Sermon for Sunday, September 17th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[1Sa 2:11-17 ESV] 11 Then Elkanah went home to Ramah. And the boy was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli the priest. 12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD. 13 The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, 14 and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. 15 Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” 16 And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” 17 Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt.
New Testament reading:
[2Pe 2:1-16 ESV] 1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, 13 suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
[Jhn 3:9-15 ESV] 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“Isn’t an unconverted minister like a man who would teach others to swim before he has learned himself, and so is drowned in the act, and dies like a fool?” [REPEAT]
These are the words of Gilbert Tennant in his famous sermon “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry” written in 1740 during the Great Awakening.
And it is from his sermon title, that we get our sermon title this morning. “The Dangers of an Unconverted Priesthood.”
The Great Awakening was a time in early American history where many people came to the Lord. Recognition of sin brought a great fervor in the churches, and a desire for Christ. Some Christian ministers worked to fan the flames of revival (though at times with controversial methods) while other ministers sought to put a hold on the revivals for concern of their excesses, and recognition that many of those who appeared to come to faith had only been temporarily moved by the emotions of the time.
Gilbert Tennent was of the revivalist type, and even criticized the opposing ministers as “unconverted.”
Whether he was correct in some of all instances is debatable, but no doubt it is true that there are many dangers that come upon priest and people alike, when such are unconverted.
In our text we have two unconverted priests, those two evil sons of Eli; Hophni and Phinehas.
They are not the only unconverted priests in the Bible. There are also those notorious unconverted Pharisees of the New Testament. And, in modern times, we yet have unconverted ministers who bring danger upon themselves and upon others.
So in the Scriptures—in texts like our today from 1st Samuel—we are warned of the dangers of the unconverted priest. And we are called to look in faith to Jesus Christ, the true mediator and our only high priest.
I. The Danger of Eli’s Two Evil Sons
The first of the unconverted priests we’l look at are those in our text: Hophni and Phinehas.
These sons of Eli are called “Worthless men.”
And it is said, “they did not know the Lord.” These indeed were unconverted priests.
Their sin comes to a “boiling point” (pun intended) in their evil actions when working as priests of the Lord in the sanctuary at Shiloh.
Now, what was their sin? There are several sins, several aggravations. I’ll note a number of them, but this is not an exhaustive list.
1. They treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.
Their first sin is spoken of clearly at the end of our text. “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.” Their sin is the sin of contempt. They gave no care to the Lord or the sacrifice being presented to Him. The King James Version says the men “abhorred the offering of the Lord.” Rather than treating it as honoring god, they regarded it with disgust. And showing contempt on the THINGS of the Lord is not much less than showing contempt on the Lord HIMSELF. So that was their first and greatest sin. Contempt. But there is more.
2. They did things their own way.
Rather than following the precise laws of sacrifices as given in the word of God in the Torah, they went with “custom.” “The custom of the priests with the people was …” So they have departed from the rules of God for temple worship and they have chosen “custom” instead.
This is frequently the cause of trouble in the Scriptures and in our lives; when we invent our own ways rather than follow God’s ways. A similar story is that of Nadab and Abihu who offered “strange fire” to the Lord and were killed. They too did things their own way, not the Lord’s way.
3. They were lazy.
Then, another sin of the sons of Eli. Did you notice that it wasn’t Hophni and Phinehas themselves you plunged the three-pronged fork into the pot? They had the “priest’s servant” do the work. They were lazy. They didn’t even do the work themselves, but passed it off to someone else.
4. They were bullies.
While it was perhaps the “priest’s servant” doing the work, Hophni and Phinehas are yet guilty of being bullies. If a man said “Let them burn fat” (as they should do according to the Torah), the priest’s servant would say “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” An attitude unimaginable.
They further had the sin of unbelief. This is in a sense, the sin of all sins. It is that which is behind all other sins. “They did not know the Lord.” Other translations say “they had no regard for God.” Despite being brought up in the very temple of God, they had no regard for Him.
These sins brought great danger. Not only upon Hophni and Phinehas but upon others. Upon Eli and upon the Nation.
No doubt the danger to Hophni and Phinehas is clear and obvious. And in the next chapter death comes upon the two worthless sons on the same as God promised would happen. Eli died as well.
And the nation, the people, likely came to despise the temple. The priestly actions were causing the worshippers to look disrespectfully upon the free will offerings made to the Lord. They would have refrained from giving sacrifices, knowing that these worthless sons were corrupting the whole process. Priestly abuse was giving religion a bad name in Israel.
These unconverted priests were indeed worthless. Nothing good is said of them.
They were not worshipping God as they ought. They were not teaching the people as they ought. And they were not living out a godly life as they ought.
A better priest was needed. Hence God was raising up Samuel.
But the danger of unconverted priests did not end with Hophni and Phinehas. There are others.
II. The Dangers of the Pharisees
Look at the Pharisees of the New Testament.
It is they who get the majority of the scorn in Gilbert Tennents sermon.
Tennent said that the people [of Jesus’ time] had no teachers, but only “heaps of Pharisee teachers that had come out no doubt after they had been at the feet of Gamaliel the usual time.” And so the people were sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus also criticized the Pharisee. To the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus said, “You are a teacher of Israel and you know not these things?”
What is interesting is that the Pharisees were a different type of unconverted priest than the Sons of Eli. While Hophni and Phinehas were wild and uncontrolled, the Pharisees controlled every aspect of like in extreme detail. But they were equally unconverted.
The Pharisees not only didn’t recognize Jesus as the Christ, they even opposed him.
So Jesus declares “seven woes” to the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23, speaking to the danger of these unconverted priests.
In each case Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!” and then followed with a danger they presented.
(1) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!” You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
(2) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!” You travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
And then he says:
(3) Woe to you, blind guides.
(4) Woe to you, hypocrites!
(5) Woe to you, hypocrites!
(6) Woe to you, hypocrites!
(7) Woe to you, hypocrites!
Dangerous men who teach one way, but live another. The unconverted priests bring danger on themselves and upon others. They are blind, and they lead others to destruction.
These were unconverted men. But some did later turn to Christ. Not all Pharisees remained against Christ. Acts 6:7 tells us that “a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
C. The Dangers Gilbert Tennent Saw
It was the Pharisees, not the sons of Eli, that Gilbert Tennent warned of in regards to the preacher in his own time. He said that there in the 1740s, the ministers who did not support the Great Awakening were like the unconverted Pharisees.
No doubt there have been ministers who were unconverted. In England, for example, many Anglican parish priests took their positions not because of a spiritual call to ministry, but because of the nobility of the position, and the pay. The rule, historically, was that the first son inherited the farm and the money, the second son would join the army, and the third son would join the church. And those in the church would sometimes have a soft cushy life, with a parish and guaranteed income for life. The work of some of these pastors was not a calling, but merely an assignment. That is dangerous.
Gilbert Tennent overdid it though with his accusations. He later admitted that himself. He expressed regret later in his life for “fomenting dissension” in the church. The Presbyterian churches in American in that time, shortly after Tennents sermon “The Dangers of the Unconverted Ministry” split into two groups: Old Side and New Side presbyterians. And it took 17 years before they healed in 1758.
But whether Tennents warnings applied to the ministers of his time or not, his warnings were yet true in themselves.
He spoke this truth: “Natural men have no call of God to ministerial work.” And he said: “How can they be concerned for others’ salvation when they slight their own?”
Certainly these apply to the sons of Eli. They were entirely disinterested in the people; the people for whom they were supposed to be priests, mediators between them and God.
So Tennent lamented the state of the people under unconverted ministers saying: “The case of such is much be pitied who have none other than unconverted or pharisee teachers.”
The problem of unconverted ministers didn’t end in Tennents time, but continues today. The warnings of the OT and the NT and of the time of the Great Awakening remain valid for us this day.
D. The Dangers of Modern Ministers
In modern times, seminaries and universities have teaching that is far worse than that of Gamaliel. And they produce unbelieving preachers.
I recall reading some years ago about a Presbyterian PCUSA minster who declared himself an Atheist, but kept working. And I found the story again. John Shuck. (Such names seem appropriate to such men). John Shuck. “Atheist Presbyterian preacher believes God is optional.” He remains a pastor till this day.
This is just the most obvious example of unbeliever. Which Shuck is openly an Atheist, others are closeted about their lack of belief.
Many, in fact just about ALL, of progressive, liberal, or modernist Christianity doesn’t believe that God’s word is true. So while they agree that God exists, they don’t agree that He has spoken.
There is great danger in such unconverted ministers. They do not teach the word of God.
They are unworthy ministers who do not preach the gospel.
Worthy ministers, on the other hand, while yet sinners, DO preach the word of God.
There is danger in unconverted ministers, as they, like the contempt of Hophni and Phinehas for sacrifices, have contempt for the sacrifice of Christ. But the sacrifice of Christ is the very gospel. And He is the greater high priest and faithful mediator between God and man.
The sons of Eli were not faithful priests.
Samuel will be a faithful priest.
But even Samuel is insufficient.
Christ will be the faithful priest forever (v. 35)
Trouble with modern unconverted ministers generally goes back to the seminaries. Behind the scenes of an unbelieving church is an unbelieving minster and an unbelieving seminary. New “theories” are produced by professors. The simple word of God is not proclaimed, and so the sinner is not told of of his, nor is he told to flee to Christ.
Some Presbyterian churches have held out better than other denominations. And one reason for this is that we have ruling elders. Ruling elders tend to be true to the Scriptures, to read the Bible for themselves and not be infected by the lies of the academies.
Well, I want to look at some applications:
1.“We should pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth faithful ministers into his harvest, seeing that the harvest is indeed plenty but the laborers few.”
For some years in recent time, the opposite was the case, but it is shifting. The seminaries bodies are thinning out. The churches unable to find ministers.
2. Know that “relatedness to a high priest is no substitute for a relationship with God.” You are not saved by having a grandfather that was a minister.
3. Seek worthy teachers, Godly man, in line with the Scriptures.
In practical terms, look at the work of good institutions.
One great resource is Ligonier ministries. We use their material from time to time. And just about all of it is good. I also like gotquestions.org, puritanboard.com, blueletterbible.com and sermonaudio.com
I can heartily recommend also Reformation Heritage Books as faithful throughout.
Also, be weary of writers who have no accountability. If they are independent authors, without a publishing agency, without a session of elders, without a mission board, or anything else.
For all authors we must look at whether they are humble and thoughtful, Godly and Biblical. There are too many writers who are one-issue writers. They ride hobby-horses, and push their views at every opportunity. And these writers are dangerous, causing unrest in churches and families. So let us patiently work to understand the Word of God, and follow Christ, the greater priest, above all else.