08 June 2006

What kind of temperament does God use?

by Dan Phillips

Ah, the joy of being someone else. Don't we all see traits in others that we wish we could make our own? (Watch out for the ones who answer "No.")

I'm inclined to constant self-doubt, second-guessing... and third, and twelfth, and forty-second; to protracted inner debates; and to endless introspection. (Every post of mine that you read, as a rule, has gone through a dozen or two re-writes, and I am still re-working my sermons the morning I am to preach them, no matter how long I've been laboring over them, or how many times I may have preached them before.) Vulnerability to melancholy and bitter regret is a constant battle. I hope that those for whom I'm answerable profit from my thorough worrying and quadruple-checking, but it's a wearisome way to be.

I envy men I've known -- and there have been, and are, quite a few -- who never seem to doubt or second-guess themselves. Ever. They always have The Answer, and they have it instantly. Further, they have absolute confidence in everything they say. It doesn't matter what the topic; they make a pronouncement, and that's it. In the Bible, not in the Bible, no matter. They just know. Every notion is Canon. They're seldom wrong, or if they are, they're seldom much troubled about it. I imagine such men sleep very well, never agonizing in the dark hours of the night over this or that decision, past or anticipated.

I recall a pastor I knew. He felt he actually heard God speaking to him. He was able, without blinking, to tell folks in and out of his church exactly what to do with their lives. If they didn't follow his counsel, he was ready to see them punished. Last I knew, it worked out really well for him: nice family, nice ministry, everything going just great. Maybe not so great for some of those left in his wake.

Is that the way to be? What kind of temperament do you have to have, to be pleasing and useful to God?

If I were to ask you to name a great, effective, model leader, I bet I'd hear "Nehemiah" before long. Beyond question, he would be a great choice. Chuck Swindoll isn't the only one to do worthwhile studies of the good governor's abilities. He was one of those sorts who I wish I resembled more closely. Passionate, decisive, proactive; knew the Word and his own mind; had a sense of himself and his mission. And when he found out that the folks he led had sinned, no miserable, corrosive, self-digesting introspection for Nehemiah. No, he exploded, berated them severely, and even pulled out their hair (Nehemiah 13:25)!

Don't try this at home, by the bye.

Surely Nehemiah should be our model, right?

Ah, but if so, what of Ezra? Ezra was also principled and proactive, but he was of a very different temperament. He, too, faced terrible failure on his people's part. But where Nehemiah exploded, Ezra imploded, and pulled out his own hair (Ezra 9:3).

Which one had the right temperament? Which one was used by God?

Consider the prophets. What kind of man did you have to be to be an effective prophet? Surely Ezekiel is our model here. I think of him as the Clint Eastwood of the prophets: stoic, dogged, imperturbable. God tells him to cook his food over cow dung, and he says in effect, "Okay -- oh, wait: won't that defile me?" God says he can use cow dung instead, and Ezekiel shrugs. "Mm-kay," he says, and soldiers on (Ezekiel 4:12-15). God tells him not to mourn his wife's sudden death. "Mm-kay," Ezekiel says, and soldiers on (24:15-18).

Surely Ezekiel should be our model.

Ah, but if so, what of Jeremiah, "the weeping prophet"? His style is beautiful, and it is emotional and passionate. He is a man of intensive and vivid feelings, and his emotions are out there for all to see and hear.

The prophet makes the most astonishing complaint in Jeremiah 20:7-10. It almost sounds blasphemous. He cries out to God that God had overpowered him, that He had given Jeremiah a message that was overwhelmingly negative and offensive, and that it brought him nothing but heartache. What's worse, Jeremiah can't even bear to stop, for if he forbears, the Word is as fire in his bones, and cannot be held in.

So which kind of prophetic temperament was pleasing to God -- Ezekiel's, or Jeremiah's? It is, or should be, a silly question. Time would fail me in laying out other Biblical temperament contrasts, playing Peter against Thomas, Paul against Barnabas, or Timothy against John Mark.

We can turn from the Bible to the pages of church history. Who served God more effectively, fruitfully, enduringly? Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or Jonathan Edwards?

I have tried and tried to connect with Edwards, and I just can't seem to do it. I've read Edwards himself; I've read Murray on Edwards; I've listened to Murray, to Packer, to Piper and others on Edwards. Piper! -- you can't pick up a book of his without his going on about how marvelous Edwards is. And I'm sure to people better than I, Edwards is Da Bomb.

To me Edwards is correct and he's pithy, but he's distant, he's bloodless, he's passionless, he's made of alabaster. Over and over, I read about how great he is, then I go back to the man himself with renewed determination to connect -- and it just does not happen.

Ah, but Spurgeon! His writings and his preachings live and breathe. He was a man who suffered greatly, felt deeply, lived and loved the Lord largely and with a robust spirit. Whereas Edwards labors to phrase his thoughts precisely to his own satisfaction, Spurgeon labors to communicate his thoughts to living persons, men of flesh and blood. I feel that I know him. A sentence of Spurgeon's connects with me more profoundly than every word I've ever read from Edwards.

But which one was a profitable servant? Whose temperament was more useful to God -- the robust, hearty Englishman, or the austere, pallid New Englander?

Surely these are all silly questions. God made the daisy as surely as He made the Indian Paintbrush, the grain of sand as surely as the diamond, the chip of ice as surely as the blazing furnace of our sun.

And so He made men and women with different grids, different default settings, different temperaments. Edwards was used mightily of God, and though he doesn't connect with me, he surely connected with John Piper, and John Piper has been used by God in my life. But Spurgeon speaks directly to me; and, hard as it is to believe, there are actually good folks who just don't connect with him. Yet somehow they get something out of what I write and preach.

It does not matter what kind of heart we have -- bold or timid, extroverted or introverted, naturally happy or naturally somber. Each mindset, each temperamental cast, has its strengths and its weaknesses. The always-positive, always-certain man may get a lot done -- but he needs to learn to judge himself, to suspect his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9), to distinguish his plans from God's, and his ideas from Scripture. He needs to humble himself before God and others.

Equally, the more melancholy sort needs to learn to grasp God's wondrous promises, to preach the truth to himself (Psalms 42-43), to point himself to God's person and word, to be of good courage, and to get going in His service (Joshua 1:6-9).

None of us should subscribe to a cookie-cutter mold of personality development, or of leadership style. It does not matter so much what kind of hearts we have. What matters is what we do with our hearts.

What matters is that our heart be wholly God's (Deuteronomy 6:5f.; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 86:11; 1 Peter 3:15).

Then the cut of the instrument will matter far less than the skill of the Musician.

Dan Phillips's signature


Mike Y said...


I think you summed it up best when you said, "What matters is that our heart be wholly God's".

The sad thing is covetousness doesn't just apply to material items. If we're not careful we'll spend our lives trying to be other men, rather than being ourselves.

While I haven't been blogging for more than a few months, I have really come to appreciate the bluntness of your articles. And I think this may be a reason why some may get more from you than perhaps from Spurgeon. Just a guess.

Also, don't feel bad about your take. I find Edwards to be brilliant. And as a scientist, I love the man (but not in a homosexual kind of way); but I do find him dry. Perhaps it's the era.

But I'm a bit warped. I struggle to read anyone's books. I can read commentaries and very technical books easier than I can books, which summarize issues and various topics. I guess it's because my mind likes to do its own analysis. Or, I'm just warped. My family would probably agree with the last conclusion.

Keep up the great work! BTW, I actually liked Mohler's take on LaHaye.


BugBlaster said...

This is a keeper. I think I connected.

Pastor Rod said...


Finally, you wrote something that I can agree with completely. One of the biggest problems in many churches is the pastor expecting his people to have the same temperament as he does.

One of the fascinating aspects of this is that it also influences the shape of our relationship with God.

Most approaches to discipleship assume that everyone is the same.

Good post.


REM said...

This was something that needed said in a one size fits all day and age. We are different(with different blogstyles).

DJP said...

Mike -- thanks so much for the kind words. "Covetousness" -- that's a ver perceptive point. "He has what I should have, and I want it." Ten-ring.

Oh, I agree about Edwards. I've not given up on him; I'm sure, were I a better person, I'd like him better.

Just not yet. (c;

Rod -- it frightens me that you like the post. Hmm... maybe one more rewrite....

Timotheos said...

Thanks Dan!
I needed that.
Lousy prayer meeting Bible Study last night - kicking myself this a.m.
Appreciate the transparency!
In the Grip of His Grace,

Kim said...

Well, I've been waiting for this post, Dan, ever since I saw on your blog that you intended to write about temperaments. I have often felt that my temperament (which I think is a cousin of yours) is inferior to the ones who are less doubting (like Buggy's). For a long time, I thought I had to "recover" from my temperament, and become more like the stoic of this world.

This was a great post!!

Yer speakin' my language.

Jim Crigler said...

Mike, I have to disagree about Dan's "bluntness": If anything I find reading his comments to be a gentle, loving, pastoral corrective to the places I tend to go over the line. (Why am I thinking of Ex-Lax? ;-)

Annette Harrison said...

"Then the cut of the instrument will matter far less than the skill of the Musician."

Classic Dan Phillips . . . and what a way to end another insightful and excellent post! And what an encouragement for those days when we're prone to feel discouraged!

Like I said once before . . . just nobody does it better than Dan Phillips.

Whatever tuning instrument the Master Musician uses on you, in the end the sound is pure gold.

Phil Johnson said...

Dan: "The cut of the instrument will matter far less than the skill of the Musician."

Good line.

DJP said...

Phil -- Good line.

Glad you think so; came in on about the fourth or fifth rewrite.

Richard D said...

Thanks for this post. It's good to know that others struggle with the same things I struggle with.

As Don Francisco once said in song:
"When the Lord starts using you
Don't you pay it any mind ...
He could've used the dog next door
If He'd been so inclined."

God can use all of us. Our shortcomings bring more glory to him as he uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise.

Mike Y said...

Jim Crigler,

I'm not sure why you're thinking of Ex Lax either. But I do have the visual. Thanks for that :0)

I don't want to say I have learned about temperment. I think it's a process. I'm still learning and God is still tempering me. He has had a lot of work, and much more to go.

To give you an example, on Christmas Eve, 1992, I found myself on the steps of St Josephs Cathredal in San Jose with hundreds of good Catholics lined up for a midnight mass. And somehow, I found myself inexplicably preaching out of Matthew chapter 7, right there. Believe it or not, there was no great revival. Oh, they circled me. And didn't look very happy, either. Some priests came to the doors and a police car or two made it by as well. I think they wanted to ensure I didn't get killed for stupidity's sake.

For those who may desire to jump on me, I haven't done that since. So please consider that repentance.

So, I guess we all have our degrees. Don't we?

BTW Dan, I'm with you on continuing to try with Edwards. I think the reason I struggle so much is his directness concerning sin. I am quick to assess things in my mind and am trying to slow down on blurting out my verdict. Drawing the conclusions of Edwards, but lacking the piety, can be quiet damaging.

Perhaps one day you and I will both find a way to make good use of Edwards in our ministries.


a neverending read said...

Hey, excellent post! It's my first time here and I'm totally linking to your team's blog. (Got here through the Spurgeon Archive) I knew I was hooked by the second paragraph... felt like I was reading an autobiography only one that's so much more articulate than anything I could've come up with. Great insights, may God graciously give you and your team more and more of them.


Libbie said...

On my journey of faith over the past few years, I've spent time with a wildly different array of people.
It's common to describe a group of people sharing the same interests as 'like-minded'.

Christians should be different. We shouldn't be like-minded, agreeing on everything and feeling like we're in the club - we should be like-hearted, individuals fashioned by an infinitely creative God, and gifted with living hearts of flesh for our hearts of stone.

Wielding the Sword said...

Hi, I'm new, lol.

Praise God that we all DON'T connect through reading or listening to the same individuals! We are many members of one body and we do not all have the same function, and God may use particular people to help us better carry out that function.

James Spurgeon said...

So, you're saying that you don't like Edwards?

No, it's okay.

No, don't worry about it. No, you don't need to say anything else. I'm not offended. No, sir.

It's not like my name is James Edwards or something.

(You really don't like him?)


James Spurgeon said...

Hey Pastor Rod, is that a soccer shirt you're wearing? What lnaguage?

At first I thought it was some kind of colorful Wesleyan clerical garb, then I went and looked at the larger version of the picture. Are you/were you a soccer player?

Or have I got it all wrong?

candyinsierras said...

One of the reasons I like Edwards so much is his love of God's creation. He reveled in every aspect of nature. That is one of my connections to him. I suspect that he was not as pallid and austere as he was believed to be.

One story I read is that his wife delivered a couple of her babies on the sabbath. It was believed at the time that you delivered a baby on the same day of the week that you conceived. His congregation was greatly perturbed at Edwards perceived activities once he left the pulpit on Sunday. His congregation had certain expectations of Edwards that brought heartache to him and his family.

Hmmm, sort of like how we bloggers sometimes have certain expectations of people of God and their personalities and voice our displeasure at deviations.

donsands said...

Very nice. Good thoughts to liberate the mind and heart. It can be a struggle for me to be myself in Christ at times.

"-we should be like-hearted"

This is a huge struggle within my church at this moment. How to become like-hearted is the question for me. I suppose some of us thought we were like-hearted. God does have a way of manifesting our hearts. As excruciatingly painful as it has been, and for a season I saw nothing good, I have to praise and thank the Lord for shaking things up. For I believe He is doing all this to make us more like-hearted, which brings Him glory as it is also pleasing in His sight.

Thanks for sharing your heart.

Kymanika said...

Well for my third comment on this blog in the sixth months I have been reading it....

Wonderful...that was a complete blessing to read. Especially for the wallflower, type B personality that I am.

Thanks Dan, you get an A +

Even So... said...

Dan, excellence, as usual.

The battle is on all fronts, that is why we need ambassadors on all fronts: social, geographical, intellectual, and personal, as in personality.

As Christians, we are all given differing gifts, in differing degrees, and we travel and live in different spheres. So do all people, they have different mindsets, different abilities, and different personalities.

There are people that you may reach that I will never even see or speak to, or that are in a different "way" than I am right now. God will use someone, someone like you, to reach them.

God in His grace allows us the privilege to show forth His character to our world, and collectively, to the whole world. He shows the wondrous love of Jesus through all our different personalities. One Lord, yet many different faces. What a joy! Vive la difference!

Oh the beauty of Christ!

4given said...

God truly does paint from a rich pallette.

4given said...

You wrote: "None of us should subscribe to a cookie-cutter mold of personality development, or of leadership style. It does not matter so much what kind of hearts we have. What matters is what we do with our hearts."

This permeates into my heart regarding how to handle the vast array of personalities and learning styles in my home among the 6 children that I homeschool.

Steve said...

DJP said: "Every post of mine that you read, as a rule, has gone through a dozen or two re-writes..."

Those words are music to an editor's ears. Many who pick up the pen (or peck at the keyboard) stop much too soon, and readers suffer for it.

And thanks for helping me feel a bit less guilty about Jonathan Edwards. I've tried, too. But he doesn't do for me what Spurgeon does.

Now, about McLaren's reflection in that coffee cup...

Bhedr said...

I definately connect with Spurgeon(I still feel we tread on waffly ground by identifying too much with men, but this is a good point you make also about the cut of the instrument) and feel he understood a proper balance. I understand the need for Edwards and Piper in that the disciples didn't want the Phonecian/Canaanite woman to approach and even Jesus said that he did not come for her,but Israel the chosen. I do think Spurgeon understood more clearly though, that in that the Canaanites should have been destroyed, her family survived Joshua's "Sword Of The Lord" and was still around to come to Christ while the disciples tried to send her away. I understand that preachers must put forward obstacles to bring the heart low but not many had the balance of Spurgeon. Read Isaiah 57:14-21.He understood there comes a point where Jesus told the woman after speaking about the little dogs and she responded by saying "even the dogs eat the crumbs from the children's table!" that he said, "great is your faith!"Spurgeon understood that we can actually be saved by faith and that the Spirit would faint and fall into hell by the preacher holding man in darkness to long. I guess, to me it seems that the ones who always boast of Edwards and Piper seem to impress others with the thought that if you don't graduate to their level then you are imature and need to grow, but I think Spurgeon understood that it is the other way around. If you do not become as a child you will not see the kingdom. That refers to Salvation as well as growth.Ok, Ok spare me! I see the need for Piper and Edwards as I have seen how bizzare free grace movements can go and take it too far the other way. Nevertheless I see Spurgeon understanding more than what men give him credit for.I would like to make a final point. We don't need to look up to much to Spurgeon either as he is just a man and were he around, he would tell us the same thing. There is none righteous no not one. Only Jesus is righteous.Let us not forget that he didn't want us to find our value even in looking up to the wisest of all men and that was king Solomon. Jesus said even the lilies are clothed more than he was and that we are more valuable to him than the lilies and the Sparrows. Only because He created us and Christ died for us. Do you not see that the wisest of all men is brought down under the lilies and the Sparrows and that His love for us is exalted in His Person and work? Can you not see this? I think Spurgeon did. Christ esteem.(actually looking to much up to men is another form of self-esteem as we try to find our identification in them instead of Christ. We can also use them as a platform in a narcisistic way. It is a hard thing to see. We must find our identification only in Christ and imitate their faith in Him) You can go to far with the threatenings of Sinai and men will miss this truth. Be a child and remember that even though Solomon drifted as far as to go to the house of Molech(they sacrificed babies) because of his wives...it shows us as Spurgeon so often taught...that the worst of sins can be forgiven and the godliest of men can fall to even the worst sin. Hey didn't Edwards seek after and marry a thirteen year old? In this environment he would be in Jail for near pedophilia wouldn't he? Remember Jerry Lee Lewis? No I am not trying to justify sin, just trying to make men think about Christ instead of men. Men are clay. That was Edwards wasn't it...or was it Roger Williams? I was thinking it was Edwards, nevertheless Solomon went the farthest and I guess that is why Nehemiah was so angry. But even in his anger and Solomon's failure they both knew who their God was and both were beloved of God.

"Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over Israel. Nevertheless foreign women made even him to sin." Nehemiah 13:26 I hear that Spurgeon's last words at his death were: "Jesus loves me!"Remember that old song we sang as children?

"Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others." Ecclesiastes 7:20-21

It was the tongue that killed the five missionaries in Ecuador...not the spears. Go read and find out how it happened. We are all as guilty as they and in desperate need of a Saviour. Spurgeon drove the sinner to that desperation and identified with him there and then offered the same hope he had.

Yonder Cross! Yonder Saviour!

Carla said...

And that, is why your real name is Booyah.

Thank you Dan, that was great. I wanted to comment earlier but blogger was hyper-spazzing & wouldn't let me.


Islandsparrow said...

Dan - I dropped over via Kim.

Thought-provoking post. I love Spurgeon too - I also tend toward the "Eeyorish" side of life. So did Spurgeon - maybe that's why we like him so well.

Mister Larry said...

That's a very interesting article. The differing temperaments of Spurgeon and Edwards (some may think it's Spurgeon versus Edwards, but that's not necessarily so) were used by God. Both men had a heart for the Gospel, but communicated it differently. I'm not sure if anyone is familiar with the DISC personality profile, which is similar to other personality profiles out there (like the more commonly known A,B,C,D personality profile system), but Spurgeon was probably a "D" personality, and Edwards was much of a "C" type with regard to where each man would be placed on the DISC personality profile. Edwards had an eye for detail, was introverted, and was very aloof personally (from what I've read in a biography about him), yet Spurgeon was very goal oriented, extroverted, and engaging. Just my two cents, but I think that we shouldn't ever discount either man's writings and ministry, although one may 'connect' better with either Spurgeon or Edwards. Personally, I possess a personality like Edwards, but I do love to read Spurgeon, too.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Super post, Mr Phillips. This year I had the privilege of attending the Banner of Truth Ministers' Conference at Leicester in the UK. Rev Edward Donnelly preached some truly breathtaking, heartbreaking, Spirit-filled, God honouring (not hyperbole) messages on Jeremiah ('Preaching in Pagan Times').

The second message centred around the issue of temprament and was humbling and refreshing. I'd recommend anyone who can get their hands on it (probably via the Banner office in Edinburgh or Carslyle, Pennsylvania) to do so. I've listened to it on CD since I got back and it address thoughts raised in your post beautifully. The closing section brought me to tears. (Guess which temperament I am!!)

Incidentally thanks for your candour about Edwards - feel exactly the same. Perhaps you're liberating some of the rest of us to 'own up' to not being part of that particular fan base!

Bless you, brother!

Pastor Rod said...


Yes, it's a soccer shirt. It's the jersey of the Bologna team before they got relegated to Serie B in Italy. (There's a big scandal now in Italy about officials.) I've seen three games in Bologna. Once when they defeated AC Milan.

Since Bologna got relegated, I've adopted Palermo. I've seen one of their games, but I don't have a jersey yet.

I was on the soccer team in college, but I didn't get much game time.


skh said...

So even though:

Every post of mine that you read, as a rule, has gone through a dozen or two re-writes, and I am still re-working my sermons the morning I am to preach them, no matter how long I've been laboring over them, or how many times I may have preached them before.

And you observe that:

...Edwards labors to phrase his thoughts precisely to his own satisfaction.


I have tried and tried to connect with Edwards, and I just can't seem to do it.

Seems ironic, doesn't it?

DJP said...

Seems ironic, doesn't it?

Yes, and it's a perceptive observation. But there's a difference between being so locked up between one's own ears that one stops with "Is this exactly what I want to say?", and taking the next step of "Now, how can I get this across to someone else?"

Reading Edwards, I get the feeling that it'd all be the same to him whether or not anyone ever read what he wrote. The writing was the thing, the precise expression of his thought.

Spurgeon sits you down and talks to you, and watches you to make sure you're getting what he's saying.

One of the nicest compliments I ever got was from a professor who came in late when I was preaching my "Senior Sermon" in chapel. It was the start of the semester, so as I recall there were maybe 500 people or so there, and he had to sit on the edge of the crowd.

But he said that my way of speaking had him feeling as if I were speaking directly to him, one on one.

Does that put it better?

mxu said...

Hey, thank you for this post. I've linked it here

jc said...


I love reading what you write, and how you write. As an aspriring wordsmith, it would be interesting to see the 1st draft of your articles, and also how different your posts would look if you were to make a version 2.0 of them.


DJP said...

Aigh! That's like asking me to put up a picture of what I look like when I first get out of bed in the morning!

[Already posted this, but it disappeared. Go figure.]

James Spurgeon said...

djp, I think we would be remiss if we did not take into account that Edwards' and Spurgeon's audiences were a century and a half and a continent apart. How do we know that edwards did not connect with his audience as well as Spurgeon did with his?

DJP said...

Good try, James, but I get more out of John Owen than I do out of Edwards.

It's not the age. It's Edwards. Well, Edwards and me. The point of the essay.

James Spurgeon said...

Yes, Dan, but I wasn't necessarily talking about you. I referred to each's respective audience. God supplies the man for the people. But I think that fits in with your post as well.

I just detected there was a certain leaning toward the idea that Spurgeon's style was better than Edwards' style. That is a subjective argument at best.