By admin | September 25, 2012
A Wonderful Gift
In the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra … went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him…. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel (Ezra 7:1, 6, 10, ESV).
Why was Ezra useful for service in Israel? The first and most important reason is that the Lord was with him.
As he served the Lord and His people, the blessing of God allowed him to accomplish what he set out to do. But Ezra had completed a pre-requisite for his usefulness in the Lord’s work—he had devoted himself to learn and know the Scriptures, and to do them. His laborious studies prepared him to be a distinguished instrument in the hand of the Lord. Matthew Henry says Ezra “was a man of great learning, a scribe, a ready scribe, in the law of Moses… [who] took pains in his studies, and thoroughly furnished himself for what he designed, and then put on resolution to proceed and persevere in them, and thus he became a ready scribe. Moses in Egypt, Ezra in Babylon, and both in captivity, were wonderfully fitted for eminent services to the church.”
There is a pattern in Scripture: study normally precedes usefulness. Matthew Henry points to Moses and Ezra, we might add many other examples: Jesus’ disciples, who learned directly from him for years before they were thrust into their apostolic roles, or Paul who learned at the feet of Gamaliel, or Timothy who was instructed by Paul. Seldom do we find men who rise to positions of distinction in the church who did not spend extended periods in painstaking study.
And in the 21st century, this principle applies just as well. In fact one might argue that the needs of the present day are just as pressing and the importance of preparation paramount. Western society is breaking down, the Christian consensus that has reigned in Europe and North America has nearly vanished, and paganism is returning with a vengeance. We may soon be in a state similar to that of the 1st century, when the message of Christianity is completely counter-cultural. The spread of the Gospel requires men of skill and learning to aid the church and its witness during a Babylonian captivity, or a revival of Roman-style paganism.
But there are obstacles. Training men takes time and money. The challenges faced by young men with families and the churches that send them can be formidable. Three or four years away at a theological seminary, devoting oneself to study rather than earning income may make preparation extremely difficult. How will a man support himself and his family? In some cases churches are able to do this for men, but not very often. More commonly, students receive limited help from churches and individuals, finding the rest of their support as they are able.
In 14 years at the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, we have had many very fine and godly men who have made their way through studies in just this manner. But sometimes the expense of seminary study has prevented men from following the pattern of Scripture and they have been unable to devote themselves to these important years of preparation. These prospective servants, and the churches they might have served, have been impoverished as a result.
In the Lord’s kind providence, this major obstacle has been removed, or at least significantly diminished. At the recent General Assembly of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, this announcement was made:
The Foundation for the Advancement of Reformed Baptist Causes (FARBC) establishes a grant program for IRBS students.
The Foundation for the Advancement of Reformed Baptist Causes (FARBC) has established a grant for seminary students enrolled in the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies at Westminster Seminary California. The FARBC will grant up to $100,000 a year for this purpose. The grants for IRBS students will be awarded for the term beginning Fall 2012. The grants will be made directly to the students who must apply to the FARBC and meet the requirements of the grant criteria. These funds cannot be used for any purpose other than tuition, books, fees, other related seminary expenses, and the living expenses of the student and his family, if he is married. The Foundation exists primarily to encourage and support men in preparation for the Gospel ministry and to plant churches. In addition to these two primary foci of its mission, from time to time the Foundation assists struggling churches and pastors, as well as contributes to other worthy endeavors consistent with its goal of advancing Reformed Baptist causes. The fundamental criteria for grant eligibility is full subscription to the 1689 London Baptist Confession. Only men who fully subscribe to the 1689 will be eligible for grants from the FARBC. Only churches, or other causes, that fully subscribe to the 1689 will be eligible for grants from the FARBC.
Seminary students from Reformed Baptist churches that fully subscribe to the 1689 will be given preference. Seminary students who personally fully subscribe to the 1689, but who are not from Reformed Baptist churches, will receive consideration. The Foundation desires partnerships with the churches that recommend seminary students for grants and, therefore, part of the grant criteria encourages the students’ churches to contribute to the students’ support also.
The Foundation does not accept applications for grants from institutions or individuals for which funding should most appropriately be provided by churches.
As a representative of IRBS, I am deeply grateful to God for this wonderful provision for our students. Let us all pause and thank Him, and ask that more Ezras might be prepared for eminent Gospel ministry. For more information on this grant program, please contact the IRBS office: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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