I Shall Not Die But Live and Tell
December 11, 2017

This sponsored post was written by Gordon J. Keddie and provided by Crown & Covenant Publications.

Last May, I sent the completed manuscript of my recent book, Prayers of the Bible, to my publisher. In June, I was rushed to the hospital after coming down with an extreme case of altitude sickness at a Christian conference in Colorado. Relentlessly dizzy and nauseated, I threw up for 21 days in a row, defied all treatment, and showed no improvements. The doctors warned my wife that I might never recover. Food and fluid were pumped into me intravenously, my death was awaited with baited breath, and my life was prayed for by many of God’s people. One day, early in this ordeal, I tried to pray, but could not think of any words to pray! I knew who I was, where I was, and that I was in bad shape. My memory was like an empty room. I saw a floor, a ceiling, and walls, but they were completely featureless. I could not, try as I did, think of even a single verse of Scripture. Not one!

I scratched around unavailingly for what seemed like ages, when, out of a clear white nothing, some words suddenly appeared, unbidden, in my hollow—and horrifying—tabula rasa of a mind:

I shall not die, but live and tell
Jehovah’s power to save;
The Lord has sorely chastened me,
But spared me from the grave.

This came to me, not as a discovery spied in an overlooked corner of my memory, nor as some revived memory, but as a surprise and an unanticipated gift—an answer to an unspoken prayer for some word appropriate to the pressures of the moment. Right away, I was amazed to recognize the words of the metrical version of Psalm 118:18, sung many times in church worship from my youth in Scotland to more recent times in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.

What astounded me was the sense that this was so clearly a word from the Lord. This was no new revelation, but both a promise and a prayer in the revealed Word from the covenant God who ministers to his people’s hearts by the indwelling Holy Spirit of truth, adoption (John 16:13; Rom. 8:15). I did not take it exactly as a prophecy that I would survive this illness. I certainly accepted my condition as his chastisement, even for specific sins. But, overwhelmingly, I grasped it as an assurance from the life-giving Savior who, if he could save David from his military enemies, could save me from the challenges of a health crisis. And this I could pray for with the warrant of a hitherto forgotten text of Scripture most fervently believed and a Savior whose love was proffered in this Word.

Then, also suddenly and unbidden, the metrical words of Psalm 118:19 flooded into my soul:

O set ye open unto me
The gates of righteousness;
Then will I enter into them
And I the Lord will bless.

Here is Christ, vouchsafing himself as the gate of righteousness—“the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)—of whose person and work the words of the psalmist, about the gates of the temple and the meaning of her sacrifices, are prophetic prefiguring. These words said to me, “Look to Jesus your Savior for this promise of life in the face of death, for ‘he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.’” (Heb. 7:25). Since then I have discovered afresh God’s “power to save,” and every reason to “live and tell” of it.

As I thought later on these things, I could not but wonder at the fact that, days before my illness, I had finished a book on the prayers of the Bible, with a meditation on a prayer for every day of the year, and yet could not remember one of them! It was my faithful Savior who chose the Scripture prayer I needed in a moment when my life-time of memory of that very Scripture had apparently vanished from the scene. And this proved that his love never fails, and his promise ever stands, for he who keeps Israel “will neither slumber nor sleep.” When all you who are in Christ are at your most vulnerable, “he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Ps. 121:4, 7-8).


Gordon J. Keddie is a former pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and author of PRAYERS OF THE BIBLE.



Satan Hates the Pastorals

By Andrew Wilson | Wednesday 13 December 2017

Satan hates the Pastoral Epistles. He accuses them of everything under the sun, hoping that some of the mud will stick. They are institutionalising and formalising documents, squashing the charismatic spirit of early Christianity. They are chauvinistic. They are bourgeois. They smack of early Catholicism. They weren’t even written by Paul. They are full of cultural assumptions. They are personal letters, so they don’t apply to churches today. Yada yada yada.
Reading through them in my devotions recently, it became freshly apparent to me why they rile him so much. Five reasons in particular stood out.

1. They champion the truth that salvation is by grace not works (even as they show that salvation will produce good works). Satan loves legalism; the Pastorals hate it. Here’s 1 Timothy: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy …” 2 Timothy: God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” Titus: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.”

2. They bang on about the value of strong, godly leadership. Satan dislikes Christian leadership in general. There are only two types he can tolerate: leaders who stand for nothing and let false doctrine run amok, on the one hand, and leaders who lead ungodly lives and abuse their authority, on the other. What he cannot stand is leadership that is above reproach, faithful, courageous, gentle, hospitable, wise, and clear on the truth. So if he finds letters that require godly character from church leaders (1 Tim 3:1-13; 2 Tim 2:22-26; Titus 1:5-9; etc), yet are replete with instructions to give false teaching a punch on the nose (1 Tim 1:3-11; 4:1-5; 6:1-10; 2 Tim 3:1-9; 4:1-5; Titus 1:10-2:1; etc), he will do everything in his power to stop people reading them.

3. They are clear on the realities of spiritual warfare. As fictional characters from Uncle Screwtape to Keyser Soze have pointed out, Satan loves it when nobody even realises he is there. He loves it when people fail to acknowledge spiritual dynamics at work in the interpretation of Scripture, or life in the Church. But the Pastorals make that incredibly difficult. I have handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan (1 Tim 1:20). New converts can fall into a snare of the devil (3:7). False teaching isn’t just misguided, but orchestrated by deceitful spirits and demons (4:1). Young widows can stray after Satan (5:15), and opponents of the gospel are in a snare of the devil (2 Tim 2:26). Nobody can study the Pastorals and miss the realities of spiritual warfare. Satan finds that annoying.

4. They ground believers in the authority of Scripture. Satan hates the Bible; the Pastorals celebrate it. There’s the famous one: “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness … Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort” (2 Tim 3:16-4:2). But there are all sorts of other references to biblical authority, which are all the more dangerous to the devil for being dropped in so incidentally. “This saying is trustworthy, and deserving of full acceptance” (1 Tim 1:15; 4:9; cf. 3:1; 2 Tim 2:11; Titus 3:8). “What you’ve heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). “Hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9). “Follow the pattern of sound words that you’ve heard from me” (2 Tim 1:13). “Guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14). And so on.

5. They overflow with encouragement for those who are suffering. Suffering, as anyone who has done much apologetics will know, is usually the biggest objection that people have to the Christian faith; it is also, as anyone who has done much pastoral care will know, one of the biggest challenges most Christians face as well. The Pastorals are full of encouragement and hope for such people, which severely blunts one of Satan’s sharpest weapons. “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12). “Share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling” (2 Tim 1:9). “This is why I suffer as I do, but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (1:11). “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2:11-12). “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom” (4:18).

Satan hates the Pastorals. They expose him, rob him of the key tools in his armoury – accusation, legalism, confusion, suffering – and give strength to those who oppose him, by the Word, through the Spirit. They give hope. They bring joy. And they trumpet the glories of the king who has thrown him down forever: “the blessed and only Sovereign, King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen!”


Doctrine of God: Recommended Reading

Recent controversies within evangelical and Reformed circles regarding the attributes of God and the doctrine of the Trinity have made it abundantly clear that all Christians need to become as informed as possible about the doctrine of God.

Written by Keith Mathison | Wednesday, December 13, 2017

In a previous version of this post, I recommended John Frame’s The Doctrine of God and a book by Bruce Ware on the Trinity. I can no longer recommend Frame’s book because it has become evident that he has moved away from the classical Christian understanding of such doctrines as divine simplicity and immutability. I can no longer recommend Ware’s book because it has become evident that he has moved away from the classical Christian understanding of the Trinity through his teaching on the eternal subordination of the Son.

All of Christian theology centers on the doctrine of the Triune God. There is no doctrine more important because every other doctrine makes sense only in relation to the doctrine of God. There is also no doctrine more easily misunderstood. Controversies swirled around the doctrine of God in the early church as Christians attempted to understand how Scripture could simultaneously teach that there is only one God while also teaching that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God. Christians also attempted to understand how God is related to space and time and whether He undergoes any kind of change. Controversies continue to this day as the church wrestles with the questions raised by proponents of process theology, panentheism, open theism, theistic mutualism and more.

I should note that in an earlier version of this blog post, I recommended a few books that I can no longer recommend in good conscience, and since I have since written a critique of the views of one of those authors, an explanation of the change is in order. In the early 1990s, I took most of my core theology classes at a dispensationalist seminary, which did not expose students to much historical theology. After two years, I transferred to Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. I took some theology classes there as well as some classes with Ronald Nash, whose book The Concept of God, was assigned reading. Unfortunately, I did not have the categories at the time to interact discerningly with his and other works on the doctrine of God. I graduated seminary in 1996 with too vague a doctrine of God. I was unaware of all of the issues, but I was also unaware that I was unaware. Because of my dispensationalist background, I spent most of the next several years trying to get a better grasp of biblical eschatology and the sacraments. I also spent a lot of time thinking through the doctrine of sola Scriptura. One of the first times that I recall seriously red flags being raised in my mind was while reading the first edition of Robert Reymond’s Systematic Theology. By that time, I was more familiar with the Nicene Creed, and Reymond’s explicit rejection of certain Nicene categories was disturbing. Robert Letham’s review of Reymond’s book made it clear to me that I needed to study these issues more deeply and I began reading. However, from 2005 to 2010, I devoted almost all of my time to laying down my thoughts on eschatology in my book From Age to Age. However, when asked to help with teaching at the new Reformation Bible College, other doctrines could no longer remain on the back burner, and I began to study the classical Christian doctrine of God in much greater depth than ever before. I quickly began to realize that I had carried some unhelpful theological baggage out of my seminary training. All of that to say that I deeply regret a few of the recommendations I made when this post was originally written in 2009.

Recent controversies within evangelical and Reformed circles regarding the attributes of God and the doctrine of the Trinity have made it abundantly clear that all Christians need to become as informed as possible about the doctrine of God.

The Attributes of God

James E. Dolezal, All That is in God. I have written an extensive review of Dolezal’s book elsewhere, so I will not repeat everything I said here. I believe it may be the most helpful starting point for a better understanding of why it is so important to understand the classical Christian doctrine of God.

Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God. Charnock’s work, published in 1682, remains one of the best resources on the attributes of God. He provides clear definitions as well as thorough biblical and theological defenses of the attributes.

The Doctrine of the Trinity

Stephen R. Holmes, The Quest for the Trinity. Holmes’s book is probably as concise an introduction to the historical and theological issues surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity available. It is a good place to begin one’s study.

Primary Sources

The Nicene Creed – I would urge all Christians to familiarize themselves, not only with the Nicene Creed (more properly the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed), but also its doctrinal and historical context.

Gregory of Nazianzus, The Five Theological Orations. Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the most significant figures related to the resolution of the fourth-century Trinitarian debates. His five theological orations were preached in the midst of the ongoing controversy with Neo-Arians.

Augustine, The Trinity. Augustine’s De Trinitate is arguably the most influential work on this subject in the Western church. It is a difficult work, but it is one that rewards careful reflection.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. Aquinas’s thoughts on the doctrine of God influenced everyone who wrote after him, including the first generations of Reformed theologians writing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His reflections on the attributes of God are important.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin’s thoughts on the knowledge of God are invaluable to our understanding of Christian theology.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Turretin’s work provides a fine example of developed Reformed scholasticism and how it addressed the doctrine of God. Volume One of his Institutes is a gold mine.

Authors I Can no Longer Recommend and Why

In a previous version of this post, I recommended John Frame’s The Doctrine of God and a book by Bruce Ware on the Trinity. I can no longer recommend Frame’s book because it has become evident that he has moved away from the classical Christian understanding of such doctrines as divine simplicity and immutability. I can no longer recommend Ware’s book because it has become evident that he has moved away from the classical Christian understanding of the Trinity through his teaching on the eternal subordination of the Son.


© 2017 Ligonier Ministries


My Biggest Surprise Yet In Reading The Puritans

My biggest surprise yet in reading the Puritans was discovering their use of extra-biblical sources of knowledge in their pastoral counseling of believers.

Written by David Murray | Friday, December 1, 2017

Why were the Puritans so interested in natural theology? What motivated them. Marshall answers: “Puritans did not simply embrace these rational arguments on a theological level but employed them in a surprising variety of pastoral, evangelical, and polemical contexts.”

One of the privileges of working at a place like Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary is getting to know the Puritans and Reformers better and better. They constantly surprise me and frequently demolish the caricatures that have grown up about them over the years. Last week, I experienced perhaps my biggest surprise yet when reading Wallace Marshall’s book on Puritanism and Natural Theology, and especially what I learned about their use of extra-Biblical sources of knowledge in pastoral counseling.

Until Marshall’s research into this subject, the general scholarly consensus was that the Puritans weren’t interested in natural theology, evidentialism, science, and reason. No, they were “sufficiency of Scripture” men, men of The Book, and so on.

Marshall highlights a number of reputable scholars, including Richard Muller, who have advanced this anti-natural theology, anti-evidences, anti-reason, anti-science narrative about the Puritans. He quotes Mark Noll’s assertion that “Puritans expected divine revelation to provide the starting point for all forms of thought.”

But, after an exhaustive study of the primary sources, including over seventy Puritans, Marshall concludes that this view is “entirely mistaken.” He asserts:

“The overwhelming majority of Puritan theologians were firm believers in the legitimacy of natural theology and evidentialism. Even the small minority of dissenters did not categorically reject natural theology but merely expressed reservations about its usefulness.”

Definitions, Categories, and Sources
So, what is natural theology and evidentialism? Wallace defines natural theology as “all religious knowledge that is accessible through the use of reason, independently of supernatural revelation.” The four main categories of natural theology were the existence and attributes of God, divine providence, immortality, and natural law (especially the two great commandments). The four sources of this natural theology were the innate knowledge of God, conclusions derived from reason, contemplation of human existence, and consideration of the works of nature. The related discipline of evidentialism, is “the attempt to prove the divine origin of the Bible through rational arguments.”

“Puritans were persuaded that the existence and attributes of God, the creation of the world, the immortality of the soul, as well as the divine origin of the Scriptures, could be proved by rational arguments made without any a priori appeal to special revelation…The Puritans forged a firm consensus on the subjects of natural theology and evidentialism.”

So, why were the Puritans so interested in natural theology? What motivated them. Marshall answers: “Puritans did not simply embrace these rational arguments on a theological level but employed them in a surprising variety of pastoral, evangelical, and polemical contexts.”

Pastoral Counseling?
It was the pastoral counseling angle that surprised me most. I can understand natural religion and evidences being used evangelistically and apologetically, but pastorally? How so?

Perhaps the most common spiritual problem that the Puritans addressed in their writings was the existence of religious doubt among believers, or “practical atheism” as they often described it. They saw this in every Christian and found it frequently in themselves as well. So, how did they counsel such unbelieving believers? Here’s Marshall’s answer:

“For many Puritans, devotional exercises such as prayer and the reading of Scripture were only one half of the solution to this practical atheism. The other half was rational argumentation for the truths in question…By strengthening this foundational conviction, natural theology could prove a tremendous aid to holiness.”

And just in case we suspect that this paragraph slipped into the book by mistake, Marshall sums up his analysis of the Puritans again:

“Could natural theology be of any help in overcoming practical atheism, and could the rational evidences for Christianity be of parallel assistance in resolving a Christian’s doubts about its legitimacy? With a few exceptions, Puritans answered with a resounding affirmative.”

Powerful and Useful
Marshall provides numerous examples of the way the Puritans appealed to and used natural revelation for pastoral purposes. Some, like John Preston, Matthew Henry, and Increase Mather even went so far as to say that natural revelation was necessary, a vital foundation for revealed religion.

Baxter “believed not only that natural theology was a useful preparative to special revelation, but that failing to inculcate it in one’s parishioners was positively detrimental to faith in the Bible.” Their varied and frequent use of it “clearly shows that they believed them to be not only powerful but extremely useful.” It should also help us contextualize our reading of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which Marshall calls “that quintessential Puritan document.”

Tomorrow I’ll highlight how this commitment to natural theology expressed itself in the Puritans’ unusual interest in and appreciation for science.


David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand


The Extraordinary Ordinary Preacher

Your local church pastor is comfortable with his calling to minister primarily and almost exclusively to his local congregation.

Written by Jason Helopoulos | Friday, December 1, 2017

Though it receives little fanfare, maintaining a consistently faithful preaching ministry over weeks, months, years, and even decades at the same church requires much effort and perseverance. Your local church pastor is willing to expend himself in this labor because he knows that a lifetime of nourishing spiritual meals is essential for the growth and maturity of the people under his care.

This age provides the great benefit of being able to listen to talented preachers from around the globe. Distance no longer creates a barrier. We can sit in the confines of our home and download the most recent sermon, conference talk, or keynote speech. This is no small gift, and it’s something we should all take advantage of. Though this gift is great, it should also be accompanied with a warning: this gift becomes a liability when it steers us away from appreciating our local church pastor. Unfortunately, this is a real temptation.

The Faithful Preacher
Your local church pastor may not be as well read or as well spoken as the speaker you heard at the latest conference. He might readily admit that his best sermon will never rise to the excellence of sermons preached by others. His gifts may possess little outward flair. His sermons may never be compiled in a book and he may never headline a future conference. He knows that conferences can be of great value to the local church and to his church in particular, but he is content not to attain renown. He is comfortable with his calling to minister primarily and almost exclusively to his local congregation.

He knows this is his great challenge. Though it receives little fanfare, maintaining a consistently faithful preaching ministry over weeks, months, years, and even decades at the same church requires much effort and perseverance. He is willing to expend himself in this labor because he knows that a lifetime of nourishing spiritual meals is essential for the growth and maturity of the people under his care. Week in and week out, he opens the Word, preaches the truth, and applies the text. In a word, he is no less faithful to his flock than are those preachers and teachers who receive greater acclaim.

The Ordinary Preacher
Most likely, your local pastor is also a humble pastor. He labors hard and faithfully. He always strives to preach to the best of his ability, though his sermons may not often possess the illustrations, applications, or depth of more well-known preachers. His preaching doesn’t lead to mountaintop experiences each week. He knows this fact and wishes it was different, but he also rests knowing that the Christian life is not lived from mountaintop to mountaintop. Rather, the Christian life presses on in the valleys and depressions of life. It is one faithful step after another. It is a pilgrim’s life in a foreign land. And his faithful weekly preaching witnesses to this reality. Sometimes with conference speakers, we miss the fact that they are in fact ordinary preachers, but with our local preacher it is unmistakable.

The Godly Preacher
In fact, not only does his preaching reflect this reality, but his very life shows it as well. His congregation sees him labor through the struggles of the day and the natural discouragements of ministry and persevere through trials in the church. His marriage, parenting, service, attitude, and dedication are all observable. Everyone knows his quirks, his struggles, his failings, and even his sins. He displays before the eyes of his church the strains and joys of the Christian life. He cannot hide. And though he has room for continued growth and maturity, his congregation finds a man worthy of respect. His character and the way he lives his life encourage faithfulness. Your local pastor not only preaches a sermon each week, but his very life to you. In a word, he is no less godly than those preachers and teachers who become more known than him.

The Pastoral Preacher
And as your local church pastor labors and strives in these ways, you occupy his thoughts, and more importantly, his prayers. He has your face, yes, your face, before his mind. He knows you. He is informed and sensitive to your life. Therefore, your struggles, your joys, and yourpassions inform his preaching. This is of necessity. His preaching is never to a nameless set of faces. His prayers are never general. His study is never performed in a void. You are one of his people, his joy and crown (Phil. 4:1). He is a pastor. He lives his life to care for the sheep under his charge. He seeks to be a drink offering poured out for their sake (2:17). He knows that his life is not his own, but belongs to the Lord and the people he serves. In a word, he is as pastoral as those preachers who write books on pastoral ministry and are featured speakers at conferences for pastors.

Listen to the podcasts, attend the conferences, stream the video sermons, and rejoice in the Lord at these opportunities to learn from incredibly gifted men in our age. It is a benefit that few of our brothers and sisters through the ages have enjoyed. We must not neglect this gift. Yet, even as we embrace it, let us rejoice in the undershepherds laboring in our local church.

Dear Christian, your local church pastor is a gift. Like most of us, he is probably not special or extraordinary. He may not wow or shine. But you have much to be thankful for. In fact, he is exactly the model most of us need before our eyes. Be thankful for his faithfulness, hisordinariness, his godliness, and his pastoral care for your soul. As you tell him this week about the wonderful sermon you listened to online, you may also mention that you are thankful for him.



Geoffrey R. Kirkland
Christ Fellowship Bible Church

The noblest of all callings that God could give to a man is to be a carer of the souls whom Christ has purchased with His own blood. To feed God’s people the Word, to shepherd God’s people through the journeys and trials of life, to counsel God’s people through unforeseen and painful heartaches, to protect God’s people from dangerous doctrines and teachers, to remind God’s people of the unchanging gospel and the sure-reality of heaven are just a few of the immense privileges that God places upon a pastor. But how does the Bible describe a pastor? What are some of the figures of speech that the Spirit of God employs to describe this calling? This essay will bring forth seven metaphors that speak of the minister of the gospel and his work.

1. Watchman (Ezekiel 33:1-9)
Watchmen are workers. They busy themselves by vigilantly keeping guard to protect the population that they are called to oversee. God told Ezekiel that he was appointed as a watchman for His people so that when he hears a message from God he is to give the people a warning from God. If he receives God’s message but chooses to not warn the people, then he will be guilty as an unfaithful watchman. But if he receives God’s message and does warn the people, then has delivered himself. When danger comes, the watchmen must sound the alarm to protect the citizens. The watchman cannot sleep or be careless; nor can be be indifferent or lazy. He must stay awake, be vigilant, be watchful, and be alert at all times because danger can loom from all fronts — from both far away and from near (even from within at times!). So a pastor must also watch the flock to guard from encroaching danger from the outside and the inside.

2. Workman (2 Tim 2:15)
Workmen exert all their energy to do the required duties to the best of their abilities. Paul commands young, pastor Timothy to be diligent to present himself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. Consider a soldier who is faithful to please his commanding officer. Consider an athlete who works hard and competes according to the rules. Consider a farmer who works hard to receive his share of the crops. Just as a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer distinguish themselves by their zealous effort and tireless work-ethic, so ministers of the gospel must similarly be workers in the exegesis and expositing of God’s word. All who desire the privilege of shepherd-leadership desire a fine work.

3. Shepherd (John 21:15-17)
No one really desired to be a shepherd. It was hard, lonely, dirty, and lowly work. Shepherds had no fanfare and received no accolades from the masses. But shepherds had one driving duty: to care for the sheep that were entrusted to their care. Predators could lurk and swiftly attack so shepherds had to be vigilant to be with and watch over the helpless sheep. Shepherds had to provide still, quiet waters for the sheep to drink without harm from without or conflict from within the fold. Sometimes the sheep could tangle themselves in thorn briars and the shepherd would use his staff to free them. Or even a sheep may have wandered off and as he counted his sheep, one by one, one may be missing. He would never just let it die and move on with one less sheep, but he would leave the flock protected in a spot while he would go and diligently search till he found the lost and helpless sheep. Then he would pick it up and carry it home. May ministers of the gospel tend Christ’s lambs, shepherd Christ’s sheep, and tend His sheep (John 21:15, 16, 17) in following the Master’s steps who Himself is the good Shepherd!

4. Servant (John 13:15; Matt 20.28)
Our glorious Savior, on the night before He would be crucified, had the Passover meal with His disciples and he washed their feet. And on this occasion, he said that he has given an ‘example’ so that we also should do as He has done (John 13:15). Previously in his ministry, He told the disciples that it is the pagan leaders who lord it over their people and exercise authority over their people. But it must not be this way among Christ’s people, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave! Let every minister of the gospel remember that we are not to lord authority over our people but rather we are to serve them as slaves. Indeed, whoever wishes to be first must be slave of all! No task is too lowly, no people are too dirty, no chore is too messy.

5. Farmer (1 Cor 3:5-9 & Mark 4:1-20)
In writing to a church that he loved, and yet a church laden with many problems, the Apostle Paul affirmed that he and Apollos are servants of the Lord and servants of the Corinthian believers (1 Cor 3:5). He talked about how he planted, and Apollos watered, but God causes the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything but God who causes the growth (1 Cor 3:6-8). We are simply planting seed, watering the seed and tilling the ground. Our Lord taught in a parable that a man sows the seed (which is the word of God). The seed falls on different kinds of soil — on the road, on the rocky places, in the thorns, and on the good soil. The point? Be faithful to sow and scatter the seed of the Word faithfully and God does the heart-work in the hearer through the word which the preacher faithfully sowed. Sow the seed. Be faithful. Work hard. Don’t give up. Keep tilling! Keep sowing! Keep casting the seed!

6. Mother (1 Thess 2:7-8)
Everyone has a vivid picture in their minds of a nursing mother caring for a helpless, precious little baby. The Apostle Paul employed this imagery when he told the beloved Thessalonians that they proved to be gentle among them, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children (1 Thess 2:7). Consider the heartfelt love a mother has for the baby. The baby can’t reciprocate the love, vocalize gratitude, or do anything that’s affectionate. And yet the mother constantly thinks of her baby, cares for her baby, nurtures her baby, feeds her baby, protects her baby, watches her baby, and gives thanks for her baby! Ministers are to have such a fond, mother-like, affection for their congregations that they are pleased to impart not only the gospel of God but even their own very lives because the people become so dear to the man of God!

7. Herald (2 Tim 4:2)
In writing to young, pastor Timothy, the Apostle Paul gives him a strict charge from God almighty and the glorious and sovereign Christ. The simple charge is clear, decisive, necessary, urgent, and mandatory: preach the Word! The verb that Paul uses employs the language of a herald that a superior commissions with a message to impart to a group of recipients. Imagine an Emperor in the ancient world who could send an ambassador with a message to a city where the Emperor was soon to visit, the ambassador would take the message from the King and deliver it just as he received it to the intended recipients. The herald is to stand in the public, cup his hands, lift up his voice, and boldly proclaim the King’s message! It’s not the herald’s duty to ensure that people obey or respond accordingly. The herald simply proclaims the message that ha been delivered to him by his superior. As long as he faithfully imparts the message without adding or subtracting anything to it, or making it more palatable or less offensive, he has done his job faithfully. Every minister of the gospel is a herald. We are to herald forth the King’s message from the Word of God to the people that God brings to hear the truth. After all, Paul said: we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us! That’s what a herald is! It is the King addressing his people through the mouth of the messenger, the herald, the ambassador. May God instill in us a passion to herald His Word faithfully!


Last words are important and often intriguing and none more so than the last words of Jesus. They are best remembered as expressed by Matthew at the end of his Gospel where Jesus tells the Eleven,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28.18-20).

They are familiar words and, even though they are almost certainly not Jesus ‘last words’ in a chronological sense, they linger in a way those recorded at the start of Acts do not. The last words the disciples heard from Christ would galvanise the significance of the first words he spoke to them in a way that would change them forever. Their formal relationship with Christ began with the words, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Mt 4.19). Now that relationship came of age, as he prepared to leave them, saying, ‘Go…!’

There are numerous angles from which we can view this parting mandate from Christ, but one that is perhaps not often considered is its relationship to another mandate found at another defining moment in the history of the world and of the human race. That is, the so-called ‘Creation Mandate’ recorded at the end of the opening chapter of Genesis.
Immediately after the description of God’s creating Adam and Eve, having blessed the newly created pair and declared, ‘let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’, God says,

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Ge 1.28).

As Greg Beale points out, the fact that this command is introduced with words that relate to procreation provides a significant link between God’s words in Eden and his words through the risen Christ on the Mount of Olives.

The clue to the connection lies in the context of creation. In the newly established creation in Genesis, crowned with the first pair of human beings as God’s image-bearers, God commands Adam and Eve to replicate and perpetuate that image throughout the earth. On the Mount of Olives, we encounter Christ as the prototypical man who, through his resurrection from the dead, has inaugurated God’s new creation. So there should be no surprise at his speaking words that echo of those spoken to the first Adam in his perfection. Those who, in Christ, are ‘new creation’ (2Co 5.17) are also to replicate and perpetuate the restored image through their gospel witness and labours.

Within the context of the New Covenant community, this clearly had implications for the families of believers and how they were to be nurtured in the faith (Ac 2.39; Eph 6.1-4); but in the now fallen world it had a larger horizon as well. They were to ‘make disciples of all nations’ – the Goyim: nations which at that time were very much outside the covenant community of the people of God. The mandate was now to be outworked in a fallen world among the countless millions in whom the imago dei was disfigured. How was the church to fulfil this task? By bearing witness to the One in and through whom alone the image can be savingly restored, namely Jesus (Ac 1.8). The apostolic witness entrusted to the church finds its gospel focus in Christ alone as Saviour.

The precise wording of the Great Commission is significant. Even though, at least for those who only read it in English translation, it would be tempting to think the ‘command’ component of what Jesus says is to ‘Go!’, the imperative in this clause is actually to ‘make disciples’. The ‘going’ is presented in a present continuous tense. Jesus simply assumes that the church will always be in ‘going mode’ as it brings the gospel to the world.
As was pointed out in an earlier post on this subject, the church has repeatedly distorted Christ’s words at this point by understanding them to mean, ‘Come and hear!’ (supposedly addressed to the world). But, of course, our Lord addressed his command to the embryonic New Testament Church that they should ‘Go and tell!’

The salient difference between what is said in this context and its Old Testament precursors in Israel’s calling to be a light to the Gentiles and God’s means of bringing all nations to praise him (see, e.g. Ps 67.1-7) is that now, through the death and resurrection of Christ, salvation had been fully accomplished. This is why Jesus can emphatically preface his word of command with a word of promise: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given me. Therefore…’ (Mt 28.18-19). More than that, it explains why he can also punctuate the commission with the assurance, ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (28.20).

Christians in the increasingly post-Christian Western world wring their hands in face of declining church attendance and ever-growing opposition to God and the gospel. Yet, strangely, as the gospel is spreading and the church is rapidly growing in the Majority world, it is invariably in the face of even greater opposition: ignorance, world religions and persecution. This was very much the world into which Jesus was thrusting the apostolic band through his last word to them. Their mission ‘to the Jew first and then to the Gentile’ (Ro 1.16) seemed like an impossible task; but as these men gave themselves to it in faith and obedience, Christ used them to begin building his church. And that is what he has been doing ever since as his people everywhere dare to risk their all for the gospel.

=============================================================Mark Johnston pastors in Wales, U.K. and is a Trustee of the Banner of Truth.