The First Thing to Study

Thomas Murphy (1823–1900) was an Irish-American Presbyterian who pastored Frankford Presbyterian Church from 1848–1885. He trained for the ministry under the brilliant men at Princeton Theological Seminary. The professor that left an indelible mark on Murphy was Archibald Alexander. Murphy especially loved Alexander’s lectures on Pastoral Theology. Murphy took “copious notes” of almost everything he heard Alexander say about “the character, duties and responsibilities of the pastoral office.” Eventually, Murphy turned them into an excellent, yet all-too-neglected 1877 book Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office.

If you’re in ministry and haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to work through Murphy’s manual. You don’t even have to spend a penny for his thoughts!

A Significant Silence Today

Maybe I’m cynical. Or maybe I’m not listening to the right voices. But I keep asking, “Who today calls for pastoral holiness with the earnestness of Christ and his apostles?” You need only turn to John 15:4–5, 1 Timothy 4:7–16, and 2 Timothy 2:20–21 to see how holiness is the central concern for Christ’s ambassadors.

I assume one reason is that we’ve overemphasized contextualization, entrepreneurial skills, and worldly rhetoric in recent decades. Wondering if God’s word is sufficient God’s word, we’ve baptized cultural practices and imported them into the ministry.

You can also pay attention to the popular platforms of the most popular ministers. Each one has “their thing”: healthy churches, radical missions, confessional theology, and racial reconciliation. These are all good and necessary. But who is the person that is relentlessly and winsomely calling gospel ministers back to the things of first importance: knowing the love of Christ and returning love to Christ?

Perhaps we can’t name such a person because there’s little interest in the priority of piety. Could it be that we’ve cultivated churches that are skeptical about passionate pleas for Christ-centered, Spirit-powered godliness? Perhaps many church members—and church leaders—are more excited about becoming a huge, growing congregation than about hearing Christ from a holy, maturing minister. Yet it’s the latter reality that God has decreed an ordinary means of saving sinners and sanctifying saints (see Rom. 10:17; 1 Tim. 4:15–16).

Let us together begin to trod on the ancient paths.

It Used to Matter

YHWH spoke in Jeremiah 6:16, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’” Give us, I say, the ancient directions that lead to life. Show us, I plead, the old paths that point us to Christ.

Thomas Murphy knows the way. And we should listen carefully.

Chapter two of his Pastoral Theology is titled, “The Pastor in the Closet: The Piety Which is Needful for the Pastoral Office.” His opening salvo about spirituality is tremendous—and needed. Here’s what he says:

It should be laid down as our first principle that eminent piety is the indispensable qualification for the ministry of the gospel. By this is not meant simply a piety the genuineness of which is unquestionable, but a piety the degree of which is above that of ordinary believers. It is meant that there should be a more thorough baptism of the Holy Ghost, a more absolute consecration of all the powers and faculties to the service of God, a more complete conformity to the likeness of the Lord Jesus, a greater familiarity with the mind of the Spirit, a nearer approach to the perfect man in Christ Jesus, in those who take upon them the privileges and the responsibilities of the pastor, than are commonly expected even in true Christians. The pastor should not be satisfied with reaching the general standard of spirituality. He has devoted himself to a high and holy office to which he believes himself called, and hence he has need of a very high tone of piety. As a minister appointed to serve in the sanctuary and wait upon souls, how deep should be his humility. His great aim is to save men, and it will not therefore suffice for him to have merely the ordinary sympathy with the suffering and the lost. He is to be a leader in the spiritual host of God; must he not go before others in spiritual attainments?

Do you think he’s too earnest? Does he demand too much? I think he’s got it quite right.

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 Learned Servant

At last year’s Shepherds’ Conference, Mark Jones preached from Isaiah 50 on the third Servant Song. It’s a model of Christ-exalting exposition. It also throws several (appropriate) punches at pastors. Case in point: “Woe to that man who knows his theological books, but is ignorant of the word of God.”

The Spirit stirred my mind and convicted my heart through Jones’ preaching. May He do the same to yours.

Condemnation is Easier than Consolation

“A sustaining ministry, a gospel ministry, requires more thought more study, more insight than a condemning ministry. A finger-pointing ministry is easy. Moralism is the default setting of our minds. But it takes divine wisdom to understand God’s grace in a new way, so we can sustain weary people. Jesus gave himself fully to that ministry.”

— Ray Ortlund, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, 355.

Publishing Update: A Legacy of Preaching

Hot off the press today is volume two of Zondervan’s A Legacy of Preaching, which is subtitled, “Enlightenment to the Present Day: The Life, Theology, and Method of History’s Great Preachers.”

I wrote the chapter on Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s preaching. My primary editor, Benjamin Forrest, was a joy to work with; I’m pleased with the chapter’s final form. I hope you’ll grab a copy! All the other chapters I’ve seen are edifying and informative.

Publisher’s Description

A Legacy of Preaching, Volume Two–Enlightenment to the Present Day explores the history and development of preaching through a biographical and theological examination of its most important preachers. Instead of teaching the history of preaching from the perspective of movements and eras, each contributor tells the story of a particular preacher in history, allowing these preachers from the past to come alive and instruct us through their lives, theologies, and methods of preaching.

Each chapter introduces readers to a key figure in the history of preaching, followed by an analysis of the theological views that shaped their preaching, their methodology of sermon preparation and delivery, and an appraisal of the significant contributions they have made to the history of preaching. This diverse collection of familiar and lesser-known individuals provides a detailed and fascinating look at what it has meant to communicate the gospel over the past two thousand years. By looking at how the gospel has been communicated over time and across different cultures, pastors, scholars, and homiletics students can enrich their own understanding and practice of preaching for application today.

Volume Two covers the period from the Enlightenment to the present day and profiles thirty-one preachers including Charles Haddon Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Karl Barth, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, and more.

Volume One, available separately, covers the period from the apostles to the Puritans and profiles thirty preachers including Paul, Origen of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and more.

Covering a broad range of preaching over the centuries, the two-volume A Legacy of Preaching reference set is the definitive reference for experienced preachers who wish to deeper their own preaching as well as aspiring students who want to learn from the masters of the past.

Ferguson Lectures on Preaching

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson recently gave the John Reed Miller Lectures on Preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson. His theme was “Preaching Like Paul?”

I listened to every minute last week while I lay sick in bed. There’s a lifetime of homiletical wisdom for everyone who has ears to hear.

Lecture 1: How It All Came About

Lecture 2: Him We Proclaim

Lecture 3: We Preach Christ Crucified

Lecture 4: On Not Preaching Ourselves

Drs. Ferguson and Keller

Earlier this year, Westminster Theological Seminary awarded Sinclair Ferguson and Tim Keller honorary doctorates. As part of the ceremonies, Peter Lillback hosted a conversation with Ferguson and Keller. The panel is edifying in every way.

Book to Look For: Reformed Systematic Theology

Joel Beeke and Crossway appear to have a burgeoning relationship that will bless the church. Reformed Preaching is hot off the press, and coming in March is the first volume in the Reformed Experiential Systematic Theology Series.

I’m making two assumptions about the first volume Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God. First, because it’s a co-write with Paul Smalley, the volume is undoubtedly the fruit of Dr. Beeke’s seminary lectures on systematic theology. Second, I reckon the experiential component will make it a modern-day systematic theology a la Wilhelmus a Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service.

Publisher’s Description

The aim of systematic theology is to engage not only the head, but also the heart and hands. Only recently has the church compartmentalized these aspects of life—separating the academic discipline of theology from the spiritual disciplines of faith and obedience. This new multi-volume work brings together rigorous historical and theological scholarship with spiritual disciplines and practicality—characterized by a simple, accessible, comprehensive, Reformed, and experiential approach. In this volume, Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley explore the first 2 central themes of theology: revelation and God.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Prolegomena: Introduction to Theology and the Doctrine of Revelation

Section A: Introduction to Theology

1. What Is Theology? Part 1: An Academic Discipline

2. What Is Theology? Part 2: A Spiritual Discipline

3. Who Does Theology? Where? When?

4. Which Theology Do We Do? Part 1: Christian, Catholic, Evangelical

5. Which Theology Do We Do? Part 2: Reformed

6. Which Theology Do We Do? Part 3: Polemical and Experiential

7. Why Do We Do Theology?

8. How Do We Do Theology? Part 1: Spiritual Dynamics

9. How Do We Do Theology? Part 2: Academic Methods

Section B: The Doctrine of Revelation

10. Theological Fundamentals of Divine Revelation

11. General Revelation, Part 1: Biblical Teaching

12. General Revelation, Part 2: Philosophy and Science

13. General Revelation, Part 3: Natural Theology and Theistic Arguments

Excursus: Some Historical Perspective on Natural Theology and Theistic Proofs

14. Special Revelation: Biblical Teaching

15. Errors Regarding Special Revelation, Part 1: Romanism and Liberalism

16. Errors Regarding Special Revelation, Part 2: Liberalism’s Offspring

17. The Bible as the Word of God

18. The Properties of the Written Word, Part 1: Authority and Clarity

19. The Properties of the Written Word, Part 2: Necessity, Unity, and Efficacy

20. The Properties of the Written Word, Part 3: Inerrant Veracity

21. The Properties of the Written Word, Part 4: Objections to Inerrancy

22. The Properties of the Written Word, Part 5: Sufficiency

23. The Cessation of Special Revelation, Part 1: Charismatic Continuationism

24. The Cessation of Special Revelation, Part 2: Prophecy Today

25. Applied Revelation for Practical Fruit

Part 2: Theology Proper: The Doctrine of God

Section A: The Doctrine of God’s Triune Glory

26. Introduction: The True Knowledge of God

27. Introduction to God’s Nature and Attributes, Part 1: Biblical Teaching

28. Introduction to God’s Nature and Attributes, Part 2: Theological Questions

29. The Name of “the Lord” (YHWH)

30. The Holiness of the Lord

31. Gods That Are Not God

32. God’s Spirituality

33. God’s Simplicity: “The Lord Our God Is One Lord”

34. God’s Infinity, Incomprehensibility, Aseity, and Immensity

35. God’s Eternity: Infinity with Respect to Time

Excursus: Problems of Time and Eternity

36. God’s Immutability, Part 1: Biblical Teaching

37. God’s Immutability, Part 2: Theological Questions

38. God’s Knowledge, Part 1: Omniscience and Wisdom

38. God’s Knowledge, Part 2: Foreknowledge

40. God’s Sovereignty: An Introduction to Omnipotence

41. God’s Moral Excellence, Part 1: Goodness and Love

42. God’s Moral Excellence, Part 2: Truth and Righteousness

43. God’s Moral Excellence, Part 3: Jealousy, Impassibility, and Joy

44. God’s Moral Excellence, Part 4: Wrath and Compassion

45. The Trinity, Part 1: Biblical Teaching

46. The Trinity, Part 2: Historical Development

47. The Trinity, Part 3: Theological and Practical Considerations

Section B: The Doctrine of God’s Sovereign Purpose

48. The Decree of God: General Considerations

49. Predestination, Part 1: Election and Reprobation

50. Predestination, Part 2: Historical Development through Reformed Orthodoxy

51. Predestination, Part 3: Questions and Uses

52. God’s Providence, Part 1: Biblical Teaching

53. God’s Providence, Part 2: Problems and Applications

Section C: The Doctrine of Angels and Demons

54. The Holy Angels of God

55. Satan and the Demons

Reasons for Thanksgiving

In 2015, I began my Ph.D. at what I affectionately call The Institution. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Model pastor-theologians fill the faculty, the student community is gracious and earnest, and the confessional unity is palpable.

All of those are, in human terms, consequences of Dr. Albert Mohler’s leadership. Southern recently produced a beautiful fifteen-minute video* documenting Dr. Mohler’s first twenty-five years of faithfulness. Watch it and give thanks.

*I make a brief appearance at 14:23.

The Most Disobeyed Verse in the Bible?

An admission is in order: this post’s title has a fair amount of tongue in its cheek. Countless texts compete for the title’s reward. I mean for the title’s cheekiness to provoke examination—particularly among pastors.

“What Verse,” You Say?

The text I have in mind is Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Its twin is Ephesians 5:19, where Paul commands being filled in the Spirit, which means—in part—”addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

For this post, I’m leaving aside historical arguments that “hymns and spiritual songs” are also references to biblical psalms. I’m not urging exclusive psalmody, but I am arguing for inclusive psalmody. I am simply stating, on the basis of Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19, that God expects His churches to sing the psalms from His word. What do you think? Is that a fair declaration? I believe so.

Yet, how many evangelical churches today sing the Psalms?

The Lay of the Land

I recently saw a pastor of a massive and influential church say, “Let the Psalter the be the soundtrack of your life.” However, ne’er is a psalm sung in his church’s gathered worship.

The pastor’s declaration and his church’s reality reveal two things I see in evangelical churches today.

First, we have seen a genuine resurgence of devotion to the Psalms. Praise the Lord! I first began to notice this when, in 2008, Union University (a Baptist institution, mind you) hosted a conference on psalm-singing. A few years later, B&H (a Baptist press, mind you) published the addresses as Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship. As is often the case, developments in the academy take a few years to seep into ordinary churches. The much-voiced call for restoring lament in the church’s life (e.g., Rejoicing in Lament) is a consequence of the revived focus on the psalms. So too is Donald Whitney’s work Praying the Bible, which exhorts Christians, “when you pray, pray a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm.”

Second, precious few churches today sing the Psalms in corporate worship. I’m optimistic that more and more churches will start singing psalms. My experience and observation are that precious few churches are doing so at the moment.

I live in a bastion of the Bible-belt. “Evangelical” churches occupy many corners in my community. There are three mega-churches within five minutes of my home and another dozen smaller congregations. You’d never expect to sing a psalm at any of them on a Sunday.

Lest you think I’m only pointing the finger at other ecclesiastical traditions, let me turn it back on myself. The church I pastor is a member of the PCA. More than anything else, Redeemer’s identity in the presbytery and community is that of a traditional-liturgical church. Any person who knows anything about the history of Presbyterian worship knows that psalm-singing is among our most distinctive features. I attended Redeemer consistently for eight months before being called as senior minister. Although it had a history of sporadic psalm-singing in the past, we never sang a psalm over those eight months. I wonder many Presbyterian churches today likewise have forgotten our biblically-informed tradition.

One of the first adjustments I made to our worship at Redeemer was reintroducing the Psalms for singing. We now sing at least one psalm every week, and it is a delight to hear God’s people sing God’s word.

A Sad Irony

In our zeal against exclusive psalmody, perhaps we have inadvertently promoted exclusive hymnody—or as one brother I know put it, “exclusive chorusody.”

Too many of our churches today are ignoring God’s hymnbook, which has been at the heart of every major branch of Christianity’s worship tradition. Let us repent of loving to sing our words more than God’s words. Let us pray for the ample and regular singing of psalms—along with Scripturally-sound hymns—in our gathered worship services.

Resourcing Recovery and Reform

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.” John Chrysostom, that golden-mouthed preacher, asked,

Do you wish to be happy? Do you want to know how to spend the day truly blessed? I offer you a drink that is spiritual. This is not a drink for drunkenness that would cut off even meaningful speech. This does not cause us to babble. It does not disturb our vision. Here it is: Learn to sing Psalms! Then you will see pleasure indeed. Those who have learned to sing with the psalms are easily filled with the Holy Spirit.

Every gospel pastor longs for Christ’s word to dwell deeply in his church. Every pastor prays for Christ’s spirit to fill the church. Singing psalms is one of God’s ordained means for both blessings to grow in your congregation.

Here are some resources pastors can use for further study:1

Some shorter pieces encouraging the singing of Psalms in corporate worship:

  • Terry Johnson’s essay in honor of James Montgomery Boice, “Restoring Psalm Singing to Our Worship” in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship demonstrates that even the Presbyterians can have difficulty using the Psalter in worship. Johnson’s concern for Bible-saturated worship is commendable to the People of the Book.
  • Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham answers the question of his chapter titled “What Are We Doing Singing the Psalms?” in his book The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms. In a few short pages, he ranges over the Bible, church history, speech-act theory, and finally back to the Psalms themselves as he attempts to coax the Christian reader into a psalm-singing frame of mind.


  1. The comments on each resource are adapted from Ray Van Neste’s Read, Pray, Sing.