(Note from TB: A dear brother I’ve gained a deep trust and affection for over the many years we worked together in the PCA recently passed on to me this devotional he once gave to his fellow PCA stated clerks. I asked if we could publish it here, and he kindly agreed. The Chalmer’s quote concerning Boston was particularly striking.)
When I think about moving to another congregation, either wistfully or with a serious opportunity in front of me, I take an old post-it note from my desk drawer. The glue no longer sticks, but I need the message that has stuck in my heart over the years and at times is a check on my potentially wandering spirit. I don’t recall where I read this line, but the note reads “Thomas Chalmers said of Thomas Boston ‘He so understood the covenant that he found his greatest reward among those who knew him best; so he never desired to leave.’”
I hope someday, someone might say of me something along these lines: “He so understood Presbyterianism that he found his greatest challenges and rewards, maturing and satisfaction, among the ruling and teaching elders who knew him well.”
God has used the Presbyterian form of church government as it is believed and followed in our churches, presbyteries, and general assembly to work in me meekness. I read somewhere that, in Latin, meekness has to do with being “used to the hand.” Like a tamed and trained animal. For me, meekness has come as I have understood and functioned within the structures and strictures under which God has placed me in the PCA. I have had to learn not to kick against those goads. Much of this growth has come in the context of my Presbyterian accountabilities.
Matthew Henry wrote about gentleness and meekness. He drew four images from the Bible. He said a meek Christian is as the air is when it is quiet from the winds; as the sea is when it is quiet from the waves; as the land is when it is quiet from war; and as the weaned child of Psalm 131 on its mother’s breast.
These thoughts were prompted as I noticed we would be discussing a theological controversy within our presbyteries and denomination. The Lord has been gracious to teach me that He has purposes in allowing error in the church. In my younger days, I did not understand that. In a comedy movie a while back, the bumpkin character would often use the expression “that’s gonna leave a mark” when something bad happened. I know in my younger days, in my zeal for truth (as I understood it), I left some marks.
Then I read another Puritan, Samuel Bolton, The Arraignment of Errors. It’s an excellent book. Without diminishing the importance of truth and orthodoxy, he explains that God allows error in the church to sift His people. Here I began to learn how to handle disagreement. I am committed to two things: our differences are not between enemies, but brothers; and if neither group is proud and contentious, but all are humble, holy, and peaceable, we can experience the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace.
In John 17, the Lord spoke of truth, telling us God’s word is truth. He also spoke of unity, in verse 21 affirming His prayer that we may all be one. Luther wrote to the ministers of Nuremberg (quoted in Bolton) “There is no danger in your difference, but there is much danger in your dissension.” Thomas Watson, still another Puritan, preached a sermon on Matthew 10:16, “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves”. He spoke of the prudence of the serpent and the innocency of the dove being seen in this: to reprove the sin, yet love the person. He gave three suggestions how:
- Take a fit season to reprove another, that is, when his anger is over.
- Tell him plainly of his sin, yet in mild not provoking words.
- Take as your end in reproof, not to revile, but to reclaim.
In Zephaniah 2:3 we are told to seek meekness.
In Colossians 3:12 we are told to put on kindness, humility, and meekness.
In 1Timothy 6:11 we are told to pursue gentleness.
In 1Thessalonians we are told to aspire to gentleness.
Galatians 5 informs us a fruit of the Spirit is gentleness.
Paul wrote to young Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:22-26 words I needed to hear and take to heart:
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
God has used the Presbyterian system to begin to develop this grace in me. At the end of a hard session or presbytery meeting, I know I must hang in there, continue to stand with and work with the brethren, and attend the next meeting.
I know I’ve left many marks over the years—no major ones that I know of still un-mended. If I’ve left a mark on any of you, please seek me out. May we as stated clerks be voices and examples of meekness in the midst of controversy.