Category Archives: Pastoral Sin
“We are frequently told, indeed, that the great danger of the theological student lies precisely in his constant contact with divine things. They may come to seem common to him, because they are customary. As the average man breathes the air and basks in the sunshine without ever a thought that it is God in his goodness who makes his sun to rise on him, though he is evil, and sends rain to him, though he is unjust; so you may come to handle even the furniture of the sanctuary with never a thought above the gross early materials of which it is made.
The words which tell you of God’s terrible majesty or of his glorious goodness may come to be mere words to you – Hebrew and Greek words, with etymologies, and inflections, and connections in sentences. The reasonings which establish to you the mysteries of his saving activities may come to be to you mere logical paradigms, with premises and conclusions, fitly framed, no doubt, and triumphantly cogent, but with no further significance to you than their formal logical conclusiveness.
God’s stately stepping in his redemptive processes may become to you a mere series of facts of history, curiously interplaying to the production of social and religious conditions, and pointing mayhap to an issue which we may shrewdly conjecture: but much like other facts occurring in time and space, which may come to your notice. It is your great danger.
But it is your great danger, only because it is your great privilege. Think of what your privilege is when your greatest danger is that the great things of religion may become common to you!
Other men, oppressed by the hard conditions of life, sunk in the daily struggle for bread perhaps, distracted at any rate by the dreadful drag of the world upon them and the awful rush of the world’s work, find it hard to get time and opportunity so much as to pause and consider whether there be such things as God, and religion, and salvation from the sin that compasses them about and holds them captive. The very atmosphere of your life is these things; you breathe them in at every pore; they surround you, encompass you, press in upon you from every side. It is all in danger of becoming common to you! God forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of God! … Are you, by this constant contact with divine things, growing in holiness, becoming every day more and more men of God? If not, you are hardening!”
- B.B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students (P&R). Address delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary on Oct. 4, 1911.
By John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787)
I’ve been working on a review of The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (more commonly known as A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion, published in 1782 and reprinted by Christian Focus in 2002). Taking the past month to become acquainted with this remarkable man has been a great blessing to my own soul. Brown was the son of a basket weaver, whose poor Christian parents were both dead by the time he was 11-years old. He became an orphan shepherd. Although every circumstance in Brown’s life pointed towards a rough future of poverty and ignorance, he would teach himself NT Greek! Under the sovereign direction of God, being self-taught from the well of Scripture, this man would become one of the most prominent theological professors, writers, preachers and theologians in Scottish history, producing a long-revered Bible dictionary and a massive study Bible (The Self-Interpreter’s Bible). Most striking in his life, letters and books is Brown’s vast and encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture. The following is an excerpt from an address given to students of theology published in the preface of his systematic theology. I would encourage pastors to print this out and return to it frequently. Blessings! Tony
“See that your minds be deeply impressed with the nature, extent, and importance of your ministerial work, — that therein it is required of you, as ambassadors for Christ, as stewards of the mysteries and manifold grace of God, — to be faithful; — to serve the Lord with your spirit, and with much humility in the gospel of his Son: — to testify repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, not keeping back or shunning to declare every part of the counsel of God, or any profitable instruction, reproof, or encouragement; and not moved with any reproach, persecution, hunger, or nakedness, — to be ready not only to be bound, but to die for the name of the Lord Jesus, in order to finish your course with joy. Bearing with the infirmities of the weak, and striving together in prayer, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, and your message provided by God, and made acceptable to your hearers, you must labor with much fear and trembling, determined to know, to glory in, and to make known, nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified, — preaching the gospel, not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, as men-pleasers, but with great plainness of speech, in demonstration of the Spirit and with power, – speaking the things which are freely given you by God, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but in words which the Holy Ghost teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, — as having the mind of Christ, always triumphing in Him, — and making manifest the savor of the knowledge of him in every place, that you may be a sweet savor of Christ in them who are saved, and in them who perish; — as of sincerity, as of God, in the sight of God, speaking in Christ, and through the mercy of God, not fainting, but renouncing the hidden things of dishonesty; — not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, or corrupting the truth, but manifesting the truth to every man’s conscience, as in the sight of God; — not preaching yourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and yourselves servants to the church for his sake, always bearing about his dying, that his life may be manifested in you; — and knowing the terror of the Lord, and deeply impressed with the account which you and your hearers must give to him of your whole conduct in the day of judgment, — awed by his infinite authority, constrained and inflamed by his love, you must persuade men, beseeching them to be reconciled unto God, and making yourselves manifest to God and to their conscience, — and, as their edification requires, changing your voice, and turning yourselves every way, and becoming all things to all men, in order to gain them to Christ, — jealous over them with a godly jealousy, in order to espouse them to him as chaste virgins, — travailing in birth, till he be formed in their hearts. You must take heed to your ministry which you have received in the Lord, what you may fulfill it; — stir up the gifts which were given you, — give yourselves wholly to reading, exhortation, and doctrine; — and perseveringly take heed to yourselves and to the doctrine which you preach, that you may save yourselves and them that hear you; — watching for their souls, as they who do, and must give an account for them to God, — rightly dividing the word of truth, and giving every man his portion in due season, faithfully warning every man with tears night and day, teaching every man, particularly young ones, and laboring to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, — and warring, not after the flesh, nor with carnal weapons, but with such as are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds and casting down imaginations, and subduing every thought and affection to the obedience of Christ. Having him for the end of your conversation, and holding fast the form of sound words in faith in, and love to him, — not entangling yourselves with the affairs of this life, nor ashamed of the Lord, or of his cause or prisoners, but ready to endure hardships as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and to endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may obtain salvation with eternal glory; — ye must go forth without the camp, bearing his reproach, and, exposed as spectacles of suffering to angels and men, must not faint under your tribulations, but feed the flock of God which he has purchased with his own blood, and over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, — preaching the word in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine, — taking the oversight of your people, not by restraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre of worldly gain, or larger stipends, but of a ready mind, — neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but as examples to the flock, — exercising yourselves to have a conscience void of offense towards God and towards man, — having a good conscience, willing in all things to live honestly, — exercised to godliness, — kindly affectioned, disinterested, holy, just, and unblamable, — prudent examples of the believers in conversations [daily life], in charity, in faith and purity, — fleeing youthful lusts, and following after righteousness, peace, faith, charity, — not striving, but being gentle to all men, — in meekness, instructing them who oppose themselves, avoiding foolish and unlearned questions, and old wives’ fables, — fleeing from perverse disputings and worldly mindedness, as most dangerous snares; and following after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness; — fighting the good fight of faith, and laying hold on eternal life, — keeping your trust of gospel truth and ministerial office, and, without partiality or precipitancy, committing the same to faithful men, who may be able to teach others; — and, in fine, faithfully laboring, in the Lord, to try, and confute, and censure false teachers, restore such as have been overtaken in a fault in the spirit of meekness, — and having compassion on them, to pull them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh, and never conniving at, or partaking with an in their sins. Who is sufficient for these things? May your sufficiency be of God; and as your days are, so may your strength be. (Ezek. 2:7, 3:9, 17-21, 33:7-9; Isa. 58:1; Jer. 1:17-18, 15:19-20; Mic. 3:8; Mal. 2:6-7; Matt. 10:16-39, 19:28-29, 20:25-28, 23:3-12, 24:42-51, 28:18-20; Acts 18:24-28, 20:18-35, 24:16, 26:16-23; 1 Cor. 2:1-5,9,12-13, ch. 1-5, 9, 12-14; 2 Cor. ch. 2-6, 10-13; Rom. 1:9,16, 9:1-2, 10:1, ch. 12 and 15; Gal. 1:8-16, 4:19; Eph. 3:7-9, 4:11-15, 6:19-20; Col. 4:7,17, 1:23-29, 2:1-2; 1 Thes. ch. 2, 3, 5:12; 1 Tim. ch. 3-4; 2 Tim. ch. 1-3; Heb. 13:7,17-18; 1 Pet. 4:10-11, 5:1-4; Jude 22, 23; Rev. ch. 2, 3, 11:3-7, 14:6-11).”
- John Brown of Haddington, “Address to Students of Divinity,” in The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (Christian Focus: 1782/2002), pp. viii-xi.
Over 350 years ago a Christian named Anthony Burgess wrote a powerful book entitled Spiritual Refining, volume 2. It’s a book about the deceitfulness of sin (Jer. 17:9). I like it so much I began re-typesetting and updating the references. (So far the first three chapters are available here, more to come as time allows).
In it Burgess challenges his readers to take time to be still, and learn what is in their own hearts. This is how he put it,
“… the deceitfulness of the heart appears in those frequent and many commands to search the heart, to try it, ransack it and get to the bottom of it. Now if the heart was plain and open, if it had no depths, no secret windings, why would we need all these commands? You are commanded to make a private search as if for thieves and spies in your own heart. How often are these exhortations: ‘Let us test and examine our ways’ (Lam. 3:40); ‘Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith … test yourselves’ (2 Cor. 13:5). A mining expert is careful to bring gold to the touchstone to see whether it is good or bad, so also Psalm 4:4, ‘ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.’ Dig into the heart and sweep it out with diligence just as the woman took a candle and swept her entire house to find her lost silver coin (Luke 15:8-10). Oh, the lusts and corruptions of the heart that do not appear at first but only appear after the second or third search. The lusts of your heart may lie in your heart like Achan’s wedge of gold, covered in earth and hid among other stuff (Jos. 7:21). You may live forty or more years and yet be a great stranger to your own heart, not knowing what sins lie there and what corruptions prevail over you. Therefore, Scripture presents as the first initial and preparative work of all commands to search our hearts. We must take time to be still, with much meditation and quietness making analysis and search into our hearts that those snakes and worms which lie underground may be brought to light. But how this duty is neglected! … To understand the motions of the planets and not of your own heart, or to know the natures and operations of herbs and plants, or to measure the dimensions of oceans but not study the depth and length and breadth of your own heart, is but a barren knowledge. We may say, ‘physician, heal yourself,’ ‘astronomer, measure your own heart,’ ‘philosopher, understand your own nature.’”
Surely, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). It has been said of Sovereign Grace Ministries founder and leader, C.J. Mahaney that he is known for teaching his people to always be suspicious of their own hearts. We would do well to search the depths and remain suspicious of our own pastoral motives.
“Apprehensions of pride – the sin of young ministers – working in my heart, filled me with inexpressible bitterness and confusion before the Lord. I found, that, when I met with enlargement [success] in prayer or preaching, or answered a question readily and suitably, I was apt to applaud myself in my own mind. I affected pre-eminence above what belonged to my age or worth. I therefore endeavored to take a view of my pride – as the very image of the Devil, contrary to the grace and image of Christ – as an offense against God, and grieving of his Spirit – as the most unreasonable folly and madness for one, who had nothing singularly excellent, and who had a nature so corrupt – as infinitely dangerous, and ready to provoke God to deprive me of my capacities and opportunities. I therefore resolved to carry my distempered heart to be cured by Jesus Christ, that all-sufficient Physician – to watch against my pride – to study much the nature and aggravations of it, and the excellence of the contrary grace.”
Cotton Mather quoted by Charles Bridges in The Christian Ministry (Banner of Truth: 1830/2001), p. 152.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
- 1,500 ministers leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, being simply warn out, or due to contention in the churches.
- 50% of pastor’s marriages will end in divorce.
- 80% of pastors and 84% of pastor’s wives feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as a pastoral family.
- 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other means of making a living.
- 80% of seminary and bible college graduates who enter into the ministry will leave the ministry within 5 years.
- 80% of pastor’s wives feel their spouse is overworked.
- 80% of pastor’s wives wish their spouse would choose another profession.
- A majority of pastor’s wives said the most destructive event that has ever happened to their marriage and family was the day they entered into ministry.
- 70% of pastors fight depression.
- 40% say they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning the ministry.
- 70% said the only time they spend studying the Bible is in sermon preparation.
“Here is what is shocking. I dare you to do this: Google in ‘pastor’ and then ‘arrested’ and you will be shocked how many pages of pastors who have been arrested just in the past two months.”
- from Darrin Patrick, The Life and Death of the Missional Leader, from the first session of The Resurgence conference.