William Still’s “The Work of the Pastor”

William Still was the pastor for many years ( in Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen, Scotland. His pastoral theology is contained in “The Work of the Pastor”, which was first published in 1984. Here’s a selection of some good quotes from the first few chapters:

“It is to feed sheep on such truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation [sic], miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christians drugs or stimulants, the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God.” (23)

“The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness.” (23)

“To be a pastor of the sheep, a feeder of the Word to others, you must be fed yourself.” (24)

“To be true pastors, your whole life must be spent in knowing the truth of this Word, not only verbally, propositionally, but religiously, that is, devotionally, morally, in worshiping Him whom it reveals, and in personal obedience to Him whose command it contains, in all the promised grace and threat of those commands. To be pastors you must be “fed men,” not only in knowledge, but in wisdom, grace, humility, courage, fear of God, and fearlessness of man.” (24)

“I have little hope of anyone learning categorically, decisively, from me unless he or she is prepared to sit consistently, almost exclusively, for years under the ministry of the Word of God: thereafter, he or she will spend their whole life digesting it.” (25)

“Eat it, eat it whole. All or nothing. For it is only ‘all or nothing’ devourers of the Word of God who will ever be or do anything for God.” (25)

“There is, of course, only one Teacher, the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16, 17, 26; 16:7-15). And if the Holy Spirit is not in our hearts, in our life and in all our teaching of the Word of God (and He will not be if our characters are not being moulded according to the moral and spiritual pattern of the Word), then we had better not open our mouths. For there is nothing so boring, stale, flat and unprofitable as holy things retailed in the absence of the Spirit.” (26)

” . . . when you are sure of your calling as pastors and teachers, then you must be wholly geared to that life. This involves, first, the building up of your own faith by feeding on the Word of God; then obeying it; so that you may make your sole task in life to teach the whole Word of God to your flock. The whole Word: this is pastoral work. Take Paul’s example in Ephesus (Acts 20:24-32). We are not called to make a crowd of worldly folk happy—even worldly evangelistic folk happy—but so to labor amongst them that, through many tribulations, discouragements and misunderstandings, we form a faithful people of God, however small a remnant of the total congregation that may be.” (28)

“The pastor must know Christ, really know Him, and live his life as sifted by His all-searching holiness all the time. This is the only way to produce any fruit, to say nothing of any satisfaction, nor indeed any fun in his life.” (31)

“You must know that God has called you with a heavenly compulsion, whether you want it or not, to be an evangelist, pastor and teacher of His Word.” (32)

“You must find out His will for your life, and His place for you, and obey the fiery cloud.” (32)

” . . . having been called or appointed to minister to a local congregation, begin to minister the Word of god to them at once, depending for all your worth on the Holy Spirit, and believing that this is the biggest thing that you can do for them in all the world. This is your life: not a part of it, but your life. Other things come in, of course, but this is your life, the most thrilling life anyone can live on earth, to expose a group of people, Christian or not, to the all-searching eye of the Word of God.” (32)

“As you begin, let the people know that your ministry of the Word is going to be soaked in prayer; your own, and that of those who will join you. Set a time for prayer, but do not say there will be prayer if anyone comes, but rather that you will be there to pray at such-and-such an hour and that you will be glad to join with any who come.” (32-33)

“He will work, slowly as it may seem at first. Your quiet persistence—this charge, or parish, or living is not a mere stepping stone to a better appointment: God has caused you to become pastor to some souls here who are as valuable to Him as any in the world—your quiet persistence will be a sign that you believe God has a purpose of grace for this people, and that this purpose of grace will be promoted not by gimmicks, or stunts, or new ideas, but by the Word of God released in preaching by prayer.” (33)

“In this work we must not be afraid of upset. We must not go out of our way to create it; we don’t look for trouble, but seek peace. But if we are going to be faithful to God and to men, there will be upset. The great thing to know is that God is at work creatively, through His Word, in answer to the prayers of His people. There is not a greater task a man can perform in the whole world than this, that he is being used to release the all-searching Word of God upon a company of needy souls. It is the most amazing thing. It works! God works. His Word works. Prayer works. The Spirit works.” (35)

“The greatest failure is that you fail to minister the Word of God in any effectiveness or fullness to the people.” (35)

“You will have to go down into a new death every time you bring forth God’s living Word to the people (2 Cor 4:12). You will have to die, not only to your own sin, but to self in many of its most seemingly innocent and legitimate aspects. Only then can the death and resurrection power of Jesus Christ be communicated to men, and we dare not do less for any people than this. If we do less, we will have to answer to God one day.” (36)








Sola Fide must be anchored in Sola Gratia

“Justification by faith only” is a truth that needs interpretation. The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood till it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia. What is the source and status of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received, or is it a condition of justification which it is left to man to fulfill? Is it a part of God’s gift of salvation, or is it man’s own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man’s utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder, then, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle a return to Rome (because in effect it turned faith into a meritorious work) and a betrayal of the Reformation (because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformers’ thought). Arminianism was, indeed, in Reformed eyes a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favour of New Testament Judaism; for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other. In the light of what Luther says to Erasmus, there is no doubt that he would have endorsed this judgment.”

J.I. Packer, quoted in Barrett, Matthew M. (2013-07-29). Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (pp. 13-14). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

On History and Historians

For the last few years I have been looking on occasion in used bookstores for volumes to complete my set of Will and Ariel Durant’s History of Civilization. I’m sure I could buy the whole set inexpensively these days, especially with search engines like abebooks.com and amazon.com, but I enjoy finding the volumes when I can and paying very little for them. Will Durant became very well respected in the latter part of the 20th century due largely to his massive 11-volume History as well as his work called The Story of Philosophy. The sheer volume of his history and its high degree of scholarship leaves readers with the feeling that he has written an authoritative history. After all, when you have 11 volumes on your shelf with the history of the world, how can it be other than authoritative? From some standpoints Durant’s work may be authoritative, but not when it comes to the history of Christ and Christianity. While respectful of Christianity, Will Durant was not a Christian, and his treatment of Christianity is distorted. His treatment of Christ and Paul in particular, while somewhat sympathetic, demonstrates anti-supernaturalism and unbelief in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.

The following quotes from Durant demonstrate his position on some key events in biblical history:

Durant denied the literal creation account in Genesis and called it symbolism.

“As to harmonizing the theory of evolution with the Biblical account of creation, I do not believe it can be done, and I do not see why it should be. The story of Genesis is beautiful, and profoundly significant as symbolism: there is no good reason to torture it into conformity with modern theory.” Quoted by Bruce Barton, “The Conflict Between Science and Religion,” Popular Science, October, 1927.

Durant asserted in his History that there are contradictions and errors in the four Gospels.

“In summary, it is clear that there are many contradictions between one gospel and another, many dubious statements of history, many suspicious resemblances to the legends told of pagan gods, many incidents apparently designed to prove the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, many passages possibly aiming to establish a historical basis for some later doctrine or ritual of the Church. The evangelists shared with Cicero, Sallust, and Tacitus the conception of history as a vehicle for moral ideas. And presumably the conversations and speeches reported in the Gospels were subject to the frailties of illiterate memories, and the errors or emendations of copyists.” (The Story of Civilization, Part 3: Caesar and Christ, Chapter XXVI, p. 557)

Durant explained the miracles of Christ as psychological in nature and not supernatural. Mary Magdalene, for instance, was not possessed by demons but rather suffering from “nervous diseases and seizures.”

“Probably these were in most cases the result of suggestion—the influence of a strong and confident spirit upon impressionable souls. His presence was itself a tonic; at his optimistic touch the weak grew strong and the sick were made well. The fact that like stories have been told of other characters in legend and history does not prove that the miracles of Christ were myths. With a few exceptions they are not beyond belief; similar phenomena may be observed almost any day at Lourdes, and doubtless occurred in Jesus’ time at Epidaurus and other centers of psychic healing in the ancient world; the apostles too would work such cures. The psychological nature of the miracles is indicated by two features: Christ himself attributed his cures to the “faith” of those whom he healed; and he could not perform miracles in Nazareth, apparently because the people there looked upon him as “the carpenter’s son,” and refused to believe in his unusual powers; hence his remark that “a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.” We are told of Mary Magdalene that “seven demons had been driven out of her;” i.e., she suffered from nervous diseases and seizures (the word recalls the theory of “possession”); these seemed to abate in the presence of Jesus; therefore she loved him as one who had restored her to life, and whose nearness was indispensable to her sanity. In the case of Jairus’ daughter Christ said frankly that the girl was not dead but asleep—perhaps in a cataleptic state; in calling upon her to awake he used not his wonted gentleness but the sharp command, ‘Little girl, get up!’ This is not to say that Jesus considered his miracles to be purely natural phenomena; he felt that he could work them only through the help of a divine spirit within him. We do not know that he was wrong, nor can we yet set limits to the powers that lie potential in the thought and will of man. Jesus himself seems to have experienced a psychical exhaustion after his miracles. He was reluctant to attempt them, forbade his followers to advertise them, reproved men for requiring a ‘sign,’ and regretted that even his apostles accepted him chiefly because of the ‘wonders’ he performed.'” (The Story of Civilization, Part 3: Caesar and Christ, Chapter XXVI, p. 557)

Durant presented Paul on the road to Damascus as suffering from psychological issues, bodily weakness and perhaps some kind of unusual natural phenomena in the desert (“perhaps a stroke of heat lightning”).

“No one can say what natural processes underlay this pivotal experience The fatigue of a long journey, the strength of the desert sun, perhaps a stroke of heat lightning in the sky, acting by accumulation upon a frail and possibly epileptic body, and a mind tortured by doubt and guilt, may have brought to culmination the half-conscious process by which the passionate denier became the ablest preacher of Stephen s Christ.” (The Story of Civilization, Part 3: Caesar and Christ, Chapter XXVII, p. 581)

Durant’s denial of the supernatural is no secret. He wrote in his Dual Biography with his wife Ariel:

“I am still an agnostic, with pantheistic overtones. The sight of plants and children growing inclines me to define divinity as creative power, and to reverence this in all its manifestations, even when they injure me. I cannot reconcile the existence of consciousness with a deterministic and mechanistic philososphy. I am skeptical not only of theology but also of philosophy, science, history, and myself. I recognize supersensory possibilities but not supernatural powers.” Quoted on http://will-durant.com/faq.htm; Accessed January, 2015.

Readers should be aware that historians too have beliefs and biases. Furthermore, when a historian fails to believe in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures and denies the supernatural, he or she is denying a foundational truth of the universe: the existence of the Triune God who has acted and spoken in history and who cannot lie (Hebrews 1:1-2; Titus 1:2). To speak or write as if He does not exist or act in history is a testimony to man’s pride and arrogance and a denial of God’s word. It is complete foolishness and unbelief.

How much better is the philosophy of Merle D’Aubigne, who wrote in the preface to his history of the Reformation (which I bought for a dollar at a used bookstore–just this quotation is worth the price of the book!):

“History should live by that life which belongs to it, and that life is God. In history, God should be acknowledged and proclaimed. The history of the world should be set forth as the annals of the government of the Sovereign King. . . . God is ever present on that vast theatre where successive generations of men meet and struggle. It is true he is unseen; but if the heedless multitude pass by without caring for him because he is ‘a God that dwelleth in thick darkness,’ thoughtful men, who yearn for the very principle of their existence, seek for him the more ardently, and are not satisfied until they lie prostrate at his feet. And their inquiries meet with a rich reward. For from the height to which they have been compelled to soar to meet their God, the history of the world, instead of presenting to their eyes a confused chaos, as it does to the ignorant crowd, appears as a majestic temple, on which the invisible hand of God himself is at work, and which rises to his glory above the rock of humanity.” J. H. Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 3.

Even better is the opening of Hebrews:

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” (Heb 1:1-2 NAU)

God has spoken. He has acted in history. He sent His own Son and spoke through Him, testifying to His identity through the supernatural miracles that He performed. The Father Himself said to the apostles:  “This is my Son, My Chosen One, Listen to Him!” (Luke 9:35, NASB).

Christ’s Confession of Ignorance?

One of the challenges of the student of Christology is to explain the statement of Christ in Mark 13:32, where He confesses that He does not know the day of His own coming. He asserts that the Father alone knows the day. Donald MacLeod explains that this statement is due to Christ’s subjection of Himself to the limitations of a human mind in the incarnation. He also helpfully makes a distinction between omniscience and supernatural knowledge, the latter being the kind of knowledge that the prophets had by divine revelation. Christ too, MacLeod argues, had to submit to this kind of supernatural knowledge due to His becoming a man and laid aside the exercise of His omniscience in some way. (I confess that I don’t understand how an omniscient One could lay aside His omniscience.) HCG Moule argues that Christ’s supernatural knowledge was vast, and that Mark 13:32 testifies to its vastness. Jesus declared something that He was unaware of, but He also declared that the angels of heaven were unaware of it and that the Father did indeed know. To declare that even the angels of heaven do not know something is, in the words of Moule, “an implicit assertion of an immeasurable insight.” (To My Younger Brethren, p. 51) Thus Christ’s statement of ignorance is coupled with a statement of remarkable supernatural knowledge, which seems to me to far exceed the prophetic average, if there is such a thing. In addition, Jesus knew the attendant circumstances of the day, as is evident from the passage, as well as the Father’s knowledge of the day. He just did not know the timing.

If those who seek to undermine the deity of Jesus attempt to use this passage, let them explain how Jesus could know what knowledge is withheld from the angels of heaven and how He could know what the Father knows exclusively.

For those who seek to worship Jesus, recognize Him for who He is, the Theanthropic Christ, whose humanity and deity is remarkably united in a glorious and mysterious way.

Self-government only possible with the Bible and its hallowed influences

“God will have men and nations governed by one of the two instruments—AN OPEN BIBLE, with its hallowed influences, or A STANDING ARMY WITH BRISTLING BAYONETS. One is the product of God’s wisdom, the other, of man’s folly; and that nation or people that dare discard, or will not yield to the moral power of the one, must submit to the brute force of the other. Herein we discover the secret of the ability to govern ourselves. Just so long, and no longer, than we preserve the open Bible in our schools, shall we be capable of self-government.” Sawtelle, quoted in The Right of the Bible in our Popular Schools, published in 1854

Edwards on Spiritual Pride

” . . . of all kinds of pride, spiritual pride is upon many accounts the most hateful, it is most like the devil; most like the sin he committed in a heaven of light and glory, where he was exalted high in divine knowledge, honour, beauty, and happiness. Pride is much more difficult to be discerned than any other corruption, because its nature very much consists in a person’s having too high a thought of himself. No wonder that he who has too high a thought of himself, does not know it; for he necessarily thinks that the opinion of himself was without just grounds, he would therein cease to have it. Those that are spiritually proud, have a high conceit of these two things, viz. Their light, and their humility, both which are a strong prejudice against a discovery of their pride. Being proud of their light, that makes them not jealous of themselves; he who thinks a clear light shines around him, is not suspicious of an enemy lurking near him unseen; and then, being proud of their humility, that makes them least of all jealous of themselves in that particular, viz., as being under the prevalence of pride. There are many sins of the heart that are very secret in their nature, and difficultly discerned. The psalmist says, Psal. xix. 12. “Who can understand his errors,? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” But spiritual pride is the most secret of all sins. The heart is deceitful and unsearchable in nothing so much as in this matter; and there is no sin in the world, that men are so confident in. The very nature of it is to work self-confidence, and drive away jealousy of any evil of that kind. There is no sin so much like the devil as this for secrecy and subtlety, and appearing in a great many shapes undiscerned and unsuspected. It appears as an angel of light; takes occasion to arise from every thing; it perverts and abuses every thing, and even the exercises of real grace, and real humility, as an occasion to exert itself: it is a sin that has, as it were, many lives; if you kill it, it will live still; if you mortify and suppress it in one shape, it rises in another; if you think it is all gone, yet it is there still. There are a great many kinds of it, that lie in different forms and shapes, one under another, and encompass the heart like the coats of an onion; if you pull off one, there is another underneath. We had need therefore to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts with respect to this matter, and to cry most earnestly to the great Searcher of hearts for his help. He that trusts his own heart is a fool.”  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works1.ix.v.i.html

Changing Your Mind

“The ability to change your mind is an essential quality of leadership. Done well, the change of course looks like a moment of courage. You went to the precipice and had the strength to say, “Let’s turn back.” Done badly, the change of course looks like pure opportunism or lack of conviction, and your leadership credibility is left twisting in the wind.” Samuel Bacharach, INC

Now here’s an <a href="http://Flip flopper? “>article that every pastor and Christian leader ought to read and heed. From a secular viewpoint, the author just gives some practical common sense about changing your mind as a leader.

“Praise and Thanksgiving” (Valley of Vision)

This is a wonderful prayer to meditate on for Thanksgiving. It comes from the Valley of Vision, published by Banner of Truth. I revised the pronouns and verbs to be consistent with modern usage.


You are fairest, greatest, First of all objects,

my heart admires, adores, loves You,

for my little vessel is as full as it can be,

and I would pour out all that fullness before You in ceaseless flow. 

When I think upon and converse with You

ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,

ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,

ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,

crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless You for the soul You have created,

for adorning it, sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;

for the body You have given me,

for preserving its strength and vigour,

for providing sense to enjoy delights,

for the ease and freedom of my limbs,

for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;

for thy royal bounty providing my daily support,

for a full table and overflowing cup,
for appetite, taste, sweetness,

for social joys of relatives and friends,

for ability to serve others,

for a heart that feels sorrow and necessities,

for a mind to care for my fellow-men,

for opportunities of spreading happiness around,

for loved ones in the joys of heaven,

for my own expectation of seeing You clearly.

I love You above the powers of language to express,

for what You are to Your creatures.

Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.”

The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

Galatians 6:14 “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (NASB)

My daily commute used to take me past a church building with a very tall steeple and a cross a the very top of the steeple. Oftentimes, early in the morning, I would see a hawk perched on top of the cross, surveying the ground below. After seeing that hawk there a number of times it occurred to me that it would be a good thing for me too to look at life from the standpoint of the cross, figuratively speaking. This post is the first of several meditations on the cross of Christ, which I hope, if nothing else, will encourage others to meditate and reflect upon the cross.

What exactly was the instrument of Jesus’ crucifixion?  Was it just a tree? Was it an impaling spike that he was nailed to? Was it the traditional cross we see in Christian symbolism? Quite a bit of discussion exists on this topic, as one might imagine. Just the Wikipedia article on crucifixion is an interesting read:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion.

Scripturally speaking, Jesus was crucified on a cross, which is also called a tree.  The word for cross is stauros while the original word for tree is xulon.  John 19:19 says that Pilate wrote an inscription and put it on the cross (stauros). Peter later says that the Jews hung Jesus on a tree (xulon) (Acts 5:30; 1 Peter 2:24).  The instrument of Jesus’ death is significant theologically. Not only did it fulfill Jesus’ own prophecy of the manner of his death (Matt 20:18-19), but it also took on symbolic meaning with reference to what Jesus accomplished through dying in that way. In fact, the theological point of using the word “tree” as opposed to “cross” has to do with Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Paul says that Christ became a curse for us, being hung on a tree for our sakes.

Galatians 3:13-14   13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE “–  14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (NASB)

As to what shape the cross was, we do not have a way of knowing for sure unless Scripture itself describes the shape (and it doesn’t). There are substantial studies on the historical subject of crucifixion, which are suggestive of many different shapes (see David W. Chapman, Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion). We do know that Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to the cross. I’m sure that factors into the shape of the cross, but I’m not sure it is definitive. I think the fact that people could be crucified in different postures means that it was not a simple pole. Josephus describes what the Romans did to the escapees from Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (see below).

“[449] When caught, they were driven to resist, and after a conflict it seemed too late to sue for mercy. They were accordingly scourged and subjected to torture of every description, before being killed, and then crucified opposite the walls. [450] Titus indeed commiserated their fate, five hundred or sometimes more being captured daily; on the other hand, he recognized the risk of dismissing prisoners of war, and that the custody of such numbers would amount to the imprisonment of their custodians; but his main reason for not stopping the crucifixions was the hope that the spectacle might perhaps induce the Jews to surrender, for fear that continued resistance would involve them in a similar fate. [451] The soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures; and so great was their number, that space could not be found for the crosses nor crosses for the bodies.” H. J. Thackeray trans.

What a sobering scene. Many in that same generation who saw the crucifixion of Christ were themselves crucified outside Jerusalem just as He was. So many were crucified, in fact, that they ran out of crosses and space for the crosses.

Pacifism’s theory of the atonement

“In drawing ethical implications from the death of Jesus, the pacifist tradition focuses on an exemplary theory of the atonement (i.e., the life of Jesus seen as an example for believers), but overlooks the implications of the penal, substitutionary dimensions of the New Testament teachings. The result is an imbalanced view of the cross, one that gives too little weight to the requirements of divine justice.”  John J. Davis, Evangelical Ethics

In other words, we certainly follow the example of the suffering Christ on the cross (1 Peter 2:21-25), but we also recognize that God demands justice. The cross was also a demonstration of the righteousness and justice of God in the condemnation of sin in Christ (Romans 3:24-26). Drawing an entire ethic from one aspect of Christ on the cross inadequately reflects the full biblical teaching on the subject.