The Whole Counsel of God

The Whole Counsel of God: Why and how to preach the entire Bible
Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid
Crossway, 2020

Someone posted a quote from Lloyd-Jones recently saying that Christians should be ashamed if they don’t read the whole Bible every year. I have a number of problems with such an assertion, but I think the authors of this book would respond by saying that Lloyd-Jones shouldn’t expect his congregation to value the entire Bible if he didn’t model that in his preaching ministry. The ML-J recordings trust lists 366 sermons on Romans, 262 on John, 232 on Ephesians, 120 on Acts and only 133 on the whole Old Testament (taken from just 15 books). And of course examples like that could be multiplied.

The authors of this book are concerned that in most evangelical churches, perhaps the majority of the Bible is never preached to the people of God, resulting in ‘the church being underfed and the Lord being only partly honoured’. They ask how can God’s people know God without knowing his word – and how can they know the fullness of God’s word unless it is systematically explained to them. It’s not just the Old Testament in view – the authors assert that many churches have never heard one of the gospels preached right through in living memory.

Their argument is based on more than simply all Scripture being God-breathed; examples of God’s entire word shaping God’s people are cited from Deut 17:18-19; 31:9-13; Josh 8:34-35; 2 Kings 23:1-3 and Nehemiah 8:1-8. They ask ‘How can it be that sincerely committed Bible-believing Christians who now have mostly unhindered access to the Scriptures – and whose spiritual forebears saw no greater priority than providing that access to the Scriptures – can still have relatively thin biblical knowledge?…Perhaps their piecemeal reading and studying of Scripture is just a reflection of what they have seen modelled by their ministers of the word’. And what does it say about about our doctrine of Scripture? If your church has never heard an expository sermon from the book of Jeremiah, ‘might that indicate that for some reason your church does not think that God has anything particularly important or relevant to say through his words inscripturated in that biblical book?’.

Their solution to all this is to call pastors to aim to preach through the entire Bible over the course of 35 years (ideally in the same congregation if possible), without resorting to ‘overview series’ or ‘highlights packages’. They have a helpful diagram where they show that the Bible divides fairly evenly into Torah (17%), Former Prophets (22%), Latter Prophets (22%), Writings (15%), Gospels (10%) and Other NT Books (13%). In light of that they would advocate that the preaching ministry in a local congregation should reflect that split, ideally over a 2 or 3 year period and certainly over the long term.

In general it’s a position I’m already convinced by, and they make it well, even if there’s much to quibble with in terms of how to actually go about it. My main criticism is they don’t envisage the minister preaching more than one sermon a week. As well as being historically adrift, they seem to be really shooting themselves in the foot in trying to achieve their goal, and means they have to outlaw preaching on any chapter you’ve ever preached on before, and restrict all topical series to church weekends etc. It also means that while not averse to preaching on single verses, they also suggest one sermon on the Ten Commandments (or I guess two if you preach Deuteronomy as well as Exodus) and one on, for example, Ezekiel 40-48 and Psalm 119 (Struthers style). If something unexpected happens in the life of the congregation, you are allowed to preach something different but the preaching programme is still so rigid that you should preach the ‘missing’ sermon separately by video. There’s also a fair smattering of crazy suggestions, like vary your sermon length depending on the passage, so five minutes for Psalm 117, twenty-two for Psalm 118 and an hour for Psalm 119!

The book could really have been improved with real-life examples of people who have actually preached through the Bible. Examples that come to my mind are Stuart Olyott (who gives his rationale and ten-year plan here) or David Silversides – and I’m sure they could have found others by asking around. That would also have let them show how different preachers have achieved the goal in different ways and at different speeds; as it is, the impression you’re left with is that their way is the only approach.

Overall though I’m hugely excited to see this book in print, and think that ministers need to wrestle with its core message. I would set it as a core text for training preachers if I had the opportunity.

May we not have the same regrets as one RPCS minister who said at an ordination in Stranraer in 1932:

“Give them the whole Bible. After more than forty years of attempts to preach I regret to have to confess that there still remain large and fertile tracts of Bible material which I have never tried to expound. I have, of course, taken many texts from the great Prophets of Israel, but I have not yet tried to travel right through Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Daniel, to bring to my hearers some of the rich and luscious fruit of the linked thoughts of those grand, inspired men with their living and creative messages.”

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

James Denney (1856-1917) on J. P. Struthers

james denney 1

This is the second of a two-part series of posts on what some of Scotland’s better known theologians of the past 150 years ago have said about J. P. Struthers, minister of Greenock RPCS.

“…the late J. P. Struthers of Greenock (the only man of genius, Denney confessed to a friend after his death, he was ever intimately acquainted with)”
J. A. Robertson, “Memories of a Student,” in Letters of James Denney to W. Robertson Nicoll 1893–1917 (London; Hodder and Stoughton, 1920), xxxvii.

“21 LYNEDOCH STREET, GLASGOW,
March 1, 1901.

Struthers has practically prohibited me from saying anything about him, and has indicated his reluctance (which I hope he will overcome) to have the Watch [1] issued in London. He spoke in the kindest possible way about your letter to him, but regards being written about with the sensations of a whelk being wormed out of its shell on a pin point. But there can be no harm in telling what everybody knows—that he is a minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, not an Original Seceder; that he preaches for anybody who asks him, and gets only too much of it to do; that he is a good preacher, the most solemn and the most tender you could imagine, as any one could infer from the Watch; and that his age may be guessed (it is only so that I have any idea of it) from the time when he was ordained—which according to the Clerical Almanac was 1878. His congregation is not large, but his church is full.
[1] The Morning Watch, edited by the Rev. J. P. Struthers, of Greenock.”
Letters of James Denney to W. Robertson Nicoll 1893–1917, p. 21.

On his preaching (in a letter to Struthers’ widow): “I am sorry you think nothing could be saved of his sermons. It was here he was original, deep, and tender and searching, like the Bible itself…”
A. L. Struthers (ed.), Pilgrim Cheer: a book of devotional readings, being extracts from the manuscripts of sermons by the late Rev. J. P. Struthers, M. A. (London, 1924), p. 5

“One of Denney’s most revealing comments on the Scripture came when he was advising his students about reading the Bible in public worship, referring them to the example of his friend, J. P. Struthers: ‘He never reads Scripture as if he had written it: he always reads it as if listening for a Voice.’ ”
John Randolph Taylor, God Loves Like That! The Theology of James Denney (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1962), p. 140.

“To be about to be married is a very fine state to live in if you had nothing to do but think about it; but as things are with me, it is really not without a serious side. It takes up a little time, and sometimes more than a little, and it is also a little distracting. You don’t want to think seriously about preaching, and as a matter of fact can’t—at least I can’t without a disproportionate effort, for all that comes of it. If you want to remain the only man in Greenock that can fill a kirk on the Sabbath evening, abide as you are.” [from a whole chapter of letters written by Denney to Struthers]
James Denney, Letters of Principal James Denney to His Family and Friends, ed. by James Moffatt (London; Hodder and Stoughton, 1922), p. 10.

A few short quotes from the chapter in Letters to his friends and family:

On holidays:
‘Instead of preaching at the expense of your health…’ (p. 35)
‘the only thing on which I don’t consider you an authority is holidays. Your mind wants liberalising there.’ (p. 76)

On their friendship:
‘There is not any hand in the world I like better to see on an envelope than yours. As Mrs. Denney is at home when I write this, nobody has any right to be jealous.’ (p. 41)
‘A letter from you is one of the happy events of my life’ (p. 44)
‘You are the only man who ever takes the trouble to send a line here out of naked friendliness, neither wanting me to preach nor wanting anything else, and I assure you I value it highly.’ (p. 50)
‘And when you come and let on that you can be indebted to me, I feel as if you were ‘as one that mocked’; it should be the other way about.’ (p. 54)
‘I would rather graduate with you than with any man alive.’ (p. 59)

On Sabbath keeping: ‘Sorry I have not even a sentence about Virgil. Have not read him, I think, since you reproached me for reading the sixth Æneid on a Sabbath evening.’ (p. 46)

On the Morning Watch: ‘I am sorry you are getting so little help for the Watch, but really I think it is probably the best thing for the Watch, though it is heavy on you.’ (p. 57)
‘The Watch followed us here, and was received with joy. I have not anything in the house that I am more proud of than my unbroken set, and my dear wife had, if possible, even greater pleasure in it than I. Just now I am reading Carroll’s last book on Dante, and though I have a kind of envy—admiring, not malignant, I hope—for a man who has actually finished a big thing like this, it is nothing to the feeling with which I contemplate the endless originality of the Watch.’ (p. 85)

On humour: ‘Why in the world do you write to me about the humour of the Bible? I mean to hear your lecture on the subject, but I don’t feel able to offer hints.’ (p. 78)

“GLASGOW, January 18, 1915.
DEAR MRS. STRUTHERS,—I cannot say what I think or feel with your loss before my mind. Your husband was not only the greatest but the best man I ever knew, and there must be thousands of people everywhere for whom his place can never be filled by anybody in the world. It was impossible to know him at all without feeling all the love and reverence for him of which one was capable, and it is only this which gives me courage to say how truly I sympathise with you. He wrote me a characteristically friendly letter at the New Year when he sent me the last volume of the Watch, and it had one or two serious touches about taking care of strength and not overdoing things, which I now see must have come out of his own sense of being overdone. Surely if anybody was ever faithful to the last atom of his strength, it was he.”
Letters of Principal James Denney to His Family and Friends, p. 92.

“Struthers belonged to the Reformed Presbyterian Church, although born and brought up in the Original Secession body, and his genius and consecrated life made a profound impression upon Denney. “I have never known a man who had so deep a sense of the love of God, or who so unmistakably had the love of God abiding in him” was the latter’s testimony concerning his friend…Denney loved the Watch, as he loved its editor, and helped it too. He once described the Magazine in these words: “It is just like reading a letter”; and once, when giving a list of the Hundred Best Books, he included The Morning Watch as one of the Hundred… The playfulness and humour which made Struthers’s talk so fascinating, and lightened his preaching and lecturing, were like sunbeams playing on the face of the deep. Perhaps the most gifted preacher of his time in the West of Scotland and a veritable man of genius, Struthers was yet very reserved, very shy, very humble, very lovable. A creator of pure fun of the whimsical order, he had also the touch of sadness that so often accompanies a playful wit. He was at once humourist and melancholian. He was notable as the man who, with characteristic modesty, declined the honour of D.D. from Glasgow University. He and Denney were to be “capped” together, but the latter confessed afterwards to a feeling of relief, as he felt himself so unworthy to stand on a parity with an already so great and real “Doctor of the Church” as Struthers.
The Reformed Presbyterians were proud of Struthers, as they had cause to be. He was their foremost preacher and expounder of the Word.”
T. H. Walker, Principal James Denney, D.D.: A Memoir and a Tribute (London; Marshall Brothers, 1918), pp 15-16.

William Barclay (1907-1978) on J. P. Struthers

J P Struthers

Part 1 (of 2) in a series on what some of Scotland’s better known (if not the most robustly orthodox) theologians of the last 150 years or so made of J. P. Struthers (1851-1915) of Greenock. Struthers, through no fault of his own, is probably the only RP ever to have a Pentecostal denomination named after him!

“There have been many who have sacrificed their careers to what they took to be the will of God. J. P. Struthers was the minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Greenock, a little congregation which, it is neither false nor unkind to say, had a great past but no future. Had he been willing to forsake this church, any pulpit in the land was open to him and the most dazzling ecclesiastical rewards were his; but he sacrificed them all for the sake of what he considered to be loyalty to God’s will.”
The New Daily Study Bible: The Letter to the Hebrews, (3rd edn, Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 179

“Prestige is the last thing that the great teachers desire. J. P. Struthers was a saint of God. He spent all his life in the service of the little Reformed Presbyterian Church when he could have occupied any pulpit in Britain. People loved him, and the better they knew him the more they loved him. Two men were talking of him. One man knew all that Struthers had done, but did not know Struthers personally. Remembering Struthers’ saintly ministry, he said: ‘Struthers will have a front seat in the kingdom of heaven.’ The other had known Struthers personally, and his answer was: ‘Struthers would be miserable in a front seat anywhere.’ There are some teachers and preachers who use their message as a setting for themselves. False prophets are interested in self-display; true prophets desire self-obliteration.”
The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew (3rd edn, Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), pp 328-9.

“Real Christianity is a lovely thing. There are so many people who are good but who with their goodness possess a streak of unlovely hardness. J. P. Struthers, minister of the Reformed Presbyterian church in Greenock, used to say that it would help the Church more than anything else if Christians would from time to time do a bonnie thing. In the early Church, there was a charm about God’s people.”
The New Daily Study Bible: The Acts of the Apostles, (3rd edn, Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), p. 34

The Wonder of Christian Adoption – Kenneth Stewart (video)

For those waiting for the videos of Kenneth Stewart’s sermons from Gartmore, here are some from a conference on The Wonder of Christian Adoption in Singapore last year to tide you over.

Understand Adoption – ‘Sons of God’ (John 1:12)

Appreciating Adoption – ‘The Love of God’ (1 John 3:1)

Experiencing Adoption — God’s Fatherhood (Romans 8:15)

Honouring our Adoption – Loving God (John 15:1-17)

Honouring our Adoption – Loving the Family (God’s people) (1 John 3:14)

Honouring our Adoption – Practical Aspect of Loving the Family (God’s people) (1 John 4:17, 18)

Audio versions can be downloaded here, along with a Q&A and a series on Christ and the Samaritan Woman.

I’ve previously linked to the videos from the 2014 Conference – Christ the King.

Opening Lectures in Ireland and Scotland

Early October saw the public opening meetings of Reformed Theological College and, for the first time in 150 years, that of the Scottish Reformed Presbyterian Seminary.

Reformed Theological College

The opening lecture was given by the Principal, Prof. Edward Donnelly, on John Calvin: The Life of the Christian Man. It can be downloaded from rpc.org or in higher quality, from here.

Scottish RP Theological Seminary

A full report on the evening, which included video greetings from North America and Canada, and personal greetings from Ireland, is available on the RPCS website. The address was given by Rev. Andrew Quigley. I will post the audio here as soon as I can get hold of it. You can view the SRPTS prospectus here (pdf).

SAQ Ian Gillies

prof robert mccollum may bell srpts opening meeting

shirley karoon and emma loughridge

Neil McQuillan and Kenneth Stewart
Caption competition anyone?!