Message 20, Optional Session: A Long Line of Godly Men:
History includes example after example of godly men who have upheld the doctrines of grace. This session considers the examples of these men, why these doctrines were important historically, and why they are important for Christians both today and in the future.
Well, thank you. It’s a joy to be here at this Ligonier conference with you, and this is always a conference that puts so much gas in my tank and higher octane in the gas that I do have, so thank you for being here. It’s wonderful to have this time with you.
They’ve asked me to talk about the series of books that I’ve written that I’ve called ‘A Long Line of Godly Men.’ And it’s hard to know how to summarize this because I have a 600-page, and a 600-page book, and then a lot of smaller books, and to be able to put my arms around all of this, I would simply say this: once you see the doctrines of grace in the Bible, you suddenly see them everywhere.
I grew up in an Arminian church with an Arminian background, and no one hit that brick wall of the sovereignty of God in salvation any harder than I did. I hit it at sprinter’s speed and hit that wall and bounced back and got up, dusted myself off and took another run at the doctrines of grace, and I found myself really fighting against God, and arguing against the very Word of God itself. And so, when I was 28 years old, I came to an understanding of the doctrines of grace.
And when I say the doctrines of grace, sometimes it’s known as the five points of Calvinism, and so, it marked my life and it marked my ministry in a dramatic way. And I pastored for 34 years, and as I preached the Word of God, I addressed these passages. My ministry is preaching verse by verse through entire books in the Bible, not overlooking any verse whatsoever. Addressing every verse in every book that I preach through.
The doctrines of grace, it’s unavoidable when you preach that way. If you’re just always bouncing around the Bible, you can avoid the doctrines of grace and that’s what a lot of preachers do. But when you start out chapter 1, verse 1 of a book, and you’re committed now for the next two years, the next three years, four years, it’s unavoidable.
And so I pastored a church, a very large Southern Baptist church, and as I addressed these doctrines of grace, it was the best of times and the worst of times. It was the best of times in that church members began to be saved. Deacons began to be saved. Lots of people were saved, and at the same time, lots of people became fiercely angry, and so I was the most loved man and the most hated man in town. People would either name their children or their dogs after me. One of the two. I walk into a room and it’s either duck or pucker.
And so as a result of that pastorate, I was forced out of my ministry, and it was a race to see whether they could fire me or whether I would resign first, and I won by one week. And, the aftermath of that, there ended up being a new church that started, and I really did not even want to stay.
I wanted to go because this whole thing was very embarrassing, but there was a church that was birthed and they wanted me to stay and pastor this new church, which I did. And so, I realized that I needed to have a Bible study with the men in our church, and explain to them what this was all about more carefully.
So every Friday morning, I had a men’s Bible study in which men came — would get in their cars — it began at six o’clock in the morning, and men would drive to it from three states. Some men — one man drove from two hours away. He would leave at 3:30 in the morning and he couldn’t even stay for the whole Bible study, and he would have to leave before I finished, and so, I prepared a 16-page handout for every one of those men’s Bible studies.
Single spaced, footnoted, and I would teach for an hour and 15 minutes, hour and 20 minutes, every Friday morning. And there would be about 60 to 80 men down in the basement of our new church, and I decided what I would do.
It was really like a birds and bees talk. How it is we came to find ourselves in the kingdom of heaven. I’m a verse by verse expositor, and so I decided what I would do with our men, is I would start in the book of Genesis and I would just go consecutively through the entire Bible until I got to the end of Revelation and draw to their attention every verse in the Bible on the sovereignty of God in salvation.
And I did it by books because that’s how God gave us the Bible. The Bible is not a collection of verses. The Bible is a collection of books. It’s a library of 66 books that were given at 66 individual times, and that’s why I preach through books in the Bible because that’s how God gave it to us. God did not give us a topical index.
He gave us books, and so I just preached through all 66 books in the Bible addressing the doctrines of grace. Total depravity, unconditional election, definite atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. I stuck divine sovereignty at the front end and divine reprobation on the back end. So, I looked at every book in the Bible under those seven headings and I went through every book in the Bible seven times.
What does this book teach on the sovereignty of God? What does this book teach on the total depravity of man? What does it teach on unconditional election? Etc., for the rest of these doctrines of grace. And some of you have gone through the DVD series I did for Ligonier on the doctrines of grace in the gospel of John.
Well, all of this really was just birthed out of my men’s Bible study in the basement of our church, explaining to them what this whole crisis was about when I was forced out of my ministry as pastor of the church.
And this took, as you can imagine, a couple of years, and I then turned to R.C., Dr. R.C. Sproul was a former professor of mine, and so I just turned those in for him to look at, and he said, “I’ve never seen a book in all of my years ever written like this.” Every book on the five points of Calvinism is always, you line up every verse in the Bible on total depravity, that’s a chapter.
And then you have a chapter on every verse on the Bible on unconditional election and then so forth.” He said, “I’ve never seen a book like this in the whole world where you start in Genesis 1 and you end up in Revelation at the very end, 22, and you just march through the entire Bible,” and it’s an overwhelming case.
And I want to say those who do not believe in the doctrines of grace, it’s not because they know too much about the Bible, it’s because they know too little about the Bible, because it’s there cover to cover. So I wrote a book called ‘Foundations of Grace,’ and it’s the first book in ‘A Long Line of Godly Men’ and in this book I cover a long line of godly men, I start with Moses who wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
And then I go to Joshua etc., until I come to Ezra, Nehemiah, then David, then Solomon, then Isaiah, and, and through the major prophets and then I just go consecutively through the minor prophets. And that’s the long line of godly men.
It’s the biblical authors of the Old Testament, but then I kept going, and what is the New Testament have to say about the doctrines of grace? And the first one to speak — and I’ve got two chapters — is the greatest teacher of the doctrines of grace who ever walked this earth, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And He had more to say about the doctrines of grace than even the book of Romans has to say about it. And so, I walk through what Christ had to teach and then Peter and then Paul and then Luke and then the writer of Hebrews and then John and Jude, and it’s a slam-dunk case.
In fact, when they did the index at the back of ‘Foundations of Grace,’ I had so many Bible verses that they had to do a triple column, just to even begin to get all of the Bible verses in, and it’s a tour de force of a study of the Bible on the doctrines of grace. And Stephen Nichols who introduced me, interviewed me for his radio — or his podcast on five minutes in church history and he asked me at the end if I could just leave one book on a deserted island — I’ve written 28 books — if I could just leave one book for the next generation to read, what is the one book out of the 28 that I’ve written to this point would I leave.
And I said, “That’s easy. It’s ‘Foundations of Grace.’” Because when you get the doctrines of grace right, you get 50 other things right.
It brings everything into focus. The doctrines of grace are so God-exalting. They’re so pride-crushing. They’re so worship-igniting. They’re so joy-producing. They’re ministry-defining. They are evangelism-igniting, they are missions-launching.
They are holiness-producing. It will change your life, and if you did not grow up in a church that taught the doctrines of grace, when you finally see the doctrines of grace in the Bible, it’s like you’re saved all over again. In fact, you may be more excited and have more joy to see them as an adult then even if you were converted earlier in your youth.
It’s that thrilling and it’s that exhilarating, and so as I taught this to the men in our church and they literally are sitting on the edge of their chair as I marched through the entire Bible, I say, “Well, let’s just keep going then.”
And so, the next book in ‘A Long Line of Godly Men’ is called ‘Pillars of Grace.’ ‘Foundation’ is the foundation. ‘Pillars’ rest upon a foundation, and so what I did was I covered the first century through the sixteenth century, and I isolated the 22 key men in church history from the first to the sixteenth century. I began with Clement of Rome and concluded with Calvin of Geneva.
And I went through the church fathers, and I went through the Dark Ages, and I went through the pre-Reformers, and I then went into the Reformers, and I gave a biography on each of these men because our men were not familiar with these men because they were Southern Baptist.
And they needed to be educated, and so, I had a biography, and I had the historical context of the times in which they lived, and then I researched and in their own words what they wrote and what they said about the five doctrines of grace plus what they said about the sovereignty of God and what they said about divine reprobation, and it’s all fully footnoted in first source references. Well, our men were just blown away, and what they needed to see is there is a bigger world out there than the Southern Baptist world.
And there’s a bigger world out there than the Presbyterian world. And there’s a bigger world out there than whatever church background you come from. And in reality, there’s only one flock with one Shepherd. Now, there’s not a Baptist body, and there’s not a Presbyterian body, and there’s not an independent body.
You won’t find that anywhere in the Bible. I mean, what you find is one body with one head. One flock with one Shepherd. And so to study these men, century by century by century is an eye-opening, awakening experience.
And so in ‘Pillars of Grace,’ I have that all detailed, and the case presented, and right now, I’m working or will be soon working on volume three which will bring it to the present hour, and it’ll go from John Knox from John MacArthur. I knew you would like that.
And so, the whole series goes from Moses to MacArthur, OK? It goes from Geneva to Sun Valley. Or, from the wilderness, rather, to the other wilderness, so. Oh, I see you’ve been there.
So, and as I was writing ‘Pillars of Grace,’ which is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, writing and researching that. I’ve played major college football, I’ve gone to law school, I’ve done a lot of hard things. It’s far and away the hardest project I’ve ever undertaken in my life.
As I wrote Pillars, and have since writing Pillars, I’ve written what we call profiles in A Long Line of Godly Men, and I began with John Calvin, the ‘Expository Genius of John Calvin,’ and have got that over in the bookstore, and in each of these books, I write a biography, a one chapter biography, and then I take one aspect of that individual, and the next chapters, let’s say the next six chapters, isolate their strength. And John Calvin is the poster child for expositors. I wish I had time to develop that with you.
And so I started by writing ‘Expository Genius of John Calvin,’ and I know multiple pastors who have just Xeroxed the table of contents, cut it out, and scotch taped it into the front of their Bible as a check list for preparing their expository sermons every week.
From there I did ‘The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards,’ and I did a biography of Edwards, and then I took the 70 resolutions that he wrote when he was 18 and 19 years old, as an interim pastor in downtown New York. Had only been saved for one year, and was pastoring then the next year, and he wrote 70 resolutions that were to be like a moral compass for his life, that are all steeped in Scripture, and I walk through those 70 resolutions and in essence, exegete them and expound them.
I wrote ‘The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther,’ and for those of you who are pastors and who need Martin Luther quotes, and this the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, I’ve got the cream of the crop of the Martin Luther quotes, and they’re all footnoted and you ought to go and just harvest those and plug them into your sermons.
We need an IV hookup in pastor’s vein for the heroic boldness of Martin Luther, but the same with every layperson as well. I wrote a book, a profile on ‘The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield.’ And if I could be anyone in church history, I would be Whitfield. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Other men merely existed. Whitfield lived.”
Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “Oh, for just one week of Whitefield’s life.” I mean, what would it be like to be Whitfield for just one week? And Charles Haddon Spurgeon, arguably the prince of preachers, the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul, said, “I’ve only had one mentor in my life, in preaching, other than my master Jesus Christ, and I have followed in close footsteps behind George Whitefield.”
To understand Spurgeon, you have to understand George Whitefield. And Spurgeon was the evangelist that he was, because he modeled his preaching and his ministry after the greatest evangelist who ever lived since the Apostle Paul, George Whitefield. You need to know about George Whitefield.
And I wrote a book called ‘The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon’ and it’s a great book. Not because I wrote it, because it’s just full of Spurgeon quotes, and Spurgeon biography, and how Spurgeon took the doctrines of grace in one hand, the sovereignty of God in one hand, and he took evangelistic zeal and passion in the other hand, and how he married the two together.
The Calvinistic evangelist is the only man who plays with a full deck. He’s got the whole Bible and he’s lit up. He’s got a fire in his bones, and he’s got the full counsel of God. That’s Spurgeon. And then I wrote a book on the passionate preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and I wrote a book on William Tyndale that Steven Nichols has mentioned, and all of these small biographies, and they’re so easy to read. They’re about 135 pages.
They’re intended to be just accessible and an entry-level to be introduced to these historic figures where you’re not having to read a big thick tome on these men.
They’re intended to motivate as much as instruct, and so, these are spinning out of — the putting together of the pillars of grace. So this series is called ‘A Long Line of Godly Men,’ and I just did a DVD series this past November that will come out at some point, where I was filmed by Ligonier doing the doctrines of grace through the Old Testament. A Genesis to Malachi.
And then after this conference is over on Monday and Tuesday, I’ll do the New Testament, and I’ll do Matthew through Revelation, and do a march through the New Testament on the doctrines of grace, and those will be coming out in DVD.
What I discovered in church history is that the greatest of men, century by century, they have differed on baptism. I mean, R.C. certainly has.
They have differed on forms of church government. They have differed on eschatology, but where they speak with one voice and where they stand together and lock arms together is when they address the subject of the sovereignty of God in salvation. That is where these men all line up and march as a long line of godly men down through the centuries, and whether they be Presbyterian or Baptist, or independent or church of England, or wherever they have found themselves by outward identification, on the inside where they have stood strong together is with the doctrines of grace.
And so, I’ve tried to pull all this together in these books, and I would urge you to read them. I would urge you to go — to go buy those books. Unashamedly, you need to read every one of those books.
It’ll be good for your Christian life. You need to be five of them and pass out the other four.
You really do, because we need the doctrines of grace to really rise to the forefront. Listen. The church has always been strongest when the sovereignty of God in salvation has been trumpeted from the pulpit, and you can go down through the centuries —
Without exception, you can go from the Reformation, to the Puritan age, to the Great Awakening to the Evangelical Awakening, to the missions — modern missions movement, to the Victorian Era to the evangelical era, all the way down to the present. The mountain peaks of church history have been when pastors and theologians have climbed to the summit and have upheld the doctrines of grace. B. B. Warfield said, “The church desperately needs Calvinism. It desperately needs the sovereignty of God in salvation.
Whether the church realizes it or not, because those have been her strongest hours, and her strongest eras, and so that’s why we need to get — we’ve got to get the Word out. And for men to preach it, and for flocks to embrace it, and for believers to live it. And so, that’s ‘A Long Line of Godly Men.’ And there’s not two lines or three lines or four lines going through redemptive history.
There is one line of godly men, and it begins with Moses, and it concludes, at least at this moment in history, with a man who will be speaking at seven o’clock, so what a privilege we have before us tonight. So, I’m one minute past my time so I’m going to have to land the plane. God bless you.