A pastor who stands in the pulpit to declare the blessing of God must also labor to that end in his daily toils. It’s a tragedy in the making when a pastor will pronounce the benediction in worship but fail to minister in the same spirit throughout the week. After all, James warned us concerning the use of the tongue: “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things should not be so” (James 3:9-10).
When the Westminster Assembly gathered they put together a number of documents. The most well-known and enduring are the Westminster Confession of Faith together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. In addition to these, however, they also wrote The Form of Presbyterial Church Government, where they outlined Presbyterian polity. While it’s not a document that is commonly adopted in Presbyterian churches today — like the confession and catechisms — it nevertheless is a helpful summary of the Christian ministry. In outlining the duties that belong to the office of pastor in his ministry of the Word, the Westminster Divines noted that they’re charged “To bless the people from God.”
This is, of course, a specific reference to what is often called the benediction. William Plumer defined the benediction as “the ministerial and authoritative pronunciation of a blessing upon the people in the name of the Lord.” God has covenanted with his people promising: “I will surely bless you” (Genesis 22:17). Far from mere sentimentality these blessings, as John Owen noted: “[A]re instituted means of the conveyance and communication of good unto others” (Hebrews, 5:317). In other words, the very act of blessing communicates the blessing. And, as Thomas Manton wrote: “God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost will employ all his wisdom, power, and goodness […] to bring them to eternal blessedness” (Works, 19:156).
The blessings of God are spiritual in nature. For instance, one of the most cited benedictions, the Aaronic blessing, in Numbers 6:24-26 says: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” When pronounced this blessing conveys blessing, grace, and peace. The Trinitiarian formula of 2 Corinthians 13:14 is to the end of grace, love, and communion. Additionally, many of the letters of the New Testament open and close with the blessings of grace, mercy, and peace — a necessary reminder that God’s first and last word to his people is one of blessing (see e.g. Romans 1:7, 1 Peter 1:2, 2 John 1:3, and Jude 1:2).