14 Reasons for Pastoral Piety

This semester, I’m teaching a course on preaching at RTS-Dallas. One of the required textbooks is James Garretson’s Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and The Christian Ministry. The original Princeton men didn’t get everything right, but they got most things right—especially the accent on “vital piety” in ministry. The mandate for personal holiness is all but absent from popular, pastoral discourse these days. If the trend goes unchecked, a ministry of power will be hard to find. I pray the Lord would revive us in ministerial godliness being a chief delight and ambition. It’s why my class begins with a few hours worth of attention to the need for Christ’s preacher to be “a man of God.”

A Nursey of Vital Piety

Samuel Miller famously declared that Princeton Seminary must be “a nursery of vital piety as well as of sound theological learning, and to train up persons for the ministry who shall be lovers as well as defenders of truth as it is in Jesus, friends of revivals of religion, and a blessing to the Church of God.” It was not enough to train students in original languages. Yes, they needed to know Francis Turretin’s definitive and distinctive work. And it surely wasn’t a bad thing that your average student knew how to exegete Scripture in any season. But the founders knew that the Presbyterian church would suffer if her students didn’t expand their hearts’ love for Christ.

So, they pled for personal holiness.

14 Reasons Why It’s Needed

You need only scan the essential writing from the Princeton professors to see how universal was this concern. In one of his pastoral lectures, Archibald Alexander gave fourteen reasons why students should train themselves for godliness.

  1. Some degree of eminence is requisite for our own satisfaction.
  2. The work is so great and sacred, and the consequences so awful, that none will duly feel and act under the responsibilities of the office, but one whose heart is warmed with fervent love to Christ and the souls of men.
  3. The duties of the ministry will never be faithfully performed by any one but he who is deeply under the influence of divine truth. He will become indolent and careless or will sink into discouragement—or will become entangled with worldly engagements.
  4. He will not be able to converse with edification to the people without this.
  5. It is necessary to preserve the minister from ambition and vain glory.
  6. Necessary to make him to speak with confidence of the excellency and comforts of true piety.
  7. Eminent piety is requisite to enable a minister to compose sermons induced with the right spirit. To feed the devotions of the people, etc.
  8. Without a good degree of eminence in piety, the minister’s example will not be savory and consistent. It is necessary to preserve him from sin. He should be higher than all the people in spiritual attainments.
  9. It will greatly increase his influenc.e
  10. Will enable him to bear with patience the persecution of enemies.
  11. It will be better than all rules of rhetoric in the delivery of sermons.
  12. It will make the work of ministry delightful.
  13. Will prepare for sickness and death.
  14. Eminent piety will diffuse a solemn seriousness, over the manners. Gravity, composure of countenance—dignity of demeanor—propriety in every word, look and gesture.

Essential for Faithfulness

As Garretson comments, “Christian graces were essential if men were to prove to be faithful servants of Christ. Fidelity, humility, self-denial, diligence, temperance, and a ‘habitual concern for the welfare of the Church’—these were among the marks of ministerial godliness that would result in a ministry owned and blessed by God.”

A Summary of Reformed Piety

Every Christian tradition has unique facets to its spirituality. The one I belong to, Reformed Presbyterianism, has long emphasized the centrality of piety in the Christian life. Consider the subtitle to John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: Containing the Whole Sum of Piety. It was said of John Owen, the Prince of the Puritans, that “his aim in life was to promote holiness.”

What is It?

How might we summarize the nature of Reformed Piety? Sinclair Ferguson says the Reformed view emphasizes two central features: “Jesus Christ himself is our sanctification or holiness (1 Cor. 1:30); and it is through union with Christ that sanctification is accomplished in us.” Ferguson further writes that Reformed spirituality concentrates on the Spirit because “union with Christ is the purpose and one of the foci of the ministry of the Spirit.”

Whole books have been written on Reformed spirituality. Joel Beeke’s Puritan Reformed Spirituality is one of the best. An entire series highlights the various contours of such piety as modeled in the writings of mighty saints of old. The most succinct definition of Presbyterian holiness comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which defines sanctification as “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

If we wanted to point to a passage of Scripture that captures the essence of Reformed piety, I submit that few verses are more compact—yet gloriously complex—as 2 Corinthians 7:1. There Paul says, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

Five Points for Spirituality

Reformed piety feasts on God’s covenant promises. In his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, B. B. Warfield said, “The architectonic principle of the Westminster Confession is supplied by the schematization of the Federal theology, which had obtained by this time in Britain, as on the Continent, a dominant position as the most commodious mode of presenting the corpus of Reformed doctrine.” Translation for 21st-century Christians: Reformed theology is covenant theology. Therefore, Reformed piety is a promise-driven and promise-dependent piety.

We confess that God’s relation to mankind is covenantal. We speak of the Covenants of Redemption, Works, and Grace. The whole system concentrates, as it must, on Jesus Christ. Sinclair Ferguson summarizes this point: “God’s covenant with his people is not only found in Jesus Christ; it is Jesus Christ. The new covenant, the final covenant, the covenant in which is experienced the fullness of God’s promise ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’ is made in him. In him all the (covenant) promises of God find their ‘yes!’ So when we rightly speak of ‘Christ and the covenant,’ this is ultimately the same as speaking of the ‘Christ who is the covenant.’”

When Paul says “Since we have these promises . . .” he has in mind the covenant promises of 2 Corinthians 6:16–18. There Paul writes,

We are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

No feature of our spirituality is without the spiritual food of God’s covenant promises. Since God has given them to us, we have love, hope, comfort, assurance, and strength. Few things are as sweet as God’s promises toward His children. They are solid meat and sweet honey for the soul. They are “precious and very great promises” and through them we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).

You need only survey Puritan manuals on sanctification to see the priority of God’s promises for growing in Christ. Consider Andrew Gray’s “Great and Precious Promises,” Edward Leigh’s A Treatise of the Divine Promises, or William Spurstowe’s The Wells of Salvation Opened: Or, A Treatise Discovering the nature, preciousness, usefulness of Gospel-Promises, and Rules for the right application of them.

Reformed piety revels in God’s electing love. Paul says, “Since we have these promises, beloved . . .” The language of love is Pauline shorthand for God’s electing grace (see Rom. 9:25, 11:28; Eph. 1:6, 5:1; Col. 1:13, 3:12). Paul’s love for the Corinthians comes from God’s gracious adoption of them into His family.

J. I. Packer, in his classic Knowing God, said, “Adoption has been little regarded in Christian history. Apart from two last-century books, now scarcely know, there has been no evangelical writing on it, nor has there been at any time since the Reformation.” Admittedly, much 19th-century theology downplayed the glory of adoption into God’s family. Yet, Joel Beeke has demonstrated how pervasive adoption was for Puritan piety in his work, Heirs with Christ: The Puritan on Adoption. The Westminster assembly defined adoption as “an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory” (LC, 74).

What peace and comfort, experience of God’s love, liberty and readiness, as well as victory over Satan come from meditation on our adoption in Christ. William Perkins, the father of the Puritans, offered several marks that signify one’s welcome into God’s family:

  • “An earnest and hearty desire in all things to further the glory of God.”
  • “A care and readiness to resign ourselves in subjection to God, to be ruled by his word and spirit, in thought, word, and deed.”
  • “A sincere endeavor to do his will in all things with cheerfulness, making conscience of everything we know to be evil.”
  • “Upright walking in man’s lawful calling, and yet still faith to rely upon God’s providence, being well pleased with God’s sending whatsoever it is.”
  • “Every day to humble a man’s self before God for his offenses, seeking his favour in Christ unfainedly, and so daily renewing his faith and repentance.”
  • “A continual combat between the flesh and the spirit, corruption haling and drawing one way, and grace resisting the same and drawing another way.”

Reformed piety engages in mortification. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to put off sin by saying, “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit.” A spiritual slaying of sin is vital for growth in Christ. No individual has more renown in teaching on the necessity of mortification than John Owen. In his classic work On the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Owen says Christ has poured out His Spirit to “bring the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power.” The Spirit’s centrality in mortification is a vital point. If a believer tries to kill sin in his own power, he will find himself in a losing battle. Owen says forcefully, “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, to the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”

Reformed piety, then, has always emphasized the necessity of dying to sin (e.g., WSC 35). Cooperating with the Spirit, we must kill sin or sin will be killing us. Mortification, Owen wrote, must happen “every day, and in every duty.” Holy violence must mark our piety. We cannot coddle our bosom sins, nor be lazy towards our lusts. Mortification of sin means three essential things:

  1. A habitual weakening of the sin.
  2. A constant fight and contention against the sin.
  3. An increasing degree of success in killing the sin.

Reformed piety emphasizes sanctification in head, heart, and hand. The Shorter Catechism defines sanctification as God’s work of grace in renewing “the whole man after the image of Christ.” Heidelberg Catechism 115 says we need God’s law “so that we may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.” In the language of 2 Corinthians 7:1, we are to bring holiness “to completion.”

By His Spirit, Christ forms and fashions His people into His very image—see Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10.

As such, Reformed piety is after the thorough godliness. Such spirituality emanates the holiness of Christ. We prioritize holiness precisely because our Lord does (see 1 Pet. 1:15–16).

When Robert Murray M’Cheyne lay in bed with a fever that would take his life, a letter was delivered and placed on his desk. It went unopened until after M’Cheyne’s death. The writer penned, “I hope you will pardon a stranger for addressing you a few lines. I heard you preach last Sabbath evening, and it pleased God to bless that sermon to my soul. It was not so much what you said, as your manner of speaking, that struck me. I saw in you a beauty in holiness that I never saw before.”

Reformed piety also places particular emphasis on ministerial holiness. The following passages offer proof:

  • Richard Baxter: “If it be not your daily business to study your own hearts and to subdue corruption and to walk with God, if you make not this a work to which you constantly attend, all will go wrong and you will starve your hearers. . . . We must study as hard how to live well as how to preach well.”
  • John Owen: “If a man teach uprightly and walk crookedly, more will fall down in the night of his life than he built in the day of his doctrine.”
  • Thomas Wilson: “Our ministry is as our heart is. No man rises much above the level of his own habitual godliness.”
  • Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “Oh! study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this. Your sermon on Sabbath lasts but an hour or two—your life preaches all the week.”
  • Horatius Bonar: “Nearness to Him, intimacy with Him, assimilation to His character—these are the elements of a ministry of power.”
  • Archibald Alexander: “Aim at high attainments in evangelical piety. Nothing so much as this will be a pledge of eminent usefulness.”
  • Samuel Miller: “The true reason, then, why we have so little good and profitable preaching, is that, among those who attempt to perform this service, there is so little deep, warm, heartfelt piety.”

Reformed piety lives in the fear of God. 2 Corinthians 7:1 says we are to pursue holiness “in the fear of God.” One commentator on 2 Corinthians writes, “Only believers fear God truly, since only those who have already begun to enjoy his presence can taste the horror of what it would be like to be without it. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, just as it is the beginning of the passion for holiness among God’s people.”

Fear of God is the meat and marrow of biblical piety. As John Murray declared, “The fear of God is the soul of godliness.” To fear God is to revere and adore His name, desire to please Him, and fear His chastisement. In his first catechism, Calvin writes, “True piety consists in a sincere feeling which loves God as Father as much as it fears and reverences Him as Lord, embraces His righteousness, and dreads offending Him worse than death.”

The more we love God, the more we fear Him, and thus the more we become like Him.

William S. Plumber, a leading nineteenth-century Presbyterian preacher, wrote a wonderful chapter on “The Fear of God” in his work, Vital Godliness: A Treatise on Experimental and Practical Piety. For a good idea of the Nadere Reformatie‘s ideal for fearing God, meditate on Wilhelmus A’Brakel’s sermon on the subject. John Bunyan’s treatise on The Fear of God is a useful entry-point into the Puritan ideal.

Putting It Together

Here then are the five facets of Reformed piety that 2 Corinthians 7:1 captures so beautifully: Reformed piety 1) feasts on God’s covenant promises, 2) revels in God’s electing love, 3) engages in mortification, 4) emphasizes sanctification in head, heart, and hand, and 5) lives in the fear of God.

A Subtle and Dangerous Snare

If we are ever to see a revival in our nation, it will begin with a revival of real gospel ministry. Pastoral paradigms built on pragmatism must fall, and in their place, we will see a renewed passion for prayer and piety. The kind of preaching that the Spirit blesses (and the heraldic ministry that ushers in revival) is that which is saturated in prayer and comes from the mouth of a man consumed with holy love for Christ. Before he ever considers strategic vision, administrative planning, and staffing structure, God’s man must be a man of God—in doctrine and devotion.

Should God grant me many years in ministry, I want to see this kind of renewal visit our ministers. But such a renewal comes with a perennial peril.

Learning a Vital Lesson

As I’ve studied Robert Murray M’Cheyne over the last few years, one of the more noticeable lessons his life teaches is the full-orbed nature of pastoral piety. We need to understand this totality of holiness in two ways. First, for M’Cheyne, piety begins with love for Christ. It then flowers into every area of spirituality: devotion to prayer, God’s Word, the Lord’s Day, evangelism, friendship in the church, dependence on the Spirit, and “unfeigned humility.” Secondly, we must see that an earnest pursuit of piety is a dangerous one. We can make much of godliness—it’s necessity and nature—that people overestimate our actual holiness. It’s one thing to be a holy man, but it’s entirely different to be known, even famed, for holiness.

M’Cheyne was such a minister.

The Snare Exposed

M’Cheyne once wrote, “I earnestly long for more grace and personal holiness, and more usefulness.” Nothing communicates M’Cheyne’s longing more than his Reformation.

Written in late 1842 or early 1843, it is his ten-page resolution for personal holiness. In the first section, he concentrated on “Personal Reformation,” saying,

I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do most for God’s glory and the good of man, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity, by maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood, by being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times, and by attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that it is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world.

M’Cheyne proceeded to delineate a scheme for personal holiness that would enable him to live in increasing communion with Christ. The plan included strategies for confessing sin, reading Scripture, applying Christ to the conscience, being filled with the Spirit, growing in humility, fleeing temptation, meditating on heaven, as well as studying specific Christological subjects.

His devotion to Christ was so renown that almost every epigram after his death referred to him as “the saintly ministry” or “the godly pastor” of St. Peter’s. His friend and biographer, Andrew Bonar, made an astute observation on a common pitfall in pastoral piety:

An experienced servant of God has said, that, while popularity is a snare that few are not caught by, a more subtle and dangerous snare is to be famed for holiness. The fame of being a godly man is a great a snare as the fame of being learned or eloquent. It is possible to attend with scrupulous anxiety even to secret habits of devotion, in order to get a name for holiness. If any were exposed to this snare in his day, Mr. M’Cheyne was the person. Yet nothing was more certain than that, to the very last, he was ever discovering, and successfully resisting, the deceitful tendencies of his own heart, and a tempting devil. Two things he seems never to have ceased from—the cultivation of personal holiness, and the most anxious efforts to save souls.

Examine Yourself

Ever since I first read it, these two sentences in the quote above have been a constant warning: “The fame of being a godly man is a great a snare as the fame of being learned or eloquent. It is possible to attend with scrupulous anxiety even to secret habits of devotion, in order to get a name for holiness.”

I’m not known as a holy man. But I recognize how easy it is to devote oneself to the means of grace and forget that your real motivation is selfish to the core: “I make much of such devotion so people will make much of my devotion.” Thus, the pastor’s pursuit is only in service of self, not the Savior. The Spirit won’t revive His church with such a man.

Pastors then must be wary of their motives in pursuing piety. They must resist the praise of men, and live only for the smiles of God. They must recognize how the devil schemes, even in our noble endeavors, and live for Christ’s honor alone.

True holiness is noticeable. Vital godliness leaves a mark. Paul’s teaching to Timothy demands it: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:15–16).

So, yes, let’s pursue personal holiness with extraordinary vigor. But test your motives. Make sure they aren’t, at the root, just a scheme “to get a name for holiness.”

What Brings Revival

James-W.-Alexander-Frontispiece-from-Vol.-1-of-his-Memoirs-by-Hall-7-28-20151James Waddell Alexander (1804–1859) was the eldest son of the legendary Archibald Alexander, first professor at Princeton Seminary. James himself was a formidable force for Christ’s kingdom. He pastored the famous Duane Street Presbyterian Church in New York City and was eventually appointed Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at Princeton.

He was an enthusiastic proponent of and participant in revival. But not the kind Charles Finney advocated—a spiritual stirring based on human engineering. Alexander once wrote about the necessary conditions for true revival. He said,

For my own part, I believe that revivals depend not so much, as is thought, upon phases of doctrine, or petty arrangements, as upon the ardent piety and zealous labours of humble Christianity, apart from all these things.

Do you want to see a revival in your ministry? Alexander would say pursue an ordinary ministry. Love Christ enough to prize holiness. Love Christ enough to proclaim Him zealously in every place. Leave the rest to our Sovereign King.

A Platform for Piety

hamilton-11a-thumb-220x380-19484In his runaway 17th-century bestseller, Practice of Piety, Lewis Bayly says true godliness is: “to join together, in watching, fasting, praying, reading the Scriptures, keeping his Sabbaths, hearing sermons, receiving the holy Communion, relieving the poor, exercising in all humility the works of piety to God, and walking conscionably in the duties of our calling towards men.”

Glenn Hinson says Bayly’s statement summarizes “the whole Puritan platform.”

That’s one platform, in this platform-wild election season, I can support.

Marks of Piety

The Path of Piety

Last week I attended a doctoral seminar led by Dr. Stephen Yuille at The Institution on “Theological Foundations for Biblical Spirituality.” The seminar was full of lively discussion and hearty reflection.

One of the more sticky takeaways for me was when Dr. Yuille provided a list of eleven “Marks of Spirituality.” His explanation of each was brief and biblical. This list would be useful for elders as they pray and labor for maturity in their congregations.

11 Characteristics of Biblical Spirituality

  1. Founded upon union with Christ.
  2. Expressed in Spirit-empowered activity.
  3. Concerned with being truly human (Christ is the model and motive for humanity).
  4. Opposed to a disembodied spirituality.
  5. Shaped in an ecclesiastical community.
  6. Committed to the temporal priority of the mind (true spirituality doesn’t bypass the mind).
  7. Fueled by a spirit of thanksgiving.
  8. Refined in the crucible of suffering.
  9. Rooted in an eschatological hope.
  10. Nurtured in a posture of prayer.
  11. Cultivated through the sacramental word.

Preaching & Piety

Preaching and Piety

“It is, perhaps, an overbold beginning, but I will venture to say that with its preaching Christianity stands or falls.” So began P.T. Forsyth when he delivered the Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale University in 1907. Trepidation may have constrained the Scottish theologian as he stood in the throes of New England modernity, but we can confidently acquit him from the charge of being “overbold.” He simply read his Bible well.

Preaching Has Power

God’s word tells us the Christian life is, this side of heaven, is lived “by faith, not by sight.” In other places we are told, “Faith comes by hearing,” and “anything that does not proceed from faith is sin.” Because faith is central, we can boldly declare preaching to be central. For preaching is the ordinary means by which God awakens cold, crusty, and callous hearts to breathe in the grace of faith. Preaching is the chariot that carries Christ to sinners’ bosoms and breasts. It is the spiritual sword God uses to assault hell’s gates and ruin Satan’s strongholds. The Sun of Righteousness dawns upon the earth in His heralded word to harden clay hearts and melt icy souls. Preaching convicts, illuminates, rebukes, encourages, and enlivens the soul.

Power for Piety

It is then, perhaps, my overbold beginning to say that with its preaching Christian spirituality stands or falls. There is a direct correlation between the substance of preaching and the promotion of spirituality. Our Lord Jesus proved this to be true when He asked the Father to sanctify His people in truth. Hearing God’s truth sanctifies God’s people. Preaching promotes piety. Do you want to know what a church believes theologically? Listen to her preachers. Do you want to know what a congregation confesses about spirituality? Sit in on the sermon.

Not only do Scripture and experience bear witness to the correlation between preaching and piety, church history does as well. Memorial plaques of mighty preachers line the hallowed halls of our faith. These were preachers who compelled particular visions of spirituality. In this hall we hear of Chrysostom’s zeal, Augustine’s understanding, Patrick’s earnestness, Bernard’s compassion, Calvin’s reformation, Edwards’ learnedness, Whitefield’s affection, M’Cheyne’s love, and Spurgeon’s power.

What Kind?

If my thesis is true—that there is clear link between a church’s preaching and piety—we pastors have here a reason for stop and stare at our spirituality. Not just our individual spirituality, but our corporate life as well. We should often ask (however painful it always is), “What marks our church’s life together? Where are we strong? Where are we struggling?” Honest examination is good for the soul. Honest evaluation is always needed. The point of this brief post is that how you answer those questions reveals much about your church’s pulpit ministry.

What kind of piety does your preaching promote?

24 Points on Piety

Piety in the Ministry

“Piety,” is one of those words I’d love to recover and restore to a prominent place in gospel ministry.

I love how it rolls rhetorically, but my affection for it is ultimately biblical. Paul told Timothy, “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Pastors must be practitioners of piety.

Old Princeton to the Rescue

The founders of Princeton Theological Seminary established the school with the ambition that it be “a nursery of vital piety.” Archibald Alexander embodied this dream in the seminary’s earliest years. He insisted, “Eminent piety should be earnestly sought after and assiduously cultivated.” To help his ministerial students see the treasure of piety, Alexander—in a lecture entitled “Qualifications for Pastoral Office—offered the following advantages of pursuing piety and helps to maintaining piety.

14 Advantages of Pursuing Piety

  1. Some degree of eminence in piety is requisite for our own satisfaction.
  2. The work is so great and sacred, and the consequences so awful, that none will duly feel and act under the responsibilities of the office, but one whose heart is warmed with the fervent love to Christ and the souls of men.
  3. The duties of the ministry will never be faithfully performed by any one but he who is deeply under the influence of divine truth. He will become indolent and careless or will sink into discouragement—or will become entangled with worldly engagements.
  4. He will not be able to converse with edification to the people without this.
  5. It is necessary to preserve the minister from ambition and vain glory.
  6. Necessary to make him speak with confidence of the excellency and comforts of true piety.
  7. Eminent piety is requisite to enable a minister to compose sermons induced with the right spirit. To feed the devotions of the people, etc.
  8. Without a good degree of eminence in piety, the minsters example will not be savory and consistent. it is necessary to preserve him from sin. He should be higher than all the people in spiritual attainments.
  9. It will greatly increase his influence.
  10. Will enable him to bear with patience the persecution of enemies.
  11. It will be better than all rules of rhetoric in the delivery of sermons.
  12. It will make the work of the ministry delightful.
  13. Will prepare for sickness and death.
  14. Eminent piety will diffuse a solemn seriousness, over the manners. Gravity, composure of countenance—dignity of demeanor—propriety in every word, look and gesture.

10 Helps to Maintaining Piety

  1. You should set yourselves to correct your own faults and imperfections.
  2. You should set before you a high standard of moral excellence.
  3. There must be no procrastination of this business.
  4. You must live under the habitual influence of eternal things.
  5. You must be deeply sensible of your own inability to attain this excellence by your own efforts alone.
  6. You must not despond, or despair of success if you seem for a long time to make no progress.
  7. Avail yourself of your imperfections & faults to measure your humility & caution.
  8. Let the good example and spirit of other ministers enrich you but beware of catching from them a worldly spirit.
  9. Read frequently the memoirs of the most devoted & pious servants of Jesus Christ.
  10. Pray without ceasing for aid from above.

In the Spiritual Gym

I say, “Let the recovery and restoration of piety to its place of necessity continue.” Of particular encouragement, for me at least, is Alexander’s realism about the whole endeavor: “You must not despond, or despair of success if you seem for a long time to make no progress.” I often despair, especially at the end of another year, of my small growth in holiness. I find myself in these days freshly stirred to pray fervently for greater holiness in 2016.

Will you join me?

A Series Worth Serious Investment: Vol. 5

For several years Reformation Trust has quietly been publishing a brilliant series entitled The Long Line of Godly Men.

The series’ editor Steve Lawson writes,

This Long Line of Godly Men Profile series highlights key figures in the agelong procession of sovereign-grace men. The purpose of this series is to explore how these figures used their God-given gifts and abilities to impact their times and further the kingdom of heaven. Because they were courageous followers of Christ, their examples are worthy of emulation today.

Each volume is compact and contains a delightful harmony of biography, theology, and practicality. I find them accessible in presentation and challenging in application. With each read you will want to rise up and say, “We want again such giants of the faith! Lord, help me to be such a servant of God!” Here are the current titles in the series, every one is well worth your investment in money and time.

HER06BH_200x1000The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steve Lawson. During the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, the Reformers’ most effective tool was the pulpit, and all of the Reformers were gifted preachers. This was especially true of Martin Luther, the man regarded as the father of the Reformation.

Luther used every legitimate means to make known the truths of Scripture. His strategies included writing books, tracts, pamphlets, and letters, as well as classroom lectures, public debates, and heated disputations in churches and universities. But his chief means of producing reform was the pulpit, where he proclaimed the truths of God’s Word with great courage. In a day when the church greatly needed to hear the truth, Luther’s pulpit became one of the most clarion sounding boards for God’s Word this world has ever witnessed.

In The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther, Dr. Steven J. Lawson shows the convictions and practices that fed Luther’s pulpit boldness, providing an example for all preachers in a day when truth once more is in decline.

TRI06BH_2_200x1000The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson. The writing and teaching of John Owen, a 17th century pastor and theologian, continues to serve the church. Daily communion with God characterized his life and equipped him for both ministry and persecution.

In The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen, the latest addition to the Long Line of Godly Men series, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson offers careful reflection and insight for Christians today as he highlights Owen’s faith in the triune God of Scripture. We’re reminded that regardless of our circumstances we can know God, enjoy Him, and encourage others.

UNW01BH_200x1000The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steve Lawson. Jonathan Edwards is well known as perhaps the greatest theologian the United States has ever produced. He is equally noted for his preaching and writing. But in this Long Line Profile, Dr. Steven J. Lawson considers the unique focus and commitment with which Edwards sought to live out the Christian faith.

Lawson examines Edwards’ life through the lens of the seventy resolutions he penned in his late teens, shortly after his conversion, which cover everything from glorifying God to repenting of sin to managing time. Drawing on Edwards’ writings, as well as scholarly accounts of Edwards’ life and thought, Lawson shows how Edwards sought to live out these lofty goals he set for the management of his walk with Christ. In Edwards’ example, he finds helpful instruction for all believers.

EXP03BH_200x1000The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steve Lawson. Looking to the past for outstanding Bible-based, Christ-centered, and life-changing preaching, Dr. Steven J. Lawson focuses on sixteenth-century Geneva, Switzerland. It was there that John Calvin ministered for decades as a faithful shepherd to a flock of believers.

Here is an intimate portrait of Calvin the preacher-the core beliefs that determined his preaching style, the steps he took to prepare to preach, and the techniques he used in handling the Word of God, interpreting it, and applying it to his congregation. In the pulpit ministry of the great Reformer, Dr. Lawson finds inspiration and guidance for today’s church and calls on modern pastors to follow the Reformer’s example of strong expository preaching.

MIG01BH_200x1000The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Douglas Bond. John Knox, the great Reformer of Scotland, is often remembered as something akin to a biblical prophet born out of time—strong and brash, thundering in righteous might. In truth, he was “low in stature, and of a weakly constitution,” a small man who was often sickly and afflicted with doubts and fears. In The Mighty Weakness of John Knox, a new Long Line Profile from Reformation Trust Publishing, author Douglas Bond shows that Knox did indeed accomplish herculean tasks, but not because he was strong and resolute in himself. Rather, he was greatly used because he was submissive to God; therefore, God strengthened him. That strength was displayed as Knox endured persecution and exile, faced down the wrath of mighty monarchs, and prayed, preached, and wrote with no fear of man, but only a desire to manifest the glory of God and to please Him.

For those who see themselves as too weak, too small, too timid, or simply too ordinary for service in God’s kingdom, Knox’s life offers a powerful message of hope—the biblical truth that God often delights to work most powerfully through people who are most weak in themselves but most strong in Him.

GOS23BH_200x1000The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steve Lawson. Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of nineteenth-century London, is remembered today as “the prince of preachers.” However, the strength of Spurgeon’s ministry went far beyond simple rhetorical skill. In The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, Steven J. Lawson shows that Spurgeon fearlessly taught the doctrines of grace and simultaneously held forth the free offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.

In thirty-eight years as pastor of the congregation meeting at the New Park Street Chapel and later the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon propounded Calvinistic theology with precision and clarity. Yet he always accompanied it with a passionate plea for sinners to come to Christ and be saved. Lawson traces these twin points of emphasis throughout Spurgeon’s long, fruitful ministry.

The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon is a passionate call for all Christians to follow Spurgeon in maintaining the proper balance between divine sovereignty in salvation and fiery passion in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

EVA06BH_200x1000The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steve Lawson. England in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was in the midst of spiritual decline, marked by lifeless sermons, strife, persecution, and malaise. Into this dark time, George Whitefield burst forth as one of the greatest preachers the church had seen since the time of the Apostles.

Called the “Grand Itinerant” for his unprecedented preaching ministry, Whitefield crossed the Atlantic Ocean numerous times and lit fires of revival on two continents. Yet, as Dr. Steven J. Lawson illustrates in this latest entry in the Long Line of Godly Men Profiles series, we must note that Whitefield was a man whose extraordinary evangelistic fervor was marked by remarkable piety and deep theology, and whose unswerving devotion to his God led him to risk all that he had to preach the name of Christ.

POE01BH_200x1000The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond. In an age of simplistic and repetitive choruses, many churches are rediscovering the blessing of theologically rich and biblically informed songs. In the latest addition to our A Long Line of Godly Men Profile series, Douglas Bond introduces us to Isaac Watts, “the father of English hymnody.” Douglas Bond urges Christians to delight in the grandeur, beauty, and joy of Watts’ poetry. We pray that you would regain a sense of God’s majesty as we celebrate the God-given poetic wonder of Isaac Watts.

Click here to see previous entries in the “A Series Worth Serious Investment” series.

Book Recommendation: For Pastoral Piety

0852346298mDr. Joel Beeke is the gentle giant of Reformed publishing. He is the edi­tor of Ban­ner of Sov­er­eign Grace Truth, edi­to­r­ial direc­tor of Ref­or­ma­tion Her­itage Books, pres­i­dent of Inher­i­tance Pub­lish­ers, and vice-president of the Dutch Reformed Trans­la­tion Soci­ety. He has writ­ten, co-authored, or edited sev­enty books, and over 2,000 to Reformed books, jour­nals, peri­od­i­cals, and ency­clo­pe­dias.

On top of all this Beeke is President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and a pastor at Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids. I often wonder how the man sleeps!

Today I want to point you to an oft-neglected treasure in The Trove of Beeke: Puritan Reformed Spirituality.


The older I get the more I am convinced, alongside Bonar and M’Cheyne, it’s not great talents God blesses as much as great likeness to Jesus Christ. If local churches are to see revival in our time what we need is ordinary pastors who are passionate about the means of grace and personal holiness. More than visionaries, pioneers, and innovators, the church needs pastors who walk in deep humility, love, and reverence before God.

We thus need, alongside the word and prayer, weapons for our pursuit of godliness. And it’s here that Puritan Reformed Spirituality steps up to the stage.


In the foreword Beeke says,

The problem with most spirituality today is that it is not closely moored in Scripture and too often degenerates into unbiblical mysticism. In contrast, Reformed Christianity has followed a path of its own, largely determined by its concern to test all things by Scripture and to develop a spiritual life shaped by Scripture’s teachings and directives. Reformed spirituality is the outworking of the conviction that ‘all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness’ (2 Tim. 3:16). In dependence upon the Holy Spirit, it aims to achieve what John Murray called ‘intelligent piety,’ wedding scriptural knowledge and heartfelt piety.

Amen. Intelligent piety is our target and Puritan Reformed Spirituality will help you see how spiritual giants of days gone by have aimed for and hit that target’s bull’s-eye.

This book something of a “Best of Beeke” as most of the chapters were previously published in various edited volumes or journals. Therefore, you can read at random and will not lose anything by way of flow or argument. Read all of it, but I’ve found the following chapters unusually challenging:

  • “Calvin on Piety”
  • “The Puritan Practice of Meditation”
  • “The Life and Writings of John Brown of Haddington”
  • “Willem Teellinck and The Path of True Godliness
  • “Cultivating Holiness”
  • “The Lasting Power of Reformed Experiential Preaching”

In these pages you will also learn at the feet of William Ames, Thomas Boston, the Erskine brothers, Witsius, and Frelinghuysen. Beeke’s book is a model of how to wed historical theology to practical ministry. Tolle lege!