Next to my pastor and mentor, Ken Dolan, probably no one has had more of an impact on my spiritual life and ministry than John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA and teacher of Grace to You Ministries. In fact, it was Ken who first introduced me to John's ministry. He probably gave me a book or two of his which led me to begin to listen to his sermons. Immediately, I was impressed by how he refused to pull any punches but would tell it like it is and the Bible says. He wasn't concerned about being "politically correct" or sugarcoating the truth at all as many popular preachers can be today. (Which is why he can be such a polarizing figure at times. Some people cannot stand how straightforward he is with the truth and him speaking up against certain issues in the manner that he does.) I remember hearing him saturate his messages with so much Scripture referencing a number of them by memory and praying that God would help me be able to do the same one day in my own preaching. (I'm not sure that I am there yet but it is still an aspiration!) Some of those messages of his have stuck with me over the years. I remember as a lonely seminary student longing for a relationship someday being comforted by his exposition of 1 Corinthians 7 on singleness and marriage. The clarity he provided on the passage being exactly what I needed to hear at the time as I would be waiting on God's timing for another 6 or 7 years or so. Also, in seminary, a point he made that to truly be about God's glory is to rejoice in the blessing that God gives to another pastor and his church instead of yours. That cut deep at the time and greatly convicted me. Such a truth is brought back to remind me today when needed (which is more often than I like to admit). And probably, the sermon I have listened to of his the most, the one entitled "The Theology of Sleep" where he preached on the parable of the sower and how our job as pastors is just to "sow the seed" of the gospel, go to sleep, and let God take care of the rest. In my moments of great discouragement when I may not be noticing as much fruit from my ministry labors, I play that message and listen to it again.
When his study Bible came out in the New American Standard Bible and was on sale while in college, I had to get it. I wound up cutting my theological teeth so to speak on his study notes. To date, I have now wore out two or three of them. A generous Christmas gift from the congregation where I was serving as interim pastor purchased the bulk of his New Testament Commentaries. (There were a few yet to be completed at the time which now I have acquired.) I continue to consult those commentaries whenever I am preaching something from the New Testament. They are so invaluable with the clear explanation of the text and practical applications of it. Many a time when I find myself stumped trying to figure out what something in the passage means, I can open the commentary to that page and read MacArthur's explanation and it finally makes sense. (And if not MacArthur, another John with the last name Calvin.) The Systematic Theology ("Biblical Theology") that he and the professors at his seminary put together quickly became my "go to" of the collection I have. It is by far the most thorough of all of them. It pretty much covers just about all that Scripture says on an issue and is just what you need when researching a topic. With all this said, I don't agree with MacArthur on everything. I would differ from him when it comes to the identity of the "sons of God" in Genesis 6, divorce and remarriage, and now view on the end times (eschatology). Nonetheless, I still value his perspective and know that he will make his argument backed up by Scripture to consider it.
One of my desires for a while was to be able to hear him preach in person. (It is always better to hear and see someone preach in person than on TV, the computer screen, your phone, or on the radio.) I got so excited when I heard that a local church in Maryland not too far from my seminary was having "An Evening With John MacArthur" a number of years ago. I got a bunch of free tickets for me and my friends for it before I asked any of them to go. Boy, was I bummed when they had to cancel it because the publisher of John's latest book at the time required him to do something for it. I thought that might have been my only shot at seeing him. California is quite a distance away and probably not feasible for me to ever make it out to. But thankfully, in God's good and gracious providence, I wound up being able to go to the Together for the Gospel Conference (T4G) in 2014 in Louisville, KY, where he was one of the main speakers. I was finally could see and hear him in person. He presented himself as an elder statesmen just getting up behind the pulpit and preaching what Scripture says and what it means by what it says. More likely, it will be the only time I will have that opportunity.
There are two things in particular about MacArthur that have probably encouraged me the most in my view and philosophy of ministry. One is his faithfulness at one place for such a long time. At this point, he has been serving the same church for 54 years and still counting. In a day and age where most pastors remain at a congregation for no more than 5 or 6 years and then move on to another followed by another, this is remarkable. It led to me wanting to have a similar longevity in my own ministry if the Lord would allow such of course. To labor for a number of years discipling families and pouring into them. I actually toyed around with the idea of becoming a seminary or college professor while in seminary due to my love of biblical scholarship and teaching. But I didn't like the idea of having the students for only three or four years and no more. Not being able to follow up with them much after that. What I have witnessed MacArthur do was much more desirable for me. At over 11 1/2 years at this point I have got quite a ways yet to go!
The second thing with his ministry that has greatly encouraged me in my own is his commitment to sequential expository preaching. That is preaching verse by verse through entire books of the Bible. In fact, God has granted him the privilege of achieving a feat that only a few have in history. Preaching through every single verse of the New Testament. (Though I do wish that he would preach more from the Old Testament. I try to give the congregation under my charge a healthy balance, alternating between preaching through a book from the New Testament and the Old. We need a robust understanding of the types, shadows, and prophecies of Christ there as much as we do the antitypes, substance, and fulfillment of Christ in the New.) MacArthur is actually the one who in a real sense showed me how to do this. I witnessed him do so week after week as I listened to his preaching. I may not have known that it was even possible to do that had I not come in contact with his ministry. Now, it has become my practice and I believe that it is the best way to ensure that I am proclaiming the whole counsel of God without neglecting any of the hard uncomfortable topics Scripture talks about.
And while my oldest son was not named after him, it could be said that MacArthur is one of his namesakes. One of the main reasons he is called "John" is due to the meaning of the name being "God is gracious," acknowledging that God has been gracious to hear our prayer for him (his middle name "Samuel" means "God hears"). But also it was to honor the rich legacy of the numerous theologians who loved the Lord and His Word throughout the history of the church who were named John which would certainly include MacArthur but not be limited to him. (I believe that I have counted up to 30 at one point from John the Baptist to John Calvin to John Bunyan and John Owen to John Charles (JC) Ryle to John Piper and John MacArthur.)
John MacArthur has been sometimes called the Charles Spurgeon or John Calvin of our time and I would agree with that. In many ways, he has been fighting a modern day theological downgrade much as Spurgeon had in his day and has the tenacity of Calvin with the same steadfast unwavering commitment to verse by verse preaching through books of the Bible as the French Reformer. (Calvin was SO committed to verse by verse preaching that when he came back to Geneva after having been forced out three years prior, he actually began preaching on the verse he had left off on when he had left!) His impact and influence will be felt long after he is gone much like theirs still are as well. At 83, I know that MacArthur is nearing the end of his race with his ministry closer to being completed. But I will forever be grateful for the gift that God has given His church with his preaching and teaching ministry. I know that I am not the only one who can say that. I would not be the minister that I am today without it. Thank God for His using this flawed weak man to impact so many lives with the gospel and may He continue to equip him for His work to be done through him in however many more days He has appointed for him! To God be all the glory!