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Matthew 2:18, Rachel Weeping for Her children - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Pastoral Theology and Expository Preaching Articles

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Are they ejected from the pulpit often? Are they given a chance to minister at all? If they have the gifts and graces, why are we not more mindful of them?

It must be stated at the outset that the Puritans sometimes used texts as spring boards into other doctrinal ideas and treatises. It was not that they mishandled a text, or eisogeted the text by accident, but rather on purpose. Intentional eisogesis is oftentimes acceptable when properly employed, and sound doctrine still propagated (that should not be something which sounds strange – John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon were masters at this when properly employed). For instance, what if I decided to write a sentence in this manner: “all puritans wore wigs.” You may censure me for not capitalizing the first letter in the sentence. However, if it were part of a poem, intentionally done, it would be wholly acceptable. Even if I were writing a certain type of narrative or story, this would also be acceptable because I am purposely overriding the laws of proper English with intent. Biblically, sometimes there is due cause for using a text which brings to mind a paralleled thought or idea which may not be an exegetical point of the passage itself, but certainly a principal which may taken from the text to prove the point out. This is not a bad, unless the doctrine is wholly misconstrued or wrong biblically. Oftentimes it can be exceedingly helpful. Such, I hope, is the case here. I am certainly aware that Matthew 2:18 is not directed related to the calling of men into the ministry, but it is useful in this paralleled form to spark a principled thought concerning the reason why these young children were massacred by Herod – they were young. The parallel is analogical, and warranted in this manner. This idea of being expunged due to one’s age then fits the topic I desire to bring forth. I state this first desiring that the reader will no go away believing I have misapplied the text. I am fully aware of my actions in this case.

It was a horrifying day indeed when many of the children of Israel were killed and butchered because of their age. No doubt God’s holy providence was at work in the doctrine of concurrence in Herod’s wicked soul. God used him as a woodsman would use an axe; Herod was the axe in the hand of God, the tool in the Master Craftsman of the universe, yet for a most deplorable means. Herod, in desiring the death of our Lord, killed all the children 2 years old and under. All the land mourned and wept, and not the least of all Scriptures was fulfilled, (Jer. 31:15). In Matthew 2:18 we find the words of the Apostle saying, “In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” The children were slaughtered simply because of their age. They had done nothing to deserve death b Herod’s hand. They were caught in the middle of a ploy where Herod’s desire to do away with the One who would impinge his kingship drove him to do kill these children. It is most fitly called the “slaughter of the infants.”

Here we find the mother of Israel weeping for her children for they were unduly expelled from the caresses and tender care of their own mothers. Such a prophecy comes to light and should shock our soul. The metaphorical Rachel weeping on behalf of the wickedness of Herod is seen here in all its reality and horror. There is Israel weeping for her children because they are no more. There is a great meaning and exegetical analysis that could be done for great benefit of any hearer of the text; whether it be from Jeremiah 31 or Matthew 2. Yet, a principle emerges that I would utilize for my purpose and subject at hand, which is this: age ought not to have been any part in determining the expulsion. Herod’s plan was monstrous. It held in view an illegitimate means to his ungodly end – the age of the children. Those 3 years and older, or maybe 2 ½ years and older were spared. Simply by their age the decision of the soldiers was made. Those which have reached a certain age were extinguished, to match the age, or up to the age, of the Christ which had been born 2 or so years earlier. The children 1 1/2 months old and older should have been spared (all of them should have in reality). But because it was more convenient and less difficult to distinguish the children in their ages, he decided to kill them all which were 2 years and under. Here we see them a victim of convenience. Such, then is the immense weight of the Scripture, and ought to be upon behalf of any which are unduly expunged because of age, Rachel weeps for her children.

This passage brought to mind the undue expulsion of many good young men from the ministry simply due to their age. They were not old enough, and as a result, metaphorically removed by Herod’s hand. In the church during these subsequent years certain considerations are made for a man to enter the ministry without a truly real biblical ground. There is an ever-widening mouth of ignorance gobbling up the churches’ mind to discern the right qualifications of the candidate and the role he will have in the Gospel ministry. There are often two horrid extremes, both of which should be refuted thoroughly. First, entrance too quickly because the church is business enterprise, and entrance over a very long period because the church is far too cautious, humanly speaking. Most churches allow men to climb the corporate ladder to the position of CEO over the business of the church. There are those who are received quickly because they simply love people. There are those who desire ordination to attain some professionalism and some piece of paper that will cause their career to “flourish.” Some enter the ministry because they are dropouts from the secular world and it’s the only thing left for them to do. The examples of that extreme may be dealt with in another place and another time. Yet, my intent is to deal with the extreme of church sloth in this area. It is the extreme of requiring too much of the candidate, and being “too careful” (if such a thing exists—or does it?) in entering into a preaching ministry. One of the prerequisites which some make upon the one desiring the office of an Elder is their age. Some feel that the Bible allows them the necessary implication that age is an all important matter concerning a preaching ministry.

It is imperative that the reader discern my meaning here. I am not saying that anyone who desires the ministry should be allowed to enter it. No, not at all. “Desire” does not give way to the words “qualified,” “proved,” “tested,” “tried,” doctrinally sound,” and the like. I am not jumping upon the band wagon of contemporary Christendom which allows anyone to enter the ministry because sister Betty thought brother John’s Sunday School lesson was so exceptional that he should go into full time ministry. No, this is not what I mean at all. I am assuming, for my purposes, that the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are in place and in check, but because a young man holds these qualifications, in even the least degree, because he is young and has little experience, he should not be allowed to preach in the church, or enter into a preaching ministry for a local congregation. This is, in my estimation, tragic.

It is important at the outset to remember the distinction I am about to make; I do not mean that age means nothing, in that, those who are young in the faith may be disqualified. I am saying that age, chronological age of a number of lived years, is not a prerequisite for determining whether a man should or should not engage in a preaching ministry; this will be considered even in the light of the needed maturity of those entering the ministry. If a man applied for a job, the CEO asks if he has any experience. For the church, this should be a non-issue since those Elders whom God will raise up are qualified by Him through the gifts and graces they are given. They are gifts by Christ to His church. They should not be treated as applicants for a job. Their qualifications, in gifts and graces, should be manifested and proved, but treating one like a job applicant in comparison to the biblical example of selecting men for the ministry is quite another thing altogether.

There are important considerations to be made before any thesis is proven, or any biblical truth be seen. My intention is to show that chronological age, prudently considered both from the Bible and from the history of the church, does not negotiate the time in which one desiring a preaching ministry may enter into service as such. I will also show that if one desires to place weight upon the chronological age of the one desiring a preaching ministry, then this immediately affects those of undue age already in the ministry, or those who have entered into the ministry at such an undue age as well. Those who believe age is an important factor, must then be willing to expel those in the ministry who do not meet that “required” age or fit the prerequisite of their preconceptions. Let us hold onto our convictions without being hypocrites.

Here we will find that many in Christendom would have the metaphorical Rachel weeping for her children again. By their chronological age they would be cast from the church’s discernment until such a time as the church deemed them ripe. They are placed within a prolonged time of, in my estimation, unlawful consideration because they simply do not meet the experience criteria for a life lived. Here we find a great injustice done to those who desire to be useful as a preacher of the Gospel before Christ.

Proposition 1: Christians should not impose upon candidates for ministry what God has not imposed upon candidates for ministry.

Proposition 2: No Christian should place “age” within the necessary criteria of ordaining a Gospel minister under Christ since God has not done so.

Proposition 3: The History of God’s normal operation through the church demonstrates that He was pleased to give the church the gifts of young men as Gospel ministers—and this being a great majority of the most blessed saints.

Proposition 4: In wisdom, chronological age should not be used to hinder the desire of a candidate called to the ministry.

Before taking up any proposition above, it is important for me to qualify the prerequisites for ministry and my meaning of “candidate”. There are nonnegotiable qualifications for ministry. The Gospel minister, the herald, called of God to preach His word must exemplify certain traits, characteristics, examples and gifts before being ordained to the ministry. Again, I say these are non-negotiable, and those who do not exemplify them ought not to be standing in a pulpit anywhere. It is often the case that many are ordained without these qualifications being considered at all. Here we will assume that the reader is familiar with those main passages (1 Tim. 3, Titus 1, Jeremiah 3:15, Job 33:23, 1 Thess. 5:12ff, Heb. 13:7, Ephesians 4:1ff, and the like). Thus, in understanding that all those prerequisites stand true (as a discerning reader be sure to take time to read them through thoroughly and study them), we will still take up the issue of the chronological “age” of the candidate.

The “candidate” is going to be defined as the one who fits the following frame: one who desires the Gospel ministry as a preacher (khrussw), and has had favorable reception by the Elders of a church towards ministry as such. Whether one has been previously ordained to the ministry or not makes no difference for the discussion at hand, nor the definition of the term above. Nor does it matter if the candidate has been in another church as a minister or not. The term shall be given above as a logical conclusion of 1 Tim. 3:1, and the result of the prudence of the church Elders who should be working with him.

First, It is almost unnecessary, when dealing with faithful expositors of God’s word, that Proposition 1 may not even need an explanation, but may be universally agreed upon by those in the true church. My first proposition is this: Christians should not impose upon candidates for ministry what God has not imposed upon candidates for ministry. This could be easily understood from the light of nature itself. The Christian church has no right, even under the guise of “prudence” to impose anything on the candidate for ministry that God has not required whether specifically or by necessary deduction. I do not mean “imposing” is deemed as becoming “all things to all men”, as a proper example of this; as if growing a beard was a prerequisite for ministering in Pakistan—it may be prudent but not necessary for one to be a minister before God as such. Growing a beard or mustache is not a prerequisite for the Gospel minister as much as him being tall or short. It would show prudence of a minister not to eat a ham sandwich in front of Mr. Goldstein while witnessing—but it is not a matter of requisite. It does not make the minister, or the candidate, less of a minister or candidate, just less prudent. It is simply a matter for the candidate to fulfill all the non-negotiable qualifications of a minister in waiting. He is to do this with a true desire and an exercising of those gifts and graces which God has in some way confirmed and blessed him with, then to be used by the church in one form or another; whether it be to be sent out to preach, or ordained within that church to preach, or any other prudent use of the ministry which God has given to the church and for that Elder.

If there is such a Scripture or necessary induction that allows the church of Christ to impose upon the candidate something God does not require, then I would challenge them to bring it forth. It would not stand the test of the Bible itself, or the various principles that arise from the Regulatory Principle. God decrees the prerequisites for ministry, not men. God sets forth what the constitution of the candidate for ministry should be, not men. It is the church’s solemn position and necessity to choose out those who are fitted for the ministry with a keen eye – an eye of a hawk – that they would not miss one in their midst. If men were to impose “extras”, they would immediately forfeit the office that the candidate desires, and would have instantaneously created a new pseudo office which neither God, nor Jesus Christ would confirm. Thus, I will not treat this proposition further. It stands as a truth that I believe all good men would agree with and uphold.

My second proposition is this, Proposition 2: No Christian should place chronological “age” within the necessary criteria of ordaining a Gospel minister or preacher under Christ since God has not done so. This does not mean that a 2 year old, or 5 year old or 9 year old is included as a candidate for ministry at that particular age. There is a realm of biblical wisdom to be used in identifying those ready for ministry. It would be unlawful for any to make suppositions, or objections to the idea that young children should then be considered if chronological age is a factor. It is improbable that any young child would be fit to exemplify the necessary criteria of the Scriptural passages noted previously. It would border on the absurd for some to appeal to such. We should understand the Scriptures enough to see clear mandates which more mature candidates must possess. (Yet we have not defined the necessary inference of what it means to be mature yet—let us hold this for later). Other Scriptures would be clearly violated to place an immature 9 year old in the pulpit. It is therefore quite ludicrous for anyone to assert that a 9 year old should be leading a congregation. The criteria always surrounds proven men, not boys, in the ministry.

It is now important for me to prove biblically that God does not use the age of a man as necessary criteria for entering into a preaching ministry. Biblically speaking, there is a deficit of verses that say, “one must be such and such an age.” The Bible never states that there is a specific age that a candidate must be in order to enter into formal service to Christ as a minister, though some press this, or take so much time in assessing the candidate that it appears as such. This alone should cause all to be immediately stopped in their attempt to use “age” or “youthful age” as a hindrance to ministry. This alone is weighty enough to deter the presumption some have on such ideas. Is it then by necessary deduction that the age of a candidate matters? Here we will have to seek out biblical examples that are frequently referred to in support of the notion that chronological age matters. They are as follows: first, there is 1 Timothy 3:2, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife…” and other like areas of chapter 3 which refer to ruling the house. The inference is made that such are older men who have married and have a rule over their family. But the principle laid here by the Apostle does not necessitate the Elder to be married, but simply gives rules for those who are. If this was not so, then Christ Himself is disqualified from being the Shepherd and Bishop of Souls (1 Peter 2:25). If being a Bishop (an Elder) meant marriage was indispensable, then Christ is disqualified from the office he holds—and what blasphemy to say such! And by what historical bracket should we use this as a test? If we were to use the 19th century, many couples were married at 15 and 16. Should we traverse back to 17th century France? What of young princes entering into fixed marriages at an early age to propagate the monarchy? Is that the rule of age? It should be obvious to the reader that this is faulty reasoning. Biblical wisdom and guidance is rule. The unnecessary inferences drawn from 1 Timothy 3 concerning family life deeming older age as necessary on the candidate is used illegitimately to deter young men from pursuing the ministry. But wisdom should still be exercised as to what age a young man is really a “man.”

A second verse appealed to is 1 Timothy 3:6, “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” It is Scripturally sound to state emphatically and without reservation that a candidate for a preaching ministry must not be a “novice”. What is a “novice?” The word neo,futoj {neh-of’-oo-tos} is a derivative of fu,w {foo’-o}, a primary verb originally meaning to “puff or blow, (i.e. to swell up or to beget, bring forth, or produce).” We receive the word “neophyte” from it meaning, “newly planted, a new convert, one who has recently become a Christian.” It is not meant, at all, in any scriptural passage used by the Spirit of God, to determine chronological age. The three other uses of the word’s derivative appear in the following passages: 1 Cor. 3:1, Heb. 5:12-13, and 1 Peter 2:2. All of these derivatives show the meaning to be one “young in the faith” not of age. An older man, such as a grandfather, may be newly converted and seen as a novice in the faith, a babe. A teenager, or a 9 year old may also be deemed this title “novice” as to their understanding and faith in Christ as being newly converted—in fact, a neophyte.

The candidate is not allowed by Christ to be a “novice”, one new in the faith who still needs spiritual milk and not solid food. Christ has set the criterion of the candidate to be one of maturity in the faith. That does not mean he is old. It means he is mature in the faith and mature in his walk. Men may be 50 or 60 who lack great measures of maturity, where the 15 year old, by God’s grace, may show forth great maturity. The idea of maturity is not of age, but of relationship. What should we think of a teen who spends most of his time with Christ in the house of prayer. Let us imagine a 14 year old spending hours each day in study, prayer, and meditation concerning the things of Christ. He is able to do so not formally working, though he may have chores, and this time well spent, for arguments sake, lasts 2 years. What would the older man of 35 with his busy schedule make headway in maturity in comparison to the youth of 14 who has spent more time with Christ in 2 years that the older man may in 10 years? Maturity depends on the relationship one has with Christ. The Psalmist said in Psalm 119:33, “Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.” For how long? Unto the end he says. If it is such with a youth of 14 who keeps it unto the end of life, does it matter when he learned it? And does it matter at what age he is exercising it? Can he be mature in Christ, though, without argument, he may not have made great strides in life experience, and show forth these things while he is still of a young age? (But where is the requirement of long periods of life-experience stated in the Scriptures except for in the home as a head of the house – yet this young man is not married?) Here we find the list which God desires of a man from 1 Timothy 3: he is to be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; not a novice, having a good report of them which are without. Where do we see that he must live such and such number of years gaining life experience? Life experience in all of these qualifications is no doubt true, but who is to say how long it will take for me to exemplify soberness or blamelessness, and for you to do the same? Maybe we will find it in Titus 1: blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly; unblemished as a steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate, holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught and given to the ability to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. We do not find the age criteria here either. What of Job 32:33 and Elihu’s description of a minister; he is to show a man his sin, be a mediator, one who is exemplary – one in a thousand, having a ministry of reconciliation. Still, we do not see a place where it is even inferred that life-experience is a necessary prerequisite. The exemplary life is one thing, which obviously would be tried over a period of time, but life-experience as a prerequisite is never stated. Rather, I see overwhelmingly that a good reputation, a disciplined life, and an ability to expound and understand the Scriptures (with both teaching abilities and the like), these are the necessary conditions of the candidate, regardless of age. It may be argued, and I will concur, that it would take some time for these things to manifest themselves after attaining them. But if Christ is willing to save a boy from his youth, why could this not be the case sooner than later? Why not a mature 16 year old possessing such abilities? What warrant is there that such cannot be? Is it argued that this is not the norm in our day? Would this, then, be a detriment to the church or help? If it were not that this is exemplified in our day would it not be the fault of the church? Or is it the fault of God? Perusing the history of the church will show the case plainly enough later.

The third verse, most weighty to them that use it, is 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Here the argument is used that Timothy was an older man, “probably” in his late 30’s, and Paul refers to him at this age as youthful. Paul was concerned that the church may, in their weakness of mind, despise Timothy because of his young age. Timothy, at such a young age shepherding the flock of God, may not be respected enough by the people at such a young age (this may be a valid consideration in light of the people’s acceptance into ministry apart from the necessity of arguing chronological age – but does this argue the biblical wisdom of the people?). Now earning respect and using this as criteria for qualifying a candidate for ministry are 2 wholly different things. Yet, there are many who say, “Commentators and theologians agree, Timothy was about 35-39. This would infer, necessarily, that the age of a minister is normally around that age at the very least.” Logic as such is an exegetical fallacy. First, nowhere is Timothy’s age mentioned. It is derived from a series of deductions concerning Paul’s acquaintance of Timothy on his second missionary journey, and the dating of that journey, with a leap of presumption on his age of conversion.

Who are the theologians that say such things? It is not mentioned with Calvin, Luther, or Owen; and Baxter makes no mention of young verses old in his Reformed Pastor. What of the puritans? None that I have found make mention of a certain “chronological age” in which a candidate would enter the ministry. Those leaning on such a notion would look in vain to find one inference of an age of candidacy in their writings. John Gill says this in his commentary on Timothy, “Timothy was now a young man; some think he was about 23 years of age; but he might be older, and yet be so called. Saul is said to be a young man when he held the clothes of them that stoned Stephen, when he must be 30 years of age and some say 35. Young men are sometimes honored by God with great gifts, for usefulness in both church and state…” Matthew Henry says, in his commentary on Timothy, that Paul was concerned with Timothy in his ordination, not of his ordination. But Henry says nothing about age at all. Is it Matthew Poole who brings for the “chronological age” view? Not so. He says nothing in his volumes on the New Testament about such. What if we look to “modern day” commentators? Edmund Clowney in his book, Called to the Ministry, shows the character of the minister but not the age. He mentions nothing of it. Thomas Murphy mentions nothing of age, but much of the character of the candidate in his Pastoral Theology. J.W. Alexander in his Thoughts on Preaching has sections devoted to speaking to “young ministers”, but says nothing of a requisite age of them. What of Charles Bridges in his work The Christian Ministry? Or David Hegg in his book Appointed to Preach? Nothing is said of chronological age. What of Martin Lloyd Jones in Preachers and Preaching? What of Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students? You could look, but not find anything on age. The very title of the book assumes he speaking to his “students!” Were they all old men? What do we say then? Who are these theologians and commentators? Where do those who lean on such an inference (that Timothy was older (35-39) and that men who enter the ministry must be older by necessity) get their ideas?

Those who propagate the idea of older men entering the ministry as the norm in our day, may infer this from evidences that William Hendrickson purports in his commentary on 1 Timothy. Hendrickson says this: “It may be assumed that about the year 51, when timothy joined Paul who was on his 2nd missionary journey, the former had reached the age of 22-27 years of age. It is hardly probable that the apostle would have permitted a man even younger than that to join him in such a difficult task. Besides, we know that Timothy must have reached a degree of maturity even during Paul’s first missionary journey, for it was then that he had confessed his faith. If this calculation be correct, then Timothy is now – i.e., about the year 63- somewhere between 34 and 39 years of age.” Here is some of the evidence that sways those who lean on aforementioned ideas. Hendrickson says, “It may be assumed…” but I ask “why?” Is the year of the missionary journeys correct? Many disagree with him on this, though without traversing the long historical paper trail, and the chronology of the Romans emperors and the like, I will acquiesce and agree on the date for convenience sake because this is really not that important to the task at hand. But then he says “the former had reached the age of 22-27…” Again, “why?” Hendrickson says that the reason Timothy must be at such an age, is because “It is hardly probable…” that Paul would let a young man come on a missionary journey. As if to say, Christ, the Head of the church was foolish in his endeavor to allow John, the teenage disciple (19-25?), to go off for a time and preach at such a young age. (More on John’s age later.) Hendrickson’s thesis here has no ground except his own opinion. Gill, just a paragraph above, said Timothy was probably 23 when he was pastoring, much less on a missionary journey. Why is Hendrickson right, and Gill wrong? Hendrickson is making an assumption that is unprovable. Why would it be so strange that Timothy be a young teenager professing faith and be a pastor at 23? There is no reason not to accept it as there is reason to doubt it. None! But, since Hendrickson’s commentaries have a mark of “excellence” upon them in Reformed circles, men tend to believe what they read without testing it. And Hendrickson cannot prove what he says! He just assumes. However, I am assuming as well that it is not the case. But the weight of commentators and lack of biblical evidence turns me to assume such. Unlike Hendrickson, I am keeping silent on what the Bible is relatively silent on. Even if Hendrickson was right, the idea that an age should be looked to as more superior than another would still be without grounds. The logical fallacy of stating that men are necessarily older, or “elderly” when they are in a preaching ministry is not good logic or necessary inference.

Are there other Scriptures for this? No, there are none that hold any real weight to the matter. It is the silence of the bible, and the creation of doctrines out of the silence, or a probable inference, that is detested most. Thus, I am going to leave the unnecessary deduction to float helplessly in the void of a Catholic limbus for now.

My third proposition is this, Proposition 3: The History of God’s normal operation through the church demonstrates that He was pleased to give the church the gifts of young men as Gospel preachers—and this being the majority. What does the history of the church show us? What is the normal operation of God seen in the men of the pulpit through the ages? Let us look to the bible first to see if there were any early-aged servants of God (though they may not have been preachers as such). It may be enough simply to list some of them: Samuel, David, Solomon, Gideon, Joash, Josiah, Asa, Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Mark, John, Jesus Christ, and Timothy.

The Lord Jesus is the head of church and Sovereign over the universe. If God were to decide on an age to begin public ministry what would it be? Obvious it ought to be imitated (Eph. 5:1) since God makes no mistakes. Jesus was about 30 years of age. (Luke 3:23) (Or should we look before this and maybe infer something from his teaching at the temple at the age of 12? (Luke 2:42)) Christ deemed it good to begin at 30. The normal span of life being 80 years, 30, about one third of his life was over when he began. But there is even something more interesting about Christ than his own age. He chose disciples. The age of those disciples is not readily given. But, through the long and arduous paper trail of historical documents, and the dating of the book of Revelation, we can come to find a possible age range for the apostle John.

The book of Revelation is dated AD 90-95, with the traditional date. This is given as a deduction from the reign of Domitian and the images and scripture references from within the book itself, compared to the events of the day. There are some scholars who believe the book to be written earlier which should be noted. The traditional dating is 90-95. This means John would have at least had to live until 95 AD to write the book, then possibly live a year or two after that, then go on to be with the Lord. Most historians believe this to be true (Cairnes, Shelly, Latourette, Schaff and the like), and believe for other reasons, that John died at age 85-90 (or maybe later). If this is correct, and a great amount of research has shown this to be correct, John would have had to been between 17-22 when he was a disciple of Christ. (A disciple at 17-22!) Is it possible that Jesus made an ecclesiastical blunder in giving such a young man such a lofty calling? (He did call James and John the “Sons of thunder.” Could this be a reference to such a blunder? I think not.) And it is believed that John was the younger son of Zebedee—again, from the dating. Why would Jesus send out such a young man to preach? (Mark 6:7). Christ was a young man (possibly younger than Timothy) and he in turn chooses a young man, maybe even a teenager (which is quite possible), to be a disciple. And no small work did this disciple do—a gospel, 3 letters and the Apocalypse? I suppose in his early beginnings he may have been mature in such a way as to be used much in the end. If he had not been so young, maybe he would not have accomplished as much. But that is conjecture.

What of ecclesiastical history itself? Look to Augustine at 35, Polycarp used at a young age (presumably his teens and a disciple of John), Aquinas in his twenties, Luther in his early twenties, Calvin received his first chaplainry at age 12, Melancthon was teaching and preaching in his late 20’s. Zwingli in his very early 20’s was pastoring, Tyndale began preaching in his early 20’s, and what shall we say of the puritans? Christopher love at 27, Baxter—the pastor of pastors—at 22, William Jenkyn, William Gouge, Dering, Rogers, Bradford, Hooper, all in their twenties. Jonathan Edwards at 15 was preaching and pastoring in his late teens and early 20’s; John Owen, John Bunyan, Watson, Turretin all in their 20’s, and more and more. Most of them called and ordained before they were 25. What of Spurgeon at 16? The prince of preachers pastoring at an early age! And Henry Scougal died at age 26 after writing “The Life of God in the Soul of Man” which Whitefield read and said “I did not know what religion was until I read that book.” If Scougal had lived in our day, he would have died before he could have ever been in the ministry, and Whitefield would have never known what religion was! And what of the contemporary Al Martin? Being 67 now, and in the ministry at Trinity Baptist Church for 39 years, which would place him as pastor of that church when he was 28. (And it is no small secret that he began preaching in other church far before that!)

It will be objected that these are the “extra-ordinary” men of history. Though this is not necessarily so, it is understandable to assume such on good grounds. The question that immediately arises is this: why were they extra-ordinary? Could it be partly to the time in which they were called? Could it be the experience they gained as they were pastoring? Is it God’s normal operation for most extra-ordinary men to begin early and then later write tomes on their life’s experiences in the pastorate and what they have gained in their studying for the benefit of the church? I cannot see how God would do it any other way. And could it be that we have a deficit of such men today because we make too many demands on the candidate that God does not necessarily make? Or that chronological age causes there to be far too long a lapse before the church trusts them enough to respects them enough for ministry?

As a Reformed Baptist, I must ask the question as such: what are we doing as Reformed Baptists in training men for the ministry? Are we far too prone in our day and age to create a cookie cutter mentality that dictates that men ought to be a certain way “like so and so” before they are ordained or considered for ordination? Should men be made from the same mold as the one or two prevalent preachers we have today? Ought every cup on the shelf be the same? Or are we being too careful in obligating certain ideas that God never intended for candidates to be placed under? I look in my cupboard and find glasses of various shapes and sizes, and yet each is considered a glass. They have different personalities and traits that give them their appeal. One is a Winnie the Pooh Mug, and another is blue round glass, and yet another is a large, oversized coffee mug. Imagine if God made only Luthers and no Watsons? What if all we had were Owens and no Whitefields? Such would be to the utter detriment of the church.

What I believe is happening in Reformed Baptist circles is that the cookie dictates the cutter. The age of a man is looked upon in such a way that it is almost impossible for a young man to enter the ministry. Would we ordain a 16 year old to the gospel ministry? Would your church do this? Would Edwards and Spurgeon and Calvin all disappear from the history of the church because we presumed upon their age as deficient? If all of the extra-ordinary men of history were to attend church in the 21st century, in reformed circles, would their be a history of the church as such, or do we place such an undue weight on the age of a man that causes us to bock at such things? The church is responsible for such things. They are responsible for pinpointing, training and sending men into the ministry; men of all ages, from the teen to the aged. What hinders them from ordaining them to preach?

But here the aged idea comes into play. An elder in the church is just that, some say, elderly. He is older. Elders in Israel were older, men of experience, so here men in the ministry must be older. It would be suitable to note that Old Testament history does prove that elders were older men (though not necessarily very aged men). But is it logical to presume that older men, or elderly men ought to be the only ones pastoring? What grounds is there for this in the New Testament? Where is the age mentioned? If one were to ask me, personally what I thought an elder should be, why not say 52 or older? Or why not 60 or older? What constitutes the elder to be elderly? Who dictates this since the Scriptures do not tell us? Those who hold that men must be generally older, (though church history and the bible have thus far failed them in this assumption) believe it to be so on what grounds? What verse? Does the Old Testament dictate to the New Testament that Elders must be older men, aged men? Or has the external service of the Old Testament been done away with? Is Joshua more a man of God and fit to lead the people than, lets say, Korah? In the New Testament the external elder has been replaced with the internal elder of the Word. The New Testament word for Elder is “presbu,teroj {pres-boo’-ter-os} which can have 2 meanings, either “an elderly man” or “one who presides over an office”. In 1 Tim. 3:1 the word “bishop” is used for the office of a pastor, “evpiskoph, {ep-is-kop-ay’}” and means “oversight, overseer ship, office, charge, the office of an elder, the overseer or presiding officers of a Christian church.” It does not mean “old” in any sense of the word. The reference is to the office not the person, as I would argue the word “elder” is the same—it refers to the office exemplified by the internal call of the candidate and his giftedness through Christ’s blessing. The elder is an elder of the Word; he knows the Word of God well, more so than others. If he did not, then there would be no need of him in the church in such an office. I do not think that some of the nation-state of Israel’s aged elders ought to dictate the ordinary office of the pastor as being one of aged men.

Let us stick to our guns, then. If young men should not be placed into a preaching ministry, should older men who are now in the ministry but started at a young age be ejected? If the answer is “no” to that (and I believe it should be an emphatic “no”) then those who hinder the young men from entering should also eject the older men since they started “incorrectly.” If this is truly the belief of those propagating these ideas, then there ought to be a solemn duty of those men to speak out against the many reformed pulpits which have young men in them today who are not but 35 years old (or younger). And what hypocrites would such men be if they held the pastors of history (who were of such young ages) in high esteem by reading their books and propagating them? I do not believe a hearty examination of these things warrants such action; not at all.

If this all be true, or any good part of it be true, then my final proposition must be heard. Proposition 4: In wisdom, chronological age should not be used to hinder the desire of a candidate called to a preaching ministry. Age does not matter as such. It is not the chronological age which makes the minister. It is God who makes the minister. No earthly obligation, no essential age, no cookie cutter will make him. If the cookie cutter was imposed upon such a candidate, he would either be cut severly, and damaged in some way, or he would break the mold. In either respect it would be wrong, sin, to impose it on him in any procedural way. It ought to be a matter of character and an examination of gifts; whether at 15, 25, 50 or 80 years old. Praise and glorify God if He would be pleased to raise up another Edwards at 15 or Spurgeon at 16, or even a Jeremiah Burroughs at 40. Otherwise, let us be so bold as to say “Yes, I would never have allowed Spurgeon or Edwards to preach at such young ages – no never. And those who allowed them to do so, or sat to hear them were in sin.”

I must also make one more concluding remark concerning the seemingly open end to this argument. Does this necessitate allowing a 16 year old to pastor a church by himself? It is important to remember that nowhere did I adumbrate such an idea. (Although church history has allowed for such!). I think it more prudent to allow a young man to be on staff as a full time elder under the guise of wiser men than he, that he may be trained up in the practical ministry as he matures. No pastor is exempt form learning in this regard no matter what age they are. It is only that such a younger man may need the expertise and guidance of a practical ministry and a help from the plurality of other elders in a church as the biblical picture purports. But let the reader beware, there is no just cause to hinder a young man from circuit preaching in the Serengeti or in the Chile Mountain range. Many young preachers have already done so. To slight this is to slight the Lord who has given such a gift to His church for the edification of the saints and the salvation of sinners.

Let it never be said that Rachel would weep for her children again; not in Reformed Baptist circles, or any other. Let it never be that the church would take up the proverbial slaughter of innocent men, imposing upon them such prerequisites that God never intended for the sake of sparing the church the possibility of one false Shepherd that would be hard to discern nonetheless. Would we expunge men from the candidacy simply because of their age? Ought we to take up the sword with Herod and his soldiers and remove those we deem unfit? Shall we cause Rachel to weep once more? May it be that the church would never hear Rachel standing outside their foyer doors, weeping for her children. For men of all ages, young men and old men, have been called of God thought the history of the church. And it seems, not until our day, at least in the last 100 years, do we find such a wall dividing those who are young from those who are old as candidates for the ministry. We do not hear of the M’Cheynes or the Knoxs anymore. Why must we look back into the history of the church to find the spiritual giants of preaching? I believe it is because we look for the silver haired men with experience and place that upon our list of prerequisites, and this causes Rachel to weep. How many men have been held back? Or how many have been lost to other less desirable situations? How many have left churches to find ministry elsewhere? I am a younger man, relatively speaking, and I heave seen this very thing in more than one church and with more than one young man ready and fit to preach for Christ. Would we hear Rachel weep for them?

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Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind