Edward Polhill, A View of Some Divine Truths, 1.2 (God’s self-disclosure)


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This is an abridgment with notes on Edward Polhill’s first chapter of A View of Some Divine Truths. The previous notes on this chapter may be found here

God’s self-existence and self-sufficiency in all things means that God has no need of his creation. That such a great being would invade his own privacy, as one theologian one-time expressed it is a matter of “supereffluent goodness:

That such an infinite All-sufficient One should manifest himself, must needs be an act of admirable supereffluent goodness, such as indeed could not be done without stooping down below his own infinity, that he might gratify our weakness.

We have no words which could reach or describe God, who is so far above our ability and our reason. And yet God has disclosed himself to us in the Scripture and in the Incarnation:

His name is above every name; nevertheless, he humbles himself to appear to our minds in a scripture image; nay, to our very senses in the body of nature, that we might clasp the arms of faith and love about the holy beams, and in their light and warmth ascend up to their great Original, the Father of lights and mercies.

God hath manifested himself many ways.

He set up the material world, that he, though an invisible spirit, might render himself visible therein: all the hosts of creatures wear his colours.

The evidence of God’s self-disclosure in nature is a matter admitted in various ways by pagans and philosophers. And what is it that they have observed:

Almighty power hath printed itself upon the world, nay, upon every little particle of it: all the creatures came out of nothing, and between that and being is a very vast gulf.

First, creation shows infinite power:

It was an infinite power, which filled it up and fetched over the creatures into being; it was an Almighty word, which made the creatures at an infinite distance hear and rise up out of nothing. The old axiom, ex nihilo nihil fit, is nature’s limit and a true measure of finite powers; but when, as in the creation, nature overflows the banks, when nullity itself springs up and runs over into a world, we are sure that the moving power was an infinite one.

Second, creation displays God’s infinite wisdom:

And as infinite power appears in the being of the creatures, so doth infinite wisdom in their orders and harmonies. The curious ideas and congruities, which before were latent in the Divine breast, are limned out upon outward and sensible things, standing in delicate order and proportion before our eyes. The world is a system of contraries made up into one body, in which disagreeing natures conspire together for the common good: each creature keeps its station, and all the parts of nature hang one upon another in a sweet confederacy.

Here Polhill makes note of natural agency:

Mere natural agents operate towards their ends, as if they were masters of reason, and hit their proper mark, as if they had a providence within them. Such things as these teach us to conclude with Zeno, that λόγος, reason, is the great artist which made all; and to break out with the Psalmist, O Lord, how manifold are thy works? in wisdom hast thou made them all.

Creation also shows God’s goodness, which is a thing even pagans could observe:

And as the two former attributes show forth themselves in the creatures, so also doth infinite goodness: all the drops and measures of goodness in the creature lead us to that infinite goodness which is the fountain and spring of all. Pherecydes the philosopher, said, that Jupiter first transformed himself into love, and then made the world; he, who is essential love, so framed it, that goodness appears every where: it shines in the sun, breathes in the air, flows in the sea, and springs in the earth; it is reason in men, sense in brutes, life in plants, and more than mere being in the least particles of matter.

There is a belief held by the Manichees – and if you would like a modern version think about the “force” in Star Wars in there are two equally powerful principles – that the world is ruled by two equally power gods. Polhill will have none of this and points goodness of God displayed in creation:

The Manichees, who would have had their name from pouring out of manna, did brook their true name from mania, that is, madness, in denying so excellent a world to be from the good God. The light in their eyes, breath in their nostrils, bread in their mouths, and all the good creatures round about them, were pregnant refutations of their senseless heresy: the prints of goodness everywhere extant in nature, shew the good hand which framed all.

And the capstone of creation: the creation of man in the image of God:

In the making of man in his original integrity, there was yet a greater manifestation. In other creatures there were the footsteps of God, but in man there was his image; a natural image in the very make of his soul, in the essential faculties of reason and will, upon which were derived more noble and divine prints of a Deity than upon all the world besides.

The moral uprightness of original man could see this display of God’s glory in all things:

And in that natural image there was seated a moral one, standing in that perfect knowledge and righteousness, in which more of the beauty and glory of God did shine forth, than in the very essence of the soul itself. His mind was a pure lamp of knowledge, without any mists or dark shades about it, his will a mirror of sanctity and rectitude without any spot in it; and, as an accession to the two former images, there was an image of God’s sovereignty in him, he was made Lord over the brutal world; without, the beasts were in perfect subjection to him: and within, the affections. Now to such an excellent creature, in his primitive glory, with a reason in its just ἀκμὴor full stature, the world was a very rare spectacle; the stamps and signatures upon the creatures looked very fresh to his pure paradisical eyes: from within and from without he was filled with illustrious rays of a Deity: he saw God everywhere: within, in the frame and divine furniture of his soul, and without, in the creatures and the impresses of goodness on them: he heard God everywhere; in his own breast in the voice of a clear unveiled reason, and abroad in the high language and dialect of nature. All was in splendour; the world shone as an outward temple, and his heart was in lustre like an oracle or inward sanctuary; everything in both spake to God’s honour. Such an excellent appearance as this was worthy of a Sabbath to celebrate the praises of the Creator in.

Why then do we not see God’s glory so plainly? What has made it difficult to see this expression of God:

But, alas! sin soon entered, and cast a vail upon this manifestation; on the world there fell a curse, which pressed it into groans and travailing pains of vanity; the earth had its thistles, the heavens their spots and malignant influences, all was out of tune, and jarring into confusion.

At this point, Polhill takes up a very contested issue: in what way precisely did the Fall effect man:

In man all the images of God more or less suffered; the orient reason was miserably clouded, the holy rectitude utterly lost: without, the beasts turned rebels; and within, the affections.

Polhill lists irrationality, behavior and affection: the mind, the heart and the hands were all disordered. At point, God then turned to a new means of disclosing himself to man. If man could not accurately read God’s goodness in creation, God would give a new disclosure, first in the law; then in Christ. In this section of the essay, Polhill is generally tracking the argument of the first five chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans: God was manifest in creation but human beings became disordered in their reason, affections and behavior. Paul then turns to the law as evidence of God’s working and of Christ who redeemed.

First, God makes a promise of the redemption

Nevertheless God, who is unwearied in goodness, would further manifest himself. Promises of the Messiah, and of grace in him, brake forth unto lapsed man; and as appendants thereof, there came forth sacrifices and other types to be figures of heavenly things, and a kind of Astrolabe to the pious Jews, that by earthly things they might ascend unto celestial.

This would be the first evangel in Genesis 3:15:

Genesis 3:15 (NASB95)

15            And I will put enmity

Between you and the woman,

And between your seed and her seed;

He shall bruise you on the head,

And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

The sacrifices and other types were being developed in even before Moses and the law; such as Abraham offering Isaac.  Next comes the law of Moses

Also the moral law was given forth by God: the spiritual tables being broken, material ones were made; holiness and righteousness being by the fall driven out of their proper place, the heart of man, were set forth in letters and words in the decalogue.

Notice how he explains the works of the law; it works in a way to undo the effects of the Fall in disordering reason, affections and actions. First, it restore reason:

This was so glorious a manifestation, that the Rabbins say that mountains of sense hang upon every iota of it. The Psalmist, in the 19th Psalm, having set forth how the sun and heavens shew forth God’s glory, raises up his discourse to the perfect law, which, as it enlightens the inward man

It directs actions:

, is a brighter luminary than the sun which shines to sense; and, as it comprises all duties within itself, is a nobler circle in morality than the heavens, which environ all other bodies, are in nature.

Then it restores right affection, being designed to bring about love of God and man:

“The commandment,” saith the Psalmist, “is exceeding broad,” (Ps. 119:96🙂 it is an ocean of sanctity and equity, such as human reason, the soul and measure of civil laws, cannot search to the bottom. Love to God and our neighbour is the centre of it; and as many right lines as may be drawn thither, so many are the duties of it. Whatsoever it be that makes up the just posture of man towards his Maker or fellow-creatures, is required therein.

It surpasses all human laws:

Human laws are δίκαια κινούμενα, moveable orders, such as turn about with time; but the moral law is by its intrinsical rectitude so immortalized, that, as long as God is God, and man, it cannot be altered.

Then the final revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth:

After all these manifestations, God revealed himself to the world in and by Jesus Christ; this is the last and greatest appearance of all.

Jesus was able to display God in a way that no mere creature could:

In the inferior creatures there is a footstep of God, but not his image; in man there is his image, but a finite, a created one: but Jesus Christ is the infinite uncreated image of God. The nearer any creature doth in its perfections approach to God, the more it reveals him; life shews forth more of him than mere being, sense than life, reason than all the rest: but, oh! what a spectacle hath faith, when a human nature shall be taken into the person of God, when the fulness of the Godhead shall dwell in a creature hypostatically!

This display of God in the Incarnation was to display the Creator and show his power, wisdom and goodness; just as the original creation had displayed God before Man’s sin marred his ability to see. Moreover, this display of God encompasses the written revelation of God by being a living word:

Here the eternal word which framed the world was made flesh; the infinite wisdom which lighted up reason in man assumed a humanity; never was God so in man, never was man so united to God, as in this wonderful dispensation; more glory breaks forth from hence, than from all the creation. We have here the centre of the promises, the substance of the types and shadows, the complement of the moral law, and holiness and righteousness, not in letters and syllables, but living, breathing, walking, practically exemplified in the human nature of Jesus Christ.


A Biblical Counseling Ministry in a Local Church: A Core Function


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(These are notes for the final session of a Biblical Counseling conference which will be held in August in Chile. The previous posts for this conference are found here and here).

At this point, I you want to think more broadly about a biblical counseling ministry. Up until this point, we have been discussing biblical counseling as a response to a crisis. The person who comes to biblical counseling is someone who is suffering a significant trouble; whether a significant circumstance like a difficult marriage; or a significant sin which has led to trouble. This leads us to think that biblical counseling is unique in life of the church; it is somehow detached from the normal functioning of the church.

All that we have done so far and all that we will do next week may seem to support that idea: here you are going through serious sustained training on some very difficult subjects. I just spent a session telling you to be very careful whom you choose to be a counselor in your church.

At this point I want to adjust your thinking slightly. Biblical counseling is specialized, and it is part of the core function of a church.

Matthew 28 records the resurrection of our Lord. That chapter ends with the Lord’s instruction to the Church:

Matthew 28:18–20 (NASB95)

18        And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

19        “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

20        teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”


The main verb in that sentence is to “make disciples”. We will do this as we go out into the world. We will baptize them and teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded. That is the job of the church. We are given no other commission, beyond making disciples of Christ.

So let’s turn the question around: We need to ask if Biblical Counseling fits into that job description for the Church. Is Biblical Counseling the work of making disciples? If the answer is “no”, then it has no place in the church. Yes, it might be a good work, like caring for the poor or bringing blankets to the cold.

On the other hand, if biblical counseling is included within the scope of making disciples, then it is a necessary function of the church.

So let’s consider what it means to give Biblical counsel. It simply means to tell someone what the Bible says about their circumstance. It means to teach someone what Christ has said. Moreover, as Jay Adams noted it includes giving instruction. Biblical Counseling is precisely the act of teaching one to obey all that Christ has said.

When the street evangelist speaks to someone on the corner about Christ tells them of sin and repentance, they are giving counsel from the Bible. When parent tells a child the importance of not lying or working diligently as onto the Lord, the parent is giving biblical counsel. When a pastor opens the Bible on Sunday morning and explains the text and applies the text, the pastor is giving biblical counsel.

In an essay in from Scripture and Counseling, Kevin DeYoung and Pat Quinn write:

The ministry of the preacher and the ministry of the counselor are not different kinds of ministry but rather the same ministry given in different settings.

When a pastor sits with dear saint who is on her death bed, and the pastor sets her gaze upon Christ; the pastor is giving biblical counsel.

What you need to understand is that front to back, beginning to end, the duty of the Church is to give biblical counsel. That counsel starts with evangelism, leads them to baptism, to the Lord’s Supper, to knowledge of how to renounce ungodliness, to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present evil age and to live in earnest expectation of the Lord’s return. That is all biblical counsel.

 Baptizing Them.

We fit the counsel to the person and the circumstance. The street evangelist does not debate the details of difficult doctrine involving last things or the order of the decrees of God. His message is fit to the circumstance: sin and repentance. We do not teach four-year-olds like we teach college students.

Some questions are very difficult. We refer tricky theology questions to the pastor. We send young mothers to older mothers to learn from their experience.

Already in all of your churches, you have made some divisions in the way in which discipleship instruction is taking place.

When we bring in biblical counseling to the congregation, we are doing nothing new. Rather, we are doing what we should always be doing: teaching people to observe all that Christ has commanded.

We are merely saying that we have too often restricted Christ’s counsel. We have said that Scripture has something to say about repentance, but nothing to say about depression, anxiety, sorrow, loneliness, shame, conflict, laborious work, fear. We are saying that Scripture has nothing to say about all the troubles which came into the world with sin; well, nothing other than you need to leave the world.

When we restrict the scope of the Scripture’s counsel, the people in our congregation are going to get counsel. However, they are going to get it from someone other than the Lord.

I want you to imagine that your congregation has many well-trained counselors who know how to speak of difficult marriage problems. They can speak with sympathy and wisdom from the Scripture and give hope to trouble marriages.

I want you to imagine that your church once a week gives free marriage counseling to people in your area: unbelievers who are desperate for something that will work. Your counselor sits down with this frightened desperate couple and explains that their troubles with communication and selfishness and anger all have a cause: human beings don’t work correctly because we are estranged from the source of the one who speaks with perfect clarity, the God who loves and gives from an endless fountain of grace, that the love of the perfect God drives out fear and calls us in as children.

I want you to imagine that you have unbelievers who come to your church to hear the hope of the Gospel because the pain of sin has become too great to bear. When unbelievers hear sin, they often think you simply don’t like them. But when their pain is great and you explain that sin is not your dislike of them, but rather the cause of their sorrow; that sin is irrationality that ruins human life; and that there is an answer to that sin: an answer which will relieve of us the guilt and power of sin and that we can learn to live differently; when you can say that in a way that the one who is now lost can understand: you are putting the Gospel to work.

As Dr. Baker said, If unbeliever think you can help them with their marriage, they will line up to hear the Gospel.

And so these people who had “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), are brought into the Church. They are baptized. They entered into membership; and now comes the task of teaching them to observe all that Christ as commanded.

Teach them to Observe

Imagine a brand-new Christian who comes to your church. While this person is in true faith, they are far from mature. They need to be taught and admonished so that they may be presented complete in Christ. Col. 1:28. Certainly the normal work of the Church, preaching, teaching, singing, praying, receiving the Lord’s Supper in the assembly of believers will have a real and profound affect of people.

But two hours on Sunday when weighed against the entire pressure of the world for all of the other hours of the day and week will hamper our growth. Moreover, it is a truncated understanding of Christianity. There is an entire aspect of the life of a Christian which goes beyond Sunday.

Please do not hear that I am in any manner making light of Sunday worship: it is the apex of our week. But if try to box our Christian life into just that time, we fail to honor the life of the Church:

Colossians 3:16 (NASB95)

  16      Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms andhymns andspiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

The work of teaching and admonishing is a work of everyone to everyone. The Christian life is public worship but is also life together. In Acts 2 it describes the life of the very earliest Church:


Acts 2:42–47 (NASB95)

            42        They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

            43       Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.

            44        And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;

            45        and they beganselling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

            46        Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,

            47        praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Without going through the elements of that passage, you can see that there was substantial life together.

Now let’s think again about discipleship: to be discipled is to be trained to a manner of life. Everything in your life and everyone with whom you interact is busy discipling you. You are discipling others.

There is a meaning which takes place when you try to limit one’s Christian life to merely Sunday morning. That Sunday-only Christianity means something different than a Christianity which entails one’s entire life.

One of the reasons that we have so much “crisis counseling” in the Christian church is due to the fact that we are not doing a better job discipling the people within the church.

Here is an example: When a couple comes in for marriage counseling, you will work them through what the Scripture teaches about marriage. A faithful pastor in the pulpit who is working through the Scripture will preach through the Gospel of Mark and have maybe a sermon or two which even touches on marriage.

The failure there is not because the pastor has failed, it is because the congregation has failed:

Titus 2:3–5 (NASB95)

            3          Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,

            4          so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,

            5          to besensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

Did you hear that? The Holy Spirit has delegated to the older women in the congregation the task of teaching the younger women the work of being a wife and mother. How many marriages would be in better shape today in our churches if the older women were continuously teaching the younger women godliness in marriage and motherhood?

But instead, we wait until there is a crisis and the wreck of a marriage shows up in need of help.

Imagine a young husband who comes to you because he has hurt his wife by not loving and caring for her? What if there had been a man in your congregation who had been weekly meeting with this man, asking him questions about his marriage (and other things)? What if the questions had revealed two years ago that the marriage was suffering? How much easier would it have been to help this family two years ago, when the problems were less, when the pain was less, when the bad habits were not so firmly put into place?

What I want you to see is that giving counsel from the Bible is something which needs to be built into the fabric of our church, so that the work of discipleship is done.

Where then is the pastor in this process?

Ephesians 4:11–16 (NASB95)

  11      And He gave some asapostles, and some asprophets, and some asevangelists, and some aspastors and teachers,

  12      for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

  13      until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

  14      As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;

  15      but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspectsinto Him who is the head, evenChrist,

  16      from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

Look at verse 12: the head teachers in the church have the job of equipping others for ministry. Those who have the most knowledge are to pass on that knowledge to others in the church.

Those others, under the direction of their pastors, are busy equipping still others: the work of the ministry is spread out through the church.

There are people in the church who are masters at caring physically for others. Those people must know how needs help and how to give that help. Some are especially gifted at hospitality. Others at teaching. Some at preaching. Some are more proficient at evangelism. Some people are quite good at answering questions. There are mothers and fathers to help give wisdom. There are employers who can help employees learn how to work well; and employees who can help employers learn to be not abusive or unfairly demanding.

And now I want to return to our question of training counselors. Not every person in the congregation needs to be a preacher; not every person needs to be fully trained to handle depression and severe anxiety. Some people need to know how to ask questions, give encouragement, and provide basic instruction about the daily life of a Christian.

Think of the entire church as all having a role in the work of discipleship. You can think of the training you give in giving biblical counsel as something which moves from the most general and basic to the most particular and difficult.

If you have small groups, you train the small group leaders in a level of counseling so that they can give accurate instruction on daily life, know how ask questions and also know when they come across a marriage which needs substantial help.

When I oversaw a counseling ministry in a church, I learned that there were people who were especially fit for various tasks. Some people needed a great deal of intense structure. Some young men needed very direct rebuke and unquestioning follow-through. Others were discouraged and needed help and encouragement and support. I had people in the congregation who were fit for all sorts of tasks.

Think of your congregation as an army and the battle being, the World, the Flesh and Devil. The Holy Spirit has given you many, many weapons in this fight: all of the people in your congregation. And now think of how few weapons we use. Do we really deploy our congregations to serve in building up the body of Christ?

In most congregations, very few people do most of the work. And since the needs are great, we do not always use people to the best of their gifts. Imagine you have a tremendous evangelist whom you are using to keep the church clean. There is nothing wrong with cleaning the church; it must be done. The way we use the misuse the people in our church is sort of like using a racecar to pull a plow across a field. It might work, but it is not the best way to use the racecar.

Counseling training is more than just training a counselor who looks exactly like you. Your congregation has been called to be a counseling center: a place where people are taught to observe all that Christ has commanded.

And when the entire congregation is busy in this work, it frees up those who have been fully trained to be able to help unbelievers and believers at other churches. You create capacity for everyone to work at their full potential.

This model also takes enormous burdens off of the church leaders so that they can do their work. Too often we expect the pastors to do all of the visiting and preaching and counseling and caring and evangelism. When we do this, we crush our pastors under enormous burdens.

Now this is only introducing you to this idea: it is not a full-fledged plan with all of the details.


[ask for questions]


A Summary of the Fear of God


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Jerry Bridges explains godliness as arising from devotion to God:

It is impossible to build a Christian behavior pattern without the foundation of a devotion to God.  The practice of godliness is first of all the cultivation of a relationship with God, and from this the cultivation of a life that is pleasing to God. Our concept of God and our relationship with Him determine our conduct.

Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1983), 17. That devotion entails three elements, “We have already seen that devotion to God consists of three essential elements: the fear of God, the love of God, and the desire for God.” The fear of God will regulate our conduct:

Not only will a right concept of the fear of God cause us to worship God aright, it will also regulate our conduct. As John Murray says, “What or whom we worship determines our behavior.”4The Reverend Albert N. Martin has said that the essential ingredients of the fear of God are (1) correct concepts of the character of God, (2) a pervasive sense of the presence of God, and (3) a constant awareness of our obligation to God.

 Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1983), 22–23. Thomas Watson makes a similar point in A Body of Divinity:

Labour to get the fear of God into your hearts, Prov. 16:6., “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” As the banks keep out the water, so the fear of the Lord keeps out uncleanness. Such as want the fear of God, want the bridle that should check them from sin. How did Joseph keep from his mistress’s temptation? The fear of God pulled him back, Gen. 39:9., “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” St. Bernard calls holy fear, janitor animæ,—‘the door-keeper of the soul.’ As a nobleman’s porter stands at the door, and keeps out vagrants, so the fear of God stands and keeps out all sinful temptations from entering.

Thomas Watson, The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 323.

In his 71st sermon on Psalm 119, Thomas Manton explains in detail how the fear of God leads to the right manner of life:

Doct. 1. The fear of God is the grand principle of obedience: Deut. 5:29, ‘Oh, that there were such an heart within them, that they would fear me and feep my commandments always.’ Here consider—
1. What is the fear of God.
2. What influence it hath upon obedience.
1. What is the fear of God? There is a twofold fear of God—servile and filial.
[1.] Servile, by which a man feareth God and hateth him, as a slave feareth his cruel master, whom he could wish dead, and himself rid of his service, and obeyeth by mere compulsion and constraint. Thus the wicked fear God because they have drawn an ill picture of him in their minds: Mat. 25:24, 25, ‘I knew thou wast a hard man, and I was afraid.’ They perform only a little unwilling and unpleasing service, and as little as they can, because of their ill conceit of God. So Adam feared God after his sin when he ran away from him, Gen. 3:10. Yea, so the devils fear God, and rebel against him: James 2:19, ‘The devils also believe and tremble.’ This fear hath torment in it to the creature, and hatred of God, because by the fear of his curse and the flames of hell he seeketh to drive them from sin.
[2.] Filial fear, as children fear to offend their dear parents; and thus the godly do so fear God, that they do also love him, and obey him, and cleave to him, and this preserveth us in our duty: Jer. 32:40, ‘I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me.’ This is a necessary frame of heart for all those that would observe and obey God. This fear is twofold:—
(1.) The fear of reverence.
(2.) The fear of caution.
(1.) The fear of reverence, when the soul is deeply possessed with a sense of God’s majesty and goodness, that it dareth not offend him. His greatness and majesty hath an influence upon this fear. ‘Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, who have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it?’ Jer. 5:22. His goodness and mercy: Hosea 3:5, ‘They shall fear the Lord, and his goodness;’ Jer. 10:6, 7, ‘There is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might: who would not fear thee, O king of nations?’ Both together engage us to live always as in his eye and presence, and in the obedience of his holy will, studying to please him in all things.
(2.) The fear of caution is also called the fear of God, when we carry on the business of salvation with all possible solicitude and care. For it is no easy thing to please God and save our souls: Phil. 2:12, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ In the time of our sojourning here we meet with many temptations; baits without are many, and the flesh within us is importunate to be pleased, and our account at the end of the journey is very exact: 1 Peter 1:17, ‘And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.’ A false heart is apt to betray us, and the entertainments of sense to entice and corrupt us, and we are assaulted on every side, and salvation and eternal happiness is the thing in chase and pursuit; if we come short of it we are undone for ever: Heb. 4:1, ‘Having a promise of rest left with us, let us fear lest we come short of it.’ There is no mending errors in the other world; there we shall be convinced of our mistakes to our confusion, but not to our conversion and salvation.
2. The influence it hath upon keeping God’s precepts.
[1.] In general, this is one demonstration of it, that the most eminent servants of God have been commended for their fear of God: Job, chap. 1:1, is said to be ‘a man perfect and upright, one that feared God, and eschewed evil.’ He had a true godliness, or a filial awe of God, which kept him from sin, and the temptations whereby it might insinuate itself into his soul. So Obadiah, Ahab’s steward, is described to be a man ‘that feared God greatly,’ 1 Kings 18:3; and of one Hananiah it is said, Neh. 7:2, that ‘he feared God greatly, above many others.’ Men are more holy as the fear of God doth more prevail in their hearts, their tenderness both in avoiding and repenting of sin increaseth according as they entertain the awe and fear of God in their hearts, and here is the rise and fountain of all circumspect walking. As the stream is dried up that wanteth a fountain, so godliness ceaseth as the fear of God abateth.
[2.] More particularly.
(1.) It is the great pull-back and constant preservative of the soul against sin, as the beasts are contained in their subjection and obedience to man by the fear that is upon them: Gen. 7:2, ‘The dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, that they shall not hurt you;’ so the fear of God is upon us: Exod. 20:20, ‘God is come to prove you, that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.’ Joseph is an instance: Gen. 39:9, ‘How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ Abraham could promise himself little security in a place where no fear of God was: Gen. 20:11, ‘I thought surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they will slay me for my wife’s sake.’ Therefore, Prov. 23:17, ‘Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.’
(2.) It is the great excitement to obedience.
(1st.) Duties of religion will not reverently and seriously be performed unless there be a deep awe of God upon our souls: ‘God will be sanctified in all that draw nigh unto him,’ Lev. 10:3. Now, what is it to sanctify God in our hearts, but to fear his majesty and greatness and goodness? Isa. 8:13, ‘Sanctify the Lord God of hosts in your hearts, and make him your fear.’ Therefore David desireth God to call in his straggling thoughts and scattered affections: Ps. 86:11, ‘Unite my heart to the fear of thy name;’ so the serious worshippers are described to be those that ‘desire to fear his name,’ Neh. 1:11.
(2d.) Duties towards men will not be regarded in all times and places, unless the fear of God bear rule in our hearts; as servants, when their masters are absent, neglect their work: Col. 3:22, ‘Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God.’ A Christian is alike everywhere, because God is alike everywhere. He that feareth God needeth no other theatre than his own conscience, nor other spectators than God and his holy angels. So to hinder us from contriving mischief in secret, when others are not aware of it: Lev. 19:14, ‘Thou shalt not curse the deaf man, nor lay a stumbling-block before the blind, but shalt fear the Lord thy God.’ The deaf hear not, the blind seeth not; but God seeth and heareth, and that is enough to a gracious heart to bridle us when it is in our power to hurt others; as Joseph assureth his brethren he would be just to them, ‘for I fear God,’ Gen. 42:18. Nehemiah did not convert the public treasures to his private use: Neh. 5:15, ‘So did not I, for I fear God.’ This grace, when it is hazardous to be faithful to men, makes us to slight the danger: Exod. 1:17, ‘The midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them;’ that kept them from obeying that cruel edict, to their own hazard. Neither hope of gain nor fear of loss can prevail where men fear God.
(3d.) It breedeth zeal and diligence in the great and general business of our salvation, and maketh us more careful to approve ourselves unto God in our whole course, that we may be accepted of him: 2 Cor. 7:1, ‘Perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’ God is a great God, and will not be put off with anything, or served with a little religiousness by the by, but with more than ordinary care and zeal and diligence. Now, what inclineth us to this but the fear of God, or a reverence of his majesty and goodness? So Phil. 2:12, let us ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling.’ Salvation is not to be looked after between sleeping and waking; no, it requireth our greatest attention, as having a sense of the weightiness of the work upon our hearts.

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 7 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 172–174.

But there is a fear of God which does not profit. It is a slavish fear of God which keeps one apart from God. When we see God’s greatness and our sin, it can result in despair which does not lead to repentance, “That sorrow for sin that keeps the soul from looking towards the mercy-seat, and that keeps Christ and the soul asunder, or that shall render the soul unfit for the communion of saints, is a sinful sorrow.” Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 10–11.

The difference lies in the nature of one’s relationship to God; am I concerned that I will lose God, or will I will be punished. Thomas Watson writes in the Great Gain of Godliness, “God is so great that teh Christian is afraid of displeasing him, and so good that he is afraid of losing him.” Or as Edwards writes:

277. FEAR OF GOD. Herein is the difference between a godly fear, or the fear of a godly man, and the fear of a sinner: the one fears the effects of God’s displeasure, the other fears his displeasure itself.

Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. A–z, Aa–zz, 1–500), ed. Thomas A. Schafer and Harry S. Stout, Corrected Edition., vol. 13, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002), 376.

Thomas Boston explains this the nature of the slavish fear, the fear which does not lead to godliness:

II. An use of exhortation, in several branches.

1. Fear the Lord; get and entertain a holy fear of God in your spirits. The profane and licentious lives of some, the carnal and loose hearts of others, proclaim a general want of this, Psalm 36:1, “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.” but all fear of God is not a holy fear pleasing to God. There is a servile fear, and a filial fear. Not to the former, but to the latter, I exhort you.

Herewith some various difficulties and inquiries may arise, which we shall endeavour to answer, such as,

1. When is the fear of God only slavish? In answer to this-take the following observations: The fear of God is only slavish,

(1.) When it ariseth only from the consideration of God’s wrath as a just judge. This fear of God is to be found in the unconverted; they have the spirit of bondage again to fear, Rom. 8:15; yea, in the devils, they believe and tremble, Jam. 2:19; and if the conscience once be awakened, though the heart be not sanctified, this fear cannot miss to take place. It is a natural passion flowing from self-love and a sight of danger, which is so much the more vehement, in proportion as the danger apprehended is greater or smaller! nearer or more distant. One under this fear, fears God as the slave fears his master, because of the whip, which he is afraid of being lashed; he abstains from sin, not out of hatred of it, but because of the wrath of God annexed to it. An apprehension of God’s heavy hand on him here, or of hell and damnation hereafter, is the predominant motive of his fear of God, whom he fears only as an incensed Judge, and his powerful enemy.

(2.) When it checks or kills the love of God. There is a fear opposite to the love of God, which by this very character is discovered to be base and servile: 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect lore casteth out fear, because fear hath torment.” There is a necessary connection betwixt true fear and love, the one cannot be without the other; they are both links of the same chain of grace, which the Holy Spirit gives those whom he sanctifies; but slavish fear fills the heart with hard thoughts of God, and the more it prevails, the farther is the soul from the love of God.

(3.) When it drives the sinner away from God. Under its influence, Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God, and Cain went out from his presence. All the graces of the Spirit, as they come from the Lord, so they carry the sinner back to him; so no doubt it is an ungracious fear of God that frights the sinner away from him; for they that seek and return to him, will fear him and his righteousness. This fear hath this effect in different degrees, and the higher the worse:—It takes heart and hand from persons in their approaches to God, 1 John 4:18, quoted already; it kills them before the Lord, knocks all confidence and hope in God on the head, so that their hearts at duty are like Nabal’s—dying within them, and become as a stone; so when they should run for their life, it cuts the sinews of their endeavours; when they would wrestle for the blessing, it makes their knees feeble, and their hands hang down.—It makes them first averse to duty, and then give up with it; they deal with God as one with his avowed enemy, into whose presence he will not come, Gen. 3:8. The people of God have sometimes had a touch of this, 2 Sam. 6:9, “And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, How shall the ark of the Lord come unto me? Though it never prevails with them to extinguish love, yet sometimes a believer is like a faulty child, who, instead of humbling himself before his parents, hides himself in some corner, and is so frighted, that he dare not come in, and look the parent in the face; but this is a most dangerous case, especially if it lasts long.—In a word, it makes them run to physicians of no value. For what is more natural than that men who are frightened from God under apprehended danger, run to some other quarter, and that to their own ruin, Rev. 6:16, “And said to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”

2. What is to be thought of this slavish fear of God? To this I answer, there is something good in it, and something evil.

(1.) There is something good in it, namely, the fear of God’s wrath for sin, which lies unpardoned on the guilty sinner or which the sinner may be inclined to commit: Jam. 2:19, “Thou belie vest that there is one God, thou dost well.” To cast off fear of the wrath of God, and the terrible punishments which he has annexed to sin; is a pitch of wickedness which but the very worst of men arrive at. The fear of God’s wrath against sin, and that duly influential too, is recommended to us by Christ himself, Luke 12:5, “Fear him,” says he, “which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell, yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” It is also recommended by the example of the very best of saints, Job 31:23, “For destruction from God was a terror unto me;” and says David, “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments,” Psalm 119:120. And the law of God is not fenced with terrors to be disregarded, but to awe men’s spirits. But,

(2.) There is something evil in it, yea, much evil in it, if we consider,—The scrimpness and narrowness of its spring. Why should the fear of God be confined to spring up from his wrath against sin only or chiefly, since there are so many other perfections of God, which may give rise-to the fear of him, which are disregarded by this means? It casts a vail of disrespect on his holiness, goodness, and hatred of sin, on his relations of Creator, Preserver, Father, Supreme Lord, and Governor of the world.—The horrible effects and tendency thereof, as it rises only from this spring, and overflows all the banks of godly fear. Fear of God, even of his wrath, is good, but the excess of it is very bad. Fire and water are both good and necessary, but very bad when the one burns man, and the other drowns him. Hence, since what is acceptable in the sight of God is perfect in parts, though not in degrees, is good in the manner as well as matter, this fear is not what he takes pleasure in, nay, it is displeasing to him, and is the sin of those who hear the gospel, whose fear ought to be extended according to the revelation made to them. And thus one may be displeasing to himself, to those about him, and to God also; and if they attain to no other fear of God, what they fear will probably come upon them. Nevertheless, this fear, kept within bounds, may, by the Spirit, be made the means to bring the sinner to the Lord in his covenant. For the fear of God’s wrath is a good thing in itself, Rom. 8:15; it serves to rouse the sinner out of his security, to make him sensible of his danger, and to seek for relief: Psalm 9:20,” Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations may know themselves to be but men.” And therefore the law and its threatening, as a red flag, are displayed in the sight of secure sinners, that they may be roused to flee from the wrath to come.

To this there may be offered this objection, The fear of the Lord’s wrath can make but an unsound closing with the Lord in his covenant. Answ. That is very true, if there be nothing more. But fear of God’s wrath not only may, but ordinarily, if not always does, begin the work which love crowns. Fear brings men to the gates of the city of refuge, and when they are there, love is kindled, and makes them press forward. Fear brings the poor captive woman to confer with the conqueror about the match; but thereby love is kindled, and faith makes the match. It works, however, very differently at other times; for Satan and oar corrupt hearts are ready to drive forward this fear of God’s wrath to exceed all bounds; and no wonder, for when it has got over the boundaries, it makes fearful havoc in the soul’s case, like a consuming fire, deadening all good motions towards God, and quickening evil ones, to the dishonour of God, and one’s own torment; and no case out of hell is liker hell than this, both in respect of sin and misery. But when the Spirit of God has a saving work in view, he can easily make the spirit of bondage subservient to the spirit of adoption.

3. How should one manage in the case of a slavish fear of God’s wrath? Here I answer, We had need to be Well guided, for the losing or winning of the soul depends upon it. For your assistance I offer the following directions:—

(1.) Labour to clear the grounds of your fear of God’s wrath, by a rational inquiry and discovery. There are, even of these fears, some that do really proceed from a bodily distemper vitiating the Imagination, namely, from melancholy, and the like; and in this case, your trouble rises and falls according to the disposition of your bodies, but not according to the comfort or terror you receive from God’s word, as it is in truly spiritual troubles. Thus it often comes on, and goes off, they know not how; shewing the first wound to be in their head, not in their conscience. Of this sort was the evil spirit Saul was troubled with, under which he got ease by music, not by his Bible. In this case, as well as others, it would be of use to consider the real grounds of fear from the Lord’s word, and the consideration of one’s own state or case, and so to turn it as much as may be into solid fears upon plain and evident reasons for it. This would be a step to the salvation of the soul. But, alas! it is sad to think of tormenting fear kept up on we know not what grounds, and which can produce no good; while in the meantime people will not be at pains to enquire into the real evidences of their soul’s hazard, the sinfulness of their state, heart, and life. Ask, then, yourselves, what real ground there is from the Lord’s word for this fear of yours.

(2.) Beware of casting off the fear, dread, and awe of the wrath of God against sin: Job 15:4, “Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God.” This is the issue of some people’s fears, who, one way or other, get their necks from under the yoke, and grow more stupid, fearless, and profane, than even by the just judgment of God. It is true, that fear is not enough; but there is something to be added, and yet not this fear cast away. If thou be brought into a state of sonship to God, the dread of God’s wrath against sin will come along with you, though it will be no more slavish; as if a slave were made his master’s son by adoption, he would still fear his anger, though not slavishly as before. But be one’s state what it will, better be God’s slave, fearing his wrath only, than the devil’s freeman, casting off the fear of God altogether. There is less ill in the former than in the latter. Yea,

(3.) Cast not off the fear of that wrath, even its overtaking you, till such time as thy soul be brought away freely to Jesus Christ: Hos. 5:8, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence; in their affliction they will seek me early.” Thou hast no warrant to cast it off sooner, for certainly wrath is pursuing thee, till thou be within the gates of the city of refuge; and to be without fear of that wrath that is still advancing on a person, is ruining. Indeed, as soon as thou hast sincerely come to Christ in his covenant, though the fear of wrath against sin is never to be laid by, yet then thou mayest and oughtest to cast off the fear of vindictive wrath overtaking thee: “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” Rom. 8:1.

(4.) Look not always on an absolute God, for surely that can produce no fear of God but a slavish one; but look on God in Christ as the trysting-place himself has set, for receiving the addresses of the guilty on a throne of grace: 2 Cor. 5:19, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” This is the way to repress and curb the horrible effects of slavish fear, to make love to God, faith, and hope, spring up in the soul, and so mould that fear of thine into filial fear and reverence. In a God out of Christ thou canst discern nothing but inflexible justice, and the utmost terror; and from his throne of unvailed majesty, hear nothing but terrible voices, thunders, and earthquakes. But in a God in Christ thou mayest behold bowels of mercy, and flowing compassions; and from the throne of grace hear the still small voice of mercy and peace, Isa. 35:3, 4.

(5.) At what time soever you find the fear of God’s wrath begin to choke the love of God in your hearts, or to drive you away from him in any way, check and curb that fear resolutely, let it not proceed, though you were in the time under the most atrocious sin: Psalm 65:3, “Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou wilt purge them away.” For then you are in the march between God’s ground and the devil’s; and there is a wind from hell, blowing up the fire of fear, that will consume you, if it be not quenched; for the separation of the soul from God, and its going away from him, can in no case fail to be of a raining nature: and the more that it increases with a person, his heart will be the more hardened, and he will be set the farther off from repentance.

(6.) Greedily embrace any gleam of hope from the Lord’s own word, and hang by it. Ye should do like Benhadad’s servants, and say, We have heard that the king of Israel is a merciful king, and we hope he will save us, 1 Kings 20:31. The apostle calls hope the Christian’s head-piece, 1 Thess. 5:8, not to be thrown away in a time of danger.

Lastly, Come away resolutely to the Lord Jesus, lay hold on him in the gospel-offer, and consent to the covenant: Heb. 7:25, “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.” Lay hold on the horns of this our altar, and you shall not die; he will swallow up death in victory, Isa. 25:8. Flee into this city of refuge; the avenger shall not overtake thee. Do as the lepers of Samaria did, reasoned with themselves, and went to the camp, where meat was to be found. Thou art like to sink in a sea of wrath, Jesus holds out his hand to draw thee ashore. Thou art afraid, perhaps, it is not to thee, it is vain to try; but know that it is the hand that must take thee out, or thou art a gone man; neglecting to take hold, thou art ruined; otherwise, thou canst be but ruined.

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sixty-Six Sermons, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 9 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1851), 77–82.

And finally a series of quotations from Thomas Watson on the fear of God:

Fear of God is a leading grace: it is the first seed God sows in the heart. When a Christian can say little of faith, and perhaps nothing of assurance, yet he dares not deny, but he fears God. God is so great that he is afraid of displeasing him, and so good that he is afraid of losing him. “Fear thou God.”

The fear of the Christian is not servile, but filial. There is a great difference between fearing God, and being afraid of God. The godly fear God, as a dutiful and loving son fears his father; but the wicked are afraid of him, as a prisoner is of his judge.
Fear and love are best in conjunction. Love is the sails to speed the soul’s motion; and fear is the ballast to keep it steady in religion.

The fear of God is mingled with faith—“By faith Noah moved with fear.” Faith keepeth the heart cheerful: fear keepeth the heart serene. Faith keepeth the heart from despair; fear keepeth it from presumption.

The fear of God is mingled with prudence. He who fears God hath the serpent’s eye in the dove’s head: he foresees and avoids the rocks which others are lost upon. Although Divine fear doth not make a Christian cowardly, it makes him cautious. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself.”

The fear of God is a Christian’s safety; nothing can in reality hurt him. Plunder him of his money, he carries about him a treasure of which he cannot be despoiled. “The fear of the Lord is his treasure.” Cast him into bonds, yet he is free; kill his body, he shall rise again. He who hath on the breastplate of God’s fear, may be shot at, but cannot be shot through.

The fear of God is mingled with hope. “The eyes of the Lord are upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy.” Fear is to hope, as oil is to the lamp: it keeps it burning. The more we fear God’s justice, the more we may hope in his mercy.
Faith stands sentinel in the soul, and is ever on the watch-tower; fear causeth circumspection. He who walks in fear, treads warily. Faith induces prayer, and prayer engageth the help of Heaven.

The fear of God is a great purifier—“The fear of the Lord is clean.” In its own nature it is pure; in its operation it is effective. The heart is the “temple of God;” and holy fear sweeps and purifies this temple, that it be not defiled.

The fear of God promotes spiritual joy; it is the morning star which ushers in the sunlight of comfort. Walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, God mingles joy with fear, that fear may not be slavish.

The fear of God is an antidote against apostacy—“I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me:”—I will so love them that I will not depart from them, and they shall so fear me that they will not depart from me.

The fear of God induces obedience. Luther said, “I would rather obey God than work miracles.” A heathen, exercising much cruelty to a Christian, asked him, in scorn, what great miracle his Master, Jesus Christ, ever did. The Christian replied, “This miracle—that, although you use me thus, I can forgive you.”

The fear of God makes a little to be sweet:—“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord.” It is because that little is sweetened with God’s love,—that little is a pledge of more:—that little oil in the cruse is but an earnest of that joy and bliss which the soul shall have in heaven. The crumbs which fell to the lot of Lazarus were sweeter than the banquet was to the rich man. The handful of meal, with God’s benediction, is better than all unsanctified riches.

Sincere love and holy fear go hand in hand; fear springs from love lest God’s favour should be lost by sin.

Thomas Watson, Puritan Gems; Or, Wise and Holy Sayings of the Rev. Thomas Watson, A.M., ed. John Adey, Second Thousand. (London: J. Snow, and Ward and Co.; Nisbet and Co.; E. F. Gooch, 1850), 51–55.



A Biblical Counseling Ministry in a Local Church: Whom to Train


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(More notes for an upcoming conference on establishing a biblical counseling ministry in a local church; all notes subject to revision):

Whom Should you Choose to Train

The Church is an organic unity from the time of the Apostles until the present. We are here today because others passed along the faith. We learn how to minister from those who have ministered. We have learned preaching from those who preached.

Counseling is learned from those who counsel.  This is the nature of discipleship: teaching someone else what we know.

As you know, counseling is something which cannot be learned in an afternoon. Not only must one be taught formally – such as we are doing here – one must also learn from experience. It is one thing to know biblical principles, such as all things work together for good. Rom. 8:28 It is quite another to realize that the good described in 8:29 is to be conformed to the image of Christ, who was also known as a “man of sorrow and acquainted with grief”. Is. 53:3. It takes born of experience to know when to “Alegrense on los que estan alegres, lloren con los que lloran” Rom. 12:15. It takes experience to know when to rebuke, encourage, support. 1 Thes. 5:14.

The only way such wisdom can be gained is from experience. And such experience can only be gained in the counseling relationship.

This means that as soon as you begin to counsel is good to have other whom you are beginning to train. The sooner someone is learning to counsel; the sooner they will be able to counsel without your help.

Before I go on, I know at one of you is thinking: I don’t know enough to be able to train anyone else to counsel.

Let’s think about that: First, you at least know more than the one who is being trained. Second, there is no better way to come to understand a topic than to teach it.  The act of restating what you have learned will cause you to learn that subject better than you could have ever known it on your own.

Third, it is true you that very few if any of you have had thousands of hours of pastoral counseling experience. That can only come with time. Another person in the counseling room will be a benefit to you and to the fellow Christian you are trying to help.

You’ll make mistakes: you will misunderstand statements, you will speak when you should have been silent, and will be silent when you needed to speak. You will miss important details, and will misapply a biblical principle. You will make mistakes; that is unavoidable. Another person in the counseling room will be able to see situations and mistakes which you will miss.

Another person counseling with you will help you.  None of us will ever come to the point that we will never error. We can always do better.

Therefore, bringing someone else into training with you to counsel should begin as soon as possible. The question is not when should you start training someone else: the question is who should you train, and how much training do they need?

Again: there are two separate questions: Whom should you train? How much training does this other person need?  There are actually levels of counseling and levels of training. You here are aiming for the highest levels of training: the work which is done by pastors and elders, and the most highly trained women in the church. Not everyone in your congregation needs to know how to respond to threats of suicide or how to show care to someone who has suffered serious abuse.  We will talk about the level of training question in the end.

For right now, our question is Whom should you train?

Greg Cook and Jack Delk (Launching a Biblical Counseling Ministry) explain

A biblical counseling ministry is not a “y’all come” [that is an American expression which means all of you come over, it is a very friendly and informal phrase] ministry. There should be a careful selection and screening process for bringing in potential new counselors…A lay-led counseling ministry tends to attract people with mixed motive and agendas as well as wolves in sheep’s clothing (1 Tim. 5:3; Thess. 3:11). [220]

It is actually easier to train the right, willing person than it is to select the right person.


Someone who is willing:

In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul gives qualifications for an overseer. He begins with the statement that if someone desires the work of an overseer. The translators render this verb in various ways, but the word at heart means to strive for something, to want something.

And while a counselor is not necessarily an elder or overseer, the principle remains the same. It is a great deal of work to become and be a counselor. There are many hours of training and then experience, and then training. And all of the work is for purpose of doing work. Hard, often painful, work.

If someone does not desire the work, they will never complete the work.


But not everyone one who is willing

And here is where the difficult part comes: selectivity. You must choose one person and not another. You must only choose people are who are willing, who desire the work. But you must not choose everyone who desires the work. And unfortunately, counseling seems to attract many people who should not be in the position as counselor.

Often these are people who think they personally have a great deal of wisdom. They know very much how other people should order their lives. They like telling people what to do, and they are quite certain of their rightness in doing so. Often, these people do not think they need training.

I know that I just said not to choose someone unless they are willing; but I also say, there is a kind of eagerness which is dangerous. You could say, these are people are too willing.


What to look for

The New Testament gives us various lists of what to look for those who lead in a church. Counseling is a kind of leadership position: I am not saying that a counselor is the pastor or an overseer. But by providing very direct teaching to people in the congregation, you are engaged in an aspect of spiritual leadership.

The qualities we look for in a church leader should be present in the counselor.


  1. Don’t Choose Someone Abuses Leadership

Throughout the New Testament, there are various sections of instruction given on the quality of Church leaders. But there is only quality which is repeated by Jesus, Paul, Peter and John: do not use a position of leadership to control or abuse others. The image is of a shepherd leading and protecting a flock of sheep, not a butcher driving cattle into a slaughterhouse.

I know a man who grew up in Greece as a shepherd. His father and uncle were shepherds. He said, I like what I could get from the sheep. But by father and his brother loved the sheep. Many people get into leadership because of what they want to get from the sheep.

Jesus in Mark 11:41-45 says that the leader must be the servant of all. Don’t be like the “rulers of the Gentiles” who “lord it over” others. Paul says an overseer must not be pugnacious, a fighter; but gentle and peaceable. 1 Tim. 3:3. In Titus 1:7, Paul says the overseer must not be “self-willed or quick tempered.” In 1 Peter 5:3 Peter says an elder must not  lord it over the flock. In 3 John, John condemns Diotrephes who “loves to be first” and who will not take instruction from John.

A counseling relationship has great potential for abuse. A counselor is giving instructions to another person in a position of trust; often a person who is quite vulnerable. The potential for abuse is high.

If you permit someone who has a tendency to lord it over others to become a counselor, you endanger your congregation.

  1. Above Reproach

The counseling relationship is difficult and dangerous for the counselor. Counselee’s can make accusations. People outside the relationship can gossip.

Let us say you have someone who gained a reputation for being sexually immoral; say a man who has committed adultery in the past. This man may have repented and may have come to a very different life. If you put this man into a counseling role, you are exposing both him and the people he counsels to accusation – even if it is false accusation.

Am I saying that no one can every outlive their past? No. But it will take wisdom here.

If the reputation is a current reputation, then such a person should not become a counselor.

  1. Prudent

There needs to wisdom in the counselor on how to conduct himself. He will need prudence in the way he deals with others whom he counsels, but also in his own life. Paul says an overseer must be able to manage his own household well. If a man lacks all practical wisdom in conducting his own life, he should not be seeking to give other people sustained counsel.

  1. Careful with the tongue

The Bible says a great deal about the tongue. There is much which should be said, but we will have to settle for 1 Peter 2:1, “Therefore, putting away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”

One must not only be careful in how we speak to some-one, we must be careful how we speak about some-one.

Someone will come to the counselor and will divulge very private information about their own heart, about their home, their family. You will learn details about others finances about their sexual relations and their children. This is very dangerous information.

I have seen people publicly attack others by using private information gained because they were in a position of pastoral confidence. I have seen pastors gossip to their wives about private information.

I know others who were attacked publicly and did not respond by disclosing private information gained because they were a pastor. I have seen people lie about what they supposedly knew so as to hurt others.

Our Lord was falsely accused. Paul was slandered. Revelation says all liars will be in the lake of fire. Rev. 21:8. The famous missionary St. Patrick of Ireland wrote his confession because someone had betrayed a very private confidence in an effort to discredit Patrick’s work.

In the life of the church, there is very little which is more destructive than gossip and slander. Counseling makes such sins especially possible.

Here is something from the great English Preacher Charles Spurgeon:

There are some brethren with whom it is ill for us to associate, lest they do us hurt, and it is ill for them that we associate with them, lest we seem to assist them in their evil deeds. Especially is this so in the case of brethren of the class that he is about to describe—mischief makers, troublers, people that can always tell you the gossip of a congregation, that can tear a neighbour’s character to pieces, that are able to perceive spots on the sun; people who delight in parading the faults of God’s own children, and are never so happy as when they are making others unhappy by what they have to retail. These are the kind of people to whom you should give a wide berth.


  1. H. Spurgeon, “A Challenge and War-Charge,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 51 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1905), 167. If you should stay away from gossips generally, it applies triple for counselors.

You must never trust a gossip to be a counselor. There is perhaps nothing as dangerous and disqualifying for a counselor as having a gossiping, slanderous tongue. If you catch a counselor gossiping, fire them on the spot.

  1. Able to Teach

Paul gives this as a qualification for an overseer in both Timothy and Titus. This is a critical characteristic. If you cannot teach, you cannot counsel. Maybe you are not a good public speaker; that is a particular skill. But you must be able to understand and then explain the Scripture clearly and usefully when you are counseling. If you cannot teach, you cannot counsel. Dr. John Street calls biblical counseling expositional counseling. A counselor exposits the Scripture like a good preacher exposits the scripture. You open the Bible and make it plain and powerful.

It is not a moral fault or a character fault to be unable to teach. But it is a fatal fault in a counselor to be unable to teach. In the end, counseling is teaching. If you can’t teach, you can’t teach. That merely means that God has work for you elsewhere in the church.

Ron Allchin and Tim Allchin in their essay, Equipping Biblical Counselors for Your Church give the follow lists of whom you should choose and whom you should avoid when it comes to counselors. They use the text of Colossians 3:12-17 as the basis for their list:

  1. A potential counselor sees people as a priority.
  2. Experiences peace with God through the Gospel
  3. Have a passion for the Word of God.
  4. They demonstrate practical wisdom
  5. They live out a passionate praise for God.

On this last people I just want to say that one way to understand sin is as a worship defect (I owe this observation to Dr. Ernie Baker). That means that the counselor is a worship leader, of sorts.

The Allchins then give a list of whom to avoid. Those who

  1. Lack a proper balance of grace and truth. They are neither legalists nor do they indulge sin.
  2. Have more zeal than knowledge. These people will find you. They may really want to help; but if their zeal exceeds their knowledge, they will do far more harm than good.
  3. They manipulate and control others.
  4. They are people pleasers. They change to make other people like them.
  5. They rely on their personal experience, their common sense rather than the Word of God.


At this point, you may think: Okay, no one is qualified in my congregation. I’m probably not qualified.

Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

2 Corinthians 3:5 (NASB95)

5          Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as comingfrom ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,

That realization that I am not able to do this work is perfect. God uses imperfect instruments, us, to do his work. The sufficiency of our counsel is not in us, but in the Word of God. If we had confidence in ourselves, then would not leave room for God’s work.

God’s Happiness is not Dependent Upon the Creation


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God has no need of us:

GOD All-sufficient must needs be his own happiness;

By happiness, the 17thcentury Puritan Edward Polhill means more than a transitory emotional state. He means something like a supreme contentment; the need of nothing else. We as creatures are in constant need of another. We need air and space and time; we need food and water; shelter and sleep; company and care. But God’s happiness is complete in himself. Polhill here details the aspects of God’s self-sufficiency:


he hath his being from himself,

We need God to sustain our existence. Matter has nothing in itself to make itself continue to exist. There is nothing in the rock that keeps the rock in existence. The fact that we seek rocks continue in existence blinds us to this reality. But God has no need of another to come into being and then continue to be.

Second, God needs nothing to save him from ennui:

and his happiness is no other than his being radiant with all excellencies, and by intellectual and amatorious reflexions, turning back into the fruition of itself.

His excellencies are such as would delight his love. Moreover, he has no need for another to avoid being bored:

His understanding hath prospect enough in his own infinite perfections: his will hath rest enough in his own infinite goodness;

His being is from himself, his thoughts and affections have an infinite view to maintain a constant delight.

Negatively, God has no need of anything else, when God has God:

he needed not the pleasure of a world, who hath an eternal Son in his bosom to joy in, nor the breath of angels or men who hath an eternal Spirit of his own; he is the Great All, comprising all within himself:

If God were delighted with any other than God, that other being would be greater and would be God. By definition, God must be content with God:

nay, unless he were so, he could not be God.

At this point, Polhill makes a list of all things which God would not suffer if he never did create.


Had he let out no beams of his glory, or made no intelligent creatures to gather up and return them back to himself, his happiness would have suffered no eclipse or diminution at all, his power would have been the same, if it had folded up all the possible worlds within its own arms, and poured forth never an one into being to be a monument of itself.


His wisdom the same, if it had kept in all the orders and infinite harmonies lying in its bosom, and set forth no such series and curious contexture of things as now are before our eyes.


His goodness might have kept an eternal Sabbath in itself, and never have come forth in those drops and models of being which make up the creation.


His eternity stood not in need of any such thing as time or a succession of instants to measure its duration; nor his immensity of any such temple as heaven and earth to dwell in, and fill with his presence.


His holiness wanted not such pictures of itself as are in laws or saints; nor his grace such a channel to run in as covenants or promises.


His majesty would have made no abatement, if it had had no train or host of creatures to wait upon it, or no rational ones among them, such as angels and men, to sound forth its praises in the upper or lower world. Creature-praises, though in the highest tune of angels, are but as silence to him, as that text may be read. (Psalm 65:1.)

Were he to be served according to his greatness, all the men in the world would not be enough to make a priest, nor all the other creatures enough to make a sacrifice fit for him. Is it any pleasure to him that thou art righteous? saith Eliphaz. (Job. 22:3.)

No doubt he takes pleasure in our righteousness, but the complacence is without indigence, and while he likes it, he wants [lacks] it not.

Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 1.

The true church suffers

The church, according to Luther, is the church that suffers, because it is the body of Christ. The church is truly in danger if there is no suffering, no persecution, and no pressure from the Devil: “Nowadays, the Devil brings the church into peril with the greatest imaginable persecution, namely, that the church without persecution can live relaxed and in surety. Woe to us, who would become so blinded by satisfaction and prosperity so that the Devil leads us into a trap.” The church is visible, according to Luther, where the Word is brought, the sacraments are celebrated, and suffering is sustained.


All Things to the Glory of God


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In his book, The Pursuit of Godliness, Jerry Bridges defined godliness as devotion in action. Devotion he further defines as “an attitude toward God.”

Devotion is not an activity; it is an attitude toward God. This attitude is composed of three essential elements:

❖ the fear of God
❖ the love of God
❖ the desire for God

We will look at these elements in detail in chapter 2; but for now, note that all three elements focus upon God. The practice of godliness is an exercise or discipline that focuses upon God. From this Godward attitude arises the character and conduct that we usually think of as godliness. So often we try to develop Christian character and conduct without taking the time to develop God-centered devotion. We try to please God without taking the time to walk with Him and develop a relationship with Him. This is impossible to do.
Consider the exacting requirements of a godly lifestyle as expounded by the saintly William Law. Law uses the word devotion in a broader sense to mean all that is involved in godliness—actions as well as attitude:

Devotion signifies a life given, or devoted to God. He therefore is the devout [godly] man, who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God, who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life, parts of piety [godliness], by doing everything in the name of God, and under such rules as are conformable to his Glory.2

Note the totality of godliness over one’s entire life in Law’s description of the godly person. Nothing is excluded. God is at the center of his thoughts. His most ordinary duties are done with an eye to God’s glory. In Paul’s words to the Corinthians, whether he eats or drinks or whatever he does, he does it all for the glory of God.

Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1983), 14–15.

The application is obvious: Am I doing this to the glory of God? There are two difficulties in this application. First, is the training of oneself to constantly ask this question of oneself. The second trouble: How do I do this mundane task to the glory of God? What does that even mean? John Piper applies this to one of the most simple tasks, drinking orange juice:

Orange juice was “created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe the truth.” Therefore, unbelievers cannot use orange juice for the purpose God intended—namely, as an occasion for heartfelt gratitude to God from a truth heart of faith.

But believers can, and this is how they glorify God. Their drinking orange juice is “sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” The word of Godteaches us that the juice, and even our strength to drink it, is a free gift of God (1 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Peter 4:11). The prayer is our humble response of thanks from the heart. Believing this truth in the word, and offering thanks in prayer is one way we drink orange juice to the glory of God.

The other way is to drink lovingly. For example, don’t insist on the biggest helping. This is taught in the context of 1 Corinthians 10:33, “I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (RSV). “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Everything we do—even drinking orange juice—can be done with the intention and hope that it will be to the advantage of many that they may be saved.

For you in you the orphan finds mercy


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Sometimes there is a question as to the importance knowing the Biblical languages. And, it is true that in most instances, the English text very good. But there allusions which cannot be translated; there are connotations which cannot be understood apart from knowledge of the original. Here is one such example:

Hosea 14:1–3(NASB95)

1  Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,

For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.

2 Take words with you and return to the Lord.

Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity

And receive us graciously,

That we may present the fruit of our lips.

3 “Assyria will not save us,

We will not ride on horses;

Nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’

To the work of our hands;

For in You the orphan finds mercy.”

I want to consider that last line, “in you the orphan finds mercy.” The first clue is that the line seems a bit out of place. Israel is called too repentance. Israel repents by asking to be forgiven and received. Israel renounces reliance upon politics and human power (Assyria and horses), and idolatry (which is a bogus technology which seeks to harness some magical power in the universe). Then comes a line which seems out of place, “in you the orphan finds mercy.”

One could understand the line in terms of a superlative mercy: you are so merciful that even orphan are received by you. But there is actually something are more grounded in the text of prophecy.

In chapter one, God tells Hosea to marry a “wife of whoredom”. She then has a daughter named, “No Mercy” and a son named “Not My People.” God utterly rejects Israel for her adulterous idolatry. Here, in the final chapter that theme is repeated:

Hosea 14:4 (BHS/WIVU)

4   אֲשֶׁר־בְּךָ֖ יְרֻחַ֥ם יָתֽוֹם׃

The last two words need our attention. First the word


The verb rhm means “to show” mercy. In this verse the verb is in a passive form so rather than show it means to receive mercy. He finds mercy. This is the same root word which was used in chapter one to name the daughter “No Mercy”:

Hosea 1:6(NASB95)

6 Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lordsaid to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them.

She was named Lo (No) Ruhamah (Mercy/compassion) because God will not show mercy on Israel any longer.

The son is named “Lo Ami”, not my people:

Hosea 1:9(NASB95)

9 And the Lordsaid, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.”

The father of the child is denying his position as father: The child has a mother, but no father: No My People.  The word for orphan here means a child without a father:

orphan, the boy that has been made fatherless

Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 451.

m. an orphan, from the root יָתַם, Ex. 22:21, 23; Deu. 10:18; 14:29. Used of a child who is bereaved of his father only, Job 24:9.

Wilhelm Gesenius and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003), 376.

Israel was compared to a pair of children, No Mercy and Not My People. Here at the end of the book, when Israel finally comes to repentance, the people say that God shows mercy upon the child who has no father: which is precisely the description of Israel in chapter one.

The English translation is not transparent to this meaning. In chapter one, the translation is “compassion” which is appropriate and a valid translation; but in chapter 14 it is mercy. In both places it is the same Hebrew root at issue (whether a noun or verb).

Second, the word for “orphan” means a child without a father — which is precisely the child in chapter one: Not My People. His mother was known; it was his father who denied him.

Thus, the fatherless child — the very child rejected by God — will be shown mercy. This points forward to Christ upon the Cross:

Matthew 27:45–46 (NASB95)

45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.
46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”

The here in a mystery of which one dare not speak, there is the language of Fatherlessness and of a loss of mercy but rather an outpouring of wrath. And yet is this Son who receives mercy and has been vindicated by God:

Acts 2:32–35 (NASB95)

32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.
33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.
34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:

Jesus is not abandoned and does receive mercy — and not merely mercy, but glory, honor and power. And this vindication then becomes the basis of God receiving the children without a father who have not received mercy:

1 Peter 2:7–10(NASB95)

7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,

“The stone which the buildersrejected,

This became the very cornerstone,

8 and,

“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”;

for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doomthey were also appointed.

9 But you are a chosen race, aroyal priesthood, aholy nation, a people forGod’sown possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The orphan who finds mercy is Israel; but it is even more truly Christ who takes the place of Israel (remember Matthew and Hosea, out of Egypt I have called my son? there is a parallel there). And it is that work of Christ which then becomes redemption of all human beings (because Christ is also the stand in for that “son of God” Adam– Luke 3:38; who himself became the first child without a father at the Fall).

This letter phrase in Hosea draws together the entire book, but also picks up the strands of Christ’s work both in redeeming Israel and in redeeming humanity.

Forming a Biblical Counseling Ministry in a Local Church



(I have been preparing to give a conference on how to start a biblical counseling ministry at a local church. So I’ve spent the last week writing this. Here is the first draft of one section of that conference):


Our plan will begin with you as an individual member of your local church. And since there is only one of you, it makes little sense to start our instruction with the ways to organize a fifty-member team at a 10,000-person church (although I know someone who is doing that now). We will move from you as an individual and go to describe a counseling ministry which will involve many members of your local church, no matter the size of your congregation. A ministry which will permit you to not only respond to crisis, but develop Christians who are deeply involved in one-another’s life. I want to give you a vision of what a church can be; and what a church should be. I am not going to ask you to change your doctrines, or reorganize your leadership structure. No one is going to take authority away from the pastors in your congregation.
I want you to understand how to utilize the resources you already have inside your own churches.
Imagine you had some money in your pocket. But also imagine that you have a box of rocks at home; rocks you picked up here and there when you were out hiking. You’re having a hard time paying your bills; you are careful with you money; you work hard at your job; but money is always tight. And then one day a friend comes by and you show him your rocks. Your friend, you has different training from you explains that it is not a box of rocks, but it is a box of gem stones: you have sapphires and rubies. You didn’t realize it, but you had great wealth.
That is how I hope to bring you to understand your congregation.

Two Objections

When the question of counseling does come-up, there are two basic deflections or objections to the proposal of a counseling ministry. First, there is the argument of psychological professionalism. Second, there is an argument of preaching.
Psychological professionalism: This argument says that counseling issues, beyond simple issues of be nice to your wife, or “spiritual” issues, about the doctrine of repentance, are simply not properly matters for the Church. I will not deny that there is a great deal of bad and even harmful counsel that comes from well-meaning Christians. Training is a must. Moreover, the question of “psychology” and psychiatry involve a great many things. A full answer to this objection lies well-beyond the scope of this seminar.
The training over the next week will respond to much of this criticism. However, there are some additional issues concerning psychology which I have dealt with a pair of journal articles which we have made available to you.
Preaching: A second argument is that the only counseling which a church needs comes from the pulpit. Some pastors think a counseling ministry is either unnecessary or an attack upon their pulpit. A good example of this is found in J.C. Ryle’s book on Christian leaders in 18th Century England. There was a fine and useful preacher name William Romaine. Of this man, Ryle writes, ““It was not uncommon for him to tell those who came to him with Cases of conscience [a counseling issue] and questions of spiritual concern, that he said all he had to say in the pulpit.” And while Romaine may have eventually said something which answered to that particular person’s concern, I can’t say that Romaine’s decision was correct.
The Apostle Paul in Acts 20 explains that he taught publicly and from house to house. Paul wrote letters of personal encouragement to Philemon, Titus, and Timothy. Paul answered specific questions of the Corinthian church. James 5:16 instructs us to confess our sins to one-another. Colossians 3:16 says that we are to admonish one-another.
It has been the considered counsel of the best pastors to engage in private counsel. Richard Baxter in his work on pastoral ministry, The Reformed Pastor writes:

“We must be ready to give advice to inquirers, who come to us with cases of conscience; especially the great case which the Jews put to Peter, and the gaoler to Paul and Silas, ‘What must we do to be saved?’ A minister is not to be merely a public preacher, but to be known as a counsellor for their souls, as the physician is for their bodies, and the lawyer for their estates: so that each man who is in doubts and straits, may bring his case to him for resolution; as Nicodemus came to Christ, and as it was usual with the people of old to go to the priest, ‘whose lips must keep knowledge, and at whose mouth they must ask the law, because he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.’ But as the people have become unacquainted with this office of the ministry, and with their own duty and necessity in this respect, it belongeth to us to acquaint them with it, and publicly to press them to come to us for advice about the great concerns of their souls. We must not only be willing to take the trouble, but should draw[…]”

I could say far more, but at this point leave it with: private counsel is a necessary element of ministry. There is an element of ministry which cannot be met by means of public preaching –as essential as preaching is. But private and public go together. I have learned that the better the preaching, the greater the need for private counsel. The best preaching cuts the heart, stirs the conscience, creates desire for a knowledge of God and a greater knowledge of God. The Word of God rightly preached stirs up the questions which need answer.
1. Know the Bible
Some counseling will be merely Bible Questions, such as why does God permit Satan to trouble Job. And at this point I give you my first instruction: Know the Bible. I will have a list of instructions below, but this is a point which cannot be overstated: Know the Bible.
The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to create and form the People of God. If you want a brief defense of Biblical Counseling, here it is:
Galatians 5:22–23 (NASB95)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

And the argument is as follows: I want you to imagine any counseling trouble. I then want you to image the outflowing of the Fruit of the Spirit in one’s life. What trouble is left?

2. Work With Church Leadership
You will need the cooperation and support of the church leadership. If you are lay member of the congregation do not start a ministry within your church without the knowledge and support of the leadership. You need gain the understanding and confidence of the leadership. First, the counseling ministry exists to help with the overall work of the church. Second, we do not want anyone to think of biblical counseling as a scourge upon the Church. It must be a blessing and support.
But the support must be more than a shrug and go ahead and see what you can do. You will want the full-hearted support of the leadership when trouble arises. And, unfortunately, counseling ministry attract trouble.
Counseling concerns the people in the congregation who are suffering the greatest degree of trouble, of sorrow, and need. When you are dealing with people under enormous stress, with terrible problems, often with financial and legal complications, it is very difficult to avoid trouble. The counselees may respond, with threats, slander, legal action, personal destruction.
If there is any dissension between you and the leadership, you will be hurt when trouble comes. The damage you suffer can be far worse than you can imagine. The congregation may be torn apart. But if the leadership understands your work and has confidence in you and supports the work, you and the congregation can withstand the attacks.
I do know that other counselors are of the opinion that you can begin as long as you have the support of just the pastor (or the senior most pastor) and that you can bring the others along as they see you ministry.
There is no chapter and verse which answers this question: there is only wisdom. If you have authority to go ahead, but there is a conflict in the leadership, be prepared: you very well may find yourself in a very difficult place. I can tell you that conflict within the church can be sinful and nasty in ways that exceed conflict in secular situations. A conflict within a congregation can become like a conflict within a family.
This is not the place to go on about Church conflict. That is a topic to itself. But understand that anything which you can to avoid conflict must be considered.

3. Remain under the authority of your local church
Make sure your counseling ministry is under the authority of your local church. You are not stand-alone independent resources, like a paid clinical psychologist. If counseling is an integral ministry of the Church, then it must operate under the authority of the church.
Counseling, when do correctly, is expositional: it is like a sermon. You take the Word of God, explain the Word of God, apply the Word of God. It is similar to a sermon, only the audience size is smaller. You are seeking to create thought, affections and conduct which flows from and aligns with the Word of God. You are seeking to create Bible-shaped people.
Since this is a teaching ministry, you are delivering doctrine. A teaching ministry must be conducted in accordance with the teaching positions of your church. We have people from different backgrounds here: there are Presbyterians and Baptists here. While we will agree on the matters which we are addressing here as to counseling, there will be other issues which may arise in counseling over which we may differ.
For instance, Jay Adams was an Amillennialist; I am a Pre-millennialist. Adams makes a counseling argument on an issue about the Devil’s work based upon his millennial position. While I agree with much of his argument, I disagree with him on the manner in which he supports that argument. You need to understand these issues and teach in accordance with the doctrinal distinctives of your congregation. If you teach counter to your church’s doctrinal positions, you will at the least create confusion in your counselees.
In addition, the confidence your leadership will have in your work will depend upon your integrity and transparency in counseling.
Your leaders are given to watch over the congregation as a whole. Even though you are in a position to help with that oversight, you must not usurp that oversight.
Finally, you need the oversight. Even if you are the head pastor of your congregation, you need someone who knows what you are doing in your counseling session. While some privacy is necessary; absolutely privacy is dangerous.

4. Training, Mentors, Colleagues
Training: Conference training is good, but it is not enough. The minimal training for an ACBC certification is the bare minimum; but it is not nearly enough to make you proficient in all that you will be called upon to do.
Much of the most difficult counseling I have had to undertake has involved counseling someone who has received poor counseling from another well-meaning Christian. At times, the poor counseling has come from a pastor – who was trained to preach, but did not know how to counsel. The reason, I think, comes from preachers often not understanding how application works. When you counsel, you have to watch how your application works and whether it profits. So, being a counselor makes you a better preacher.
The degree of your training depends upon the nature of your ministry. If your counseling ministry will be you alone with mentors and colleagues. You will need one level of training. If you plain on becoming a counseling center which provides training and development of other counselors, you will need significantly more training. We will discuss that, below.
You will need a mentors and colleagues. There will always be counseling matters which exceed your knowledge and experience. I have often had to work through counseling matters with other men and women who have had more or different experience than me.
Many of you will find yourself as the sole counselor, or perhaps one of two, in your congregation. That means you are going to need to have relationships with counselors who attend other congregations. Take time to meet others; make relationships.

5. Have a Time-Management Plan
There are two time-management issues: (1) Creating a Triage Plan. (2) Creating a plan to limit the time you counsel.
If you have ever been around an emergency room, you know that the hospital staff have a plan on who treat. One comes in with a broken arm, another comes in with a fever, a third comes in with a bleeding wound. If the staff takes the broken arm before the heart attack, someone will die. This is called a triage plan.
While not as time sensitive as an emergency room, your time as a counselor is limited. You will more requests upon your time than you will have time to counsel.
Someone here may be thinking, we have no demand for counseling at all in our congregation. I can’t imagine that we will have more demands for counseling than we can fulfill. Here is my answer: you have an unending demand for counsel.
We human beings need and give counsel to one-another every day. Someone is providing counsel to the members of your congregation. They may very well not be providing and receiving counsel from the Bible or even consistent with the Bible.
Christians do want to live in accordance with the Word of God. Christians want to know God’s will for their lives. But often they do not know what God requires or where to find that will in the Word of God. If they are not told how to use the Bible correctly, they will seek it from problematic sources.
In addition, the Word of God creates a desire for the Word of God. When people in your congregation learn counsel is available, your time will be full.
So who gets your time? Members of your congregation or people from outside your church? Do you give time to from those outside your church if the problem is sufficiently serious? And know, that seeing people who attend other congregations has its own complications.

Time Limitations
You are finite being. You cannot do everything. God does not need your help. The Church survived the death of the Apostles. The Church survived the death of Athanasius and Augustine, Calvin and Luther; the Church will survive you not over-working yourself.
Create limitations on your time before you find someone seeking more time than you can give. You need to decide how much time you will spend a week on counseling.
While a Biblical Counseling session may entail an hour of actual meeting, that hour is not the whole of your counseling. Done properly, you will need to prepare for the counseling studying and praying. You will often have interaction outside of the particular counseling session.
There will also be time need after the counseling for prayer and reflection.
While professional psychological counseling depends upon a “clinical” distance, biblical counseling is very different. The commands which apply to one-another interactions within the church apply to you as a counselor.
You must prefer one-another in love, you must bear one-another’s burdens, contribute to the needs of the saints, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. You must love the people with whom you are meeting – not merely provide information.
This work is enormously taxing.
It is not merely the time spent in counseling, but the time to process the counseling.
Ten hours of intensively counseling over the course of the week can be enormously taxing; and at times emotionally draining, because you cannot keep a “clinical” distance from the person with whom you are counseling.
In the United States, I am a lawyer. When I give counsel as a lawyer, my involvement begins and ends with providing information. If my client accepts my counsel or does not accept my counsel is up to him. If he does something and suffers or it, I am not supposed to care. If I become emotionally involve, I lose the ability to be objective. You cannot be detached if you are a biblical counselor.
When you initially create rules for your time begin cautiously. Talk with other counselors; consult your experience as to what you can reasonably do (in light of your other time obligations and your ability to bear burdens without burn out).

6. Have an intake system.

Have a clear procedure for how someone in your congregation begins a counseling relationship. If there is a woman in your congregation who is severely depressed and wants to receive biblical counsel, what should she do? Where should she go? Does she come to you, directly? Does she call the office? If there three people at once who seek counsel, who decides who is counseled and who waits?
I know people who had a system and then ignored it for this one particular situation. Ignoring the system resulted in trouble.
You create procedures to protect and sustain the ministry. Ignoring the system results in trouble. Create a system and stick to the system.

7. Use Forms – Have Procedures

We have provided you with two forms and a written policy. The first form is a counseling intake form. There may be cultural aspects of this form which do not translate well into a Chilean context. You may need to adopt it. From what I have seen, Chile and California are not all that different. But there be subtle things about how a question is phrased or how people answer. Feel free to adjust the form as need be.
The purpose of this form is for you to understand the person who is coming in to see you.

[At this point, walk through the form and make observations.]

A bit of practical advice: not everyone tells the whole story when they first enter into counseling. Sometimes the counselee is trying to hide information out of fear or shame. Sometimes the counselee simply does not know the truth.
For the counselee who deliberately keeps back some information, the best way to overcome the problem is to develop a relationship of trust and respect. Someone is giving you very painful, private information. They must know that you can be trusted to use that information to help not hurt. Be someone they can trust and someone they can respect.
The person who does not know the truth present a different problem. Here is an illustration from a friend which I think will help. I want you to imagine a house with a leaking roof. There is a small hole in the roof and the rain finds its way into the structure. But we usually have a structure beneath the roof which holds up the roof. Underneath that structure of crossing beams is a ceiling. So that we look up we see the ceiling and not the cross-beams or the roof to the outside.
When the water comes inside the house it hits the crossbeams and travels along until it seeps out through the ceiling. When you go to discover the hole in the roof, you cannot look straight up from the place you see the water on your ceiling. The water may have traveled several feet from the hole in the roof until it seeps out through the ceiling.
Counseling problems will often be like that. Someone will come for one issue and you will discover that their “real” problem is something else. Someone may come in because of a conflict with a family member and you’ll discover that they have another more fundamental problem which is leading to their conflict.
So use these a form to gain some initial information from you counselee, but do not think it tells the whole story.

Second, use a form to explain the counseling process to the counselee. Conflict happens when one’s expectation conflicts with reality. Let us say that tomorrow you go to a restaurant. The waiter brings you a piece of cake. There is nothing wrong with cake, you might often want to receive cake. But you didn’t order cake; you ordered eggs. You are unhappy because what you received contradicted what you ordered. You expected one thing and got another.
Someone comes into counseling. They are expecting you to be a psychologist who was trained in the manner of Rogers. Rogers would say that human beings are good and the counselor needs to bring that goodness out of the patient. But you start telling the counselee about sin and repentance. You read them from Romans that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You will have a conflict.
At the very outset we need to make plain what we do, what we will not do, and why we will do so. You need to explain that we are not priests who keep secrets no matter what. I do not know the law here, but in California if counselee tells you that they intend to hurt themselves or someone else, you must tell the authorities.

[walk through the counseling consent form – remove the section on waiver of jury trial, because it irrelevant. Keep the section on waiver of bringing legal action. Even if it is not enforceable in Chile, it is the proper way to resolve disputes according to the Scripture]

8. Have a policy on maintaining records

When you counsel with someone, you will keep some sort of record of your work. You will keep records of what you observed, what homework you gave, et cetera. These notes will often include very private information about someone else. The potential for misusing this information is great.
Because the information is so important, there may be others who want to use the information. I have been involved in situations where someone in a legal action, such as a divorce action, wanted to get copies of the counselor’s notes to use against the counselee.
I do not know how privacy laws work in Chile. In California, a pastor’s notes are not private. In Florida, a pastor’s notes are private. You will need to find out the answer to that question under Chilean law. Then you will need to have a policy about what you will do with notes.
When I oversaw a counseling ministry in a church, we kept the counseling consent form on file in the church office. The counselors kept their own notes. They were kept separate from the church records. I kept very few notes on a counselee and would not keep the notes after the counseling relationship was over, because I knew that I could not maintain privacy for the information if something came up in the future.
But there may be a reason to keep notes after the relationship is over.
So have a policy; make sure your policy is good for both the counselor and the counselee. In addition, make sure that you have exceptions to your general rule.
This a matter of wisdom; be prepared to change your rules as learn more.

9. Have a policy for dealing with allegations of physical and sexual abuse.

We have provided you with a draft of a policy I have worked on. It is based upon both biblical principles and seeks to comport with general law in the United States. You may need to make certain adjustments to this policy to comport with Chilean law.
There are two basic principles which must be in place. First, you must have policies which protect those who are being hurt from further injury. You cannot protect those who are hurting people in your church, because you want to protect a leader in the church or someone who is a friend. We cannot tolerate sin to continue. This is especially true when someone is hurting children.
You have seen the worldwide revulsion against the Roman Catholic church when it was discovered that bishops were protecting priests who were hurting children. It is certainly not confined to Roman Catholics. There was a major story about Baptists churches protecting abusers.
Second, you must have a policy in place to protect against false allegations. There are wildly varying estimates as to the percentage of false allegations. But whether it is 10 percent or 40 percent really does not matter. A false allegation can destroy someone’s life and will tear apart a church.
[walk through the plan]

10. Have a place to counsel
If need be you can be creative. But as a general rule, you should have a regular place to counsel which provides privacy for your counselees. The privacy will be what they have said. But you also want to provide privacy as to the counseling relationship.
Let us say that you are meeting with a married couple. They probably do not want everyone in the congregation knowing that they are coming in for marital counsel.
So you have two levels of privacy: the fact of the counseling relationship and the information conveyed in the counseling.
This means that you probably should not be counseling in a public place. Opening a Bible, discussing deeply personal matters, praying openly: these are things that are often not possible in a coffee shop.
Now if these were the only things to consider, you would pick some place absolutely private. But that can cause a problem.
You need accountability: both to protect you from sin, but also to protect you from accusations of sin.
Let me explain. Let us say a pastor is meeting with a woman in his congregation who is married to a cruel husband. The pastor is kind and understanding; he is everything she wished her husband would be. I know of more than one pastor who ended up in an adulterous relationship with someone in his congregation.
And even if the pastor does nothing wrong, there is the potential for gossip or false allegations. People become angry and lie. Someone learns of the counseling relationship and starts a rumor.
The best circumstance is to have the same sex counseling relationships: women counseling women; men counseling men. If a pastor simply does not have a woman counselor available, then have a woman with you when you counsel.
But same sex counseling relationship will not solve every problem. You have circumstances where you are counseling someone whose besetting sin is same sex relationships. You again need protection from gossip and sin.
And sexual problems are not the only forms of potential accusation or sin. There is the problem of using your authority to hurt someone; I don’t know what it is called here, but in the States people use the phrase “spiritual abuse”. They mean someone in ministry using their ministry position to hurt people.
This is a grave sin. You may be tempted to sin in this manner. You may be accused of sinning in this manner. And again, the best way to protect against this is to not have a perfect seal of privacy.
One of the very best ways to maintain privacy and accountability is to always have someone with you who is training to be a counselor. We will discuss training new counselors a bit later. But for now, now that training new counselors is a fine way to maintain privacy and accountability.

11. This is not everything
This is not a complete list of things you need to know practically to maintain a counseling ministry. But these are likely the most pressing matters you will face.



We are going to look at two levels of counseling ministry expansion. First, we are going to look at the way in which you will add new counselors who will be doing the work you do: deliberate, intensive counseling. Second, we are going to look at expanding the concept of counseling as a matter of Christian discipleship and how the entire congregation has a role to play.

John Gill on the Duties of Church Members


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John Gill, the 18thCentury Baptist theologian, in his work A Body of Practical Divinity sets out 12 duties church members owe to one-another:

“First, and which is a principal one, to love one another; “Owe no man anything, but to love one another,” is an apostolical advice, and good advice; this is a debt which every man owes to another, and should be always paying, especially Christians and members of churches (Rom. 13:812:10).”

This love is not only necessary and commanded, but it is love which gives delight to the Church:

“It is this which makes communion in a church state delightful and comfortable, as well as honourable; “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” it is as pleasing and refreshing as the fragrant oil poured on Aaron’s head, and as the dew that fell on mount Hermon (Ps. 133:1-3), when, on the contrary, nothing is more uncomfortable and dishonourable, as well as nothing is more pernicious and ruinous to a church state, than want of love (Gal. 5:15).”

Without love, the gathering of the church is a curse, not a blessing. The remaining aspects can be seen as more specific instances what it means to love-another and how this is to be done.

“Secondly, it is incumbent on church members, as much as in them lies, to endeavour to “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace;” to press to which the apostle uses various arguments in Ephesians 4:3-6.”

This is a matter which is routinely misunderstood. The unity is not primarily all of get along with each other, which is neither bad nor good in and of itself. Criminals have a great of unity in their crime. The unity which is to mark the Church unity around Christ, which shows itself in unity of Gospel, of doctrine of worship.

“Thirdly, it is the duty of members of churches to sympathize with each other in all conditions and circumstances they come into (Rom. 12:15), and upon this their membership with one another cannot but have a considerable influence (1 Cor. 12:26), this sympathy should be with respect to things outward and temporal; any calamity, affliction, and distress, of whatsoever kind; they “that are in bonds,” especially for the sake of religion, should be remembered as “bound with them,” as if in the same circumstances, and should pity and relieve them as much as may be; and “them which suffer adversity” in body, family, or estate, “as being themselves in the body,” and liable to the same adversities (Heb. 12:3), and therefore should visit, comfort, and assist them; so Job’s three friends, when they heard of his afflictions in his person, family, and substance, though they lived at a distance from him, by appointment met together, “to come, to mourn with him, and to comfort him,” (Job 2:11) and much more should members of churches act such a part to one another.”

It is your duty when another believer is in difficulty to bear that burden with them, alongside of them. You have heard the expression no man is an island – we are all bound to one-another, especially within the Church.

This can be material or spiritual resources; it may be by communicating with one-another (which Gill lists as a separate aspect of church membership) or by providing for needs.

“Fifthly, it is the duty of church members to watch over one another; that they do not indulge to sinful lusts and pleasures, and make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof; and so bring a reproach on the good ways of God, and the doctrines of Christ; and to warn them that are unruly, or err from the rule of the word, and recover them from any evil way they seem to be going into; as also to watch over them, lest they receive any notion contrary to the gospel of Christ; for not only pastors of churches are to watch over them for this purpose, but members of churches are to look “diligently,” or act the part of a bishop or overseer in some respect,81 “lest any man fail of the grace of God,” or fall from the doctrine of grace, (Heb. 12:15) they should not suffer sin to lie upon a brother; but rebuke and admonish him for it, according to the gospel rule, first alone, and then, if such rebuke succeeds not, to do it with, and before others; and such rebukes and admonitions should be in love, and with much tenderness, as well as faithfulness; for such only are like to be kindly received, and to be successful; such that are fallen, whether into immorality or error, should be endeavoured to be restored by those who are spiritual, in the spirit of meekness (Lev. 19:17; Ps. 141:5; Gal. 6:1).”

“Sixth: to make these other things possible we must bear with one-another. The Church is a body of the redeemed, but it is also a congregation of those who sin, who are selfish and provoked and quite capable of being difficult. We must therefore live in patience with one-another.”

“Seventh, we must pray one for another. The church has no more strength than that strength supplied by God; and that strength is imparted by prayer.”

An eighth aspect, which is not commonly addressed:“Eighthly, it becomes church members to separate themselves from the men of the world, and not touch persons and things which are defiling; they are in a church state, which is as a “garden inclosed;” they are a separate people, and should dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations or the people of a vain and carnal world; they are called out of the world, and therefore should not be unequally yoked with the men of it; with men unrighteous, ignorant, lawless, disobedient, dead, and profane sinners, with whom they can have no profitable communion; and, indeed, from all such in their own societies who walk disorderly they are directed to withdraw themselves.”

“Ninthly, church members should be constant in assembling together for religious worship; it is remarked of the members of the first Christian church, to their honour, that they “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayer,” (Acts 2:42) that is, they constantly attended on hearing the doctrines of the apostles, which they gladly received and persevered in; and kept up their communion with them and one another, and were not missing at the Lord’s Supper, and at times of public prayer;”

“Tenthly, there should be no respect of persons among members of churches in their assemblies, and when met together on church affairs, with regard to rich or poor, greater or lesser gifts; there should be no overbearing, no browbeating, nor any supercilious airs use”.

Eleventhly, to “strive for Gospel”.

Twelfthly, being examples of holy and proper living to be an example and encouragement to others and to properly adorn the honor of Christ.