Tag Archives: Sacred Study

“Read, study, reflect, and write” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Many—probably most—of these chapters were written in the context of busy pastoral ministry, either in Scotland or in the United States—preaching, teaching, pastoral visiting, personal meetings, crises in the lives of individuals and sometimes the whole church, administrative responsibilities, and the wide and wonderful variety of activities that make up the average ministers life.

And since virtually all the essays were written by request, their writing has been squeezed into, or out of, an occasional hiatus in the sheer busy-ness of ministry life and the constant preparation involved in preaching anywhere between three and six times in the week.

So, at some point in the writing of almost all these chapters I have heard an inner voice ask, ‘Whatever possessed you to agree to do this?’ Yet, however far short these various pieces fall, in each case the preparation of them did me good, enlarged my understanding a little, and fed into the day-to-day work of pastoral ministry.

I hope, therefore, that these pages will encourage other ministers to allow themselves to be stretched a little beyond their normal pulpit or lectern preparation. There is no doubt that the wider reflection, reading, study and stretching involved can only strengthen and enrich long-term ministry.

Such stretching produces growth. Sometimes ministers can ‘waste’ the privileged time they have by studying only in relation to their next sermon. This does produce some growth, of course; but perhaps not growth that is constantly putting down deeper roots and producing richer fruit.

Preachers need to be reading and studying more widely, and reflecting theologically if that is to be the case. For only then will our ongoing ministry be deepened and enriched.

Thus, in one sense at least, the undergirding message of these diverse chapters is: if you are a preacher, accept invitations or create opportunities to study, speak, or write on subjects outside of your usual diet of preparation.

Yes, you may find yourself under a little pressure; but pressure can produce diamonds! You will grow personally as a result, and, God-willing, Paul’s exhortation will be fulfilled in your ministry:

Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have… Practise these things, devote yourself to 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 Timothy 4:13-16).

It can be an unnerving question to ask oneself, ‘Has anyone in the congregation ever thought, far less said, about me, ‘He is making progress’?”

–Sinclair Ferguson, Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), xii-xiii.

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“The general blowing up of windbags” by Charles Spurgeon

“We should constantly preserve the holy activity of our minds. Woe unto the minister who dares to waste an hour. Read John Foster’s ‘Essay On the Improvement of Time’ and resolve never to lose a second of it.

A man who goes up and down from Monday morning till Saturday night, and indolently dreams that he is to have his text sent down by an angelic messenger in the last hour or two of the week, tempts God, and deserves to stand speechless on the Sabbath.

We have no leisure as ministers; we are never off duty, but are on our watchtowers day and night. Students, I tell you solemnly nothing will excuse you from the most rigid economy of time. It is at your peril that you trifle with it.

The leaf of your ministry will soon wither unless, like the blessed man in the first Psalm, you meditate in the law of the Lord both day and night. I am most anxious that you should not throw away time in religious dissipation, or in gossiping and frivolous talk.

Beware of running about from this meeting to that listening to mere twaddle and contributing your share to the general blowing up of windbags. A man great at tea drinkings, evening parties, and Sunday-school excursions is generally little everywhere else.

Your pulpit preparations are your first business and if you neglect these you will bring no credit upon yourself or your office. Bees are making honey from morning till night and we should be always gathering stores for our people. I have no belief in that ministry which ignores laborious preparation.”

–Charles Spurgeon, “On the Choice of a Text,” in Lectures to My Students (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1875/2008), 103-104.

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“The attentive study of the Scriptures” by Charles Bridges

“Let the Theologian ascend from the lower school of natural study, to the higher department of Scripture, and, sitting at the feet of God as his teacher, learn from His mouth the hidden mysteries of salvation, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard which none of the princes of this world knew which the most accurate reason cannot search out; which the heavenly chorus of angels, though always beholding the face of God, desire to look into.

In the hidden book of Scripture, and nowhere else, are opened the secrets of the more sacred wisdom. Whatever is not drawn from them—whatever is not built upon them—whatever does not most exactly accord with them—however it may recommend itself by the appearance of the most sublime wisdom, or rest upon ancient tradition, consent of learned men, or the weight of plausible argument—is vain, futile, and, in short, a very lie.

To the law and to the testimony. If any one speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. Let the Theologian delight in these sacred oracles: let him exercise himself in them day and night, let him meditate on them, let him live in them, let him derive all his wisdom from them, let him compare all his thoughts with them, and let him embrace nothing in religion which he does not find here.

Let him not bind his faith to a man— not to a Prophet—not to an Apostle—not even to an Angel himself, as if the dictum of either man or angel were to be the rule of faith. Let his whole ground of faith be in God alone. For it is a Divine, not a human faith, which we learn and teach; so pure that it can rest upon no ground but the authority of God, who is never false, and never can deceive.

The attentive study of the Scriptures has a sort of constraining power. It fills the mind with the most splendid form of heavenly truth, which it teaches with purity, solidity, certainty, and without the least mixture of error. It soothes the mind with an inexpressible sweetness.

It satisfies the sacred hunger and thirst for knowledge with flowing rivers of honey and butter. It penetrates into the innermost heart with irresistible influence. It imprints its own testimony so firmly upon the mind, that the believing soul rests upon it with the same security, as if it had been carried up into the third heaven, and heard it from God’s own mouth.

It touches all the affections, and breathes the sweetest fragrance of holiness upon the pious reader, even though he may not perhaps comprehend the full extent of his reading.”

–Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1830/2005), 58-59.

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“The task of all Christian scholarship” by John Piper

“The task of all Christian scholarship– not just biblical studies– is to study reality as a manifestation of God’s glory, to speak and write about it with accuracy, and to savor the beauty of God in it, and to make it serve the good of man.It is an abdication of scholarship when Christians do academic work with little reference to God.

If all the universe and everything in it exist by the design of an infinite, personal God, to make His manifold glory known and loved, then to treat any subject without reference to God’s glory is not scholarship but insurrection.”

–John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 21.

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“Don’t abandon thinking” by John Piper

“If we were to succeed in raising a generation of people who give up serious, faithful, coherent thinking, we will have raised a generation incapable of reading the Bible. Reading is thinking. Either we do it carefully and accurately or we do it carelessly and inaccurately.

The problem with those who debunk the gift of thinking as a way of knowing God is that they do not spell out clearly what the alternative is. The reason is that there isn’t one. If we abandon thinking, we abandon the Bible, and if we abandon the Bible we abandon God.

The Holy Spirit has not promised a shortcut to the knowledge of God. He inspired the prophets and apostles to write in a book what He showed them and told them. In more than one place, He even said explicitly that reading the book is the God-appointed way of knowing the mysteries of God (cf. Ephesians 3:3-4).

Reading is the way we are able to think the thoughts of Paul and thus know the mystery of God. It is therefore futile counsel to tell the church that thinking is worthless. There is no reading without thinking. And there is no reading carefully and faithfully and coherently without thinking carefully and faithfully and coherently.

The remedy for barren intellectualism is not anti-intellectualism, but humble, faithful, prayerful, Spirit-dependent, rigorous thinking.”

–John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 123.

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“You can never be a deep preacher without it” by John Wesley

“What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago.

It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian.

Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher.

Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you, and in particular yours.”

–John Wesley, writing to a younger minister, as quoted in D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Letters Along The Way: A Novel of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993), 169.

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“Some pastors are lazy and no good” by Martin Luther

“Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not study; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture… The call is: watch, study, attend to reading… [Y]ou cannot read too much in Scripture, what you read you cannot read too carefully, what you read carefully you cannot teach too well, what you teach well you cannot live too well… Therefore dear… pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent… This evil, shameful time is no season for being lazy, for sleeping, and snoring.”

–Martin Luther, WA 53, 218, as quoted by Fred W. Meuser in “Luther as Preacher of the Word of God,” in The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther, Ed. Donald K. McKim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 141.

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