10 Jun 2019

Freshness for the Far Journey: Eight Tips from Barton W. Stone

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Barton W. Stone, Books, Church History, Discipleship, Holding On, Journey, Ministry, Personal, Preaching, Reading, Restoration History, Sectarianism, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship

In 1993, I was hired to be the preaching minister for the Barton Avenue Church in Luling, LA a suburb of New Orleans. It is difficult to believe that was twenty-six years ago. This sort of makes me a veteran now. Over the years I have witnessed many of my friends leave ministry.

I have witnessed things they simply do not teach in college or any ministry class. And I have witnessed every last one of us struggling with relevancy, purpose, and stagnation.

The question of personal growth is, I think, of paramount importance for any minister.

Growth in personal relationships.
Growth in the word.
Growth in knowledge.
Growth in life.

We all know we need to grow but how can it be cultivated.

A preacher will have trials. A preacher will have times of doubt. And a preacher should not sound the same after twenty-five years.

Barton W. Stone had wrestled with the same. After a lifetime in fulltime ministry on the frontier of America, Stone, a living legend, offered some advice literally at the end of his life. His sage advice is not flashy and is perhaps not what many want to hear. But Stone speaks as one who has run a marathon, not as a sprinter. It seems that this matter was weighing on Stone’s heart as the end neared. In fact his words come, even at the time, from beyond the grave.

Barton Stone died in 1844 however several of his articles continued to be published until April 1845, the last issue of his journal, The Christian Messenger. In the second to the last article to ever be published under his name, Stone offered wisdom from his years of ministry in the trenches to any and all students of the Bible but especially those occupied with teaching and preaching in the church (See “To a Young Student, R-, G-” Christian Messenger, March 1845, pp. 330-333).

Stone boiled his years of preaching, teaching, editing, striving for the kingdom down to eight numbered suggestions for the kind of study a preacher/teacher should be engaged in. They are worth noting given the kind of training and study many do today. I remember reading these nearly twenty years ago for the first time. I have not always been true to them but they constantly challenge me. They have indeed proven a good guide over the years. I will summarize them but quote as much as possible. I use his numbering nomenclature.

Advice from Beyond the Grave

1st. “Retire to your study.” Stone suggests this should be a dedicated place of “proscuche” or “place of prayer.” Bring with you a large “pollyglot English Bible” {sic}. Along with a copy of the Septuagint, Griesbach’s Greek Testament and two different Greek lexicons.” As you are reading the Old Testament in Greek you see more in the New Testament in the same koine Greek (the LXX is koine Greek). Take notes! And “forget not to mingle prayer to your God for direction into all truth and that the wisdom from above may be afforded to you.” So read the Bible. Read the Bible in the original. Mingle prayer with your reading in the original. Read the NT in light of the Old.

2nd. In the intervals of your Bible studies read lots of “Church history.” Particularly, Stone insists time with D’Aubigne’s five volume history of the Reformation and Neander for the early church, which were classic Protestant histories of the time. Reading church history is an essential discipline and is to be a regular part of our time in the place of “proscuche” and prayer. In our reading of history “forget not meditation and prayer … keep yourself in the love of God.”

3rd. “When you have read your bible, through carefully, not hurriedly, turn back, and read it again, with the commentary.” Now the first reading is in the original and English. This reading is with the best scholarly helps of the day. Stone mentions Matthew Henry, McKnight on the Epistles, and others. Read carefully. Using the standards Stone had for 1844, he would most certainly list today such scholars as: N. T. Wright, Christopher Wright, Scot McKnight, John Goldingay, Juergen Moltmann, Greg Beale, John Walton and others. And “continue ye in prayer.”

4. (sic) “During your studies, let your seat be always filled in the house of God, every Lord’s day, and other days appointed for divine worship.” Study is itself an act of worship to Stone. But Scripture can only be grasped in the Spirit of Christ when we are humbling and intimately integrated into worship and the community of God’s people.

5. (sic) I will quote in full “Keep yourself as much as practicable from too much company, irrevalent (sic) conversation. These too often intrude upon your studies and devotions.” Useless and unprofitable conversations consume to much energy and nothing comes from them.

6. (sic) When called upon to preach avoid polemic but focus upon those matters that cultivate humility, devotion and love. Preaching is does not focus upon the issues but exposition of the text in light of our lives.

7. (sic) “Let the glory of God” be your “polar star” so that you will have a “crown of righteousness at the coming of the Lord.”

8. (sic) “Be humble”

There you have it. Stone’s final words from beyond the grave to ministers.

Freshness for a Lifetime Comes through an Act of Worship

Some of Stone’s advice is to be expected. Some however is completely unexpected in this day and age. Stone did not have a PhD. He did not go to Harvard. He attended school in a log cabin and preached where Indians were still common. Yet his expectation of the preacher’s study so as to stay in for the long haul, is challenging.

Stone recommends a full diet of regular “meat” for person seeking to be minister. A daily mental exercise routine was, in Stone’s view, simply a matter of life and death for a minster.

G. C. Brewer once lamented that the preachers of old were far more broadminded and balanced than those in his own day. It was not because those old time preachers had advanced degrees, Brewer insisted, but because even without degrees they thought study was an act of worship to God himself. It was because they read church history widely (in recognized sources – Stone literally listed the premier scholarship on Church history of his day) and deeply. It was because they were not tunnel visioned with reading commentaries on the biblical text but read stuff that stretched them.

And because at each step of the way they prayed.

Prayed.

Prayed.

Today we often find the opposite of Stone’s recommendations. Having the words of Jesus, Peter, or Paul opened up through the Greek Old Testament is not thought of. Many make sure we only have “approved” study helps – often qualitatively greatly inferior “in house” stuff or study is limited to reading lectureship books or approved brotherhood journals. All of which is completely alien to Barton W. Stone … a simple country preacher in the backwoods of Kentucky and then Illinois.

Devote our self to a specific time and place for prayer and study.
Devote our self to reading the Bible, read the NT in light of the Old.
Devote our self to reading the history of God’s people.
Devote our self to the study of God’s word with excellent resources.
Devote our self to public worship and the life of the people of God.
Devote our self to private prayer.

I find myself being challenged by the profound Spiritual wisdom of my ancestor in the Gospel, Barton W. Stone.

I appreciate his vision and his challenge. I hope you will too.

3 Responses to “Freshness for the Far Journey: Eight Tips from Barton W. Stone”

  1. john acuff Says:

    OUTSTANDING AND i PRAY MANY WILL READ IT AND UNDERSTAND IT

  2. Ray Hawk Says:

    Your statement: “And a preacher should not sound the same after twenty-five years,” is a truth often ridiculed. Yet, if it isn’t true, there has been little or no growth.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      I once heard a very well known minister say to a group of us college kids (back in the day) that he had not changed his mind on a religious matter in nearly fifty years. I was stunned.

      This is exactly what Stone was worried about.

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