Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder, No. 2: The Importance of a Lowly Heart

An Older Elder

Dear James,

What a delight to get your response to my last letter. I am glad you found it helpful. To God be the glory. The Lord is the ultimate source of all that is truly helpful to our souls. He is the giver of every good gift (Jas. 1:7). He pours out the most refreshing water and serves it to us in various vessels, but he himself is the “fountain of life” (Ps. 36:9). It is a joy to be his cup. As we travel along serving within the sphere the Lord has given to us, nothing is more pleasing than to be his glass of goodness to another soul.

Now, you asked if I would comment further on a topic which I introduced briefly in my last letter, namely, the nurturing of a lowly heart. I will do my best in a few words to handle a large subject. I think it would be best to begin by explaining what I mean by a lowly heart first, then to share some thoughts on how to pursue it.

A lowly heart is a heart brought low by what sin has done. I think you will find this a helpful definition and a lens by which to see your own soul. Sin has ruined this world and mankind to a degree that words struggle to express. In a moment, one sin plunged all creation from perfection into misery. Where there was only life, there came universal death (Rom. 5:12). Sin brought corruption into everything. Sin traded away peace and gave war. Sin exchanged cleanness for filthiness. Sin stole heaven and gave hell.

A lowly heart carries about this deep sense of sorrow for what sin has done. This begins, first and foremost, with a sense of our own sin. You asked for practical advice on developing a lowly heart. So here is the first thing—cultivate a sense of your own sin. Be specific. Call it out by name. Is it greed? Is it laziness? Is it selfishness? Is it lust? Is it ambition? No one can go to war with an invisible enemy. You cannot repent over nameless sins.

Your capacity to minister to others effectively will depend upon this. God’s greatest servants in Scripture saw their own sin and were deeply moved by it. Abraham did. David did. Isaiah did. Paul knew himself to be the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). This is a secret to fruitful ministry. Spurgeon once put it this way, “A sense of our own poverty drives us to Christ, and that is where we need to be, for in Him our fruit is found.”[1]

Listen. There are some who have served in this office of elder who, sadly, do not seem to have much of this sense of their own sin. Maybe the Lord has spared them from some of the greater vices, and they mistake this for holiness. Maybe they are too busy focusing on the sins of others to see the evil in their own heart. It is a most painful thing for the church to endure an elder that does not seem to know himself a sinner. Ask the Lord, dear brother, to search your heart often.

And that leads me to the second piece of practical advice. Use this sense of your own sin to foster a deep sorrow for what sin has done to others. Every lamb in your flock is suffering, in some way, the horrible effects of sin. Have they lost loved ones? Sin did that. Are they sick? Sin, ultimately, is the cause of every sickness in this world. They may also be suffering from the miserable consequences of personal sin in their lives. Stir up a sympathy for these precious sheep of the Lord Jesus who are being hunted and wounded by the wolf of sin.

This was most eminently true of our precious Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore he, above anyone who ever walked on this earth, was most “lowly of heart” (Matt. 11:29). None were moved as much as he was by what sin had done to mankind. None wept as he wept over our sin. None cared like he cared about the consequences of our sin. And no one suffered as he suffered to undo the terrible effects of sin for his people.

If you want some practical advice on cultivating a lowly heart, I can do no better than to point you to Christ, dear brother. As you move among his people, do so with a sense of what a mess sin has made of this world and our lives. Bear that burden. Plead for God’s mercy. May the Holy Spirit put the heart of that publican in your soul, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). And then go to the flock with love and compassion, bringing them to Jesus. That is what is meant by a lowly heart.

Your soul’s well-wisher,

An older elder


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Evening, August 28.

Ordained Servant Online, February, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: February 2023


Also in this issue

The Voice of the Good Shepherd: Understanding the Voices of the Electronic World, Chapter 1

The Bringers and Receivers of Complaints: OPC Book of Discipline 9.1

Commentary on the Book of Discipline of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 3.7–8

Justification: A Lutheran Perspective: A Review Article


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