When Thomas Boston wrestled with a set of theological issues, it changed his ministry. “These things, in these days, while I was in the Merse, gave my sermons a certain tincture, which was discerned; though the Marrow, from whence it sprang, continued in utter obscurity.”
In The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson comments:
I hope it will become clear throughout these pages what this tincture was. There is a perennial need for it in the ministry of the gospel. It is not linked to a particular personality type or a way of preaching. It is both more profound and more atmospheric than that. But God’s discerning people recognize it when they see it, even if they cannot articulate what exactly it is.
Tincture means “a slight trace of something.” It’s like when you taste something and notice a certain flavor, or when you’re trying to identify an aroma that characterizes a place. It’s present, unmistakeable, and yet subtle. Ferguson defines it this way:
It is derived from the Latin tinctura, which refers to the process of dyeing— in which a piece of cloth is recolored by dipping it into liquid dye. The cloth remains the same but is now entirely of a different color or shade. Both to himself and others, Boston’s preaching “felt” like that. Extending the metaphor, one might say that now the garment of the gospel in which Christ was dressed in Boston’s preaching was dyed a shade of “Christ-in-whom-every-spiritual-blessing-is-found” rather than merely “I am offering you spiritual blessings.”
It’s a great word for something I’ve experienced often, and something I want for myself and those who aim to preach Christ.
I sensed it when I listened to a podcast with Zack Eswine a few weeks back. Eswine didn’t just talk about rest and joy; he embodied it. The tone and pace of his voice communicated that he was living what he was talking about. His words had the tincture of gospel rest.
A friend told me today that he had just finished listening to the audiobook of Eugene Peterson’s memoir. I asked if the narrator was good. My friend said yes. I listened to a sample, and had to agree: the narrator has the tincture of Eugene Peterson. It’s not Peterson, but you could almost imagine that it was. It has the tincture of Peterson’s approach.
I sense it too in the ministries of some people I know. There’s something about their ministries that’s hard to describe. It’s not just what they say, although that’s good. It’s like what Ferguson describes: “God’s discerning people recognize it when they see it, even if they cannot articulate what exactly it is.” It’s what Jared Wilson describes in the ministry of Ray Ortlund:
My friend Ray is the most Jesusy guy I know. Half of him seems to exist in the spiritual ether at all times. He simultaneously radiates a warmth, a gentleness, a sweetness, and an incredible strength. He reminds me of what Jesus in person must be like…
Listen to one of Ray’s sermons and you can sense what Jared is talking about.
I want this kind of tincture. How do we get it?
I don’t think that we get it by trying to get it. I think it’s a side effect. It can’t be faked. There are no five-point listicles on how to get it. But it comes, I think, from marinating in the gospel for years, soaking in its truths, getting battered by life a little, and learning to love God and people.
I don’t just want to preach the gospel; I want my life to have the tincture of the gospel. May God be kind enough to grant us the privilege of gaining a gospel tincture.