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A Labor of Love: Puritan Pastoral Priorities, by J. Stephen Yuille

Charles Malcolm Wingard

A Labor of Love: Puritan Pastoral Priorities, by J. Stephen Yuille, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2013, x + 136 pages, $15.00, paper.

Faithful ministers experience bouts of discouragement, some of them long and intensely painful. Our hearts go out to them: hard work and steadfast prayer have yielded little in the way of visible fruit. Their discouragement can be so severe that they lose sight of the nobility of their work—they are men sent by God to care for his blood-bought church.

A second danger may come from the opposite direction: times of growth in God’s church produce pride. If ministers are not careful, they end up claiming for themselves the glory that belongs to God alone.

Both dangers—discouragement and pride—can cripple ministers and their work. Fortunately, there are safeguards, one of which is books that remind pastors of their calling and character while offering a fresh vision of their indispensable work. J. Stephen Yuille’s splendid A Labor of Love: Puritan Pastoral Priorities is such a book.

The author writes in an era of “diminished appreciation of pastoral ministry.” Frequently ministers and churches possess “a clouded perception of pastoral ministry.” They fail to distinguish between success based upon worldly calculations of “power, prestige, privilege, and prosperity,” and excellence that is measured by faithfulness to God, an excellence that the world—and even unthinking Christians—dismiss as failure (1–2).

Given the dangers, pastors need constant reminders of the fundamentals of their work lest they stray from their God-given duties. They also must understand the proper motivation for their work, which is “an insatiable desire to please God” (3). Truly, ministers must keep vigilant watch over their hearts, for “whatever rules our hearts controls our ministry” (36).

A Labor of Love has two major sections: pastoral priorities (part one) and Swinnock’s farewell sermon upon leaving a beloved congregation after eleven years (part two).

In part one, Yuille presents sixteen pastoral priorities that he found in a section of George Swinnock’s The Christian Man’s Calling, “wishes” the seventeenth-century Puritan had for his own ministry (3–4). Each chapter heading identifies one aspect of the pastor’s identity; a quotation from Swinnock is followed by the author’s own instruction and reflections.

A comprehensive portrait of the Christian minister emerges. He is …

  • A royal ambassador, heralding God’s words of reconciliation
  • A true vessel, knowing experientially the power of the great truths he preaches
  • A sincere suitor, earnestly seeking the spiritual well-being of men
  • A wise builder, laying the foundation of sound doctrine
  • A skilled physician, distributing what men need most in their various spiritual conditions
  • A diligent student, studying hard, reading hard, and praying hard
  • A tender mother, affectionately disposed toward those entrusted to his care
  • A courageous soldier, facing danger to protect his people
  • A prudent preacher, preparing to preach in the way that tends most to God’s glory and his people’s good A ceaseless intercessor, praying privately and publicly for the salvation of his flock
  • A patient instructor, helping the unstable believer find balance
  • A discerning judge, ready to speak the truth and act with firm and loving discipline
  • A faithful shepherd, visiting and counseling his flock
  • A powerful example, modeling a life of good works
  • A humble instrument, neither discouraged nor proud but obedient
  • A watchful overseer, taking heed to his own doctrine and life

In Chapter 7, the pastor as a tender mother serves as an example of Yuille’s approach.

In the opening quotation, Swinnock prays:

Lord, when I behold wounded, bleeding, dying souls, let my eyes affect my heart with sorrow. May I seek Thy blessing upon my diligent efforts for their recovery. Make me such a tender and affectionate mother that I patiently bear their offenses. May I willingly bear the burden of instructing my children. (37)

The image of minister as tender mother comes from 1 Thessalonians 2:7–8 (KJV): “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” Paul was “torn away” from his spiritual children by persecution (1 Thess. 2:17)—a separation, explains Yuille, that is costly, but only temporary, bodily, and involuntary. The Thessalonians will never be far from his heart (39).

He proceeds to identify and warn of two attitudes that destroy a pastor’s love for his people: envy and anger. Taking his cues from Jonathan Edwards, Yuille notes four “occasions” when anger is sinful: when it is distinguished by envy, errant judgment, and loss of self-control, and is out of proportion to its cause. “As pastors, we must mortify in us all that disrupts ‘sincere affection’ for our people” (39–41).

Both Swinnock and Yuille are eminently quotable. Here are two of my favorites:

We must not give people the impression that we love them (kind words, warm hugs, beautiful smiles, firm handshakes), when in reality we feel quite different. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that externals will mask what lurks inside. (Yuille, 19)

Some Christians erroneously assume that good works and good manners are inconsistent. Although Christianity removes the pretentious expressions of courtesy, it does not destroy courtesy. Civil language and courteous behavior are not essential to Christianity, but they do adorn it. God’s saints are always courteous. (Swinnock, 99)

The title for this book comes from the dedication of Swinnock’s farewell sermon: “There are two things which I have always judged chiefly requisite in a pastor—labor and love. The former is a work of the head, the latter a work of the heart: faithful labor will speak his love, and sincere love will sweeten his labor” (4).

Taken to heart, this fine book will encourage pastors to make their work a labor of love.

Charles Malcolm Wingard is senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City, Mississippi (PCA), and associate professor of pastoral theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. Ordained Servant Online, January 2020

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