Thoughts on faith, life and culture
This review was originally published at 9Marks.org on November 30, 2018
Sinclair Ferguson’s new book, Some Pastors and Teachers, could rightly be called “The Collected Works of Sinclair Ferguson on Pastoral Ministry.” It’s a collection of essays written by Ferguson over the years on topics pertaining to pastoral ministry. In Ferguson’s own words, the book “is simply a way of saying, ‘These are some of the gifts that the Lord has given to me for others who have an interest in and a concern for the ministry of the gospel’” (xiii). Since the book is a collection of articles, no chapter is dependent on the preceding one. One can easily jump around or sit down and read any particular chapter of interest. Furthermore, Banner of Truth bound the book beautifully, and so it will surely tempt you every time you glimpse it on your shelf.
Jean-Daniel Benoit wrote about John Calvin: “He became a theologian in order to be a better pastor” (685). It is Ferguson’s hope, and mine, that pastors read this book in order to grow in their understanding of many important theological topics, not simply as an intellectual exercise, but because theology is so deeply pastoral and vital for faithful and fruitful ministry.
My hope in this review is not so much to share all the best quotes, since in a work of this size and profundity that would be impossible with the space we have here. Instead, I want to give a brief teaser on many of the most relevant topics so as to help the reader see how edifying and helpful this book is.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHESFerguson begins with three biographical chapters on John Calvin, John Owen, and John Murray. As John Piper has written about Christian biographies, “Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to resist the inertia of mediocrity.” Ferguson’s chapters on the three Johns certainly help with that. He tells about how Owen allowed himself only 4 hours of sleep a night in his younger days and adds (comfortingly I might add) how he regretted it later in life when many health problems began to set in (25). He writes about how Owen was flipped to Congregationalism after reading a work by John Cotton (26). Ferguson also retells Calvin’s journey to Geneva. These three chapters are both edifying and instructive
CALVIN, OWEN, FLAVEL, AND OTHERS
Ferguson helpfully does a systematic theology of several topics through the eyes of several Reformers and Puritans like Calvin, Owen, and John Flavel. Topics covered include the Holy Spirit, Atonement, Christian Piety, and the Priesthood of Christ. Diving into church history on some of these topics encouraged me as I saw the power of our God to preserve his truth through all sorts of opposition.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
Reformed theology sometimes gets a reputation for neglecting the Holy Spirit. Whether this charge is legitimate requires larger study. However, many might be surprised to find out that John Calvin was named “the theologian of the Holy Spirit” by B.B. Warfield. Indeed, it was Calvin who contested strongly, against the insistence of the Catholic Church, that the Spirit must not be replaced by the church or severed from the Word (138). Ferguson sums up the reformed teaching on the Holy Spirit memorably: “If we emphasize the word without the Spirit then we will dry up, if we emphasize the Spirit without the word we will blow up (!); but if we emphasize the Spirit and the word we will grow up” (243–4).
Perhaps one of the most famous works on God’s providence is Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence. Ferguson includes a wonderful section by Flavel on meditating on God’s providence. He sums up Flavel beautifully: “For no element of God’s providence should be read as a mark of his enmity against us. After all, ‘All your losses are but as the loss of a farthing to a prince.’ God’s ‘heart is full of love, whilst the face of providence is full of frowns.’ The Christian who realizes that ‘the Lord is near’ will see all these things in their proper perspective” (318).
PREACHING CHRIST IN ALL OF SCRIPTURE
We’ve all ready Luke 24:27, where Jesus appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and, Luke tells us, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Ferguson argues persuasively about preaching Christ from all the scriptures. Preaching without Christ is essentially moralism, and so pastors must bring the person and work of Christ to bear on each passage they preach, not only for the non-believer but also for the believer. Ferguson references Warfield on this point: “[The Old Testament is] a richly furnished but dimly lit room. Only when the light is turned on do the contents become clear. That light has been switched on in Christ and in the New Testament’s testimony to him” (670).
Ferguson closes the book by arguing that all reformed theology is doxological. That is, it leads us to worship God. Reading Ferguson’s book certainly made me worship God in a deeper way and praise him for the faithful pastors and teachers who have gone before me. Many of the men Ferguson writes about in his book have left theological riches for us to mine through, and this work solidifies my belief that Ferguson is one of those heroes. I wholeheartedly recommend this book and pray it continues to glorify God.
On his death bed, John Owen was told that his work on the glory of Christ was on its way to the publisher. Owen’s response were his last recorded words: “I am glad to hear it; but…the long wished for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing, in this world!” (227). But until we reach those blissful shores, Some Pastors and Teachers is a warm ray from heaven we can step into and gaze up at God’s glory. May God use this book to make pastors better theologians, and theologians better pastors.