A Paper delivered to the Reformation Society of Western NY on April 8, 2021
Reformation Society of Western New York
Thursday, April 8th, 2021
Lessons Lifted, Learned and Listed
Pastoring, Proverbs and the Christian Mind.
Reid A. Ferguson
Sr. Pastor (Ret. Evangelical Church of Fairport)
6256 Brownsville Rd.
Farmington, NY 14425
It is my conviction that the book of Proverbs is one of the most misused, misunderstood and neglected portions of Scripture. It is the aim of this paper to spur renewed interest in it in each of you, and, to provide what I hope is a demonstration of but one vital aspect of how the book is designed to impact the Christian mind. And in the process, to show you how it is Proverbs has impacted my own thinking, and how that comes out in reflections on ministry.
I have had an abiding interest in the book of Proverbs for many years. That interest did not begin with the book itself. Rather, it grew out of my many different approaches to the systematic reading of God’s Word. I don’t know about you, but I have adopted and abandoned any number of Bible reading schemes and schedules over time. At one point committing to reading 10 chapters in the New Testament each day – taking me through the entire New Testament once a month; then switching to something like 5 chapters in the Old then 5 chapters in the new; then to adding a Psalm per day – etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum ad nauseum. Each worked for a while and then I grew disenchanted.
As a side note I found that the two greatest hindrances to systematic Bible reading being truly profitable for me were: a. A legalistic quota – virtually making it a sin if I did not keep on schedule, and b., not reading large enough portions in one sitting to successfully follow extended arcs and arguments in the texts.
In regard to the first, its artificiality is its downfall. If this is the Word of God and we are to hear Him speaking in it, imagine any other conversation or relationship where we hold the conversation partner to a specific number of words each day to communicate to us. Some days they need to say less, and we need to fully drink in a lesser but more pointed amount. And other days, we need to let them go on as much as is necessary to communicate all they need to. Quotas are not a template for a living and dynamic relationship. And it soon becomes a task and not the joyful refreshing it is meant to be. Never let the schedule dictate.
I believe it was John Newton who when asked how much of the Bible one should read each day responded that it was his habit to read until his heart was warmed and made happy. That’s a much better rule of thumb in my estimation.
As to the second, I should hope the point is obvious. Think again at what is missed in reading the Gospel of John, but ending the day’s reading at the end of Ch. 13 and Jesus’ announcement that Peter will deny Him shortly. If you stop there without going right on into 14, without stopping, the amazing reality of how Jesus comforts Peter virtually in the same breath, is completely lost. If we do not read – Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 13:38b-14:1) as a whole – the whole is lost!
So, as I continued to find what method seemed to work best for me, I set upon trying – in addition to any other reading – to include one chapter of Proverbs to coincide with the day of the month. And it became an unexpected adventure and treasure trove that I cannot give enough thanks for.
What has become increasingly impressed upon me in the study of Proverbs is the unique role it plays in the formation of the Christian mind. The Bible has a lot to say about how we think, as well as what we think. Passages like – Ephesians 4:23 “that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,” and Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” are typical examples.
We are often too preoccupied with the mere academics, with mere fact-finding and not enough with HOW TO THINK – How to think according to God’s understanding of the universe.
THIS, the Bible says – is WISDOM!
We need to develop a “Gospel gut” – A faculty or mechanism for taking things in, and then breaking them down properly – some to be digested and used, some to be cast off into the draught. Proverbs serves in this role.
Proverbs is a handbook on critical Christian thinking. William G.T. Shedd wrote: “The book of Proverbs is the best of all manuals for the formation of a well-balanced mind. The object of Solomon in composing it seems to have been to furnish to the church a summary of rules and maxims by which the Christian character, having been originated by regeneration, should then be educated and made symmetrical. We do not, therefore, go to this portion of Scripture so much for full and definite statements of the distinguishing doctrines of revealed religion, as for those wise and prudential canons whereby we may reform extravagance, prune down luxuriance, and combine the whole variety of traits and qualities into a harmonious and beautiful unity.” William G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Spiritual Man (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1884), 19.
I have found that the more I read Proverbs, the more the way of thinking that Solomon both penned and compiled for us there, begins to inform and reform the entire thought process. It sort of rewires the brain in powerful ways. Even if you do not consciously pick up on it. The way of thinking begins to color all your thinking. And it is for me, what gave rise both to writing my first book on ministry, and to compiling some of what we’ll be looking at today. A series of statements or thought strands that I have titled for my own use – “The Principles.” A loosely knit framework of abiding truths which (I hope) express Biblical principles which may not be laid down in the Proverbs format of what one writer called “short, weighty apothegms” elsewhere in Scripture.
So these are an amalgam of lessons lifted from the Word in form and principle; learned in the blessed harness of ministry; and listed here – at least in part, both to edify you in what they communicate, and urge you to think about doing something similar yourselves.
Before we look at a few of these, let me make one more comment regarding Proverbs itself. Whether it was hubris, misguided reasoning or a flash of near insanity – I undertook several years ago to actually preach through the book on its own.
I do not recommend it.
At the same time, I learned just how deceptively simple the book appears. The more time you spend in it, the more you realize the hidden complexities and structures which do not yield themselves up to cursory examination. Let me cite one example from a very familiar portion – Chapter 31 and the section often referred to as: “The Excellent Wife.”
Marriage & the sexes were meant from the beginning to exemplify Christ & His Church. Ephesians says this explicitly. If we use that lens to draw some parallels (parallels only I am not arguing this is actual typology), from Proverbs 31 some pretty interesting things pop up. If you approach Proverbs 31:10-31 Using the Church/Bride of Christ paradigm – we than can ask ourselves, does this describe us as His Church?
Proverbs 31:10–11 An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. / 1. 11 Can Christ trust us that He will gain from our efforts? That we are committed to His interests?
Proverbs 31:12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. / Do we do Him and His cause good? Or does His work or reputation suffer at our hands?
Proverbs 31:13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. / Are we industrious for the Kingdom? Or just making do?
Proverbs 31:14 She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. / Do we go to great lengths to get His choice Word for our souls?
Proverbs 31:15 She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. / Do we labor secretly to see to it His Word is prepared for ourselves, His household, and for those who are close at hand?
Proverbs 31:16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. / Do we seek the growth of the Kingdom and set in motion plans to make it happen, that the Fruit of His vine might increase?
Proverbs 31:17 She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. / Have we strengthened ourselves in the Lord? And clothed ourselves in His righteousness?
Proverbs 31:18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. / Do we perceive how eternally valuable what we have in Him is – this ministry of the Word? Does His Word light us at all times?
Proverbs 31:19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. / Are we busy producing the bare thread of what becomes the garments of righteousness?
Proverbs 31:20 She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. / Are we generous to the lost and those in need?
Proverbs 31:21 She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. / Do we not fear evil and “cold” seasons because we have prepared well in Him? Prepared our hearts to trust Him at all times and in all things?
Proverbs 31:22 She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. / Do we make room for times of deep intimacy with Him? And adorn ourselves with the good works that make us attractive to Him?
Proverbs 31:23 Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. / Have we protected His reputation in the marketplace?
Proverbs 31:24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. / Are we about the business of getting the garments of salvation out among the people?
Proverbs 31:25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. / Are we strong in our relationship with Him and not fearful of the coming judgment because of it?
Proverbs 31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. / Are we making the Gospel known, and communicating it in kindness and compassion for the souls of men?
Proverbs 31:27 She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. / Are we mindful of the orderliness of His Household, and not disengaged or lazy in our labors within it?
Proverbs 31:28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: / Will those who come to Christ rise to bless our efforts on their behalf? Will the other saints? Will he?
Proverbs 31:29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” / Are we admired for how we have attended Him in faithfulness?
Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. / Have we been more occupied with making ourselves beautiful outwardly to the world, than about what pleases Him?
Proverbs 31:31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. / If our reward is the fruit of what we’ve done in His name – will it prove sweet, satisfying, and abundant?
If you think I’ve overreached here, while I may be wrong, I’m in some good company. (Venerable Bede / John Gill / Wordsworth / Ambrosius / Augustine / Harry Ironside / Robert Hawker / Peter Lillback (Pres. of WTS) / Others.)
I wish I could unpack each of these in detail now, but for obvious reasons (like that you all have lives to get on with), let me shift to the main thing I want to get at today. And to do that by way of citing some examples, only in passing, of what I am suggesting may be profitable for all of us to consider: To lay up Scriptural maxims for ourselves. To get at key, concepts and reduce them for ourselves and others in short form. Some of these are in still in process of being reduced. You’ll see what I mean. And some, we’ll stop to extend the implications of in more detail.
Here, in short form, would be the headings for the chapters in my next book on ministry – should God allow the time, energy and opportunity. Everything here is both lifted, and learned. And how I wish I had learned some of them much earlier both in life and ministry.
We are never under any obligation to assist evil. From the examples of Rahab in Jericho, the Hebrew midwives in Egypt, Obadiah’s hiding of 100 prophets from Jezebel, the Magi’s secret retreat from Herod and many others: While we are to obey the authorities God has placed in power, that power is not absolute. And we are never under any obligation to assist them or any others in the carrying out of evil.
While Justification is judicial, Forgiveness of sins is personal – even with God. Luke 5:24 / We are justified only once. We seek and obtain forgiveness continually. And we must treat the confession of sin regularly in our true encounters with God. Those who fail in this regard, in fact have very little intimacy with Him.
The Christian life cannot be lived any other way than conscious, constant, deliberate dependence upon the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The Lord’s prayer is essential for tuning the heart in all things. It is God’s paradigm. Nothing so tunes the heart and mind to God’s priorities than bringing our own prayer life into the framework of what Christ Himself gave us. It teaches us how to think in God’s categories, and thus to find prayer richer and answered far more frequently than we dare imagine. Pray with His priorities in view, and it will change your entire way not only of praying, but of thinking and living.
Providence limits our options. How often I have found myself kicking against the pricks because Providence seems to have hindered my plans. But one of the sweetest ways God uses to lead us is by His providential assignments. And invariably, they limit the options before us, helping us to make choices which are both clearer and safer. We may strain against those arrangements, but they are gifts from infinite love and unerring wisdom. Can you spell C-O-V-I-D?
All sin is ultimately a defect in love. Either toward God, or my neighbor. And one always includes the other. I cannot sin against God without it being bad for my neighbor, and I cannot sin against my neighbor without it also being a sin against God. Gal. 5:14-26. But it all begins with a defect in my perception of God’s love! So came the Fall. And so follows all of my own sin.
Our perception of the wonder of God’s grace and mercy is always in direct proportion to our sense of how desperate and wicked we are by nature. If you seek to hide yourself from the depths of your own sinfulness, you will be forever limited in the knowledge of His mercy and grace. You must choose which is more valuable to you. His grace, or your self-image. Only the Christian, secure in Christ can stare into the black abyss of his or her own soul in safety.
Predestination & God’s absolute sovereignty are NOT coercion. (From Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology) Such is His sovereignty that it rules even in our free choices. This is a mystery, but one which must be accepted to live with Him aright and keep us both from fatalism and distorted human autonomy.
The more we know Him, the more we will love Him, the more we will be like Him. Psalm 135. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (CSB) — We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.
All of Christianity is wrapped up in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.
This in: a. Evangelism, b. Sanctification, c. Edification. Bringing, Being, Building.
Faith has no power of its own. Its “power” is in fixing all trust upon the character of Christ and His work. By faith we come to Him and trust Him. Merely “believing” makes nothing happen.
Prayer has no power in itself. The power is all in the God we pray to, not in the exercise or practice of prayer itself. Merely praying makes nothing happen. To err in either of these is to venture into a superstitious use of them.
There is no true growth in Christ beyond whatever discomfort we are unwilling to endure. This is especially true in self-denial.
The Christian is required to obey all the Bible teaches. But not merely to obey – to be about the business of being changed by the Spirit so that we desire righteousness and abhor sin as naturally as God does. This is true sanctification.
The beginnings of every great fall, are to be found in the neglect of little spiritual habits. Such habits do not gain God’s favor, but they do bridle and buffet the flesh.
a. Personal Bible Study. b. Personal prayer. c. Personal Worship. d. Secret Alms. e. Secret Self-denial. f. Personal Service. g. Personal Evangelism. h. Seeking Fellowship.
Do not comfort yourself too quickly after sin. That is the Holy Spirit’s job as The Comforter. Let remorse do its full work. This is not to pay for sin – it is to rely on the Cross while letting the depths of our sin be exposed. Comforting ourselves usurps His role. It is one more attempt to be our own god. See John Owen in Vol. 6
The image of Christ is the character of Christ. This is fully exposed in LOVE: Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Uprightness, Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self-Control. One cannot love without all of these elements. This is what Jesus “looks like.”
Life is not about getting God to help me achieve my Goals – especially in ministry – but fully immersing myself in helping God achieve His goals. In me, and through me. Do I know what those goals are?
Treat the sins of your brothers and sisters in Christ, like wounds they’ve sustained on the battlefield. Even sins against you. Get them back to the Medic, nursed to health, and readied to go out and fight another day. Christians MUST stop shooting our wounded.
The Christian life is war. We fight the Devil by resisting him (James 4:7). We fight the World by not loving it (and loving something else instead) (1 John 2:15-17). We fight the flesh by dying to it – refusing its claim to rule us (Gal. 5:20-24).
The Christian’s greatest danger is doublemindedness. Trying to serve God and Self. Living by this Present Age’s worldview, vs. the Biblical worldview. James.
All have sinned, in that we have fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus is God’s glory revealed. And when we fail to bear His image, that is the glory we fall short of. This is our sinfulness. Where His image is obscured by us, deformed in us, or distorted through us – this is our sinfulness. This is what we all fall short of. This is what makes us sinners.
Individual sins, are only the symptoms of our sinfulness. To address our sins apart from our sinfulness, is mere behavior modification, not sanctification. Deal with sinfulness, and the sins will disappear over time.
The Christian life must be lived on purpose, not by accident. If one is planning to drive from NY to CA – they need a direction, route, conveyance, etc. We are to live as though our destination is Heaven – as though we are traveling there, not just hoping to find ourselves there. Our goal is Christ’s image – we are on our way toward Heaven to obtain it. Are we about it? We are going Home to be with our Father.
When I fall into sin, I must look to find which part of Christ’s armor I’ve neglected.
Belt / All of reality and identity defined in relationship TO Christ.
Breastplate / Wearing the imputed righteousness OF Christ.
Gospel of Peace / Standing solidly on peace with God THROUGH Christ.
Faith / In the full revelation of God IN Christ.
Helmet / The hope of salvation in its consummation WITH Christ.
Sword / Constantly having my sin exposed by the light OF Christ.
Prayer / Access to the Father won BY Christ.
Am I really standing in these as my daily, conscious reality?
The germ of all evil is the suspicion of some darkness in God. Satan deceived us by suggesting it. We fell when we believed it and tried to protect ourselves from Him.
Beware of: Mishandling God’s Word – Manhandling God’s People – Not handling Sin
Not everything can be reduced to ONE central thing. Jonathan Edwards was wrong. God is triune as well as One. When we attempt to reduce His purposes to just one thing, we will neglect the inherent trinality in all He is and does. And when we look only to His triunity, we will neglect His oneness and pit Him against Himself in some way. Both must always be retained in tension. God’s wisdom is “manifold” (Eph. 3:10) not singular.
The perpetual temptation in preaching, is to preach the letter of the Word never arriving at how it shows us the glories of Christ.
When preaching – if you can’t be brilliant, at least be useful. (Stolen from someone else but I cannot remember who).
Prayerlessness is the single greatest indicator of arrogance and self-reliance. When prayer ceases to be our primary means of seeking true change – Manipulation and programmatic approaches to getting people to do what we want will be the inevitable result.
Sin does not die, we die to it. (Rom. 6) As God told Cain, sin is ever crouching at the door – looking for its opportunity to pounce and master us. But we must always be vigilant against its advances – striving always to master it. To try and kill sin so as to end its life in us, is an exercise in futility which will lead either to despair, or Pharisaical self-deception.
The goal of Bible study & exegetical preaching Is not to simply get to the meaning of the text, but to tap into the broader stream of God’s thinking on all things revealed.
The principle of DISPLACEMENT. Putting on holiness, displaces sin. You cannot remove sin in a vacuum first. You “put on” and it forces “off”. Thomas Chalmers – The Expulsive power of a new Affection.
We are made to be vessels, receptacles, not generators. We receive His glory in brittle, earthen pots. But He pours into us, we do not pour out to Him. He fills us. Then He can use us. If we are trying to fill ourselves, and to pour out from ourselves, we will soon find how dry and empty we really are. We are created to be recipients, objects of the infinite outpouring of His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Because this is so, while hurt, grieved by us beyond our comprehension, the Father is still not resentful of our fall, and our subsequent sins – but seizes upon them as opportunities to show us even more kindness yet. Yes, He is holy. Yes, he MUST deal with sin justly. But that does not negate His joy and desire in pouring out His kindness. It does not alter His original aim – to make us full recipients of His kindness. Indeed, given the Fall, He will use that to give us new bodies equipped for even higher experiences of His goodness in the age to come.
We cannot know Him, unless we seek Him. We must make time to be with Him, and to let His Word speak to us. Prayer’s primary goal is to bring us face to face with Him. The thing that Jesus purchased for us in our salvation above all others, is the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry “Abba! Father!” It is the reconciliation which stands behind prayer. Stripped of access to the Bible; stripped of access to gathered worship; stripped of access to the Word preached – we have prayer. And we can grow in grace and Christ’s image if we are devoted to seeking the Father’s face in it, in and for all things. Col. 4:2.
We have crossed over into idolatry and false religion when we find ourselves trying to GIVE God something by our prayers, rather than praying to receive. Nothing will more quickly kill the Believer’s prayer life than when this reality is turned upside down. Prayer will become burdensome instead of refreshing, sour instead of sweet, heavy instead of freeing. The thing He wants from us most – is trust in Him. Absolute trust in His infinite, undeserved, lavish love.
The most difficult discipline of the Christian life is to learn how to WAIT. Nothing will defeat temptation as will the ability to wait. Waiting for God, to meet us in His time, His way.
God “seems” harsh or strict with us only because of our misperception of 3 things:
a. We have no true sense of the sinfulness of our sin. We fail to be horrified and staggered by the depravity of it.
b. We have no true sense of how merciful The Father is being toward us in already alleviating our just suffering and how much He delights in being merciful.
c. We have no true sense of how much grace has been poured out upon us and promised us.
Not distinguishing guilt from remorse paralyzes and confuses us. In Christ, our guilt has been met. But may we never grow past remorse for those sins He has saved us from. Freud tried to eliminate guilt. Only the Cross can do that. But the Holy Spirit brings remorse. And we learn to be grateful that He never allows us to be comfortable with our sins – past or present. Conviction of sin and condemnation are two very different things. Confusing them brings false guilt and a defeated life.
Any human being, saved or unsaved, is potentially capable of any atrocity. Never stop suspecting your own sinfulness.
RAPID FIRE: No one’s sins against me cancel out any of my sins whatever.
Not every action is a trajectory. Think of turn signals.
Not every description is a definition. Ex – God is love.
Not every statement indicates a coherent system of thought. We are quite fragmented in our own thoughts at times.
Not everything that can be done, should be done.
Not every commonality indicates uniformity.
Not every agreement indicates tacit endorsement.
Not every objection indicates opposition.
Not every opportunity is a directive. Ex – David’s opportunities to kill Saul.
Not every good desire is a commission or mandate. Ex – David building a temple.
Not every coincidence is divine direction.
Not every commendation indicates blanket approval.
Not every criticism is condemnation.
Not every insight is to be indiscriminately shared.
Not every thought is to be expressed.
Not all information is appropriate for everyone on every occasion.
Not every feeling is an indication of truth.
Not every feeling is to be non-judgmentally accepted.
Not every disagreement is due to others being wrong.
Not every tool is suited for every task. The law is good if it used lawfully. The Law was never meant to justify.
Not everything old is automatically good.
Not everything new is automatically bad.
Not everything old is automatically bad.
Not everything new is automatically good.
No one part of anything should be taken as the whole.
No whole is without its parts. Ex – Trinity.
There are many, many more, but I think you see what I am trying to get at. So let me close with a few of what I believe are timely applications.
A. If you haven’t noticed it yet – you will; We shepherd more and more young (and not so young) men who’ve had virtually no father figure in their lives. The results of this phenomenon are astounding.
63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. (Center for Disease Control)
80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average. (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average. (National Principals Association Report)
75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes – 10 times the average.
Columbia University found that children living in two-parent households with a poor relationship with their father are 68% more likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs compared to all teens in two-parent households.
70% of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average. (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sept. 1988)
85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)
Myriad are the Christian books right now trying to address that gap. But none of them can hold a candle to what God has already prepared in the Book of Proverbs.
Books like John Eldredge’s dreadful “Wild at Heart” and others try to instigate a vision of masculinity drawn more from the culture and Tim The Tool-man than Scripture teaching and examples. In fact, within the “Young, Restless and Reformed” community, books like “The Bronze Age Mindset” pseudonymously authored by “The Bronze Age Pervert” – are having a large and wretched impact. If you are not familiar with this book, you will run into its influences. Basically, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, it is the vulgar, profane rantings of a supremely egotistical wannabe philosopher – calling men to the adolescent fantasy of being imaginary, chest-beating super-heroes.
Proverbs is God’s answer to fatherlessness.
Proverbs is written, so as to let The Heavenly Father, father these many in our midst. If we will but direct them there. The Father’s voice will be with them always to lead, guide and direct. Convince them that He has not left them orphans. But has supplied the need Himself. And that – preparing for them thousands of years in advance.
B. Unless I miss my guess, those who have had the greatest impact in your own lives are those who have instilled some key maxim into your own thinking. Study to replicate that. Especially with Scriptural concepts. It will do YOU good, and those who come after you.
I am caught by 2 New Testament exemplars of the concept: Peter & Paul.
2 Peter 1:12–15 (CSB) — “Therefore I will always remind you about these things, even though you know them and are established in the truth you now have. I think it is right, as long as I am in this bodily tent, to wake you up with a reminder, since I know that I will soon lay aside my tent, as our Lord Jesus Christ has indeed made clear to me. And I will also make every effort so that you are able to recall these things at any time after my departure.”
Look how intentional Peter is in laboring to make key truths memorable to those under his care.
In Paul, there are both subtle and overt examples.
Romans 12:3 (CSB) — For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.
Romans 12:19 (CSB) — Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.
Romans 14:11 (CSB) — For it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.
1 Timothy 1:15 (CSB) — This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them.
1 Timothy 4:8–9 (CSB) — For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.
1 Timothy 3:1 (CSB) — This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.”
2 Timothy 2:10–13 (CSB) — This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. This saying is trustworthy: For if we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
Titus 3:4–8 (CSB) — But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone.
Romans 11:36 (CSB) For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
It is a powerful form of catechesis.
I’m sure you’ll have your own examples if you think back to those who have influenced you in key moments. For me John Newton is the master at it. It is behind his poetry and hymns. If you read his letters, these maxims show up everywhere and make his counsel memorable and useful. But note what a loving biographer of Newton’s wrote:
“With respect to his ministry, he appeared, perhaps, to least advantage in the pulpit; as he did not generally aim at accuracy in the composition of his sermons, nor at any address in the delivery of them. His utterance was far from clear, and his attitudes ungraceful. He possessed, however, so much affection for his people, and so much zeal for their best interests, that the defect of his manner was of little consideration with his constant hearers; at the same time, his capacity and habit of entering into their trials and experience gave the highest interest to his ministry among them. Besides which, he frequently interspersed the most brilliant allusions; and brought forward such happy illustrations of his subject, and those with so much unction on his own heart, as melted and enlarged theirs. The parent-like tenderness and affection which accompanied his instruction made them prefer him to preachers who, on other accounts, were much more generally popular.” John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 92–93.
And as The Church at large has benefitted most from him not in the pulpit, but in his poetry, letters and hymns, the power of this medium of reducing great Gospel truths into memorable maxims cannot be over-estimated. Just think of the lines of Amazing Grace, which most of us here can no doubt recite in full from memory.
I’ll leave you with one more from him which has impacted me personally over many years.
The worst of all diseases, Is light, compared with sin
On every part it seizes, But rages most, within
‘Tis fever, pain and palsy, And madness all combined
And none but a Believer, The least relief can find