I am always on the lookout for Gospel-centered books that can serve as a source of grace and education and encouragement to me.
One such book is The Gospel Ministry by Thomas Foxcroft, recently published by Reformation Heritage books.
The book is a sermon by Thomas Foxcroft based on Colossians 1:28-29, which he preached on the day of his ordination (November 20, 1717).
Though it is an ordination sermon, the book is applicable to both pastor and churchgoer alike.
For pastors, it will both challenge one to faithfulness in the gospel ministry and serve as a source of encouragement and edification (which to be sure there cannot be enough of for pastors!).
For church-goers, Foxcroft’s book will challenge the churchgoer as well as serve as an insightful and educational look into the great, weighty and honorable office and work of the gospel ministry.
By coming to a better understanding of the nature and task of gospel ministry, Foxcroft’s book can help instill a more sympathetic understanding and supportive role for pastors in light of the high and weighty calling they have received (cf., 2 Cor. 2:16; Heb. 13:17, cf., pp. 83-87). Foxcroft’s book can also aid the churchgoer in discerning faithful gospel ministry.
Here is a sampling of some of the challenging and encouraging reminders found in Foxcroft’s book:
Concerning the place of preaching in the pastoral office: “Preaching is one great and noble part of the pastoral duty…Preaching…is an ordinance of heaven, and therefore is not to be declaimed against as lowly or superfluous,” (pp. 2-3).
To the church-goer, Foxcroft warns, “How vile are they who despise prophesying, and forsake the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some is, and who load faithful preachers with the most contemptuous indignities,” (p. 3)! In a day when the value and high view of preaching has fallen into disrepute in many quarters, Foxcroft’s words are a welcomed reminder and timely admonition.
Concerning the dignity of Gospel preaching: “Let none think it a disparagement to his greatness to be employed in preaching the gospel, and grow too big for this work as if it were fit only for men of low degree and those least esteemed in the church. To excel here is true dignity and glory,” (p. 3).
Concerning the subject of preaching: “Christ is the center of revelation and the adequate subject of preaching; and He must be the substance and bottom of every sermon…Whatever the subject ministers are upon, it must somehow point to Christ…So all duty must be persuaded to and preached up with due regard unto Christ; to His authority commanding and to His Spirit of grace assisting, as well as to the merit of His blood commending…Thus, in imitation of the apostolic way of preaching, there must be a a beautiful texture of references to Christ, a golden thread twisted into every discourse to leaven and perfume it so as to make it express a savor of the knowledge of Christ,” (pp. 5, 8, 10).
Concerning the pastor’s study: “Ministers then must study to feed their flocks with a continual feast on the glorious fullness there is in Christ; the must gather fruits from the branch of righteousness, from the tree of life for those who hunger, not feeding them with the meat which perishes, but with that which endures to everlasting life. They must open this fountain of living waters, the great mystery of godliness, into which all the doctrines of the gospel that are branched forth into so great a variety do, as so many rivulets or streams making glad the city of God flow and concenter,” (p. 8).
Concerning impartiality in ministry: “On the one side, as to counsel and advice, ministers must be willing and industrious to instruct the servile as the honorable, the poor among the brethren as well as the rich in the world…They must beware not to compliment quality and distinction, nor court popular influence and plentiful fortunes,” (pp. 14, 15).
Concerning the minister’s private character and public ministry: “They must be orthoprax as well as orthodox. Unto purity of doctrine they must add unspotted piety of life, and transcribe their public sermons in their private, visible actions and behavior if ever they would preserve the dignity of their character or promote the efficacy of gospel truths,” (p. 25).
Concerning the style of a sermon: “The truths of the gospel must be presented to the understanding in the most intelligible language, with perspicuity and ease of expression…When ministers study to be florid rather than solid, and labor continually for lofty phrases and great swelling words of vanity, they are only spinning a spider’s web. The prater perhaps may win applause, but the minister in the mean time may not win a soul, the divine end of preaching,” (p. 33).
Concerning the design and intent of the pastor’s aim in ministry: “Observe the design and intent of the apostle in all his administrations: ‘that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus’ (Col. 1:28). What he aimed at was to lead men into a saving acquaintance and living union with Christ, to life them into His service, to mold them into His image, to take them off from the old stock of corrupt nature, and to insert them into the true Vine…Unto this end was the bent and ambition of his soul; that was the vital motive of all his study and diffusive labors,” (p. 56).
Concerning the pastor and his prayer life: “Hence it behooves ministers to be very much in the exercise of prayer. They who would become fit for and faithful in the ministry of the Word must give themselves to prayer continually…The more fervent and frequent one is at the throne of grace, the better prospect he has of excelling in strength, of growing mighty in the Scriptures, and being skillful in the Word of righteousness,” (p. 62).
Concerning the pastor’s source of strength for ministry: “Hence ministers must be content with their Lord’s dispensations and allotments to them…Let not, then, the men of low degree and of small account in their Father’s house, who are forced to creep in the dust, and lift up plowshares and pruning hooks instead of swords and spears, look upon themselves with discouragement and discontent, neither with envy and emulation upon others who move in a higher sphere, distinguished with brighter visions and more abudant honor…,” (p. 63).
Concerning the source of “success” in ministry (which is a timely issue for today as well): “But here let me pass to the other part of that phrase: ‘which worketh in me mightily’ (Col. 1:29)…Hence we note that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Author of all success in the work of the ministry. The efficacy of the Word preached is not owing to the influence of men’s wisdom and eloquence. It does not depend upon dint of argument, the charms of moral persuasion, nor upon the natural energy of virtue of the Word itself or any external means, but it is to be attributed entirely to the special operations of Christ,” (p. 67).
Concerning the lack of “success” in ministry (again, a timely issue for our time as well): “Hence, let ministers be entirely resigned to Christ, the Lord of the Harvest, as to the fruit of their labors. Though they spend their strength for naught, and in vain all the day long stretch out their hand to a gainsaying and rebellious people, yet surely their judgment is with the Lord and their work with God. If they so much, though they reap little or nothing; though the vineyard does not yield fruit meet for them by whom it is dressed, not receiving the blessing from God, but degenerates into a howling wilderness or barren desert, bearing thorns and briars, nigh unto cursing, or at most affords only the gleaning of the vintage, yet let this administer comfort to the faithful servants of Christ, that they have discharged their duty and acted their part. The lack of success shall be no bar to their acceptance, for they are unto God a sweet savor of Christ in them who are saved and a stench in them who parish…The battle is the Lord’s, not theirs. He umpires the success of every campaign…,” (p. 72).
Because it is Christ who supplies the grace and strength from the fullness of Christ (cf., Col. 1:29), Foxcroft writes, “Hence, then, faithful ministers may expect from the Lord Jesus Christ all those supplies of both skill and strength that they need in order to fulfill their ministry,” (pp. 65-66).
Concerning the temptation to commend oneself: “The most divine preacher is but an instrument; the excellency of the power is of Christ, and therefore the excellency of dignity and the praise of all owes to Him. Let ministers then ascribe unto Him the glory that is due unto Him, sing forth the honor of His praise, and make His Name glorious,” (pp. 76-77).
Concerning the congregation’s duties to pastors (I can hear all pastors saying to this, Amen!): “…Heb. 13:17…1 Thess. 5:12-13…Let them who labor among you experience your candor, pity, and kind assistance at all times and in all things. Do all you can to alleviate their burdens, and by all possible means endeavor to hearten and comfort them. Lend a hand to strengthen and further them in their work. Cast the mantle of Christian charity over the multitude of their weaknesses and defects. Do not be too severe in animadverting on them at any time, but make all ingenuous allowances for their imperfections. Always put the fairest gloss upon their speech and behavior. Remember that they are earthen vessels, and your own vessels at that; and take heed that you don’t throw them to the ground and dash them to pieces upon spying a little flaw…And to all this, do not fail to add your most importunate intercessions for them at the throne of grace,” (pp. 83-84).
Foxcroft’s book will serve well both pastors and churchgoers. Foxcroft’s book is a rich blessing, challenging reminder and helpful resource for pastors. It is also a challenging call for churchgoers to let their leaders carry out their divine duties with joy and not with grief (cf., Heb. 13:17); to be a blessing and comfort to those who are called to watch over their souls as ones who must give an account to God.