«Our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God whom the Father gave to be Head over all things to the Church, has, for the good of His spiritual ...»
The Character of a Pastor According to God’s Heart Considered
A Sermon Preached in Braintree South-Parish
At the Ordination of the Rev. Moses Taft
August 25, 1752
John Shaw, A.M.
Pastor of a Church in Bridgewater, MA
“I will give you pastors according to Mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and
understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God whom the Father gave to be Head
over all things to the Church, has, for the good of His spiritual kingdom, been pleased to institute and appoint the gospel ministry. Gospel ministers are an order of men necessary to the well-being of the Church of Christ through all ages and times. They are called of God not only to administer the seals of the new and everlasting covenant, but also to preach the great truths of the gospel for the enlargement and edification of the Church, for the recovery of fallen men sunk in ignorance and wickedness, to the knowledge and worship of the one living and true God, and faith in the one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. For how shall men believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and “how shall they hear without a preacher?” In the writings of the Old Testament are prophecies and promises concerning a ministry to obtain in the days and under the kingdom of the Messiah. Such a prophecy is that in Isaiah 66:21–22: “I will take of them,” namely the converted Gentiles, “for priests and for Levites,” that is, for gospel ministers;
for the worship and the church officers to take place in gospel times are, by Isaiah and the other holy prophets, often represented to us under titles and phrases proper to the Old Testament dispensation. And, according to verse 22 these shall remain invariable to the end of time: “For, as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make (it intends the state of the gospel church, which should be erected in the days of the Messiah) shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain.” A promise to the same purpose is in the words of my text: “And I will give you pastors.” The words have reference, as expositors observe, to gospel times. It is a promise to be fulfilled under the 1 According to God’s Heart 2 kingdom of the Messiah. It is a promise which, for seventeen hundred years, has been fulfilling from age to age and is fulfilling at this day. Jesus Christ, the chief Shepherd, who has a tender regard for His flock, who purchased it with His own blood and laid down His life for the sheep, has been, from time to time, and still is, giving them minsters of this character. The ministers of Christ, the preachers of His gospel, are designated as “pastors”
in my text. They have this denomination given them by the Apostle in Ephesians 4:11:
“And He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the work of the ministry.” It’s their office, their business, to give out spiritual food to the several flocks over which the Holy Ghost has made them overseers. I Peter 5:1–2: “The elders which are among you, I exhort, feed the flock of God.” Agreeably, the promise in our text is, “I will give you pastors according to Mine heart, which shall feed you.” In discoursing these words, suitable for our present thought and meditation, I would, as God shall assist, take occasion to consider when it may be said that ministers are according to God’s heart; that ministers of this character are God’s gifts; what the special duty of that people is toward their minister unto whom God is giving a pastor according to His heart;
and then, last, apply the subject.
I am, first, to consider when it may be said of ministers that they are according to God’s heart.
Here in general observe that they are such when, in spirit, principle, and practice, they answer the Scriptural character of a gospel minister; when they are such in nature of a Godlike temper and spirit, and so believe, so preach, and so live as to find acceptance with God through Jesus Christ. In brief, to be a pastor according to God's heart is, as the Apostle observes concerning Timothy, to be “a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6). The phrase is comprehensive, and implies several things.
First, ministers according to God’s heart are men in Christ. They are in a state of conversion; they have experienced a supernatural change, a change from nature to grace, the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. They are partakers of the new and divine nature; the Holy Ghost dwells in them. Until men are born again, they are unfit, unsuitable persons to be masters and teachers in God’s Israel. A minister, if unregenerate, if out of Christ, in attending the several parts of his ministry, can act from no higher principle than nature; not with a single eye to the divine glory, not with a sincere aim and view to building up the church and kingdom of Christ. There can be no such thing as a gracious sincerity in him, only the reign and prevalence of a selfish spirit—the wolf’s body under the sheep’s clothing; a plausible tongue but an unsanctified nature.
According to God’s Heart 3 It very much concerns a minister to have a gospel temper and spirit, a spirit sanctified by the Holy Ghost, a regenerate soul purged from vicious appetites and inclinations, fitted and suited to the spiritual and holy service of God. Indeed, this concerns professors in general, but especially ministers, and it is a just reproach to any who are called “Masters in Israel” to have no experimental acquaintance with the mystery of the New Birth. Those are certainly best able to preach faith, repentance, and regeneration to others who, besides the notion of these things in their heads, have experienced the reality and power of them in their own hearts. It is a very difficult thing, indeed, for a man to teach others who is not, in the first place, himself taught of God, that is, in a saving manner enlightened to know God and Christ, whom to know is life eternal.
It’s true, as one observes, that God can work by what means He will, even by a scandalous, domineering, self-seeking preacher, but it is not His usual way. Foxes and wolves are not nature’s instrument to generate sheep. Whoever knew much good done to souls by any pastors but such as preached and lived in the power of love, working by a clear, convincing light, and both managed by a holy, lively seriousness? You must bring fire if you would kindle fire.
Pastors according to His heart, in entering into the work of the gospel ministry, and in their attendance to it, act from love to Christ with an eye to the divine glory, the honor of the great Redeemer, the advancement of His kingdom in the conversion of sinners and salvation of precious souls. But how is this possible to unregenerate men? How is this possible until men are in Christ themselves?
Second, pastors according to God’s heart, as they are men in Christ and have a renewed, sanctified nature, live godly in Christ Jesus. They are of a blameless character.
Their conversation is in heaven. It is as becomes the gospel. Their light shines in an example of good works; they bring forth good fruits. They are created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has before ordained that they, and all the people of Christ, should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). And indeed, as to good works, these they recommend and incalculate in the course of their ministry from time to time, frequently putting their hearers in mind of their duty to carefully perform them. To this purpose the holy apostle, in his charge to Titus, his own son after the common faith says, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God, might be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8), or as the original word imports, might “excel” in them. It concerns those who are preachers of the gospel as much as any to be inoffensive and blameless in their lives, to give no offense by falling into sin and wickedness; for this will have a natural tendency to prejudice the cause of Christ, to render According to God’s Heart 4 their persons contemptible, their ministry despised, the most sacred administrations of God’s house and day slighted and condemned. Certainly, then, it behoves ministers to be blameless, not under the just imputation or charge of scandal, to be vigilant, wakeful and watchful, quick to spy out danger, being, as it were, full of eyes. They must be sober, masters of their appetites and passions, holding them under a curb and restraint; of good behavior, not morose and sour, but affable, obliging and courteous, of a composed temper and grave; given to hospitality, not close and covetous, but of a charitable and generous spirit. 1 Timothy 4:12: “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” To what purpose is it for ministers to pray and preach like eminent saints, to appear like angels in the pulpit, if their conversation doesn’t savor piety and holiness when they are out of it? It is an indisputable maxim, an everlasting truth, that the life of a minister is the life of his ministry, and that the sins of teachers are the teachers of sins. It is an inexcusable fault in a preacher when the crimes and sins which he condemns in others are justly chargeable upon himself. “Thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?
Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” (Romans 2:21-22).
There are some sins in preachers which, in a more special manner, are extremely prejudicial to their ministry. These the Word of God cautions every minister against in particular. 1 Timothy 3:3, 6: “... not given to wine, no striker, not a brawler, not greedy of filthy lucre, not covetous, not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” The immoral, scandalous minister, being an agent in the devil’s kingdom, instead of converting sinners is more likely to make them hardened atheists. Actions speak louder than words. Examples influence more than precepts.
Ministers of this character—immoral or unholy in their lives—are habitually careless of their own souls. Is it probable, then, that such as these will take a faithful care of the souls of the hearers? If not afraid of running into the fire themselves, will they be zealous to pull their hearers out of the flames? If they do not tremble at the thought of trifling themselves with heaven and hell, with salvation and damnation, will they faithfully warn their hearers against the danger of doing so? It is only then that ministers may encourage themselves in the prospect of joyful success, when they can say to their hearers, as holy Paul said to the people of Corinth, “Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ,” or as valiant Gideon said to his soldiers, “Look upon me and do likewise.” Ministers of this character are according to God’s heart.
According to God’s Heart 5 Third, ministers according to God’s heart are men of sound principles. They are sound in the faith. The doctrine taught by them is after godliness. It is the truth, not error and heresy. When the Son of God, the risen Jesus, sent forth the Apostles, He instructed them what they should preach, namely the gospel (Mark 16:15), or as it is expressed in Matthew 28:19: “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The truths and doctrines of that gospel which is to be preached by Christ’s ministers are one and the same throughout all generations and times. “Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that we have preached, let him be accursed,” said the apostle in Galatians 1:8. Those who in the apostolic age were separated to the work of the ministry had a very strict charge given them with respect to sound doctrine. So had Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:13: “Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 4:1: “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead, at His appearing and His kingdom;
preach the Word.” By this he means the truths of the Word of God, not the fancies, not the notions and inventions of men. And such is his charge to Titus, another minister of Christ, in Titus 2:1: “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine.” Note verse 7: “In doctrine showing uncorruptness, sound speech that cannot be condemned.” Error is dangerous, yes, heresy is damnable. It is so to the impenitent, seducing heretic himself. 2 Peter 2:1: “There were false prophets also among them, there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, and bring upon themselves swift destruction, whose judgment lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” And as it is damnable to the preacher, so it is to the hearers when entertained, received, and acted upon by them. 2 Timothy 2:17: “Their words will eat as doth a canker,” or like a mortal gangrene.
Sound doctrine nourishes the soul. It is reviving, strengthening, and refreshing to it;
but error in judgment distempers and destroys the soul and is damnable, as well as sin in practice. See 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12. It is “the faith once delivered to the saints”; it is not the fancies, not the imaginary dreams and notions of men which the ministers of Christ must earnestly contend for. Error is from the devil. It is the water cast out of the serpent’s mouth. Revelation 12:15: “The serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.” It may intend a flood of errors.