Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (10)
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5.19
“Ministers should follow Christ’s example, in his strict, constant, and inflexible observance of the commands which God had given him, touching what he should do and what he should say: he spake nothing of himself, but those things which the Father had commanded him, and continued in thorough obedience in the greatest trials, and through the greatest opposition that ever there was any instance of.”
- Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example of Ministers
A loud faction
Reading Marilynne Robinson’s What Are We Doing Here?, I came across this acerbic quote: “...there is a large, loud faction who represent themselves as Christians while speaking and acting with such contempt for this ‘royal law,’ this most difficult commandment, that they have erected a sham moral system based on the principled rejection of it.”
By “royal law” she refers to the Law of God, the commandments and statutes given through Moses which are the acorn to the oak of divine revelation; to which the prophets resorted in confronting Israel and calling her to repentance; which the apostles turned to in support of their moral and ethical agenda; which Jesus pointed to as essential for attaining greatness in the Kingdom of God; and which provided a solid foundation for early American law.
Undoubtedly, you are aware of the “large, loud faction” to whom Marilynne Robinson refers: those preachers who insist that Christian morality does not require knowledge of or obedience to Divine Law, that we have another law, a law of love and toleration, to guide us – which “law” Ms. Robinson rightly refers to as a “sham.” We have read theologians who make claims about the Law of God, saying that, for the Christian, “the Law is a dead and a useless thing.”
And most of us, I hope, would say, we are happy not to be counted among that large, loud faction.
But are we by our neglect of the Law of God, encouraging a “principled rejection” of God’s Law on the part of the people we serve? By not teaching the Law of God, we are missing an important part of what Jesus intends for those who minister the Word of God in His Name. By our neglect and omission of the Law, we are cheering on that large, loud faction, giving them space and encouragement to propound their nefarious teaching into the hearts of those we are called to serve.
Pastors have three main resources for the work and business of ministry: The Word of God, prayer, and their personal example (Acts 6.4; 1 Pet. 5.1-3). If any of these fails, their ministry will as well.
And the ministry of the Word will fail if we do not teach the Law of God.
With respect to the ministry of the Word, Paul insisted that we will only be fulfilling our duty when we have instructed the people in the whole counsel of God, the entirety of His Word, including His Law (Acts 20.27; Rom. 3.31; 7.12).
Especially must pastors be zealous for the Law of God, to obey all the counsel of the Lord in His Word, to resist the devil and overcome every temptation, and to teach the Law as that “royal law” and glorious Law of liberty that guides us into every good work of love (Jms. 2.12; Matt. 22.34-40; Eph. 2.8-10; 1 Jn. 5.1-3).
During the last generation, failures of obedience on the part of highly visible pastors have contributed to the Church becoming an object of scorn by many unbelievers. We can only wonder whether a firmer commitment to the Law of God, and more consistent teaching of it, might have forestalled some of these lapses, and prevented the stains they have left on the Bride of Christ.
We must be diligent in obeying Christ if we would teach others to do so as well. And if we would be great in the Kingdom of God – and Jesus certainly expects us to aspire to this – then we must learn and teach the Law of God to the people we serve, and urge them to keep is as their very life (Lev. 18.4, 5) – not in order to earn their salvation, but to realize it.
The example of Jesus
Edwards called on the ministers of his day to follow the example of Jesus. Jesus kept the Law of God in its entirety. He taught His disciples to learn, keep, and teach it. He instructed us in how to understand the Law, not as a burdensome yoke, enslaving and depriving us of freedom and joy, but as the guard rails of our journey in loving God and our neighbors.
We may be challenged and opposed as we teach God’s Law, but that is to be expected. People who reserve the right to be their own law, and to define their “sham moral system” according to their own interests and convenience, will not sit comfortably while we proclaim to them, “This is what the Lord says” and “This is the way; walk ye in it.”
But when we do so, when we preach, teach, and live by the whole counsel of God, beginning with His Law, then we can know that we are following the example of the Good Shepherd, and we are on the way to greatness in the Kingdom of God.
It’s time for ministers of the Word of God to shout down and silence that large, loud faction of Law-deniers by faithful, consistent, explicit, and joyous proclamation of the Law of God as the way of liberty and love.
“Whoever sets aside ‘one of the least of the commandments’ of the law is set aside by God as God’s enemy and as an inventor of laws opposed to God. And now out of the law of the gospel that one receives the retribution which, under the ancient law, was not defined. For this reason Christ fittingly says, ‘I am not come to destroy but to fulfill.’ For that which then was lacking, here is made full.”
- Cyril of Alexandria (375-444 AD), Fragment 48
Where to begin?
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotations from Jonathan Edwards, “The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister,” are from Edward Hickman, ed.,The Works of Jonathan Edwards(Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, 1995), Vol. 2, pp. 955 ff. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).