Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (11)
For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that isnot put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus… Hebrews 2.8, 9
“Ministers should be persons of the same quiet, lamb-like spirit that Christ was of, the same spirit of submission to God’s will, and patience under afflictions, and meekness towards men; of the same calmness and composure of spirit under reproaches and sufferings from the malignity of evil men; of the same spirit of forgiveness of injuries; of the same spirit of charity, of fervent love and extensive benevolence; the same disposition to pity the miserable, to weep with those who weep, to help men under their calamities of both soul and body, to hear and grant the requests of the needy, and relieve the afflicted; the same spirit of condescension to the poor and mean, tenderness and gentleness towards the weak, and great and effectual love to enemies.”
- Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example of Ministers
Working out our salvation
Pastors are called as shepherds after the example of the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. We must not only do the work that Jesus did, in the way He did and taught it; we must also be Jesus to the people we serve, the closest thing they will see to Him in an earthly body.
To this end, one of the most important efforts any pastor can devote himself to is working out his own salvation (Phil. 2.12) and bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7.1).
Our personal example is a primary tool in the kit we use to make disciples, build Christ’s church, and seek His Kingdom (1 Pet. 5.1-3). Central to that example must be the ongoing work of sanctification, of waiting on the Lord as He brings His grace and truth to bear on our lives unto growth in Christ and His grace (2 Pet. 3.18). The goal of this process is to increase in Jesus – to see ourselves and all our failings and foibles gradually falling away, and all our words and deeds being filled up with the fullness of God in Christ (Jn. 3.30; 2 Cor. 3.12-18; Eph. 3.19).
We can only be the kind of people Christ was if Christ is living in us more, and we are living in us less. He must increase, and we must decrease; He must grow in us from glory to glory, and we must deny ourselves and sweep our houses clear of every evil and anything that is contrary to the holy and righteous and good purpose of God. We are “not yet” what we can be in Jesus, so we must look to Him and seek Him ever more diligently.
Then the attributes of Christ will flourish in us, and we will be true shepherds after the example of our Good Shepherd.
Sanctification begins and is sustained by a clear and compelling vision of Jesus, exalted in glory. If we are to be Jesus to the people we serve, showing them “the same quiet, lamb-like spirit that Christ was,” we shall have to see Jesus, delight in Jesus, and make it our business to increase daily in Him.
Twice in the book of Hebrews we are urged to “consider Jesus.” In Hebrews 3.1, the writer exhorts us to consider Jesus (κατανοήσατε) so that we will continue believing in and confessing Him throughout our lives. This word means to pay attention to something through direct observation, with the implication of also thinking about it, meditating on it, and returning to it often, just as one might carefully observe an object in creation, meditate on a poem, or study a work of art.
We can especially see the beauty and majesty of Jesus by contemplating images of Him presented in the Scriptures (cf. Heb. 1.8; see also Pss. 2, 45, 47, 93, and 110). This aesthetical and poetic consideration of Jesus engages all our senses, invites lingering and returning, and stirs our hearts to delight in and enjoy Him, as we become immersed in the various devices and images the psalmists use to reveal His great goodness and glory.
Considering Jesus in this contemplative way fills our minds with new aspects of vision, our hearts with greater excitement and love, and our consciences with firmer resolve to know, love, obey, and glorify this majestic and powerful King of glory.
In Hebrews 12.3, the writer calls us again to consider Jesus, but this time as a work of rational analysis (ἀναλογίσασθε), a theological analysis, as opposed to an aesthetical contemplation. This suggests the need to study, read, think deeply, meditate, talk with others, and know Jesus in terms appropriate to His uniqueness and mission, not only from the Scriptures (analogy of Scripture) but from the continuing heritage of faithful teaching in the Church (analogy of faith).
Every believer’s calling in life is to learn Jesus (Eph. 4.17-24) and to follow Him in seeking the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12; Matt. 6.33; 2 Cor. 10.31). All Scripture is about Jesus (Jn. 5.39), so, as part of our daily work of sanctification, we need to apply ourselves diligently and dutifully to reading and studying all of God’s Word, looking for the revelation of Jesus in every section.
Others can help us by their writings and insights, and we should avail ourselves of their writing and instruction. Church history offers many excellent discussions about Jesus and how to know Him. Jesus is one of the most popular subjects of contemporary Christian writers, and we can greatly enhance our theological understanding of our Lord by taking recourse to these excellent resources.
Looking to and considering Jesus is the starting-place and substance for working out our great salvation and growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we’ll have to work at it, day by day, taking full advantage of all available resources, and making good use of both contemplation and analysis.
The example of our working out our salvation will be powerful to encourage the people we serve to take up their cross each day and follow Jesus. Learning Jesus begins in seeing Jesus, and in letting Jesus show Himself through us to others.
“But let us look, if you will, and examine closely the mystery of the resurrection of Christ our God, the very thing that mystically comes to be in us as we wish, and how in us Christ is buried in us as in a tomb, and how being united to our souls, he rises up and raises us with him.”
- Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022 AD), Discourse 13.2
A call to self-watch
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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).