The Pastor in his Personal Holiness as a Leader

Topic The pastor in his personal holiness as a leader Time October 2016 Place APC, South Africa

Leadership of God's people involves some obvious things. First of all, we need to know what is expected of us. As pastors we will find that in the Bible. Our people will also have certain expectations of us. Where these mesh with the Bible all well and good but there is clearly potential for a difference of opinion that has to be worked out. If you share the leadership, and we all do to some extent, be clear on how it works. What exactly is the relationship between the pastor and other elders, the pastor and deacons, the pastor and the church meeting.


When we spoke of being a pastor or shepherd we spoke of the importance of knowing your people. Don't forget that. You need to know too what needs to be done and when a particular task needs to be done. Derek Prime has written, “It is not enough to know what needs to be done; when it is to be done is just as important.” (A Christian's guide to leadership). We need to wait on God for his timing in all things. The other thing here is knowing how it is to be done. How important that is.
Prime suggests eight things that follow on from these basic assumptions – knowing your own mind, showing how things are to be done, being concerned for reasonable progress, having some 'go' about you, being a confirmed optimist, seeking to be far sighted, practising honesty with integrity, aiming to encourage new leadership. In it all we must always remember Christ's own example.
In the rest of his book he talks about good personal relationships, delegation (which is so important), efficiency and so on. What we want to focus on, however, is personal example and that really takes us back to the whole matter of the importance of holiness in our lives. It is too easy in the midst of our daily tasks as pastors to let personal holiness slip to the bottom of the agenda in our thinking. It must not.

So let's think about our own holiness. To be a pastor is not simply a matter of preaching - passing on information to others merely. The man himself is fundamentally important. He must be prepared for this work. Elders we are told (Titus 1:8) are to be self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. Like Paul we must be holy, righteous and blameless … among those who believed. Many have recognised this. John Owen, in his An Inquiry into the Original Nature, Institution, Power, Order, and Communion of Evangelical Churches in Volume 16 of his Works says pastors must, among other things,

Experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls. Without this, they will themselves be lifeless and heartless in their own work, and their labour for the most part unprofitable towards others. It is to such men, attended unto as a task for their advantage; or as that which carries some satisfaction in it from ostentation, and supposed reputation wherewith it is accompanied. But a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others, which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on, and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others, will scarce make it savoury unto them. Yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided maybe poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word doth not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woeful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually. The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls, is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words, and dead as to power, instead of preaching the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit. ….

In 1849 Robert Murray M'Cheyne wrote to a fellow minister, Daniel Edwards

Get your texts from God - your thoughts, your words, from God. In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God’s Spirit, is worth ten thousands words spoken in unbelief and sin.

Before leaving Palestine he wrote to William Burns

Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people. (Memoir and Remains 178)

He also wrote to Burns (241, 248, 254, 273)

I feel there are two things it is impossible to desire with sufficient ardour - personal holiness and the honour of Christ in the salvation of souls. … Oh, cry for personal holiness, constant nearness to God by the blood of the Lamb! … Seek advance of personal holiness. It is for this the grace of God has appeared to you. … Seek much personal holiness and likeness to Christ in all the features of his blessed character. Seek to be lamb-like, without which all your efforts to do good to others will be as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

And to Edwards (362, 180)

Lead a holy life. - I believe, brother, that you are born from above, and therefore I have confidence in God touching yon, that you will be kept from the evil. But 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. Remember, ministers are standard-bearers. Satan aims his fiery darts at them. If he can only make you a covetous minister, or a lover of pleasure, or a lover of praise, or a lover of good eating, then he has ruined your ministry for ever. Ah! let him preach on 50 years, he will never do me any harm. Dear brother, cast yourself at the feet of Christ, implore his Spirit to make you a holy man. Take heed to thyself, and to thy doctrine. …

I know some preachers who perhaps are not the most interesting or the best in some ways but they are godly and because of that they can look you in the eye and tell you the truth. We need more men like that. So what can we say practically about this matter of holiness?

Perhaps the best thing I can do to help you here is to take you to Colossians 1:9, 10 where Paul prays for the Colossians, to see what we learn about practical holiness there. Paul says

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

We can sum up what Paul wants for them by saying he wants them to grow spiritually. Leaning on Joel Beeke's Developing spiritual growth, we say that this growth must be growth in knowledge, practice and experience. I want us just to look at growth in practice today. I think we can get at this best by asking three questions that arise from the three phrases in the prayer so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work ….

1. Are you growing according to the pattern Christ laid down?
Paul's prayer for knowledge is so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord, etc. So
1. Are you living a life worthy of the Lord? In 1981 American tennis player John McEnroe won Wimbledon for the first time aged 22. Now when you win Wimbledon it is the custom for the All England Lawn Tennis Club to invite you to be a member. McEnroe, however, had quite a bad reputation for noisy outbursts on court and didn't come to the winners dinner so they decided not to invite him. They didn't consider him a good example to young people. He was not worthy of the honour. He lost the final the following year but was well behaved so they welcomed him in.
Here Paul talks of living a Life worthy of the Lord. The idea is not that we can earn a place in God's kingdom. No, that is given to us despite our sins. Rather the idea is that we should live a life appropriate to having Christ as Lord. A person who is growing spiritually will increasingly be living a life worthy of the Lord. The inappropriate will increasingly fall away. As we grow in knowledge we'll not only see the anomalies in our lives but seek to do something about them.
This idea of walking worthy is a common one in Paul. Eph 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Phpns 1:27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. 1 Thess 2:11, 12 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God. 2 Thess 1:11 we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling.
Christ should be a pattern for us in our daily lives. If he is truly our Saviour then he also ought to be our exemplar too. We ought to walk in his footsteps.
2. Are you practising self-denial and humbly serving? Puritan Thomas Watson says “the right manner of growth is to grow less in one's own eyes”. One of the most obvious things about Christ was his self-denying and humble nature. That ought to be our attitude too. Beeke quotes Packer

Pride blows us up like balloons, but grace punctures our conceit and lets the hot, proud air out of our system. The result (a very salutary result) is that we shrink, and end up seeing ourselves as less - less nice, less able, less wise, less good, less strong, less steady, less committed, less of a piece - than ever we thought we were. We stop kidding ourselves that we are persons of great importance to the world and to God. We settle for being insignificant and dispensable. Off-loading our fantasies of omnicompetence, we start trying to be trustful, obedient, dependent, patient and willing in our relationship with God. … We bow to events that rub our noses in the reality of our own weaknesses, and we look to God for strength quietly to cope.

This is part of the work of mortification or putting sin to death. When we see (like John the Baptist) that he must increase and I must decrease then we begin to grow as believers.
I like the story of the boy out with his father, a farmer, looking at a field of corn. The boy remarked on how he liked to see the corn standing tall in the field. His father on the other hand preferred the corn that was bowing down because that was the corn that he knew was full.
Are you practising self-denial and humbly serving? There is no spiritual growth without it.
3. Do you see yourself as a servant and are you submissive? Matthew 20:25-27 You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
The issue is not authority but about how we use our authority. Paul says (2 Cor 4:5) We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. A servant spirit, a servant heart is so important.
When we think of spiritual growth we tend to think of doing great exploits for God perhaps but really the chief thing is learning to submit to God – to his will, his power, his honour and glory. Calvin says somewhere “Let us not cease to do the utmost, that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishment”. That's the attitude, pressing on and not becoming distressed at how little we've done.
The submissive spirit we are talking about is exemplified in the attitude of William Carey when, in 1812, his printing house in India accidentally burned down. Paper, new type, irreplaceable manuscripts - all were lost. His reaction? ‘In one night the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the divine ways! I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection I could, and contemplated the Mission with, perhaps, too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low that I might look more simply to Him.’ That Sunday he preached from Psalm 46 on God’s right to do his will, and our duty to acquiesce. He wrote to Fuller, ‘The ground must be laboured over again, but we are not discouraged ... God has a sovereign right to dispose of us as He pleases.’
2. Are you growing in pleasing God?
Paul says the goal of his prayer is not only that you may live a life worthy of the Lord but also that you may please him in every way. 1 Thess 4:1 Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Eph 5:10, interestingly, is Find out what pleases the Lord. Presumably to do what pleases him. More questions
1. Is pleasing God central in your life? It's very easy to slip into a way of thinking where we become more concerned with what others think of us than with what God thinks of us. That must never be the case. 1 Thess 2:4 We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 2 Cor 5:8, 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. This determination to please God rather than men comes out elsewhere. It ought to be what drives us too.
Sometimes you might hear someone say “I did it just to please him” referring to their spouse. Doing things to please others is fine, of course, but what should drive us above and beyond everything else is doing what we do to please God.
In the film Chariots of Fire about the 1924 Olympics and Eric Liddell, the Christian who becomes one of the finest runners in the world there is a scene where we know his sister, Jennie, wants him to leave competitive running to join the family on the mission field in China. Jennie feels Eric is putting running ahead of serving God, and she questions his commitment. Eric attempts to help his sister see his point of view. He announces with a smile, "I've decided I'm going back to China. The missionary service has accepted". Jennie interrupts him. "Oh, Eric, I'm so pleased." Eric continues, "But I've got a lot of running to do first. Jennie, you've got to understand. I believe that God made me for a purpose, for China. He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt. You were right; it's not just fun. To win is to honour him." Now whether it happened quite like that and whether Liddell read it right if it did that is the attitude we're talking about.
Are we determined to seek always to keep pleasing God not anyone else central?
2. Are you seeking to be sanctified, remembering it is not the same as justification? Perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of the difference between justification and sanctification. Both are free gifts from God and flow from the work of Christ on the cross. Both are found in all believers and begin at the same time. Both in a sense are necessary to enter heaven. Luther once said "There is no justification without sanctification, no forgiveness without renewal of life, no real faith from which the fruits of new obedience do not grow."
There are differences though. Yes, we are justified by faith in Christ and so legally or forensically we stand perfect before God in Christ. Nevertheless, we are called to be holy and to be increasingly holy in our actual lives, the work of sanctification. Increasingly we should be seeking to please God – not because we will not be acceptable to him otherwise but because we will not be growing spiritually, in sanctification otherwise. The differences are worth knowing and remembering
1. One - something is done for you, one – something is done in you.
2. One enables you to acquire Christ’s righteousness, one enables you to acquire your own righteousness. In sanctification we acquire our own imperfect righteousness through the Spirit.
3. One is not a matter of good deeds at all, one very much is.
4. One is complete and finished from conversion, one is never complete until heaven.
Perhaps we can think of the difference between a house and a home.
5. One does not grow or increase, one grows and increases throughout life. You can’t be more or less justified – you either are or are not. Sanctification, however, has many degrees. Take the army. On one hand you are either in it or out of it but within it there are many ranks.
6. One has to do with your standing before God, one with the state of your soul.
7. One gives authority to enter heaven, one prepares you to enjoy heaven. Take a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. There is the ticket you need to get in and the clothes you wear at the event.
8. One is God’s work outside you, invisible to others, one God’s work within you, obvious to others.
3. Are you serving God not men and seeking his reward not theirs? To be very practical we must examine ourselves and probe to see the extent to which our lives are conforming to what we profess. We ought to remind ourselves constantly of the judgement day when the whole truth will be known. We ought to be living in the light of that day even now. One thing that we should not be afraid of thinking of is the reward for the righteous on that day. There will be a well done good and faithful servant for all on that day. Further, think about verses such as Matthew 10:41, 42 where Jesus says Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.
In The Weight of Glory C S Lewis apparently says that believers can underestimate the full riches God has for his children.

… If we consider … the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures … like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

In The Problem of pain he says

We are afraid that Heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only he pure in heart want to.

He also says somewhere

We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of rewards makes the Christian's life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connection with things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it.”
3. Are you growing in spiritual fruitfulness?
The third phrase bearing fruit in every good work again prompts a question, which we can break down into three further questions. The idea of spiritual growth leading to the bearing of fruit is an easy picture to get and a common enough one in Scripture. In John 15 Jesus speaks about his being the vine and his disciples the fruit bearing branches. Philippians 1:11speaks of the Philippians being filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God. The whole point of growing a vine or apple tree is that there may be fruit. Three further questions then
1. Are you healthily active? Fruit doesn't simply refer to the people we may bring to Christ. Fruit stands for all the things we do in Christ's kingdom. If we are really growing spiritually it will not be just our attitudes that change but our actions too. James is very hot on this. In 1:22ff he says

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

He goes on in Chap 2 to remind us faith without deeds is dead. So, is there fruit? Is your Christian life productive?
2. Are you remaining in Christ? In John 15 where Jesus has a lot to say about Christians bearing fruit he says strikingly (15:4) Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. Although there needs to be activity in our lives it needs to be a healthy activity. Such activity will be healthy only if we are remaining in the Lord Jesus Christ at all times. He says I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
A branch will not produce fruit if it doesn't remain in the vine. The warning is that If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. Another illustration might be the way a dirty dish may be very hard to clean if left out overnight but soaked in water in the sink that will make a big difference.
Jesus goes on to say If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This leads us onto the third and final point I want to make.
3. Are you making good use of the spiritual disciplines? In 1 Tim 4:7 Paul says Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. The word translated train is an interesting word. It's where we get our word gymnasium from. A lot of people today are convinced abut the importance of going to the gym regularly. They are convinced that Paul is right when he says that physical exercise is of some value. What most people have failed to get is that godliness has value for all things. This brings us to the importance then of spiritual disciplines.
By spiritual disciplines, sometimes called spiritual exercises or practices, we mean actions and activities that we undertake for the purpose of cultivating spiritual growth. Given that we need to grow spiritually the question comes as to how we are to grow. If we are to be fruitful, how are we going to be fruitful. The chief answer is through spiritual disciplines. Beeke mentions 16 altogether. That may sound a lot. I found a list of 27 elsewhere. As Beeke freely admits in the end it all boils down to prayer and reading the Word. I think it's always good to look at this subject.
Beeke lists four personal disciplines. We could add more but let's stick with these. He quotes Austin Phelps in The Still Hour saying

It has been said that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often long alone with God.

We need to find time, as difficult as that may be sometimes, to be alone with God.
1 Read the Bible regularly for yourself. This is the first, the most obvious thing. If we don't get to know the content of the Bible and continually remind ourselves of it then how are we going to grow spiritually? How are we going to bear fruit? In John 17:17 Jesus prays Sanctify them by the truth. He adds your word is truth. Ps 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Beeke also recommends singing Scripture and some of you will find that useful. Learning Scripture is also a great thing and there are lots of helps. The main thing is first to read it. There are various schemes that will take you through the Bible in one year, two, three, whatever. I think there are schemes that distinguish weekends from weekdays too and even more flexible schemes. There are also buy one year Bibles set out with daily readings all in one place for the day. This is something we must be committed to. When we fail to read on a certain day we shouldn't be too discouraged but start again as soon as can. It's a bit like falling off a bicycle. Get on again.
2 Meditate on the Bible regularly. Someone has said that reading the Bible without meditating on it is like trying to eat without swallowing. The godly Bishop Joseph Hall once wrote

Remember, it is not hasty reading, but seriously meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee's touching of the flowers that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon them, and drawing out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest, and strongest Christian.

Spurgeon once remarked that

Some people like to read so many chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather let my soul soak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!

Col 3:1, 2 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. There is no better way to do that than by meditating on Scripture. In Psalm 1 we learn that the godly man delights in God's law and meditates on it night and day.
The circumstances are different for all of us but we ought to be finding time – if not every day at least more than once a week to meditate on the Word of God. Beeke suggests a Puritan method.
  • 1 Pray in order to focus the mind on the Scripture
  • 2 Read the verse or two you want to meditate on
  • 3 Repeat it over and over, learning it as you go
  • 4 Think carefully about the verse or verses – what it means, its context, its applications
  • 5 Stir your heart to appropriate affections of love, joy, grief, hope, etc.
  • 6 Arouse your soul to make specific resolutions coming out of the verse
  • 7 Conclude with prayer, thanking God and praying for his help to act in light of the verse
3. Pray. We should pray before and after we meditate. We should also pray giving thanks to God and praising his name and confessing our sins. Then there is the whole matter of intercession.
We will surely want to pray for our families. In some cases that will mean that we pray longer and longer. I remember hearing Joel Beeke give an anecdote about his mother some years ago. It involved them waiting for her to come for some reason and her taking a long time because she was praying. More recently he was saying that his mother was the mother of a large family and had a vast number of grandchildren and great grand children. No wonder, she needed to pray so long!
We ought to be praying for a our flock too. Start with the elders, perhaps, then the deacons, then as many members as you can plus members of the congregation. We ought to pray too for others – ministers, missionaries, neighbours, different agencies that seek to reach out.
The truth is that if we are going to do this properly then we need to find time each day to do it. Ora et labora is an old Latin phrase often used. Prayer and work. Beeke draws attention to Nehemiah 4:9 where Nehemiah says that when under threat we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. It reminds us of how Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have said “Trust in God and keep your powder dry”. Beeke uses the picture of using two oars to row a boat. Or to use a football illustration – the best players learn to kick with both feet.
I think this is a useful way to think about things. If we think only about our daily tasks we'll remain prayerless. If we just think of prayer we may prove useless but if we think of the two together that will be best. In the morning you are bound to be thinking of the tasks ahead that day. Pray about them then. As you begin tasks pray and as you go about them too. They say that when Luther was once asked what his plans for the following day were, he answered: “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
If we are going to grow in grace then undoubtedly we need to pray more in private. Beeke quotes Archibald Alexander helpfully too saying “Pray constantly and fervently for the influences of the Holy Spirit. No blessing is so particularly and emphatically promised in answer to prayer as this”. So private prayer then. This is important. We may fail many times but must keep returning to it.
4. Try keeping a journal. Beeke suggests this. Personally, I vary on this but there is some merit in simply writing down how you have spent the day in order to encourage wise use of time and so that we do not completely fritter it away. It also helps with self-examination. Sometimes we can see good or bad patterns developing in our lives by this means. Beyond keeping a diary we can write down our personal thoughts and how we are communing with God. It is from this sort of journaling that diary keeping has sprung. If you do it you can read over it in years to come and learn from it.
Not all of us will want to to do this but some may find it helpful. It is ideally a daily thing but a weekly journal can be useful too. A lot more could be said but we will leave it there for now.

The Pastor as Preacher of Law and Gospel

Topic The pastor as preacher of law and gospelTime October 2016 Place APC, South Africa
So its down to the beach once again. This time I want to pick up what Paul says in Acts 20:25-27.

Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

Paul said that he'd not hesitated to proclaim to the Ephesians the whole will of God. That declaration suggests he might have been tempted to preach something less than the whole will of God. It is worth thinking about. Are there things that we might be tempted to leave out of our preaching?
One way of putting this question is to ask whether we preach both Law and gospel (or law and grace we might say). I put it like that because in Protestant Christianity, Lutheran and Reformed, the relationship between God's Law and the gospel of Jesus Christ has long been a major topic.
In these traditions, the distinction between the doctrines of Law, which demands obedience to God's ethical will and gospel, which promises the forgiveness of sins in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ, it is seen as critical both as a hermeneutical principle for interpreting the Bible and as a guiding principle in homiletics (sermon composition) and pastoral care.
People often tend to think of it as a Lutheran thing but it is a standard formulation in Reformed theology as well. Ursinus sharply contrasted law and gospel as “the chief and general divisions of the holy scriptures” in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism and Berkhof in his Systematic Theology calls the law and the gospel “the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace.”
I think most evangelical and Reformed pastors tend to do it instinctively rather then consciously thinking each time they come to a passage, is this law or is it gospel?
Whatever may be the case it is certainly so that if we are to be biblical and effective preachers we should be preaching both gospel and law. There is usually little argument over that first part of the statement. Should pastors preach the gospel? Surely they definitely should. Aren't we called to be gospel preachers? Paul is to some extent a model for us and he is always talking about preaching the gospel. So in 1 Corinthians 1:17 he says Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel - not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. Or what about Acts 20:24 I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace.

Preacher of the gospel
The word gospel, of course, means good news. It is based on the Greek word evangel, which the New Testament Christians often used to refer to their message.
There is good news to be shared. In a sermon on 1 Corinthians 9:6, answering the question what it is to preach the gospel Spurgeon says To preach the gospel is to state every doctrine contained in God's Word, and to give every truth its proper prominence.” That is true to a certain extent but we can narrow down to the core of the message. The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia summarises

The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of his son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in his triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement.

This is the good news or gospel that all pastors must preach. Everywhere we find it, not only in the New Testament but also as it is foreshadowed in the Old Testament. We are to preach it. In the sermon we mentioned before, Spurgeon said to ministers

Oh, minister of the gospel! stand for one moment and think of your poor fellow creatures! See them like a stream, rushing to eternity-millions flying to their endless home! See the termination of that stream, that tremendous waterfall which dashes streams of souls into the pit of hell! Oh, minister, remember that thousands of men and women are being damned each hour, and that each time your pulse beats another soul lifts up its eyes in hell, being in torments; think how men are speeding on their way to destruction, how “the love of many grows cold” and “iniquity abounds.” I say, don’t you feel compelled to preach? Is it not woe to you if you do not preach the gospel? … Take a walk one evening ... when the night has fallen, and darkness veils the people. Do you not see the prostitute hurrying on to her wicked work? Do you not see thousands and tens of thousands annually ruined? Up from the hospital and the asylum there comes a voice, “Woe to you if you do not preach the gospel.” Go to the prisons ... see the thieves who have for years spent their lives in sin. … A voice will come from each house of correction, from each prison ... saying, “Woe is to you if you do not preach the gospel.” … stop at the door of some place where there is heard the ringing of bells, chanting and music, but where the whore of Babylon has her sway, and lies are preached for truth; and when you reflect on this false religion of Roman Catholicism, let a voice come to you, “Minister woe is to you if you do not preach the gospel.” Or step into the conference hall of the infidel where he blasphemes your Maker's name; or sit in the theatre where lustful and immoral plays are acted out, and from all these haunts of vice there comes the voice, “Minister, woe is to you if you do not preach the gospel.” … Put your ear at hell’s gate, and for a little while listen to the mixed screams and shrieks of agony and complete despair; and as you come from that sad place with that mournful music still ringing in your ears, you will hear the voice, “Minister! minister! woe is to you if you do not preach the gospel.” Only let us have these things before our eyes, and we must preach. … Until the fiery centre of this earth will burst through the thick ribs of her brazen mountains, we will still preach the gospel; till the universal fire will dissolve the earth, and matter will be swept away, these lips, or the lips of … others called of God, will still thunder out ... We cannot help it. ...

That's how it should be with us.

Preacher of the law
But what about preaching the Law? Why should we preach the Law? Many modern evangelicals will tell you there is no reason to preach the Law any more. All that's over and we just have to preach the gospel and all will be well. There's a tendency to downplay the Law and proceed to a straight declaration of the gospel. The Law is not allowed to have its proper place. However, conviction of sin, while it does not guarantee conversion, is vital. This is where the road to possible conversion really begins. For this reason, proclaiming the Law of God is of high importance.
Some years ago Professor John Murray wrote that it is a primary task of an evangelist to bring the demands of law and gospel to bear on the conscience. “One of the most appalling defects of much present day evangelism” he says is a failure to proclaim and apply the Ten Commandments. It's as these commands are brought to bear on people's hearts and lives that the effect referred to by Paul (Rom 7:7, 9) is produced. “Only the sharp arrows of God's commandments” says Murray “can pierce the hearts of the King's enemies and only these can lay low the self-sufficiency of human pride.” It is through the law, applied to the conscience, that we become conscious of sin (Rom 3.20). Paul says, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I may live for God.” and, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, ...” (Gal 2:19, 3.24).
The commandments do the vital work of killing so that a person can come to true life in Christ. They discipline a man and take charge of him to bring him to Christ. Ole Hallesby says “we should never try to make ourselves believe that we can persuade anyone to believe in the gospel before, by the grace of God, we have helped him to believe in the law of God and his will and that he must do the will of God ….”.
This is the order then, first law then gospel. Calvin stresses how we need to be cast down “into complete consternation” for only this prepares us “to receive Christ's grace. For he who considers himself capable of enjoying it is deceived unless he has first humbled all haughtiness of mind. This is a well known passage, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
The seventeenth century Anglican divine Ezekiel Hopkins wrote that

Where the Law hath not wrought its convincing work with power upon the conscience, there the preaching of Jesus Christ will be altogether in vain. For, until a sinner be thoroughly convinced of his guilt and misery; and his conscience be awakened by the threats and terrors of the Law, that he stands forfeited to the justice of God, liable to eternal wrath, and may every moment be swallowed up in the abyss of woe and torments, into which thousands before him have been already plunged; it will be impossible to persuade him seriously to embrace those tenders of mercy, which the Gospel holds forth unto him by Jesus Christ.

Walt Chantry has written

Normal evangelical practice is swiftly to run to the cross of Christ. But the cross means nothing apart from the law. Our Lord’s wretched suffering must be tragic and senseless in the eyes of any who have no reverent esteem for the perfect commandments. On the cross Jesus was satisfying the just demands of the law against sinners. If sinners are unaware of the decalogue’s requirements for themselves, they will see no personal significance in Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Without knowledge of the condemnation of God’s holy law, the cross will draw sympathy but not saving faith from sinners. Christ was set forth to be a propitiation [Romans 3:25] — i.e., the substitutionary object of God’s wrath poured out against a violated law. …
Present-day preaching only pays lip service to the concept that a man must recognise himself to be a sinner before he can genuinely embrace the Saviour. The average witnessing booklet insists on the question, ‘Do you believe that all men are sinners?’ If there is any hesitation, you establish the point with, For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. But no definition of sin is included. There is scarcely a man alive, including the most hardened sinner, who will deny this broad statement. Anyone would answer, ‘Of course I am less holy than God. No one is perfect.’ ... But such is hardly an acknowledgement of sin. ….

In his Institutes Calvin distinguished three uses of the Law. Calvin wrote “To make the whole matter clearer, let us survey briefly the function and use of what is called the 'moral law.' Now, so far as I understand it, it consists of three parts.” He itemises them in this way

1. “While it shows God's righteousness ... it warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness” (2.7.6).
2. It functions “by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law” (2.7.10).
3. “It admonishes believers and urges them on in well-doing” (2.7.12-13).

R C Sproul puts it like this

The first purpose of the law is to be a mirror. On the one hand, the law of God reflects and mirrors the perfect righteousness of God. The law tells us much about who God is. Perhaps more important, the law illumines human sinfulness. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.” The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ. Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ.
A second purpose ... is the restraint of evil. The law, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. … The law allows for a limited measure of justice on this earth, until the last judgement is realised.
The third … is to reveal what is pleasing to God. As born-again children of God, the law enlightens us as to what is pleasing to our Father, whom we seek to serve. The Christian delights in the law as God himself delights in it. Jesus said, If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). This is the highest function of the law, to serve as an instrument for the people of God to give him honour and glory.

The third use is often objected to by Christians but even the first and second uses are often neglected. If these categories are correct there is every reason for preachers to preach the Law.
First, we ought to be holding up the mirror of the Law, that people may reflect on the perfect righteousness of God. People need to know what God is like. At the same time we need to see how sinful we are by nature. If people never see how weak and sinful they are, they are unlikely to seek the strength found in Christ. This is surely the biblical way to drive people to Christ.
Second, there is the restraint of evil. This is not the highest thing gospel preachers aim at but we would be foolish to ignore the way that it can protect the righteous from the unjust. Even if people who listen to us are not converted, at the very least there is the hope of restraining them from evil.
We ought not to forget either that the Law reveals what is pleasing to God. The converted are justified by faith. It is important that they also grow in holiness. The law, if preached, will enlighten us as to what pleases our heavenly Father and how to serve him. We need to instruct people what it is that pleases God. We will often discover that in the Law.

Preacher of Law and gospel
The pattern of three uses for the law perhaps raises the question of whether the gospel has more than one use. Taking the law as a pattern perhaps we can say preaching the gospel has three uses.

1. To show us something more of the character of God. Here we see his love and kindness and the way he has provided a way for sinners to be saved. Unbelievers need to hear this message. They need to know how to be saved.
2. Perhaps, the restraint of evil. Just hearing the gospel preached will not save anyone. Hearing it, however, can have a good effect even on unbelievers, drawing them from sin. We aim higher than that but it has this tendency, perhaps.
3. A reminder to Christians of their salvation and of the greatness of the God who brings it about. The argument is sometimes used that there is no point majoring on the gospel because all the people present are already converted but believers need to hear it too. Peter Jeffery has written

Christians need the gospel too, and pastors need to preach it regularly. Yes, the gospel is that which will save lost sinners; but it’s also this alone that will restore backsliders and deepen the love of committed Christians for their Saviour. The warmth of the gospel is the greatest tool to make believers more useful in the life of the church. … Whether we’ve been saved for two weeks or twenty years, we all need to hear regularly the message of the cross and the grace and love of God in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because everything else in the Christian life flows out of it and depends upon it for freshness and vitality. This is why there’s nothing more thrilling to believers than to hear the gospel preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. ….

One writer (Terry Rayburn) objects to all this. He gives three counter arguments

1. All men already know in their hearts the moral law of God, and they know that they are sinners against God, and they suppress that truth in unrighteousness.
2. The Law has no power for salvation. But the Gospel does.
3. There are no NT commands, nor NT examples for preaching the Law before the Gospel.

It is true that all men have some idea of the Law (the requirements of the Law are written n their hearts). Their consciences are fallen, however, and do not operate as they should. It is part of the preacher's task to get under the skin and drive home the law that people by nature seek to resist.
It is true that the Law cannot convert anyone but, as we have seen, it has its place and must be preached. Galatians 2:19, 20 says that it was through the law that Paul died to the law so that he might live for God. When he says I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, he is talking about the killing work of the Law. Of course, when it says but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me he is talking about gospel's power. The Law can't save but it has its place in the preacher's armoury.
As for the argument that there are no New Testament commands or examples of preaching the Law before the gospel there are Scriptures like Romans 3:20, Romans 7:7 and Galatians 3:21-24

no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. … What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. … Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.

Luke 18:18-30
Further, when we consider how Jesus deals with the rich young ruler it becomes very clear that preaching the law ought to have an honoured place in our preaching. The story is in all three ‘synoptic’ Gospels and each time it follows the same incidents. Luke 18:18-30 reads

A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life. "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good - except God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.'" "All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus replied, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!" "Truly I tell you," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life."

The story is interesting from many points of view, especially the contrast between how Jesus deals with this young man and how many Christians today might go about dealing with this enquiry from an obviously very keen fellow. I want you to see how Jesus preaches the Law to him.
In England it's rare to get someone approaching us eager to know what must I do to inherit eternal life? I'm not sure about in South Africa. Even in Jesus’s day it was far from being an everyday event. However, let’s imagine how an evangelist or pastor today might deal with the situation today.
Here comes this well-dressed, clean-cut young man, full of enthusiasm. Good teacher, he says what must I do to inherit eternal life? ‘Well young man’ says the evangelist or pastor ‘God has a wonderful plan for your life. If you admit you're a sinner and accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Saviour then you'll be saved.’ ‘Oh’ says the man ‘I know we’re all sinners and I do want to accept Jesus into my heart.’ ‘Then say this prayer with me’ and he will take him through a prayer saying sorry for sin and asking Jesus to come into his heart. Hey presto the man is saved – or is he?
I’m sure not all evangelists and pastors are so shallow but how many are like Jesus in how he deals with this young man? If we were confronted by a similar situation – how would we deal with it?
I’m sure that if it wasn’t Jesus some people would be quite quick to criticise his approach here. Here comes a man full of enthusiasm and instead of accepting him with open arms he starts picking him up on what he’s said. There is no ‘God has a wonderful plan’ or ‘Accept me into your heart’ or even ‘Put your faith in me’ just a list of rules he must keep. Then there’s this crazy thing about selling everything he has and giving it all to the poor. To cap it all, he actually sends the man away very despondent without praying with him or getting him to decide for Jesus or anything of that sort. We're not told whether the man ever came to faith. In just a few moments Jesus seems to have turned a golden opportunity into a great failure. What can be the explanation? Well, let’s look at just what is said here by the rich young ruler and by Jesus himself.
1. A great question, a discouraging but purposeful answer and a law-stressing statement. The question is ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ We know from elsewhere that this man was rich. We're guessing he was fairly young. He was also a ruler, some sort of civil magistrate. No doubt he'd heard Jesus preach and knew something about him. His burning question was how he could inherit eternal life. What did he have to do? Literally his question is ‘Having done what will I inherit eternal life?’ He sincerely wants to know what he needed to do to be sure of everlasting life.
Now Jesus’s response is rather unexpected. Instead of welcoming this enquiry with open arms he picks the man up on something he's said – something seemingly quite incidental. The different evangelists report it slightly different ways but they agree that the issue is this word good. Luke records Jesus’s words thus (19) Why do you call me good?… No-one is good - except God alone. It seems a little finicky. What's the point? The point is that the man really needs to think about what goodness consists of. It is to do with God – something that our English words bring out. This man had an idea there was something he could do to save himself. He needed to see the only way he could be good was through God and this good teacher as he calls him was not just good but God, God come in the flesh. Jesus is not being pernickity but points to a vital truth this man hadn't seen.
Then instead of all the expected stuff about giving your heart to Jesus, trusting in him, etc, comes this reminder of the Ten Commandments. You think – wow is this the best approach? It’s a little like watching a surgeon sticking the scalpel in. It looks brutal but he knows what he's doing. Jesus doesn’t mention them all but he covers the second five in no particular order. 20 You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother. We are not saved by keeping the Law of God and so people jump to the conclusion that we don’t need to say anything about it. One of the purposes of the Law is to convince of our sins. It’s easy to say ‘Yes, I’m a sinner’ but that needs to be fleshed out and understood properly. We need people to see they are lawbreakers who deserve to be punished.
2. An honest but naïve declaration, a penetrating observation and a soul-searching command. The rich young ruler responds (21) All these I have kept since I was a boy. We can say two things about this answer. First, it was honest. This man knew God’s Law, he'd been brought up with it. When he learned to speak some of the earliest words he learned were to do with the Law. When he learned to read some of the first words he read were from God’s Law. From earliest days he'd tried to keep the law as best he knew how. In some ways that was part of his difficulty. Here he was trying to keep the Law and, as far as he could tell doing okay, yet he wasn’t sure if he was saved.
The rich young ruler was honest but also rather naïve. Yes, many of us can go through the Law in a rather superficial way thinking we're not doing too badly but do you know what the Law actually says? Look at the commandments again. We need to show people that simply not to have committed adultery is not enough. There's such a things as adultery of the heart and mind. Similarly, the command about murder is against all hatred. The fifth command is not just about your parents. Even as adults we can be rebellious against the God-ordained powers that be.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, You still lack one thing. Jesus always had a very personal and appropriate way of putting things. It’s like a good doctor. A good doctor doesn’t listen five minutes then rattle of a one size fits all prescription. He listens carefully, discerns, then prescribes. Think of an old-fashioned tailor. He makes it fit. He doesn't say ‘You’ve got it all wrong. You’ve misunderstood.’ Rather he puts it in terms the man will grasp. We need to learn to do that. ‘Look, you’re doing okay’ he said ‘but the reason why you're not sure you have eternal life is because you need one thing more.’ Now the next bit will be different for different people but for all who don't know eternal life there is a sense in which we need just one thing more.
Now the next bit came a quite a shock I’m sure. When you first read it, it is just as shocking. ‘What’s the one thing extra I need?’ You can imagine the man thinking – Go to the Temple more often, make certain sacrifices, give up wine, a large donation, fast for a certain number of days? Any of those or even all together he would have gladly done if he could be sure he had eternal life.
So Jesus said to this man – and he said it to him not everyone: Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. There are three things then –
  • Sell everything you have. It seems so extreme but that’s what Jesus says.
  • And give to the poor. It's not enough to do something negative. There must be a positive good. Some people think they can find eternal life just by self-denial – being poor, fasting, going without.
  • Then come, follow me. Don’t miss this vital bit. You can give away every penny you own and give all of it to the poor. You can spend all your time seeking to help the needy but if you won’t come and follow Jesus Christ then you'll not know eternal life. Eternal life is impossible without him. These other things are designed simply to enable you to follow him. This making him your Lord and God is the vital thing, what really matters above all else.
The rich young ruler thought he was keeping the commandments but he wasn’t. Money was his god and he was guilty of breaking the tenth commandment (not mentioned by Jesus) – do not covet. He was greedy which, of course, is idolatry. Desperate cases demand desperate remedies. When the ship is going down then best throw everything overboard. If there is anything at all standing between a person and unreserved, unconditional, whole-hearted and unfettered devotion to Christ then it must go – whatever it cost. I sometimes say in response to the question ‘What must I give up to become a Christian?’ And my answer is ‘everything!’.
3. A despondent response and a significant remark. Consider the despair God’s Law brings. 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. He'd been like a ship in full sail – he'd been full of enthusiasm. But now he's becalmed. The steaming train has suddenly come to a halt. The noisy and enthusiastic enquirer turns into a sad and silent mourner. What? Give up everything? He hadn’t banked on this. How he loved his wealth. To give up everything to follow Jesus. What a demand!
Consider how hard it is to enter God’s kingdom. 24, 25 Jesus looked at him and said, How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is full of sympathy but he is not surprised. What a lure riches are. How many have been drawn away from Christ by riches. Not just riches of course. Some are lured by a lust for power or for fame –riches of a less material sort. Jesus doesn’t just say it is hard for the rich to be saved but impossible. People try all sorts of ways to water down his illustration but it's best to take it as it reads. He is saying it is impossible for the rich to be saved. The answer to that conundrum comes shortly after.
4. An incredulous question and a wise answer. Hearing Jesus say that it was hard for the rich to be saved people around him, who were mostly poor, say Who then can be saved? That may sound strange to our ears as the gospel has made such an impact that we are used to thinking of things in a different way but then riches were almost universally thought desirable. The reasoning is, if it is hard for the rich to be saved what hope for poor people like us? No doubt this man was thinking in a similar way ‘If I have to sell everything, how on earth can I be saved?’.
Finally, hear these wonderful words (27) What is impossible with men is possible with God That's the answer: God does it not us. Realising that makes all the difference. We save no-one. He does it all.


A final footnote on this subject is to say that one of the strange things about conviction of sin is that even the gospel can sound like law to the person whose conscience has been awakened. It is the duty of preachers, nevertheless, to uphold and proclaim the whole counsel of God.