God, Psychology, and Christian Care of the Soul — Erroll Hulse

Desiring God 2001 Conference for Pastors

God, Psychology, and Christian Care of the Soul

It’s a great privilege and joy to be with you today and participate in this conference. We much appreciate the ministries of Desiring God and the emphasis that our brother John Piper has promoted. As we get moving into our subject, I remember some friends that I visit regularly down in Pensacola, the Mount Zion Church there, and I understand that on the desk in the book room there is a free offer there, but the main point is that Chapel Library gives free grace literature to developing countries in a massive way, in a wonderful way. They have their own printing presses and I support them as much as possible. They’ve published two of my books, one is Our Baptist Heritage and the other is the Biography of Adoniram Judson.

That the Whole Earth May Be Filled

Now you will have an outline, and it’s the first page that will be relevant. I don’t want you to be distracted as I preach on this first Servant Song, but just the three stanzas that make up the first servant song, it’ll be helpful to have that before you. Now the rest of the sheets I hope will be suggestive to many of you for a series of sermons. I have found the Servant Songs tremendously spiritually invigorating and practical and helpful, and beyond the Servant Songs, there are further songs to the anointed conqueror. Jesus having fulfilled his mission of suffering, having been raised from the dead and ascended, he is now the anointed conqueror and we are living in the new millennium. And may this millennium be the millennium of the latter-day glory when the gospel so advances that it’ll fill the whole earth. Now that’s a dream but it’s a dream that finds reality in these Old Testament promises and it’s something that should inspire energy and inspire motivation.

The pioneer missionaries like Adoniram Judson and William Carey were fired up to fill the whole earth with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. And that certainly is the note that has struck here in the first servant song, Isaiah 42:1–4. The first Servant Song is really an introduction to the next three Servant Songs that follow the actual structure of the Servant Songs is remarkable. Our Lord Jesus Christ when he was growing up would read these songs and think to himself, “These Servant Songs are me. This is my biography. This is my speech.” And in one of them there is reciprocal speech. Yahweh speaks to his servant and the servant responds back, and there’s a conversation going on rather like Psalm 110. And the main features here in the first Servant Song are picked up and developed in the next three servant songs.

Yahweh’s Anointed Servant

Well, who is this servant? Well, he’s not Cyrus that great Persian king that God called his “anointed.” He’s not a military leader. Is the servant Israel? No, it’s not Israel because Israel failed to be a light to the nations and broke the covenant. It’s not Israel. Well, who is the servant? Well, the servant is a man who exemplifies what God intended in his Israel. That is the intention that he should be a light to the nations. And this first Servant Song begins with the word “behold.” Now this is a very important word and I noticed in six contemporary translations that fall out of the six prefer the word “behold” to “see.” “See” is a bit lame, but “behold” is the cry of a vendor.

I remember being in Rangoon, the capital city of Burma early in the morning and hearing the shrill tenor voice of a vendor desperate to sell his wares. Every 60 seconds a cry went through the skies and straight into our ears and woke us all up. He had something that he was desperate to sell. Well this is the cry of one who says, “I want you to see my Son. Behold my servant. I want you to see him.” This is not a vendor. This is the loving heart of our Father God who cried from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Remember that happened at the baptism and it happened again on the Mount of Transfiguration. He says, “Behold my servant, I want you to listen to him. I want you to look at him. I want you to believe upon him. I want you to love him. I want you to serve him.”

This first Servant Song comes very neatly packaged in the Hebrew language in three stanzas. If your Hebrew is a bit rusty, Alec Motyer’s commentary on Isaiah will help you a lot. I’ve outlined these three stanzas, but there is a correction to the first heading at the bottom there. Stanza one takes us into interrelationships in the Trinity. That’s right, but I would prefer to say stanza one describes the empowerment of the servant. As we follow that empowerment, we become involved in inter-trinity relationships and that is where we find our strength.

The Empowerment of the Servant

But this first stanza then concerns the empowerment of Yahweh’s servant, and notice the description given. It says:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
     my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
     he will bring forth justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1).

Now, as Jesus was growing up and would read these songs and listen to the voice of his Father, he would come to understand that he was to undergo appalling sufferings. And how would he possibly endure the kind of sufferings that were revealed here in the Servant Songs? They would humiliate him, they would pluck out his beard, and they would vilify him. He would become the sacrifice for sin for the whole world. How could he endure such suffering?

Well, the first answer tells us about his empowerment. God says, “My servant whom I uphold. I will uphold you.” And then the assurance that he is the chosen one of God. Maybe 50 or 60 billion people have been born into this world in human history, but there is only one man who is the Messiah. There is only one man who is Yahweh’s servant. And this was Jesus. And as he was growing up, he would come more and more to realize that he was the chosen one of God.

And then for his constant comfort, he would enjoy the love of his Father. It says, “In whom I delight.” And then as he entered upon his ministry, the Holy Spirit came upon him without measure with us, there are measures. We are very glad when the Holy Spirit enables us, but there are measurements. In Jesus’s ministry there was no measurement. He was fooled to all fullness with the Holy Spirit of God. It says, “I will put my spirit upon him.” So when he comes to his synagogue in Nazareth, he says from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit is upon me.” And he says to them, “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.” I will put my Spirit upon him. What a comfort that would be and how we see that in the life of Jesus in all his perfect teaching and in his miracles. There were stupendous miracles performed by him.

Justice to the Nations

Then he has this assurance there will be success in his ministry. It says, “My servant will bring forth justice to the nations.” And that is taken up again in stanza number three. He will succeed in a Servant Song that follows Chapter 49. There is discouragement expressed by Jesus, by the Messiah. It says, “I have labored for nothing. I have nothing to show for my ministry.” The little group that gathered in the upper room would be much smaller than the group that we have here today. His disciples were confused and scattered at the time of his death. He thinks, “What have I to show?” It’s the only place I find in Scripture where Jesus expresses discouragement. But the assurance is there. Justice will be brought to the nations and we’ll see how far that goes when we come to stanza three.

Now there is salutary helpful teaching for us, application for us as pastors. In this conference we are concerned about caring for souls as Jesus cared for souls with gentleness and compassion, which is the substance of the second stanza. But when we have very difficult situations, things that terrify us we can take comfort here. I’ve often been terrified as a pastor by things that have happened. Where is the comfort? Where is the strength? Well, as the father upheld his Son, so he upholds the under shepherds. He holds us. He supplies our needs. He loves us with an everlasting love. And in our needs we have relationships of union and communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Now I am a baptist, as some of you may remember, but when I baptize converts, I baptize them according to the instruction given into the name of the Father and into the name of the Son and into the name of the Holy Spirit, the name standing for everything that the Father is and everything that the Son is and everything that the Holy Spirit is. It’s union with the triune Jehovah.

Well, there are infinite resources there. We have a Father who loves us and guides us, who comforts us, who works all things for our good. We have the Son with whom we have union and communion, a loving relationship of sharing everything. And we have union with the Holy Spirit who helps us in our prayer lives, who helps us understand and gives us wisdom. If pastors baptize into the trinity, then they should surely remember that those same resources for the new convert, the same interrelationships, the same union and communion that the three persons should in the past be exemplified very much more fully.

John Owen wrote a classic on union and communion with the three persons of the Trinity. If you haven’t read it, I commend it to you. I mustn’t digress. But I think of John Owen as the winner of at least four gold medals in the Olympic Games of theology because in at least four places, he has excelled all other writers that have ever come and he certainly touches it on that one.

The Ministry of Yahweh’s Servant

But we must move on to stanza two, which describes the unique ministry of Yahweh’s servant and here we have two parts. First, he will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets. In other words, he will be gentle. He will not shout and bellow. His is not an outwardly aggressive kind of ministry. He is in stark contrast with the conquerors that have gone out into the world. It’s not by force of arms that he advances his ministry.

I wrote out a little biography, of Alexander the Great (356 to 323 BC), to compare these two men. The man Jesus and the man Alexander, both of whom died at the age of 33. So let me just share this with you:

King of Macedon, Alexander was the son of Philip II, and Philip II by war and diplomacy sought to raise Macedon to be head of the Greek states, to unite the Greek race to overcome the Persian empire was set as the ultimate ambition. Aristotle no less was directed to educate Alexander. At age 16, he was an officer in the army and at 18 he earned fame by heading a charge in combat. At the age of 21, Alexander inherited the throne from his father Phillip II, who was assassinated. To show what kind of man he was going to be he immediately ordered the slaughter of the infant son of his father by Cleopatra. He had the baby executed. He wasn’t going to brook any rivals.

By force of arms Alexander United the Greek states and with little resistance, he overcame Asia Minor. He then decisively put the great Darius to flight and proceeded to conquer Syria and Palestine. Egypt surrendered to him without a fight as the Egyptians were ill-disposed to Persian domination and tyranny. At age 25, he struck right into the heart of the Persian Empire. Darius, now mightily reinforced, awaited Alexander’s army. But Darius’s army was shattered by the Macedonians. Alexander seized the fabulous wealth of Babylon. Untold riches had been hoarded and amassed there by the Persians. These became the possession of Alexander.

Then he struck into North India and would’ve extended his dominions far to the east except that his soldiers’ and commanders’ stamina was now exhausted. Alexander’s superhuman conquest on the world stage caused him to be wondered at with fear by all nations. He prepared a massive fleet of a thousand ships to consolidate his vast empire. And then, on 15th and 16th of the month Dasius (about June) on 323 AD he over indulged himself in the house of a friend and that developed into a fever. On the 28th of that month, he died at age 33. Alexander was essentially a man of military power, but there was no spiritual foundation to his conquest. It was only a matter of time before the Romans came, the Roman Empire. And according to the prophecy of Daniel, that Greek Empire was overcome by the Romans.

A Different Kind of Conquest

Jesus died a shameful death by crucifixion aged 33 with the tiniest following of disciples scattered and confused. Yet Jesus began an empire destined to overcome every rival and have victory throughout all the nations of the earth. And when he was born, it was in the shadow of a vast palace — the vast palace of Herod the Great. Another ruthless man, even more ruthless than Alexander. The same man who ordered the murder of the innocents to try and destroy any possibility of arrival. Herod the Great was tremendous in architecture and building. He built up the temple but was ruthless, rich and ruthless.

Jesus’s ministry was a complete contrast with these warlords, with these emperors of might, with his invitation. He says:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28–29).

This is his ministry in total contrast to anything that the world has ever seen. He wins the hearts of his followers and lives in their hearts in power. He will not shout. Sometimes he did lift up his voice as in the temple court that day when he made his invitation. He said:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37–38).

It is necessary then for people to hear. But the meaning here in Isaiah is that he suppresses advertisements. I was on Air India on my way to Canada some years ago and I read the “Indian Times” very much modeled on our declining, deteriorating “English Times.” And on the front page I read of a healing evangelist who had been to India who had been expelled. He put out big adverts that he was going to heal people and they took it seriously in India. They’re not like Americans, they took it seriously. And they came with their wheelchairs and loads of wheelchairs. People were coming from all over and he couldn’t heal them. And not like the very conservative English, they rioted. They went crazy.

They said, “You’ve said you were going to heal and you haven’t done it.” And the police came to settle it and he was taken to the magistrate and put out of the country. Now Jesus did really heal perfectly massively and when he did that, this very first servant song is quoted almost in full. He suppressed any advertisement of it. Don’t do this. Don’t spread this abroad. That’s not my way. We don’t need to shout about this or raise our voices about it. No, we don’t need to do that. His ministry is so different to those who go by force or by extravaganza.

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

Well let us come on to the heart of the matter. Isaiah 42:3 says:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench . . .

Now this is beautiful language. I think of a marshy place by a river and the reeds growing there. Reeds are weak things. Remember what Jesus said of John the Baptist? What did you go out to see? Did you go out to see a reed blowing in the wind? Of course not. He’s not like that. A reed is easily broken, easily bruised, and then you can see a herd of buffalo coming down to drink water with their massive hooves. Well pity the reeds there if they get trodden on by the massive hooves of buffalo.

When I think of these buffalo, I think of some denominations that get invaded with authoritarianism. It’s the abuse of church powers like I heard of buffalo, bruising people and sometimes breaking them. This is a ministry of gentleness. This is a ministry of compassion. This is a ministry of care. If there’s disaffection, what is the reason? Let’s sort it out. If there are differences, let’s plead about the matter. Let’s reason about it. Jesus’s ministry is essentially one of gentleness, being so careful that reeds should not be broken.

Samuel Davis in a wonderful sermon on the bruised reed in the three volume work published by Soli Deo Gloria, says:

The Lord, Jesus possesses all those virtues in the highest perfection which surrender him infinitely amiable and qualify him for the administration of a just and gracious government over the world.

In other words, in Christ’s person there is united a refusal to compromise with sin in any shape or form. He says to the woman, “Go, but sin no more” (John 8:11). He doesn’t compromise with sin at all and he will show himself terrible to workers of iniquity. But in this world, Jesus is all love and tenderness to the most unworthy, repentant sinners. He knows how to deal with the weak and despondent. He knows how to deal with those who are bruised so as not to break them.

The Compassion of Christ

Now this bruised reeds concept and the smoldering wick that he will not snuff out has been made famous by the Puritan Richard Sibbes and I have here the banner of truth, simplified, shortened, or abridged version of Sibbes’ work, The Bruised Reed. This is how he goes to the heart of the matter. He says:

By the bruised here is not meant those that are brought low only by afflictions (many people are brought low by afflictions and we all know what that is), but such as by them are brought to see their sin, which bruises more than anything. When conscience is under the guilt of sin, then every judgment brings a report of God’s anger to the soul. And all lesser troubles run into this great trouble of conscience for sin. As all corrupt humors run to the diseased and bruised part of the body and as every creditor falls upon the debtor when once he’s arrested, so when conscience is once awakened, all former sins and present affliction join together to make the bruise more painful.

So he’s thinking primarily in terms of sin. It’s how to deal with convicted sinners and in dealing with them he doesn’t break them. I would suggest to you that there is no more powerful force in the world spiritually than when the Holy Spirit convinces the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Read Zachariah chapter 12:10–14. It says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced and mourn for him as one mourns for the loss of an only son.” It’s like the man who’s bankrupt, as Sibbes says; every creditor in town is after him to grab him, to get his share of the cash. And it’s easy to be broken at that point. A bruised reed he will not break.

I dipped in this morning to a new book called The Hidden Smile of God. I can’t tell you whether it’s a good or bad book yet because I haven’t read it all, but it looks pretty good to me. And I read here of William Cowper, that he was massively depressed from a young man even before his conversion, but later it was conviction of sin that took hold of him and almost destroyed him with its vehemence. When he saw his iniquity, a number of times he tried to kill himself. He was manic depressive, but when he was convicted of his sin, he was beside himself. A bruised reed he will not break.

Cherishing Faith

When this is happening, there is a further point to observe and that is the cherishing of faith. Faith is being borne with repentance and Sibbes again is so perceptive, so helpful with regard to the phrase, “a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” The New Living Bible, which has nothing to do with the living Bible. It’s a scholarly work, a scholarly translation puts it like this: “He will not crush those who are weak or quench the smallest hope, the smallest hope. He will not quench that. He’ll keep it alive. Says Sibbes:

There are several ages in Christians, some babes, some young men; faith may be as a grain of mustard seed, nothing so little as grace at first and nothing more glorious afterward. Things of greatest perfection are longest in coming to their growth. Man, the most perfect creature comes to perfection little by little.

We see it in our grandchildren, don’t we? Little by little as they learn to speak. Sibbes continues:

Worthless things such as mushrooms and the like or like Jonah’s gourd, spring up and soon vanish. A new creature is the most excellent creature in all the world, therefore it grows up by degrees. We see in nature that a mighty oak rises from an acorn.

I’ve been observing in England how long it takes for an oak to get going. Other trees seem to grow very quickly, but the oak takes so long to get going. But once it’s up, for 300 years, you really have something that you’re not going to push over. So we have to be so prayerful and gentle to culture and encourage the little wick of faith that is growing or coming there is coming into a flame, a smoldering wick Jesus will not snuff out.

He is the master physician, the Puritans were great physicians of the soul and we seek to be great physicians of souls. And in order to be such, we must know how to deal with the weak, the bruised reed and those who have just a spark of faith.

Cases of the Bruised Reed

Well let’s look at some cases of the bruised reed. I Made reference to William Cowper. And I must say that in my own pastoral experience, I have never experienced greater anguish or difficulty, literally trauma, than when dealing with people who have manic depression, Christians who suffer from manic depression. We have an elder in our church who put himself into hospital because he was certain that he’d kill himself, and they sorted it out. It was a blood chemical disorder. But how do you handle people who just want to die? Their one great craze is to die and it’s a tremendous spiritual effort to seek to sustain these. How grateful we are for Christian physicians, clinical psychiatrists who understand these things and how thankful we are in God’s common grace for such things as lithium at these particular junctions. It’s a madness to dismiss that because God provides remedies for chemical disorders, but we have to pastor, we have to seek to bring people through when all they can see is blackness and darkness. And that’s exactly what William Cowper was like from time to time.

But then we need to know how to deal with bruised reeds in the shape of children that have been abused sexually or physically or verbally. They’ve been smashed. I work with a pastor who founded our church and began our church 26 years ago. We’ve grown very gradually, which is a good way of growing, a gradual way of growing. We have about 140 practicing members now. Eleven years ago, Peter Parkinson who started the church, began a work of caring for homeless young men. When he was at seminary, he took a month off to live homeless and he lived homeless with people out rough for a month and learned to think the way they think and understand the way they work.

So he has compassion for people, but particularly young people who are homeless and just living on the streets. This work has been so prosperous that there are now 20 full-time workers caring for these young people. Well over 2,000 have been helped and we have some trophies of grace from this, but it’s essentially a work of compassion. And in England, even the secular authorities have come to esteem Jesus as the first advocate of children, the protection of children. There is a widespread movement throughout the country and legislation about protecting children from sexual abuse.

Jesus, if you read the account in Matthew, is the one who said, “Suffer the little children to come to me for such as the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). And then he went on to warn against offending these little ones. Now it can apply to those who are believing in him. It could be young converts, it could be that, but it can also be those little ones who are growing up. Woe to those who offend them. And then he says:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Well, my fellow pastor, when we have church meetings and we are absolutely not a hard line authoritarian Reformed Baptist Church. We are not that, but at the church meeting we’ve had a number of converts in the last three years. Young people are converted and they come to their first church meeting. This is what he says. He says, “We have outside a millstone and a rope. And if anybody offends in our meeting these little ones that are coming to their first meeting, we are going to hang the millstone around their neck and take them down to the canal and throw them in.”

Now we are in danger of being nicknamed the Millstone Reformed Baptist Church, but the point is made that there is something so precious and innocent. Little children are so wonderfully innocent. It’s a blessing. It’s a great blessing for grandparents because they were so busy bringing up their own and dealing with them. When you become grandparents you can enjoy it because all the work’s done for you and then you can observe these things more closely. Now original sin is there, of course it is, but there is something precious about innocence and for that to be abused incites the wrath of the Lamb of God and he is the advocate to defend children and especially little ones who are coming to faith.

The Weak and Backslidden

But then there are other bruised people, those who are weak and backslidden and when you inquire into it, they are backslidden and weak because things have gone wrong for them. They had such high hopes in the church and then they’ve seen squabbles or arguments and they’ve become hurt and cynical and bruised, and those people need special spiritual care. They need to be nourished and brought back again. All of our churches have people like that and we are so scared for them. We are afraid that they’re going to fall away. A bruised reed he will not break.

Think of Peter the apostle with his bravado. He said, “They might all forsake you, not me.” Jesus warned him, “You will,” and he did. And when he heard the cock crowing, he was reminded and he was full of remorse, full of sorrow. He was bruised. How gently Jesus restores him and gives him a work to do. It’s reminiscent isn’t it of Elijah. He was so powerful and so strong to put to death the prophets of Baal. But then when Jezebel made her counter-attack and Elijah was taken off God, he ran for his life, messed it all up, and then said, “Lord, take my life. I’m no better than any of the other prophets and I only am left. Just take my life and I’m done with it.” A bruised reed he will not break.

Elijah is then given new work to do. He’s nourished and strengthened and sent on his way. That’s what we should be doing with people, spiritual people who have been bruised. In our ministries we must always be on the lookout for those who are hurting inside in order that we may help them and strengthen them and build them up. And this element must be very much in our preaching. The bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. It takes time for faith to grow and become strong. It needs weekly nourishment, weekly teaching, constant care, and prayer. A bruised reed he will not break.

The Perseverance of Yahweh’s Servant

Well now let us come on to view stanza number three, the perseverance of Yahweh’s servant. What encouragement this must have been to the growing Jesus as he read these Scriptures and realized more and more that these were his biography, some parts his autobiography:

     He will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
     till he has established justice in the earth;
     and the coastlands wait for his law (Isaiah 42:3–4).

This ministry of truth and gentleness of restoration, of building people up in the faith is a ministry that will spread throughout all the world. And he, the Messiah, will not falter. He will not be discouraged until it is accomplished. And he’s at work now. He ever lives to intercede for those who he has saved and all those who come to the Father by him. He is the intercessor. He’s at work and he now will not be discouraged. He will not falter until his cause prospers throughout the world. The NLB, I like it best in this section, the stanza describing the perseverance of Yahweh as servant. It says, “He will bring full justice to all who have been wronged.”

Think of all the wrongs that have been perpetrated. He will bring full justice to all who have been wronged, not all in this life, but he will ultimately do that. He will not stop until truth and righteousness prevail throughout the earth. Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction. Spurgeon has a good sermon on this section. Spurgeon wasn’t the best in eschatology. He didn’t have time to study Edwards enough. But in this text he admits, “This has to happen.” He says, “I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but it has to happen because it says so. It will happen.” But it will happen through effort.

Notice he will not falter or be discouraged in the face of opposition. He will continue the work until it is accomplished. And he’s talking about the islands of the sea. I take a great interest in churches in islands in far away places because it’s a kind of token that if the islands can have sound, thriving churches believing in Jesus, if that’s the case, then great nations can be one as well. I think that Russia today covers 12 time zones. If you think of all the Russians living in Alaska, it’s huge and ripe for gospel truth and church planting. There are places in Siberia that are just as remote, if not even more remote than Fiji or Malta, but observe that it’s justice that he will establish.

Vertical and Horizontal Justice

What is this justice? Well, the first meaning of justice according to the context of Isaiah 40–41 is that Yahweh’s truth will be vindicated. Yahweh complains in Isaiah 41. He says, “My people serve idols, they’ve robbed me. Let’s set up a court of law and I’ll bring these people to book. Why have they deprived me and robbed me of my glory? Let’s have justice. And my servant, he will bring justice because they will abandon their idols and they will then serve me and I will be justified.” That’s the justice he’s talking about. It’s gospel justice. Every time a soul abandons sin and unbelief and idolatry and turns to believe in the Messiah, in Jesus, that is God’s justice vindicated. And then he imputes to that believer the righteousness of his Son.

But in the context here, both in the first stanza and then develop much more in stanza number three, the perseverance of the servant is to bring justice. And that includes social justice. It’s gospel justice, yes, but also social justice. Mishpat, the Hebrew word, is used some 450 times in the Old Testament and you cannot escape the social implications of the word. “Let justice flow down like a river” (Amos 5:24), we read in Amos. And this kind of justice includes caring for those who have been wronged, caring for those who have been deprived, caring for the homeless, and caring for the abused — those who have gone into prostitution because they knew nothing else by way of survival. It’s about caring about them and doing something about them. This is the kind of justice he’s talking about.

I was interested to read in your press this morning that President Bush on Monday created a White House office to help religious or spiritual groups seek billions of dollars in federal funding for programs that deal with problems such as drug and alcohol addiction. Today President Bush asks Congress to enact tax breaks to benefit charitable groups. “Compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government,” Bush said during a meeting with representatives of 35 charities that he invited to the White House to witness establishment of the office of faith-based and community initiatives.

Well that’s very interesting, I must say. I have friends who I had the privilege of baptizing who are now working in South Africa and they’re working with an American, David Siegfried, to establish an orphanage for AIDS victims, children dying of aids or who might get through the AIDS. And there are hundreds of thousands of these orphans. And the idea is to establish a village where these orphans can be brought in under the teaching of the gospel and grow up under the teaching of Christianity and be saved from oblivion. And of course the idea is that if this is a model work, the government will have to take action because you can’t go on having so many who are either dying or being afflicted in this way.

But this is part of the justice. Our Lord is concerned with that. It’s amazing how he prospers efforts like that. The gospel is always first. The first thing is preaching the gospel, but we do so with compassion and with practical concern. Ever so many practical gifts can be put to work. This village is on its way. When I first read about it, I thought, “I don’t know where they’re going to get the funding for this. That’s why I’m quite interested in what it says in your paper here, because the money has to come from somewhere to achieve this. But what better than to do it in the name of Yahweh’s servant, in the name of Jesus. In his law the islands will put their hope.

A Small Stone That Fills the Earth

Daniel saw that vision of the great empires including the empire of the Persians and the Greeks and the Romans and the Babylonians to start with. Those empires he saw in this great vision, he explained it to the king and then you remember what he said. The stone taken without human agency by supernatural means came and hit or smote the feet of this great colossus.

And then that stone began to grow and grow and grow. It was organic. And it filled the whole earth. All those empires now are rubble. It’s very interesting rubble sometimes, especially for architects. You can go and look at the Parthenon at Athens, very interesting, but it’s still a dead rubble. But his kingdom in which he doesn’t break bruised reeds and protects smoldering wicks his spiritual kingdom, advances and advances. Brothers and sisters, what a privilege we have to be participants in this to be promoting missions, encouraging missionaries, and encouraging works of compassion. What a privilege it is that we have — but especially in dealing with people personally to exemplify the love and gentleness, the meekness and lowliness, the kindness and compassion of Yahweh’s servant who is the delight and love of our heavenly Father. May we be like that as we deal with so many hurting people and seek to bring them to faith. All for his eternal honor, praise, and glory.

Questions and Answers

I just wondered if you would say a word in light of Jesus being gentle and compassionate and non-aggressive, how his preaching and rebukes that seem aggressive and non-gentle with the Pharisees fit into that and how that applies to present day ministry for us.

Yes, that’s a very good question because as Samuel Davis points out in his sermon, there is united in the person of Jesus, a holy hatred of sin. And if you read Matthew 23, the Pharisees are exposed in an amazing way, it’s a very powerful exposure of their sinfulness. And both Jesus and John the Baptist in their preaching exposed the evil and the wickedness of sin and called for repentance. But the focus in the first Servant Song is in the cure of souls and in the gathering of those that have been hurt. I didn’t mention this, but Jesus always seemed to be in the right place at the right time because when the widow of Nain was just heartbroken — her husband had died and now her only son had died — Jesus is there and raises the son to life and gives him back to her. We are thinking more in terms today and in the conference of how we deal with people who have come under conviction. We must combine in our preaching moral law and what sin is. Sin is lawlessness. And sin especially is resisting the Holy Spirit and resisting the invasion of the Holy Spirit into our lives so that he might take over. It is sin to resist. But the focus here is on the contrast with violence and Jesus’s gentleness.

My question is similar to his. I really heard your plea to not break broken reeds and there are authoritarian churches that do break broken reeds. But on the other side there are many mainline churches that refuse to discipline. And so how do you balance that? On the one hand you don’t break the bruised reed, but on the other hand you have the obligation and responsibility to discipline?

I would say that discipline is essential to the life of the church. I agree with John Calvin that unless there is discipline in the church, a testimony cannot be credible. You have to sustain discipline. But for what reasons do you discipline? Now if one of the deacons goes and robs a bank, I mean we have to discipline him. Adultery is the most common thing now and is terrible. If we don’t discipline then we are just not credible. We have to do that. But also we must remember that in discipline, the whole idea is to restore. Now I hold John Armstrong’s view. I think that when men in the ministry commit adultery, I think that’s curtains for them. I agree with John Armstrong about that. But in the church we don’t discipline people because they disagree with us. That’s ridiculous. It’s the idea that the eldership is Christ.

So if you have anything against the eldership, then you are against Christ and then you are subject to discipline. I know one church in South Africa, they disciplined 34 people because they disagreed about something. Well that’s absurd. So you have 34 bruised reeds, very badly hurt people. You don’t discipline on those things, you discipline for sin. And when you discipline, it’s to bring them back again to seek their restoration and their repentance. But we must maintain discipline. And also the best way of doing it is to be there before things go wrong, to have an eldership that’s observant so that when people are straying, they’re brought back before they fall into sin.

I was intrigued by your comments about social justice. We’ve been wrestling with this idea on our elder team of how to equip God’s people to take initiative in areas where there is need for social justice and the care of the poor, crisis pregnancy centers, and orphanages and all these things, how that fits into the church without complicating the church and turning everything into a department of the church. How do you mobilize the congregation to respond without losing the simplicity of the local church as a fellowship of the saints?

Very good question. In our church and Leeds, we’ve had to keep the two works quite separate. Every Evangelical Church in England is a charity and has a registration with the government as a charity. But if we united the work to the homeless, we would be overwhelmed. Their budget’s much greater than ours. On average, we have three full-time pastors to care for, to pay on the payroll. But there are 20 workers for the homeless ministry. So we have a separate charity that’s kept separate. And the kinds of gifts that are used there consist of a wide variety of very practical gifts with all Christians that are working are not necessarily members of our church, but it has to be a separate registered charity trust, otherwise it would overwhelm the church. You have to run them parallel. That’s what we found to keep the main focus on gospel preaching and evangelism in the church and then missions out there and then this work alongside.

My question is also one about balance. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee and I have never met a lost person there. They’re all saved and backslidden. So I admit I’m a little bit raw about that word “backslidden” probably to the extreme. But you mentioned people being “backslidden.” And I want to be sympathetic toward the backslider if he is a genuine believer, but I write most of them off as lost and I want to have the pattern of Isaiah 42 in my ministry and in my life. But I see strong passages in 1 John 5:16 for example about the sin unto death. I see passages in James and in John that are very test to see if you have fruit worthy of repentance. What would it look like to have a balance of having a high standard of proof of salvation and yet a Isaiah 42 three compassion toward professing believers who are backslidden?

Well that’s a very important question you’ve asked because in America there are a number of states, and you’ve mentioned one of them, where you have had so many decisions at Evangelistic campaigns that at the end of the day you have more Baptists than people. I enjoy friendship with Southern Baptist pastors, but the one thing I really disagree with them is the idea that anybody can just come and demand instant baptism. I think there’s madness because just a profession of faith isn’t necessarily true faith. And we have to disciple people. You only baptize when that person shows evidence of union with the three persons, a sense of knowledge and experience of the three persons of the Trinity. You shouldn’t baptize until this is established.

So you do have in many parts of your country, many people who have been deceived. I don’t think they’re Christians at all. I don’t think they’re backsliders. I don’t think they’ve ever been Christians. And it takes a lot of really discerning powerful preaching to uncover that. And again, with some Southern Baptists, they really are paedobaptists because they’re baptized children far too soon before there’s been any realization of life and the challenges and the difficulties and struggles.

In the case of our daughter that’s been mentioned, I think she was converted at age 12, but we wouldn’t baptize her until she was 14 until she’d had some trial of her faith. Now you may disagree with that, but at least we are thinking the thing through and seeing what faith is all about in practice. So it comes down to what is a Christian? Now I’m talking about backsliders of people who ran well. They really ran with us and now they lukewarm. They’re not denying the faith. They don’t deny the deity of Jesus, but they don’t come to the prayer meeting and they don’t share zeal for the work. And that worries us. That’s a concern for us. And then when you investigate it, you find that something’s hurt them, but that mustn’t be made an excuse because we’re all sinners. There will be offenses in the church as well.

So we’ve got to win these people back to full strength. Now I’m talking about people that really did have more than just a profession. Some churches have the back doors as big as the front door and that’s ridiculous. We must have some back door because you can’t compel people to be members of your church if they don’t like you. We love them out and then they may come back again. But it’s a small door at the back, a tiny door and a bigger door in the front. But it comes down to what is a Christian? And then you can say what is a backslider?

I’m curious to know how the Israelites interpreted Isaiah 42, who they said that servant was and then who they say the servant of Isaiah 53 is?

We have a membership with our church, a Hebrew speaking worker who works with Christian witnesses to Israel. Richard Gibson is his name and he is married to an Azerbaijani Jewess who’s converted. So we have somebody who can speak Russian and Hebrew fluently. And when I need to know how to pronounce Hebrew words, I’ll go and ask him and talk to him about it. I understand from him that Isaiah 52–53 there are five distinct stanzas in the fourth servant song that the Jews cannot abide. Many of them forbid the reading of that. They just cannot handle it. The fourth servant song particularly is so clear that it is the servant and it’s a suffering ministry and it describes the Christ of God. Jews are very uneasy about it.

But that doesn’t mean to say that we don’t use it, we should use it. Remember the Ethiopian eunuch. He was the one who saw this. The guy was going back to Ethiopia and that was the part of scripture that he was reading. So there’s great power in these Servant Songs and we misused them wisely in our evangelism among Jewish people.

I appreciated your words on how we as pastors are to treat the bruised reed. My question is, would Jesus distinguish between a bruised reed and (for lack of a better term) the wimps and the whiners in our congregations? And if he would distinguish how can we?

Well, as a congregation grows, you go through the initial stages of growing a church, when I first went into the ministry, we had 14 years of unanimity. We never disagreed about anything. But for the next seven we found lots of things to disagree about. But still we still continue to grow in spite of the differences. And as you grow, you inevitably pick up some whiners. I think they were brought into the church to test our sanctification. They always have something negative to say. Well, you can’t give them cyanide. That’s not good. I found the best way of dealing with it, and you may disagree very strongly with this. I found the best way to do that is humor. That often helps. It’s to not let them get you down, in other words, because it doesn’t help if you’re going to allow that to depress you. They’re never going to be happy. And of course if they went to another church we’d rejoice.

But not only do you get whiners. Sometimes you get two in the church and maybe two women or two men, and they come into conflict and they start fighting. This can be extraordinarily difficult to solve. We had our whole eldership out with three or four meetings to just solve the conflict between two people in the church. It did end in this case in one family leaving our church to go to another. We did everything in our power to solve it, but we didn’t. We just have to work our way through that and then try to limit the damage that is done to others because they all perceive it differently. This is what pastoring is all about. Preaching is the enjoyable side. But these difficulties really take spiritual energy. But in all these things, if we don’t take the gentle, meek, humble approach, we get ourselves into trouble. Let them never rightly accuse us of being hardhearted and using church power to have our way. Whatever happens, we must avoid that.

There have been a few references to using that church power in a negative way. I wonder if you could comment and help us think about the reality that love is also a power and when we’re counseling someone who is bruised and really vulnerable, that we ought not to be manipulative. There are cults and groups in America, they just hang around airports and places looking for lonely people to just love into their group in a manipulative way. I wondered if you’d just help us think about how we could safeguard our ministries from manipulating people with the power of love that we have with them.

I think you’ve brought out a tremendously important point because if you’re caring for the homeless, you’re just dealing with a vast ocean of need and people come easily to be rushed Christians because they have a need. You can manipulate as you say. Well, I think you’ve got to balance the gentleness of Jesus with his tremendous understanding of fallen human nature and his directness. I often admire my colleague in the ministry because he’s absolutely straight with people. He will tell them straight if he thinks they are using manipulation. You have to be straight and clear about it. We are not here to be pushed around. Absolutely not. And that must be understood. And when these young people come in, they come in with a wild background. Absolutely wild. Well, they will be mixing with their wild ideas and still with their immoral attitudes with children that have been brought up in Christian homes. So you need to be very firm about what the standards are when they make a profession of faith. But dealing with manipulation requires discernment.

I think your commending to us the Puritans is very appropriate. I think that they really speak to the issues that we’re discussing very well because of the subtlety of their thought, the way that they’ll think through biblical tensions and the structures of biblical thought and apply them to various particular situations. There’s no big, general, sloppy category as though this one solution is going to solve all of these problems. They’re very subtle and I think as they challenge us, as we read them, we obviously have to do some transposing to our situations. But they just bring us out of a lazy thinking through biblical categories and force us to really desperately pray, “Lord, I don’t see the trees clearly enough here. Give me eyes to see, to discern when this person has been brought into my church for no other purpose but to be a black hole to suck up all of my time and my energy and my joy.” When this person is genuinely crying out for help and needing time and you can spend the extra time, how do you do it?

William Perkins wrote a book on preaching as prophecy, and I think in that book he describes nine kinds of people that will be in the congregation. So when he prepared, he prepared his application first and then the exposition — that’s the easy part. The application is the difficult part so he was preaching to all the various needs out there, specific distinctive needs in the congregation — people that needed reproof and correction, people that needed encouragement, people coming for the first time, the ignorant, and people who are looking for a big feast. It was all of them. He’s thinking of all these categories. And this was the genius of Puritanism that they combined their preaching with counseling, the counseling of troubled souls, and how to do it biblically and how to relate the preached word to the word of counsel to people individually. You are absolutely right. I think they were the masters of this.

You obviously have a patient eschatology and that factors into all of this. Can you give us a word on that?

Well, I could make an appeal for people to come to the front who were converted to believe that the whole world will eventually be won for Christ. But in short, I follow Jonathan Edwards. I just think he was correct. The obstacles are enormous and consider Islam alone. How will that ever be overcome? Buddhism in Burma is beginning to see progress in this regard. It’s huge. But I believe the promises are clear. I wouldn’t believe this if it weren’t for the promises. But I also see it happening. I see it happening in China. I see it happening in Brazil. I’m a great believer in the book Operation World because that is a book that tells you how to pray for the nations. It gives you the facts, and you pray and work. It’s not that you just pray. You pray and work. You support missions, you send them out, and you seek to get them to the islands of the sea and to the ends of the earth. That is the mandate that’s been given. And I don’t believe it will end in failure. That’s the Puritan view. It’s called the Puritan Hope, and it’s a very happy hope. When I tell people this, they all come and tell me, “I hope you are right.”

You made reference to the fact that you were thankful for the chemical prescriptions that were given to the young lady with depression to the point of suicide. You considered it grace from God. I’ve got a lady in my church who’s on Prozac, and is that the end? Do I now wash my hands and say it’s over, or do I go to the point to say, “I want you to be eventually off this and be sustained by the Lord himself?” With Cowper, it seems like his depressions sprung forth such great worshipful songs. Where does it end with the prescription drugs in my counseling? Is that it? Once I’ve got her on the drugs and she’s now stable, do I now wash my hands and say, “Let’s go on”?

These two things go together. Good clinical practice is an immeasurable blessing, but spiritual counsel is essential. When people have suffered in this way, you’ve always got to watch them because there is a tendency for it to recur. Of course, you try to get them off their dependency. Try to get them off the medication. But never do it without careful consultation and the goodwill of a doctor. If you’ve got a Christian clinical psychiatrist, of course that is a wonderful blessing to have because then he understands the ramifications. But I’ve learned the hard way that you need to be very careful in this field. When I read about Cowper, I think, “Well, he may have been greatly helped if they had known more at that time.”

I was encouraged by and appreciated your description of the bruise reed as someone who’s been broken and convicted by sin. It seems to me that the call there is not only for us to mend and as Jesus did, to not break the bruised reed, but for us to continually be bruised reeds as well. Do you have just a short word, maybe just about our responsibility as pastors and leaders and teachers to continually be broken and relating to the bruised reed in that way.

I think that’s a wonderful note to end on, really, because no one was more broken than Jesus. And it’s out of our brokenness and out of the awful experiences we’ve had, of spiritual experiences that we’ve had of disappointment and difficulty, that we are able to empathize with those who are suffering. And we constantly need to be in that place of humility before the Lord as those who’ve suffered for him in his cause. And then we will be Christlike because Jesus was always like that. And then we are under shepherds that reflect the great and good shepherd of the sheep because we are doing his work his way with gentleness, love, and compassion, but with firmness and hostility to sin. I think that has been very well brought out in the question time.

was born in South Africa in 1931. He served as a manager of the Banner of Truth Trust, and later as a pastor.