldly fears, you never will speak boldly as you ought to speak. The good old Puritans, I believe, never preached better than when in danger of being taken to prison as soon as they had finished their sermon. And however the church may be at peace now, I am persuaded [that] unless you go forth with the same attitude you will never preach with the same demonstration of the Spirit, and of power.

Study therefore, my brethren, I beseech you by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus. Study your hearts as well as books; ask yourselves again and again whether you would preach for Christ if you were sure to lay down your lives for doing so. If you fear the displeasure of a man for doing your duty now, assure yourselves you are not yet thus minded.

But enough of this. I love to hope well of you all. I trust, as you are enlightened with some degree of knowledge in the mysteries of godliness, you will henceforth determine not to know anything but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. This is, and this (the Lord being my helper) shall be the only study of, my dear brethren.

Your affectionate friend, brother, and servant in Christ,




With unspeakable pleasure have I heard that there seems to be a general concern among you about the things of God. It was no small grief to me that I was obliged to say of your college that “your light was become darkness” – yet are ye now become light in the Lord.

I heartily thank God, even the Father of our glorious Redeemer, for sending dear Mr. T – among you [Note: “Mr. T” refers to Gilbert Tennent, who was one of the leaders of the First Great Awakening together with Jonathan Edwards and Whitefield]. What great things may we not now expect to see in New England, since it has pleased God to work so remarkably among the sons of the prophets? Now we may expect a reformation indeed, since it is beginning at the house of God.

A dead ministry will always make a dead people, whereas if ministers are warmed with the love of God themselves, they cannot but be instruments of diffusing that love among others. This, this is the best preparation for the work whereunto you are to be called. Learning without piety will only make you more capable of promoting the kingdom of Satan. Henceforward, therefore, I hope you will enter into your studies not to get a parish, nor to be polite preachers, but to be great saints.

This, indeed, is the most compendious way to true learning, for an understanding enlightened by the Spirit of God is more open to divine truths and, I am certain, will prove most useful to mankind. The more holy you are, the more will God delight to honor you.

I hope the good old divinity will now be precious to your souls, and you will think it an honor to tread in the steps of your pious forefathers. They were acquainted with their own hearts. They knew what it was to be tempted themselves, and therefore from their own experience knew how to give help to others. O may you follow them, as they followed Christ. Then great, very great will be your reward in heaven. I am sure you can never serve a better Master than Jesus Christ, or be engaged in a higher employment than in calling home souls to Him.

I trust, dear gentlemen, you will not be offended at me for sending you these few lines. I write out of the fulness of my heart. I make mention of you always in my prayers. Forget me not in yours. I am a poor weak worm. I am the chief of sinners, and yet, O stupendous love!, the Lord’s work still prospers in my unworthy hands. Fail not to give thanks, as well as to pray for

Your affectionate brother and servant in our common Lord,


Walter Kaiser, Jr. on the results of feeding the church “junk food”


“The Church and the Scripture stand or fall together. Either the Church will be nourished and strengthened by the bold proclamation of her Biblical texts or her health will be severely impaired.

It is no secret that Christ’s Church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, ‘junk food’; all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result, theological and Biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using foods or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their physical bodies. Simultaneously a worldwide spiritual famine resulting from the absence of any genuine publication of the Word of God (Amos 8:11) continues to run wild and almost unabated in most quarters of the Church.”

– Walter Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching, Preface

Jacobus Borstius (1612-1680): An example of classical Reformed instruction to small children


Jacobus Borstius (1612-1680) wrote an influential Dutch catechism aimed at very young children, titled Kort Historische Vragen uit de Heilige Schriftuure: Zeer nut en dienstig voor Kleyne Kinderen (Short Historical Questions out of Holy Scripture: Very useful and serviceable to Little Children), which for some time was quite influential among the Dutch in South Africa. The uncomplicated character of this work shows how simply the Reformed faith can be presented, and yet still convey central points. Consider the following few questions:

Question 18. What is the punishment for sin?

Answer. Death and hell.

Question 19. Who made hell?

Answer. God the Lord.

Question 20. For whom?

Answer. For bad children and godless people.

Question 21. Who are bad children?

Answer. Those who are disobedient to their parents and superiors and despise God’s commandments.

Question 22. What punishment do those in hell suffer?

Answer. They burn in the eternal fire.

Question 23. Do you want to go there?

Answer. No, I want to go to heaven.

Question 24. Who will go there?

Answer. All good children and believing people.

Question 25. What do they do there?

Answer. They sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts.’

Question 26. Who shall bring us there?

Answer. Our Saviour.

Question 33. How does he save us?

Answer. Through his suffering and dying.

Question 36. For whom did he die?

Answer. For his people.

Question 37. Who are his people?

Answer. All Believers

We see here that children raised with Borstius’ catechism would certainly be safeguarded against the tendency of covenantal automatism, that is, complacently considering yourself quasi-automatically saved by virtue of being a covenant child. To discuss the idea of hell and the wrath of God with little children may seem unpalatable to some in our day, but it is included for very good reasons. The warning about what happens to “bad children and godless people” is included in order to incite them to flee the wrath of God and find refuge in “our Saviour”. Thus, from a young age, children were made aware of their own predicament and the necessity of fleeing to Christ for salvation. Borstius makes it clear that Christ’s death is only efficacious for believers and that one does not need a great knowledge of theology to understand the doctrine of particular redemption, as is here simply presented to little children. He makes it clear that the questions “Did Christ die for me?” and “Do I belong to Christ?” are the same as “Do I believe in him?”. This simple and practical presentation of doctrine for children shows that the Reformed not only believed in theology for the laity, but also for the smallest children.

Carl Trueman: “Their desire is not to teach but to be teachers”


“I am increasingly convinced that pride is the root of problems among students. I was convicted recently by a minister friend quoting to me 1 Timothy 1:5-7 (ESV): ‘The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.’

My friend made two observations about this passage. First, the drift into dubious theological discussion is here described as moral in origin: these characters have swerved from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith; that is why their theology is so dreadful. Second, their desire is not to teach but to be teachers. There is an important difference here: their focus is on their own status, not on the words they proclaim. At most, the latter are merely instrumental to getting them status and boosting their careers.

Thus, what concerns me most is that students may simply desire to be teachers. If that is their motivation, then they have already abandoned a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, and their theology, no matter how orthodox, is just a means to an end and no sound thing. It is why I am very sceptical of the internal call to the ministry as a decisive or motivating factor in seeking ordination.

Nine times out of ten, I believe that the church should first discern who should be considering the Christian ministry, not simply a rubber-stamp act as a putative internal call which an individual may think he has. Further, such students whose first desire is to be teachers are more likely to try to catch whatever is the latest trendy wave.

Orthodoxy is always doomed to seem uncreative and pedestrian in the wider arena; if the aim is to be a teacher, to be the big shot, then it is more likely that orthodoxy will be less appealing in the long run – though there are those for whom orthodoxy too is simply a means to being a celebrity.”

– Carl Trueman, “Sin in High Places” in Martin Downes (ed.), Risking the Truth, p. 31-32