Todd Agnew: “Shepherd, your sheep are weary”

I wanted to take a moment this Friday morning to encourage preachers. You may even be taking a break from sermon preparation to read this and I want to say thank you for serving your flock by teaching them Scripture. I want to use this opportunity to remind you that your sheep come in “battered and bruised and torn” from a week spent seeking happiness and joy in the world’s false promises and illusions. Some of your sheep who will listen to your sermons are right now lost in the luring promises of worldly joy and they need someone to point them back to Jesus and His Cross. This work, this joy, this privilege, falls to you. Today I post the lyrics to a song called Shepherd by Todd Agnew (Grace Like Rain album) to help remind us of the important role pastors play in the lives of their sheep. Thank you for your diligent shepherding of eternal souls!

Shepherd by Todd Agnew

Shepherd, your sheep are weary
Cold and tired, battered and bruised and torn
Shepherd, your sheep are hungry
We got what we want but we still need something more

We need to hear your voice
Whatever You might say
We just need to hear your voice
Show us the way

Shepherd, your sheep are lost
We chased our wants that we thought were needs
Now we can’t get home
Shepherd, your sheep are longing
We ate and we ran, we played and we danced, but we’re empty

(Chorus) x2

Shepherd, these sheep are Yours
We tried to be king, but we don’t want to anymore

John Calvin > The weight, beauty and comfort of the Gospel

John Calvin
The weight, beauty and comfort of the Gospel

Recently I came across a stunning preface John Calvin wrote for Pierre Robert Olivétan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534). To my knowledge the01spurgeoncalvin4.jpg English translation of this preface is found only in Joseph Haroutunian’s work, Calvin: Commentaries [a strange place to find it since this preface is not part of the commentaries]. Anyways, in it Calvin traces out the biblical storyline and the Messianic promises throughout Scripture, shows the supernatural unity of the bible’s message and the significance of the gospel message revealed in Scripture. He writes,

“Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God. But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe …” (66)

Because of the weight of this gospel revealed in Scripture, it’s no surprise that Calvin closes this preface with words for preachers: “O you who call yourselves bishops and pastors of the poor people, see to it that the sheep of Jesus Christ are not deprived of their proper pasture; and that it is not prohibited and forbidden that any Christian feely and in his own language to read, handle, and hear this holy gospel…” (72).

These two quotes – one on the centrality of the gospel and the second on the importance of preaching – really reveal the heart of John Calvin as a man riveted to the Cross.

But I was especially struck by the following section where Calvin shows us that all the Christian’s comfort and hope rests in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He writes,

“It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune. For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation [life] is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation [verbal abuse], abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death. This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.” (69-70)

These are beautiful words! The introduction as a whole is a masterpiece, taking the reader from the biblical storyline and the Messianic promises to the gospel itself, showing that our eternal life and present comforts rest in Christ alone. Then he finishes with an exhortation that preachers be diligent to proclaim this Word.

It is good for us to remember the grace of God in revealing His Word to ungrateful truth-suppressors and and illuminating His Word to blind sinners. Let us remember that, “Without the gospel everything is useless and vain” and let us study Scripture seeking to “truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.”

So how do you persuade the French people towards Reformation theology? You point them to Scripture and specifically to the complete and perfect work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Calvin persuaded masses because his message was Scripture-saturated, grace-filled, and Cross-centered. The gospel was everything! With this in mind, French readers could read right into Matthew and the rest of the New Testament on a quest to see Christ’s glory for themselves.


Click here to access previous posts in the Humble Calvinism index.


Keeping your quotes in order

Frequently pastors ask me to explain my method of indexing quotes. You are looking at it, really.

1. Value blogs

One of the primary reasons for launching this blog was to allow myself enough categories to track quotes easily and to have the freedom of classifying quotes into multiple categories. You, too, may find it helpful to start your own blog simply for the purpose of keeping quotes in order.

But here are a few more suggestions to keeping your library well-indexed…

2. Value commentaries

I intentionally avoid a lot of “contemporary issues” books. There are thousands of books out there on the newest controversies, debates and methods. While these can be helpful, they can also be an overwhelming time-consumer and impossible to adequately index for a busy pastor. Start to collect a few hundred of these books and it becomes easy to forget what issues you have already covered.

So my goal has always been to spend more money on commentaries than on topical books. As an expositor, this has proven very helpful over the years. If you do not index well or don’t have the time, buy the very best commentaries you can. They need no indexing (and will hold their value better over time).

[Speaking of excellent commentaries, tomorrow we will look at Jeremiah Burroughs’ commentary on Hosea, recently re-printed by Reformation Heritage Books.]

3. Value a book with a good index

If you must, look for topical books with scriptural and subject indexes in the back. Someone has done the indexing for you.

4. Value an organized library

Be certain to group your topical books that cover the same issue. It may be nice to categorize your library by author, but it’s not practical. A few weeks ago I posted my library database here so you can see how I grouped my topical books (click here for the .pdf).

5. Value a database

Another useful tool is assembling a simple Excel database for quotes. Here is a .pdf version of my very small but growing index.

Hopefully these simple suggestions will help maximize your study time and feed your flocks more efficiently.

Humble orthodoxy in the visual age

This week I have been positing several pictures I created as a college ministry leader on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Omaha. These cards were printed as 4×6 photographs and created to introduce college students to writers of the past. From the response, they were well received.

The challenge in a visually based society is to present messages that include well-done visual elements. As you can see, being visually appealing does not mean compromise to the message of the Gospel and the urgent pleadings with sinners to be reconciled. Quite the opposite! Biblical churches would benefit from thinking of preaching and pastoral ministry within the visual framework.

And I’m not talking about merely running some general landscape nature pictures behind text. Think about what picture captures the message. Think visually. What can I show them that reinforces what I am trying to tell them?

And so to close out the week, here is a graphic design I created for a series on worldliness, sexual sin, intellectual pride and laziness. I called it Spiritual Biohazards of the College Life. It was created on PhotoShop Elements 2.0, an inexpensive graphic arts program, using three free images from the web.

Keep pressing on! – Tony


Church discipline

“When I first entered upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceedingly ignorant of the vast importance of church discipline. I thought that my great and almost only work was to pray and preach. I saw your souls to be so precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care, and strength, to labor in word and doctrine. When cases of discipline were brought before me and the elders, I regarded them with something like abhorrence. It was a duty I shrank from; and I may truly say it nearly drove me from the work of the ministry among you altogether. But it pleased God, who teaches His servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of the souls of those under our care; and from that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline. I now feel very deeply persuaded that both are of God – that two keys are committed to us by Christ: the one the key of doctrine, by means of which we unlock the treasures of the Bible; the other the key of discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances of the faith. Both are Christ’s gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin.”

– Robert Murray M’Cheyne in Andrew Bonar, Memoir & Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Banner of Truth: 1844/2004), p. 73.

See Matthew 18:15-20 (clearly defined steps of church discipline), 1 Cor. 5:4-5 with 5:9-13; 2 Cor. 7:8-12 (the fruit of godly confrontation); 1 Tim. 1:18-20; Tit. 3:9-11 (notice the difference between church discipline and dealing with the divisive man); Rev. 2:1-7 (notice how a disciplining and discerning church can still lack in passionate love for Christ).

Medicine or medical lectures?

“Like a good physician, who is watchful for the effect of his medicines upon his patients individually, according to their specific varieties of diseases, he will endeavor to ascertain the impression which his sermons have produced on particular persons. He will aim to attract to him the anxious inquirers after salvation, and for this purpose will have special meetings for them, will invite and encourage their attendance, will cause them to feel that they are most welcome, and by his tender, faithful, and appropriate treatment of their cases, will make them sensible that they are as truly the objects of deep interest to him as lambs are to the good shepherd. And though he will very naturally wish not to be too frequently broken in upon in his private studies by those to whom he has appointed set times for meeting him, yet a poor burden trembling penitent will never find him engaged too deeply or delightfully in study, to heal his broken heart, and to bind up his wounds. It is really distressing to know how little time some ministers are willing to give up from their favorite pursuits, even for relieving the solicitudes of an anxious mind. They read much, and perhaps as the result, preach well-composed, though possibly not very awakening, sermons; but as for any skill, or even taste, for dealing with convinced sinners, wounded consciences, and perplexed minds, they are as destitute of them as if they were no part of their duty. They resemble lecturers on medicine, rather than practitioners; or they are like physicians who would assemble all their patients able to attend, in the same room, and then give general directions about health and sickness to all alike, but would not inquire into their several ailments, or visit them at their own abodes, or adapt the treatment to their individual and specific disease.

It is admitted that some men have less tact, and still greater destitution of taste, than others, for this department of pastoral action; but some skill in it, and some attention to it, are the duty of every minister, and may be acquired by all: and no man can be in earnest without it.

He who can only generalize in the pulpit, but has no ability to individualize out of it; who cannot in some measure meet the varieties of religious perplexity, and deal with the various modifications of awakened solicitude; who finds himself disinclined or disabled to guide the troubled conscience through the labyrinths which sometimes meet the sinner in the first stages of his pilgrimage to the skies, may be a popular preacher, but he is little fitted to be the pastor of a Christian church.”

– John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Banner of Truth, 1847/1993) p. 150-151.