The “Darling of Heaven” and the Dignity of Gospel Ministry

Several years ago I learned a new song by Hillsong entitled, “Worthy is the Lamb.” It is a simple declaration of the worthiness of our exalted Christ to receive our praise because of His crosswork. It has become a favorite of mine and one that our church has learned to sing with enthusiasm. Here is the chorus:

Worthy is the Lamb
Seated on the throne
Crown You now with many crowns
You reign victorious

High and lifted up
Jesus Son of God
The Darling of Heaven crucified
Worthy is the Lamb
Worthy is the Lamb

Some have stumbled over the words, “Darling of Heaven,” believing that this betrays a sappy sentimentalism that is characteristic of our age more than of the Bible. I was never convinced by that critique and find the phrase, though uncommon, not inappropriate. I was heartened by a discovery I made sometime last year when I came across an address by David Bostwick, an 18th century Presbyterian minister, preached in 1758 to the Synod of New York. It is entitled, “The Character and Duty of a Christian Preacher” and has been reprinted in The Christian Pastor’s Manual, edited by John Brown and recently reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria.

Bostwick argues in the last part of his message for the character of Christ forming the basis of the dignity of the pastoral office. Consider his words:

If the business of Gospel ministers is, to preach Christ, hence see the honour and dignity of their office. No other than a glorious Christ, the anointed of God, the darling of heaven (my emphasis), and the beloved of angels and saints, is the subject of their ministry; from him their authority and commission is derived, in his valuable interest they are engaged to speak, as “ambassadors in his name and stead.” Their office is, therefore, honourable in some proportion to the dignity of the sovereign, from whom they receive commission; the grandeur of the court in whose interest they are employed as ambassadors, and the important errand they have to transact with guilty men. And as they are engaged for Christ, and employed by him to act as ambassadors in his name, he has declared that he will regard the treatment they meet with as if done to himself: “He that receiveth you, says he, receiveth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me, and him that sent me.” Were we acting a part for ourselves, and speaking in our own name, and driving on our own self-interests, men might treat us a they pleased; but if we act as ambassadors for Christ, in pursuit of his interest, and in his name and stead, let them take heed how they despise the sacred character we sustain, or neglect the solemn messages we bring.

The authority which a Gospel minister wields is vested and not inherent. Remembering this will help a man resist the temptation to be authoritarian and overbearing (lording it over God’s people). It will also embolden him to speak plainly, humbly and unwaveringly all that His Lord has given him in the written Word (declaring the whole counsel of God). When a God-called man stands to preach, he does so in behalf of Jesus Christ–“the glorious Christ, the anointed of God, the darling of heaven, and the beloved of angels and saints.” Our desire should be to represent Him well and to deliver His Word accurately and with a passsion and dignity that is commensurate with His own person and work.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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