Ordinary Ministers

Dr. William Ames (1576-1633)

The office of ordinary ministers in the church.

Ordinary Ministers and Their Office in Preaching
By Dr. William Ames

1. The ordinary ministry is that which receives all of its direction from the will of God revealed in the Scriptures and from those means which God has appointed in the church for its continual edification.

2. They are called ordinary because it is according to the order established by God that they may be and usually are called to minister.

3. In their service they have the will of God revealed earlier through the extraordinary ministers as a fixed rule; therefore, they ought not to propose or do anything in the church which is not prescribed to them in the Scriptures.

4. They depend upon the extraordinary ministers and are, so to speak, their successors. Although in manner and degree extraordinary ministers have no successors, ordinary ministers in their essential service perform the same office toward the church as the former once did.

5. The right to this ministry is regularly accorded by men and for that reason the calling of an ordinary minister is indirect.

6. But this is to be understood in the sense that the authority for administering divine things is directly communicated from God to all lawful ministers, though the appointing of persons upon whom the authority is to be bestowed is done by the church.

7. But the church cannot confer the necessary gifts for this ministry, and cannot prescribe for God those upon whom he should confer them. Therefore, the church can only choose those who appear to it in advance to be suitable. For ordinary ministers, unlike extraordinary ministers, are not made fit by their very calling when they were unfit before.

8. Therefore, in an ordinary calling it is required that a lawful examination precede the calling itself. 1 Tim. 3:10, Let them be first tried then let them minister if they be blameless.

9. The purpose of the ordinary ministry is to preserve, propagate, and renew the church through regular means.

10. There are two parts in this ministry: First, a minister must do those things which he does for the people in the name of God; second, he must do those things which he does for God in the name of the people.

11. Here the preaching of the word is of utmost importance, and so it has always been of continuous use in the church.

12. The duty of an ordinary preacher is to set forth the will of God out of the word for the edification of the hearers. 1 Tim. 1:5, The end of preaching is love out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.

13. Since first an earnest zeal for the church’s edification is required, a man cannot be a fit preacher unless he has Set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel, Ezra 7:10. For one who teaches another ought before and while he teaches to teach himself, Rom. 2:21. Otherwise he is not prepared to edify the church.

14. This duty is to be performed not only for all hearers in common but also specifically for each status and age — for old men, young men, servants (Titus 2 and 3), teachers (2 Peter 1:12), yea, for each individual. 1 Thess. 2:11, We exhorted, comforted, and charged each one of you not only publicly but privately; Acts 20:20, Publicly and from house to house.

15. He ought always to have this aim of edification so clearly before his eyes as to take great care not to Turn aside to vain discussion (1 Tim. 1:6), Striving about words (2 Tim. 2:14), Unprofitable controversies or speculations of what is falsely called knowledge (1 Tim. 6:20). He should hold fast to the faithful word which leads to teaching (Titus 1:9), And which cannot be condemned (Titus 2:8).

16. Since to this end the will of God is to be set forth out of the word, no one is fit for the ministry who is not greatly concerned with the Holy Scripture, even beyond ordinary believers, so that he might be said, with Apollos, to be mighty in the Scriptures, Acts 18:24. He must not put his trust in notes and commentaries.

17. In order that the will of God may be set forth fruitfully for edification two things are necessary: First, the things contained in the text must be stated; second, they must be applied to the consciences of the hearers as their condition seems to require. 1 Tim. 6:17, Charge those that are rich in this world that they be not highminded or trust in uncertain riches.

18. Ministers impose upon their hearers and altogether forget themselves when they propound a certain text in the beginning as the start of the sermon and then speak many things about or simply by occasion of the text but for the most part draw nothing out of the text itself.

19. In setting forth the truth in the text the minister should first explain it and then indicate the good which follows from it. The first part is concerned with doctrines and proofs; the latter with application or derivation of profit from the doctrines. 2 Tim. 3:16, All the Scripture … is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness.

20. Those who invert and confuse these parts make it difficult for their hearers to remember and stand in the way of their edification. Their hearers cannot commit the chief heads of the sermon to memory so that they may afterwards repeat it privately in their families; and when this cannot be done, the greatest part of the fruit, which would otherwise be made available to the church of God through sermons, is lost.

21. A doctrine is a theological principle either in the express words of Scripture or deriving from them as a direct consequence.

22. A doctrine rightly must first be discovered and then discussed.

23. The discovery is made by a logical analysis in which rhetoric and grammar are utilized.

24. Analysis means principally observing the scope or purpose of the text and, by the art of logic, the means by which it is attained.

25. Confirmation must be added by interpreting the doubtful parts in the analysis. Manifest parts, clear in themselves, neither require nor permit needless interpretation.

26. The discussion of a doctrine consists partly in proofs, if it be questioned by the hearers (it is foolish to go to any length to confirm what all acknowledge), and partly in illustration of the things already well proved.

27. Proofs ought to be sought from the clearer testimonies of Scripture, with reasons being added where the nature of the thing will allow. But here the treatment must be adapted to the profit of the hearers.

28. Illustrations may be drawn from almost anywhere they may be found but the contrasting and comparing themes are the most important.

29. Each doctrine when sufficiently explained should immediately be applied to its use. Upon this part, unless there is some special reason against it, great insistence must be made, since this contains the conclusion and the good of the first part, and is closer to the chief purpose of the sermon, which is the edification of the hearers.

30. They sin, therefore, who stick to the naked finding and explanation of the truth, neglecting the use and practice in which religion and blessedness consist. Such preachers edify the conscience little or not at all.

31. Not all the doctrines which may be drawn out of the text are to be propounded or all the uses set forth but only those are to be selected which the circumstances of place, time, and person suggest as most necessary — and of these especially those which make for the stirring up or strengthening of the spirit of devotion.

32. They sin who do care little about what they say provided it may appear that they may have thought about and spoken many things. They do this frequently, forcing many things out of the text which are not in it and often borrowing for it from other places, bringing anything out of everything. The result is the ruin rather than the edification of the hearers, especially among the untutored.

33. Both doctrine and use ought to be structured, as far as possible, to have some connection between them and to manifest it. For the mind is not drawn from one thing to a different thing without loss; nor is there anything that helps the memory more than logical order.

34. A use is a theological principle deduced from a doctrine which shows the use, goodness, or end of it.

35. The logic of the deduction is to be explained, if it be not clear. To this should be joined a proof or illustration as the necessity of the hearers and the wisdom of the speaker suggests.

36. Use lies in the area either of judgment or of practice, 2 Tim. 3:16.

37. In judgment it provides information and reformation of the mind.

38. Information is the proving of some truth.

39. Reformation is the refutation of some error.

40. Although every truth may be taught upon occasion, every error need not always come up for refutation. For heresies already buried are not to be dug up again just so that they may be refuted, nor wicked blasphemies glibly repeated. This troubles and offends, especially when all is declared, explained, and refuted in a solemn way.

41. Direction, needed in the practice of life, consists of instruction and correction.

42. Instruction is a setting forth of the life which ought to be followed.

43. Correction is a condemnation of the life which ought to be shunned.

44. After the declaration of a doctrine application should follow, and this is so like the derivation of uses that the two may often be made one.

45. To apply a doctrine to its use is to sharpen and make specially relevant some general truth with such effect that it may pierce the minds of those present with the stirring up of godly affections.

46. Men are to be pricked to the quick so that they feel individually what the Apostle said, namely, that the word of the Lord is a two-edged sword, piercing to the inward thoughts and affections and going through to the joining of bones and marrow. Preaching, therefore, ought not to be dead, but alive and effective so that an unbeliever coming into the congregation of believers should be affected and, as it were, transfixed by the very hearing of the word so that he might give glory to God. 1 Cor. 14:25, The hidden things of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling down on his face, he -will worship God and say that God is among you indeed.

47. This application is either for an oppressed mind, in consolation, or one that is failing to follow up the good, or to avoid evil, in exhortation or admonition.

48. Consolation is the application of some point that either takes away or mitigates grief and oppressive fear.

49. In consolation, indications are profitably given to a man’s conscience to assure him that he shares the benefits with which the minister comforts the conscience of believers. Thoughts to the contrary, which may arise in a pious and troubled mind, are dispelled and refuted.

50. Exhortation is the application of a point which begets, quickens, and excites some inward virtue or furthers the exercise of it.

51. In exhortation to virtue it is profitable to show the means which lead to the begetting of that virtue in us. But let each one be proved by places and examples from Scripture, or by reasons which have a firm foundation in Scripture.

52. Admonition is the application of a point to correct some vicious-ness.

53. In admonition, or exhortation against vices, remedies may be found from passages which are most likely to be effective against them.

54. The doing of all these things must have in it no show of human wisdom or mixture of carnal affections; it should manifest itself throughout as the demonstration of the Spirit. 1 Cor. 1:17; and 2:1, 4, 13, Not with skill of speaking, lest the cross of Christ should have no effect. Not with excellence of speech or wisdom, not in persuading words of men’s wisdom, but in spiritual and powerful demonstration. Not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but in that which the Holy Spirit teaches. It is the word of the Spirit, the word of life, which is preached for the building up of faith in God. If anything be not fitly spoken or done to this end, it is as useless as hay and stubble, 1 Cor. 3:12.

55. Therefore, neither human testimonies, no matter what they be, nor stories known only to the learned ought to be mixed in, except on the rare occasions when urgent necessity or sure hope of good results seem to require it (and then the reason for so doing should be made clear). Much less should words or sentences in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew be used which the people do not understand.

56. The purity, perfection, and majesty of the word of God is violated when it is said to need the admixture of human words. And at the same time a disservice is done to hearers who get so accustomed to human flourishes that they often contract the disease of itching ears, begin to dislike the simplicity of the gospel, and will not endure sound teaching. 2 Tim. 4:3.

57. Consider Paul, who cites only a few, brief sayings of heathen poets, not naming the authors — and that incidentally and by the way — to convince the Gentiles to whom they were known and approved. His example hardly supports those who “of necessity” or “to improve the sermon” frequently and purposely insert human testimonies, commending their authors with the same solemnity used in citing the names of the prophets. And such is done among Christians who only desire to hear Christ; the end result is only a show of learning.

58. Unnecessary and farfetched preambles and plausible words of orators ought not to be used. Nor should ministers indulge in digressions or excursions, for they smack of the human spirit, take time, and shut out other things more edifying.

59. If any introduction is used applying to the subject in hand, it should be either in announcing the text or applying it to use.

60. Speech and action should be completely spiritual, flowing from the very heart. They should show a man well versed in the Scriptures and in pious exercises, who has first persuaded himself and thoroughly settled in his own conscience those things to which he would persuade others, and in whom, finally, there is zeal, charity, mildness, freedom, and humility mixed with solemn authority.

61. Pronunciation must be natural, familiar, clear, and distinct so that it can be easily understood. It should fit the matter in such a way that the affections are moved. Gal. 4:20, I wish now to be present with you and change my tone, for I am in doubt of you.

62. There are two voices, among others, which are offensive. The first is heavy, slow, singing, drowsy in which not only the words are separated with a pause, as if by commas, but even the syllables in the same word, producing great hindrance to understanding.

63. The other voice which is most offensive in a sermon is hasty and swift, overwhelming the ears with so much speed that there is no distinct understanding of the subject.

64. Speech, pronunciation, and gestures which would be ridiculous in a senate, in courts of law, and the forum are the more to be avoided in a sermon.

65. The power of the Holy Spirit more clearly appears in the naked simplicity of words than in elegance and luster. Therefore, Paul calls himself unskilled in speaking, 2 Cor. 11:6. Yet if anyone has a certain outward forcefulness in speaking he ought to use it with genuine directness.

66. In proportion as affectation appears, effectiveness and authority are lost.

67. The sum of the matter is that nothing is to be allowed which does not contribute to the spiritual edification of the people, and nothing omitted by which we may surely reach that end.

68. A supplement to the sermon is prayer both before and after.

69. In the prayer before it, general matters ought to be set forth: the end and use of the word and of preaching, our wants, our un-worthiness, and our duty, together with the gracious promises of God. All these should be brought to remembrance so that the minds of all will be stirred up humbly to seek and faithfully to observe the will of God.

70. In the prayer following, the giving of thanks should always be included and the chief heads of the sermon turned into petitions.