The Wanderer

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . ."

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Islam and the gospel

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Al Mohler asks why bringing the gospel to our Muslim neighbours is so difficult:

The future shape of the world appears to be a worldview competition between Christianity, Islam, and Western Secularism. For Christians, both of these worldviews represent real and lasting challenges to evangelism. Neither is a particularly new challenge, and the Christian encounter with Islam is now over a millennium in duration.

Writing over thirty years ago, when most American evangelicals had little knowledge of Islam, missiologist J. Herbert Kane of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outlined six reasons why the evangelization of the Muslim world has been so difficult. His explanation of “Why the Muslim Soil is So Barren” remains both instructive and important.

He gives us Kane’s six reasons for the difficulty, reminding us that this is not a reason not to try, but instruction in why it may be hard.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 9 April 2011 at 15:33

Posted in Missiology and evangelism

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David Platt: “Do we really believe what we’re saying?”

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David Platt issues an earnest and eloquent plea against functional universalism. He uses smarter words than me:

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 2 April 2011 at 08:21

To love your neighbour you must know your neighbour

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 2 April 2011 at 08:08

Carey’s commandments expanded

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A day or so ago I posted Carey’s commandments in a form supplied by Ray Ortlund. I subsequently discovered that he has condensed a digest of a longer document, the Serampore Contract of 1805. This was a “Form of Agreement respecting the great principles upon which the Brethren of the Mission at Serampore think it is their duty to act in the work of instructing the heathen” and is a relatively concise and dense statement of their priorities and duties. When reading their own language, you realise how these men were at once of their time and ahead of it (a point lost a little in Ray’s otherwise helpful update of the language). So, here is a digest of the longer piece, which I would still recommend.

The Redeemer, in planting us in this heathen nation, rather than in any other, has imposed upon us the cultivation of peculiar qualifications. Upon these points we think it right to fix our serious and abiding attention.

First. In order to be prepared for our great and solemn work, it is absolutely necessary that we set an infinite value upon immortal souls; that we often endeavour to affect our minds with the dreadful loss sustained by an unconverted soul launched into eternity.

Secondly. It is very important that we should gain all the information we can of the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held. By this means we shall be able to converse with them in an intelligible manner.

Thirdly. It is necessary, in our intercourse with the Hindoos, that, as far as we are able, we abstain from those things which would increase their prejudices against the Gospel. Those parts of English manners which are most offensive to them should be kept out of sight as much as possible. [For example,] we should avoid every degree of cruelty to animals.

Fourthly. It becomes us to watch all opportunities of doing good. We are apt to relax in these active exertions, especially in a warm climate; but we shall do well always to fix it in our minds, that life is short, that all around us are perishing, and that we incur a dreadful woe if we proclaim not the glad tidings of salvation.

Fifthly. In preaching to the heathen, we must keep to the example of Paul, and make the great subject of our preaching, Christ the Crucified. It is a well-know fact that the most successful missionaries in the world at the present day make the atonement of Christ their theme.

Sixthly. It is absolutely necessary that the natives should have an entire confidence in us, and feel quite at home in our company. To gain this confidence we must on all occasions be willing to hear their complaints; we must give them kindest advice.

Seventhly. Another important part of our work is to build up, and watch over, the souls that may be gathered. A real missionary becomes in a sense a father to his people.

Eighthly. It is only by means of native preachers that we can hope for the universal spread of the Gospel throughout this immense continent. We think it our duty, as soon as possible, to advise the native brethren who may be formed into separate churches, to choose their pastors and deacons from their own countrymen.

Ninthly. It becomes us also to labor with all our might in forwarding translations of the sacred Scriptures in the languages of Hindoostan. The establishment of native free schools is also an object highly important to the future conquests of the Gospel.

Tenthly. That which, as a means is to fit us for the discharge of these laborious and unutterably important labours, is the being instant in prayer, and the cultivation of personal religion. Let each one of us lay it upon his heart that we will seek to be fervent in spirit, wrestling with God, till He famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.

Finally. Let us give ourselves up unreservedly to this glorious cause. Let us never think that our time, our gifts, our strength, our families, or even the clothes we wear, are our own. To keep these ideas alive in our minds, we resolve that this Agreement shall be read publicly, at every station, at our three annual meetings, viz., on the first Lord’s day in January, in May, and October.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Sunday 13 February 2011 at 21:53

Carey’s commandments

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Ray Ortlund passes along William Carey’s directives for missionary labour. You may be interested to read the longer version, which casts more light on the men who wrote it.

1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.

2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”

3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.

4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.

5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.

6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.

7. Build up the souls that are gathered.

8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.

9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.

10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”

11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

Listed in Christian History, Issue 36, page 34.

It does not take much to translate these as principles into any time and place. It takes a vast amount of love and humility to translate them as our practice into every time and place.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 12 February 2011 at 21:54

On the level

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The pastor, preacher and theologian William M. Taylor tells the following story concerning the readiness of Christlike men to set aside all airs and graces and speak to others without pretension:

I have somewhere read of a hardened criminal who was condemned to die and waiting for execution. Christian people were deeply interested in him and wished for his salvation. Pastors of different churches visited him and talked with him and prayed with him. But all they did and said seemed only to harden him the more, for they never got near him. They were afraid of him. They never touched him. At length, they bethought themselves of a member of the community, known of all men for his holiness and tenderness and wisdom in the winning of souls, and they got him to visit him. When he entered the condemned cell, he sat down beside the prisoner, by whom also he was well known, and told him the simple story of the cross, and when he had finished it, he laid his hand upon the criminal’s shoulder and said to him with a look of inexpressible emotion: “Now wasn’t it a great sacrifice for the Son of God to lay down his life for guilty sinners like me and you?” In a moment the fountains of the great deep were broken up. The heart of the man was touched. The big tears ran down his cheeks, and the bursting sobs seemed to convulse his frame. From that time he was a different man, and listened with interest to all that was said to him, while ever and anon he would exclaim, “To think of such a good and holy man, as I know him to be, putting himself on a level with me, and saying ‘Sinners like me and you’!”

“The Cleansing of the Leper” in The Miracles of Our Saviour (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1890), 119-120.

Do you put yourselves on a level with men, and say, “Sinners like me and you”?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 10 February 2011 at 11:24

Mustard and yeast

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Some encouragements from a past Bishop of Liverpool, commenting on the two parables of the mustard seed and the yeast from Luke’s Gospel, chapter 13, verses 18 to 21. You might have a different exegesis to offer, but you will nevertheless appreciate Ryle’s sound Biblical sense:

There is a peculiar interest belonging to the two parables contained in these verses. We find them twice delivered by our Lord, and at two distinct periods in His ministry. This fact alone should make us give the more earnest heed to the lessons which the parables convey. They will be found rich both in prophetical and experimental truths.

The parable of the mustard seed is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the world.

The beginnings of the Gospel were exceedingly small. It was like “the grain of seed cast into the garden.” It was a religion which seemed at first so feeble, and helpless, and powerless, that it could not live. Its first founder was One who was poor in this world, and ended His life by dying the death of a malefactor on the cross. –Its first adherents were a little company, whose number probably did not exceed a thousand when the Lord Jesus left the world. –Its first preachers were a few fishermen and publicans, who were, most of them, unlearned and ignorant men. –Its first starting point was a despised corner of the earth, called Judea, a petty tributary province of the vast empire of Rome. –Its first doctrine was eminently calculated to call forth the enmity of the natural heart. Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. –Its first movements brought down on its friends persecution from all quarters. Pharisees and Sadducees, Jews and Gentiles, ignorant idolaters and self-conceited philosophers, all agreed in hating and opposing Christianity. It was a sect everywhere spoken against. –These are no empty assertions. They are simple historical facts, which no one can deny. If ever there was a religion which was a little grain of seed at its beginning, that religion was the Gospel.

But the progress of the Gospel, after the seed was once cast into the earth, was great, steady and continuous. The grain of mustard seed “grew and waxed a great tree.” In spite of persecution, opposition, and violence, Christianity gradually spread and increased. Year after year its adherents became more numerous. Year after year idolatry withered away before it. City after city, and country after country, received the new faith. Church after church was formed in almost every quarter of the earth then known. Preacher after preacher rose up, and missionary after missionary came forward to fill the place of those who died. Roman emperors and heathen philosophers, sometimes by force and sometimes by argument, tried in vain to check the progress of Christianity. They might as well have tried to stop the tide from flowing, or the sun from rising. In a few hundred years, the religion of the despised Nazarene, –the religion which began in the upper chamber at Jerusalem,–had overrun the civilized world. It was professed by nearly all Europe, by a great part of Asia, and by the whole northern part of Africa. The prophetic words of the parable before us were literally fulfilled. The grain of mustard seed “waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.” The Lord Jesus said it would be so. And so it came to pass.

Let us learn from this parable never to despair of any work for Christ, because its first beginnings are feeble and small. A single minister in some large neglected town-district, –a single missionary amid myriads of savage heathen,–a single reformer in the midst of a fallen and corrupt church,–each and all of these may seem at first sight utterly unlikely to do any good. To the eye of man, the work may appear too great, and the instrument employed quite unequal to it. Let us never give way to such thoughts. Let us remember the parable before us and take courage. When the line of duty is plain, we should not begin to count numbers, and confer with flesh and blood. We should believe that one man with the living seed of God’s truth on his side, like Luther or Knox, may turn a nation upside down. If God is with him, none shall stand against him. In spite of men and devils, the seed that he sows shall become a great tree.

The parable of the leaven is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the heart of a believer.

The first beginnings of the work of grace in a sinner are generally exceedingly small. It is like the mixture of leaven with a lump of dough. A single sentence of a sermon, or a single verse of Holy Scripture,–a word of rebuke from a friend, or a casual religious remark overheard,–a tract given by a stranger, or a trifling act of kindness received from a Christian,–some one of these things is often the starting-point in the life of a soul. The first actings of the spiritual life are often small in the extreme–so small, that for a long time they are not known except by him who is the subject of them, and even by him not fully understood. A few serious thoughts and prickings of conscience,–a desire to pray really and not formally,–a determination to begin reading the Bible in private,–a gradual drawing towards means of grace,–an increasing interest in the subject of religion,–a growing distaste for evil habits and bad companions, these, or some of them, are often the first symptoms of grace beginning to move the heart of man. They are symptoms which worldly men may not perceive, and ignorant believers may despise, and even old Christians may mistake. Yet they are often the first steps in the mighty business of conversion. They are often the “leaven” of grace working in a heart.

The work of grace once begun in the soul will never stand still. It will gradually “leaven the whole lump.” Like leaven once introduced, it can never be separated from that with which it is mingled. Little by little it will influence the conscience, the affections, the mind, and the will, until the whole man is affected by its power, and a thorough conversion to God takes place. In some cases no doubt the progress is far quicker than in others. In some cases the result is far more clearly marked and decided than in others. But wherever a real work of the Holy Spirit begins in the heart, the whole character is sooner or later leavened and changed. The tastes of the man are altered. The whole bias of his mind becomes different. “Old things pass away, and all things become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17.) The Lord Jesus said that it would be so, and all experience shows that so it is.

Let us learn from this parable never to “despise the day of small things” in religion. (Zec. 4:10.) The soul must creep before it can walk, and walk before it can run. If we see any sign of grace beginning in a brother, however feeble, let us thank God and be hopeful. The leaven of grace once planted in his heart, shall yet leaven the whole lump. “He that begins the work, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6.)

Let us ask ourselves whether there is any work of grace in our own hearts. Are we resting satisfied with a few vague wishes and convictions? Or do we know anything of a gradual, growing, spreading, increasing, leavening process going on in our inward man? Let nothing short of this content us. The true work of the Holy Spirit will never stand still. It will leaven the whole lump.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 14 January 2011 at 08:08

Speaking of Jesus

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I found this little nugget attributed to a man called Rollock:

I had rather a man should stammer and babble about Christ, providing he does it sincerely and from his heart, and has before him as an object the glory of God and salvation of men, than say many things eloquently about Christ, for ostentation and vain glory.

Relief and encouragement for stammerers and babblers everywhere! What will you say to the unconverted tomorrow from the pulpit or along the pew? If all you can do is stammer and babble, let it be concerning Christ, and from a warm heart, with a view to the honour of the Lord and the salvation of the lost.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 27 November 2010 at 11:23

Advancing Christ’s kingdom together #5

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IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

So far in this series on Andrew Fuller’s letter seeking the assistance of his Christian hearers in promoting the interest of Christ we have considered the introduction, in which Fuller establishes the principle of cooperation upon which he will proceed. Following on from that, we have looked at the first three groups of people that pastors address and to which they minister: “serious and humble Christians”, “disorderly walkers”, and those “inquiring after the way of salvation”.

The final category in which Fuller pleads for the assistance of the saints is that of those “living in their sins” and unconcerned about salvation. Again, here he is dealing with the progress of the kingdom in an absolute sense, in the bringing of those who are in darkness into God’s marvellous light.

Alongside the second category of “disorderly walkers” this is the group with which most believers will struggle. It might be considered a relatively easy thing to encourage a healthy child of God; if someone is seeking Christ, then they might at least be inclined to hear a Christian’s efforts to point them to Jesus. However, backslidden Christians and unbelievers careless about their souls are both more likely, at least initially, to resent and resist the believer’s overtures. In both instances, a degree of courage for potential confrontation about sin is required.

Let us hear Fuller on the matter:

Fourthly, There is in all congregations and neighbourhoods a considerable number of people who are living in their sins, and in a state of unconcernedness about salvation. – Our work in respect of them is, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, to declare unto them their true character, to exhibit the Saviour as the only refuge, and to warn them to flee to him from the wrath to come. In this also there are various ways in which you may greatly assist us. If, as heads of families, you were to inquire of your children and servants what they have heard and noticed on the Lord’s day, you would often find occasion to second the impressions made by our labours. It is also of great consequence to be endued with that wisdom from above which dictates a word in season to men in our ordinary concerns with them. Far be it from us to recommend the fulsome practice of some professors, who are so full of what they call religion as to introduce it on all occasions, and that in a most offensive manner. Yet there is a way of dropping a hint to a good purpose. It is admirable to observe the easy and inoffensive manner in which a patriarch introduced some of the most important truths to a heathen prince, merely in answer to the question, How old are thou? “The days of the years of my pilgrimage,” said he, “are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimage.” This was insinuating to Pharaoh that he and his fathers before him were strangers and pilgrims upon the earth – that their portion was not in this world but in another – that the life of man, though it extended to a hundred and thirty years, was but a few days – and that those few days were mixed with evil – all which, if the king reflected on it, would teach him to set light by the earthly glory with which he was loaded, and to seek a crown which fadeth not away.

You are acquainted with many who do not attend the preaching of the word. If, by inviting them to go with you, an individual only should be caught, as we say, in the gospel net, you would save a soul from death. Such examples have frequently occurred. It is an established law in the Divine administration, that men, both in good and evil, should in a very great way draw and be drawn by each other. The ordinary way in which the knowledge of God is spread in the world is, by every man saying to his neighbour and to his brother, Know the Lord. It is a character of gospel times, that “Many people shall go and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Add to this, by visiting your neighbours under affliction you would be furnished with many an opportunity of conversing with them to advantage. Men’s consciences are commonly awake at such seasons, whatever they have been at others. It is as the month to the wild ass, in which they that seek her may find her.

Finally, Enable us to use strong language when recommending the gospel by its holy and happy effects. – Unbelievers constantly object to the doctrine of grace as licentious; and if they can refer to your unworthy conduct, they will be confirmed, and we shall find it impossible to vindicate the truth of God without disowning such conduct, and it may be you on account of it: but if we can appeal to the upright, the temperate, the peaceable, the benevolent, the holy lives of those among whom we labour, it will be of more weight than a volume of reasonings, and have a greater influence on the consciences of men. A congregation composed of kind and generous masters, diligent and faithful servants, affectionate husbands, obedient wives, tender parents, dutiful children, and loyal subjects, will be to a minister what children of the youth are said to be to a parent: As arrows in the hand of a mighty man: – “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed , but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.”

These, brethren, are some of the principal ways in which we affectionately solicit your assistance in promoting the interest of Christ. In doing this, we virtually pledge ourselves to be ready on all occasions to engage in it. We feel the weight of this implication. Let each have the other’s prayer, that we may both be assisted from above, without which all the assistance we can render each other will be unavailing. Should this address fall into the hands of one who is yet in his sins, let him consider that the object of it is his salvation; let him reflect on the case of a man whom many are endeavouring to save, but he himself, with hardened unconcern, is pressing forward to destruction; and finally, should he bethink himself, and desire to escape the wrath to come, let him beware of false refuges, and flee to Jesus the hope set before him in the gospel.

  • We need to pray for wisdom and courage to serve Christ in this endeavour. Pray for those whose primary responsibility it is to preach the truth to men, and pray for yourselves, that you might be willing and able to play your part, whatever the opposition.
  • We must be ready to follow up with those under our care or influence the public ministry of God’s word. We may not have many servants in the UK these days – but then, I don’t know where you are reading this, so perhaps you do – but there may be children and others for whom you have some responsibility or obtain some influence, and pressing home the truths that have been proclaimed from the pulpit may drive something into the soul that would otherwise have remained on the surface.
  • Do not be obnoxious, supercilious, or overbearing in the name of piety, but rather seek the wisdom that speaks a word in season to those without Christ. At the same time, do not use the ploy that you are waiting for the right season to cover your cowardice.
  • Find ways to bring the gospel to those who do not normally hear the Word of God, or to bring them under the sound of the word. This may be by taking opportunities to invite them to hear the Scriptures preached, or by taking the gospel to them when you have opportunities. Do not neglect times of distress, hardship and affliction: these may be very appropriate occasions to speak of Jesus, especially if your good neighbourliness as a matter of course has made a way into their affections and assured them of your good intentions.
  • Live in such a way as to complement to the gospel preached from the pulpit, so as to make your life a second sermon. If your own life adorns the gospel, and demonstrates and endorses the truth preached, then you make yourself every true preacher’s ally. If your life is a contradiction of the truth you or your pastors proclaim, if you have the name of a saint but fall short in the life, then you not only offend Christ but you put an obstacle in the path of every man who can discern the gap between Christian testimony and your practice.

    So, are you in?

    Remember Fuller’s opening description of the early church:

    The primitive churches were not mere assemblies of men who agreed to meet together once or twice a week, and to subscribe for the support of an accomplished men who should on those occasions deliver lectures on religion. They were men gathered out of the world by the preaching of the cross, and formed into society for the promotion of Christ’s kingdom in their own souls and in the world around them. It was not the concern of the ministers or elders only; the body of the people were interested in all that was done, and, according to their several abilities and stations, took part in it. Neither were they assemblies of heady, high-minded, contentious people, meeting together to argue on points of doctrine or discipline, and converting the worship of God into scenes of strife. They spoke the truth; but it was in love; they observed discipline; but, like an army of chosen men, it was that they might attack the kingdom of Satan to greater advantage. Happy were it for our churches if we could come to a closer imitation of this model!

    As much as ever, the church needs her people to speak the truth in love, and observe that holy discipline that will enable her to march as an army with banners, and overcome the world, the flesh and the devil, and be the means in God’s hands of plucking brands from the burning and building up the church of Christ.

    To this end, the whole church must be engaged. If your pastors “virtually pledge ourselves to be ready on all occasions to engage in” this work of promoting the cause of Christ, will you pledge yourself to stand with them, pray for them, labour alongside them, pouring yourself out as opportunity and calling provide for the glory of Christ on the earth, seen in the salvation of the lost and the strengthening of the family of God?

    IntroductionFirst groupSecond groupThird groupFourth group

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Thursday 25 November 2010 at 21:05

    Advancing Christ’s kingdom together #4

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    IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

    The previous sections of Andrew Fuller’s letter have seen this pastor-theologian begin by emphasising the principle of co-operation that ought to unite the whole body of Christ in holy endeavour, before going on to deal with two of the four groups of people to whom every pastor seeks to minister: “serious and humble Christians” and “disorderly walkers.” We have looked at Fuller’s counsels and sought to expand and apply them.

    Now Fuller moves on to the third group he is considering: people “inquiring after the way of salvation.” This is the longest of the four treatments of these different groups, and the most developed. Fuller traces the declension of many churches to a lack of concern in the hearts of God’s people for the lost among them, and a lack of skill in “the world of righteousness.” He unpacks these twin concerns, and in doing so exposes an error that was prevalent in his own day, and may be prevalent in our own, especially in some churches.

    While we will unpack some of the positive exhortations at the close of this post, it is worth noting that the error that Fuller is particularly keen to avoid is the tendency for counsellors of those awakened to their need of salvation to adopt some of the mistaken assumptions of those whom they are counselling. Specifically, Fuller says that many a one inquiring after salvation “is employed in searching for something in his religious experience which may amount to an evidence of his conversion; and in talking with you he expects you to assist him in the search.” Too many believers are ready to help in this quest, turning the eye of the seeker upon himself rather than upon Christ. Fuller is well aware of the fact that it is not wrong for someone to examine himself to see whether the evidences of true conversion are present in his life, but this is not his concern here. Rather, he is thinking of those who are seeking in their own experience some warrant to come to Jesus, some mark that they are ripe for salvation, or some indication from their own distresses or burdens that God is ready to receive them. Fuller’s point is that the gospel is all the warrant that is needed, and that those who look elsewhere are not looking in the right place, and do not in fact properly understand the gospel itself. What sinners need is Jesus as Saviour, and it is to him that we must point men.

    Thirdly, In every church of Christ we may hope to find some persons inquiring after the way of salvation. – This may be the case much more at some periods than at others; but we may presume, from the promise of God to be with his servants, that the word of truth shall not be any length of time without effect. Our work in this case is to cherish conviction, and to direct the mind to the gospel remedy. But if, when men are inquiring the way to Zion, there be none but the minister to give them information, things must be low indeed. It might be expected that there should be many persons capable of giving direction on this subject as there are serious Christians; for who that has obtained mercy by believing in Jesus should be at a loss to recommend him to another? It is a matter of fact, however, that though, as in cases of bodily disease, advisers are seldom wanting; yet, either for want of being interested in the matter, or sufficiently skilful in the word of righteousness, there are but few, comparatively, whose advice is of any value; and this we apprehend to be one great cause of declension in many churches. Were we writing on ministerial defects, we should not scruple to acknowledge that much of the preaching of the present day is subject to the same censure; but in the present instance we must be allowed to suppose ourselves employed in teaching the good and the right way, and to solicit your assistance in the work. When the apostle tells the Hebrews that, considering the time, “they ought to have been teachers,” he does not mean that they ought all to have been ministers; but able to instruct any inquirer in the great principles of the gospel.

    It has been already intimated that, to give advice to a person under concern about salvation, it is necessary, in the first place, that we be interested on his behalf, and treat him in a free and affectionate manner. Some members of churches act as if they thought such things did not concern them, and as if their whole duty consisted in sending the party to the minister. A church composed of such characters may be opulent and respectable; but they possess nothing inviting or winning to an awakened mind. To cherish conviction, and give a right direction to such a mind, we must be free and affectionate. When a sinner begins to think of his condition, such questions as the following will often cross his mind: – Was there ever such a case as mine? Are there any people in the world who have been what I am, and who are in the way to eternal life? If there be, who are they? Where are they? But if, while he is thinking what he must do to be saved, he neither sees nor hears any thing among you which renders it probable that such was ever your concern – if, as soon as a sermon is ended, he sees merely an exchange of civilities, and, on leaving the place, observes that all the congregation immediately fall into conversation about worldly things, what can he think? Either that there is nothing in religion, or, if there be, that he must seek elsewhere for it. The voice of a Christian church to those who attend upon their ministry should be that of Moses to Hobab: “We are journeying to the place of which the Lord hath said, I will give it you. Come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.”

    It is of great consequence to the well-being of a church, that there be persons in particular in it who are accessible to characters of this description, and who would take a pleasure in introducing themselves to them. Barnabas, who, by a tender and affectionate spirit, was peculiarly fitted for this employment, was acquainted with Saul while the other disciples were afraid of him. It was he that introduced him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

    Affection, however, is not the only qualification for this work: it requires that you be skilful in the word of righteousness; else you will administer false consolation, and may be instrumental in destroying, instead of saving souls. Not that it requires any extraordinary talents to give advice in such cases; the danger arises principally from inattention and erroneous views of the gospel.

    If, brethren, you would assist us in this delightful work, allow us to caution you against one prevailing error, and to recommend one important rule. The error to which we allude is, Taking it for granted that the party has no doubts as to the gospel way of salvation, and no unwillingness to be saved, provided God were but willing to save him. Such are probably his thoughts of himself; and the only question with him is, whether he have an interest in Christ and spiritual blessings. Hence he is employed in searching for something in his religious experience which may amount to an evidence of his conversion; and in talking with you he expects you to assist him in the search. But do not take this account of things as being the true one: it is founded in self-deception. If he understood and believed the gospel way of salvation, he would know that God was willing to save any sinner who is willing to be saved by it. A willingness to relinquish every false confidence, every claim of preference before the most ungodly character, and every ground of hope save that which God has laid in the gospel, is all that is wanting. If he have this, there is nothing in heaven or earth in the way of his salvation. In conversing with such a character we should impress this truth upon him, assuring him that if he be straitened [hemmed in or restricted] it is not of God, but in his own bowels [inner being] – that the doubts which he entertains of the willingness of God, especially on account of his sinfulness and unworthiness, are no other than the workings of a self-righteous opposition to the gospel (as they imply an opinion, that if he were less sinful and more worthy, God might be induced to save him) – and that if he be not saved in the gospel way, while yet his very moans betray the contrary, we should labour to persuade him that he does not yet understand the deceit of his own heart – that if he were willing to come to Christ for life, there is no doubt of his being accepted; in short, that, whenever he is brought to be of this mind, he will not only ask after the good way, but walk in it, and will assuredly find rest unto his soul.

    The rule we recommend is this: Point them directly to the Saviour. It may be thought that no Christian can misunderstand or misapply this important direction, which is every where taught in the New Testament. Yet if you steer not clear of the above error, you will be unable to keep to it. So long as you admit the obstruction to believing in Christ to consist in something distinct from disaffection to the gospel way of salvation, it will be next to impossible for you to exhort a sinner to it in the language of the New Testament. For how can you exhort a man to that which you think he desires with all his heart to comply with, but cannot? You must feel that such exhortations would be tantalizing and insulting him. You may, indeed, conceive of him as ignorant, and as such labour to instruct him; but your feelings will not suffer you to exhort him to any thing in which he is involuntary. Hence, you will content yourselves with directing him to wait at the pool of ordinances, and it may be to pray for grace to enable him to repent and believe, encouraging him to hope for a happy issue in God’s due time. But this is not pointing the sinner directly to Christ. On the contrary, it is furnishing him with a resting-place short of him, and giving him to imagine that duties performed while in unbelief are pleasing to God.

    If you point the awakened sinner directly to the Saviour, after the manner of the New Testament, you will not be employed in assisting him to analyze the distresses of his mind, and administering consolation to him from the hope that they may contain some of the ingredients of true conversion, or at least the signs that he will be converted. Neither will you consider distress as ascertaining a happy issue, any otherwise than as it leads to Christ. If the question were, Do I believe in Jesus for salvation? then , indeed, you must inquire what effects have been produced. But it is very different where the inquiry is, What shall we do? or, What shall I do to be saved? The murderers of Christ were distressed; but Peter did not attempt to comfort them by alleging that this was a hopeful sign of their conversion, or by any way directing their attention to what was within them. On the contrary, he exhibited the Saviour, and exhorted them to repent and be baptized in his name. The same may be said of the Philippian jailer. He was in great distress, yet no comfort was administered to him from this quarter, nor any other, except the salvation of Christ. Him Paul and Silas exhibited, and in him directly exhorted him to believe. The promise of rest is not made to the weary and heavy laden, but to those who come to Christ under their burdens.

    Once more, If you keep this rule, though you will labour to make the sinner sensible of his sin, (as till this case he will never come to the Saviour,) yet you will be far from holding up this his sensibility as affording any warrant, qualification, or title to believe in him, which he did not possess before. The gospel itself is the warrant, and not any thing in the state of the mind; though, till the mind is made sensible of the evil of sin, it will never comply with the gospel.

    While in the first two categories of persons, our author was more concerned with the progress of the gospel intensively (that is, in the hearts of those converted, pursuing increasing godliness) here he turns to the progress of the kingdom extensively, in the conversion of sinners. Like Charles Spurgeon after him, Fuller wants the church to be a true ‘Salvation Army’: “We want, in the Church of Christ, a band of well-trained sharpshooters, who will pick the people out individually, and be always on the watch for all whom come into the place, not annoying them, but making sure that they do not go away without having had a personal warning, a personal invitation, and a personal exhortation to come to Christ” (Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994], 135). Are you ready to play your part? If so:

    • Consider whether or not you have played a part in the past. If not, then repent of your sins against men and God, particularly with regard to any lack of concern for the souls of men and any culpable failure to grasp the truth so as to be able to explain it to others. Pray God that – should you have the opportunity – you would be one who is willing and able to contribute in this way, and not merely ready to send the inquirer to the preacher, or someone else presumed to be competent in the matter.
    • Remember that the whole church ought to be concerned in the salvation of the lost. Consider that it is not solely the pastor’s responsibility, neither only the officers’ business, nor a matter for the keen and zealous, but rather the concern of the whole local body.
    • Then, pursue an affection for and accessibility to those burdened in soul. The former must spring from within, and must be nurtured with prayer for men. Pray for it generally, that God would give you a heart for the lost, and specifically, that God would bless this one or that one whom you know to be troubled in heart, and so stir up a holy regard and concern for the individuals who need Christ. Avoid all coldness, distance, pomposity, invasiveness, false joviality, and all the other boundaries to transparent and earnest conversation about things that matter. Seek the “tender and affectionate spirit” that characterised Barnabas, and made him such an encourager to Saul and countless others.
    • Further, do nothing to inhibit the seeker or to counteract his concerns, especially in the immediate context of the worship of God. I distinctly remember as a child my disgust – as I felt it then to be – with the church for professing to be concerned with high and holy things, and yet to see men and women turn to each other within moments of a service ending to begin talking about things that simply did not matter. Perhaps I was right to be disgusted. Might we not see more results if our first questions to each other were less along the lines of “How was your week?” and more akin to “How are things with your soul?” Labour to communicate to others that you are as much concerned about your soul and theirs as they are or should be about their own, and that the things of eternity press more upon your spirit than the things of time.
    • Remember that no special gifts or extraordinary talents are required for you to speak the good news about Jesus to a needy sinner. Do not be hindered by flawed and false expectations of yourself. Your primary qualification is your own experience of grace, “for who that has obtained mercy be believing in Jesus should be at a loss to recommend him to another?”
    • In this regard, do not be sucked into a man’s own mistaken notions of his warrant for believing (see above), but rather make it your errand to point sinners directly to Christ as Saviour. Do not, first and foremost, urge them to attend more sermons, come to more services, read more books, search their hearts more diligently, consider their sins more humbly, pray for grace to repent and believe, or tell them simply to wait upon God’s time for a blessing. Though some of these counsels may be appropriate in a legitimate context and their proper place, our primary business as believers is this: to urge sinners as lost and needy to flee to the Lord Christ, and to trust and take Jesus Messiah as their Redeemer and Lord.

    IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Wednesday 24 November 2010 at 11:41

    Advancing Christ’s kingdom together #2

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    IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

    Co-operation in action

    We began this series yesterday with Fuller’s introduction to his letter entreating the assistance of his Christian hearers in promoting the interest of Christ in the world. There, he briefly established the principles of co-operation upon which he intended to proceed, namely, the united and active interest of every member of Christ’s body in the health and growth of that body.

    In the letter, he deals with the opportunities for such contributions in terms of four groups of people with whom pastors have to do, and in the service of whom the saints might make a vital contribution. The first group is “serious and humble Christians,” and here are Fuller’s suggestions and requests:

    First, It may be supposed that in every church of Christ there will be a considerable portion of serious and humble Christians. – Our work in respect of them is to feed them with the wholesome doctrine of the word, and to teach them the mind of Christ in all things. The assistance which we ask of you, brethren, in this part of our ministry, is, that you would not only pray for us, but be free to impart to us the state of your minds, and whether our labours be edifying to you or not. It is not so much by a systematical statement and defence of Christian doctrines that believers are edified, as by those doctrines being applied to their respective cases. This is the way in which they are ordinarily introduced in the Scriptures, and in which they become “words in due season.” But we cannot well preach to the cases of people unless we know them. Add to this, the interest which you discover in the things of God has a more than ordinary influence on our minds in the delivery of them. You cannot conceive the difference between addressing a people full of tender and affectionate attention, whose souls appear in their eyes, and answer, as it were, to the word of God; and preaching to those who are either half asleep, or their thoughts manifestly occupied by other things. By looking at the one, our hearts have expanded like the flowers before the morning sun: thoughts have occurred, and sensations have been kindled, which the labours of the study could never have furnished. But, by observing the other, our spirits are contracted like the flowers by the damps of the evening, and thoughts which were interesting when alone have seemed to die as they proceeded from our lips.

    It will tend not a little to increase your interest in hearing, if you exercise yourselves on other occasions in reading and reflection. If you attend to the things of God only, or chiefly, while hearing us, we shall preach to you under great disadvantage. The apostle complained of many things being hard to be uttered, owing to the Hebrews being dull of hearing; and that, when for the time they ought to have been teachers, they had need that one should teach them again which were the first principles of the oracles of God. Thinking hearers gave a facility to preaching, even upon the most difficult subjects; while those whose minds are seldom occupied at other times can scarcely understand the most easy and familiar truths.

    Here, then, are ways in which healthy saints can make a vital contribution to the work of ministry:

    • Firstly, and most fundamentally, you can pray for your pastors. It was Spurgeon who spoke for countless men (albeit on a different scale) when he said that the secret of all his pastoral ‘success’ was that his people prayed for him. Prayer opens the windows of heaven to bring down a blessing. If you can do nothing else, you can pray for your pastors, and plead a blessing on their labours.
    • Secondly, you can labour to know and be known by those who serve you, with a ready transparency and in intelligent communication. It is this ready and easy relationship that enables the under-shepherd to minister to his particular flock, and to the particular sheep in it. To this end, will you open your hearts to your pastors about your joys and troubles, your hopes and fears, your delights and concerns, so that they might minister to you wisely? Further, will you intelligently communicate to them whether or not they are feeding your souls and scratching your spiritual itches in and out of the pulpit, if not on the Lord’s day then with a phone call, quiet word, grateful note or encouraging email during the week? How many never respond with any outward sign of intelligent appreciation! How many more never get beyond “Good word, pastor!” at the door on the way out, or platitudes about being “so blessed”? Knowing how and in what ways we have profitably served, or if we are failing to bring forth from our treasure things new and old for the good of the saints, helps preachers to be wise physicians of your souls.
    • Thirdly, you can be exemplary listeners. To be sure, there are bad days when the kids were up all night and you struggle to keep your eyes open, or when that headache means you can only look at the preacher with a squint, or when you are persuaded that you did indeed leave the oven on at full heat. But, generally speaking, do you draw the truth out of your preachers, contributing to a lively spiritual dynamic in which, by means of mutual sensitivity, the flow of truth – under divine pressure and hissing-hot – comes flooding out of his soul into yours? Your appearance and spiritual disposition under the preaching of the word will contribute either to the flowering or the withering of your pastors in the act of preaching. (See also here.)
    • Fourthly and finally, you can maintain spiritual fitness for hearing by your own reading and reflection apart from the services of worship. Such activity forms the channels down which the truth must run, and dredges out the silt that too readily builds up to inhibit that flow of truth. Especially on Saturday evenings, stoke up a good fire in your souls, so that on the Lord’s day morning you need only to rake over the coals to see the flames leap up once more. Holy familiarity with God’s truth in the general run of life will equip you to understand and receive it when it is offered to you morning and evening on the Lord’s day.

    And, brothers and sisters, the best time to begin is now, and the best Lord’s day to put this into practice is the coming one, and the one after that, and so on and so on, until glory dawns, and faith is sight.

    IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Saturday 20 November 2010 at 14:00

    Advancing Christ’s kingdom together #1

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    In 1806, the Baptist pastor and theologian Andrew Fuller drew up a letter to be circulated among the churches with which his congregation was associated. This particular letter was entitled, “The pastor’s address to his Christian hearers, entreating their assistance in promoting the interest of Christ.” Like other letters of the same sort, it was intended to be read and received among the churches as a means of stirring up the saints to lively faith and a faithful life.

    As the title of this particular letter indicates, Fuller’s concern is to engage the hearts, minds, hands and mouths of God’s people in the cause of Christ’s kingdom, urging them to use all proper and legitimate means to add their strength to that of gospel ministers in seeking the glory of Christ in the salvation of the lost and the building up of his church. It is a cogent piece of pastoral reasoning, profitable as much now as it was then.

    While the author acknowledges that he might have gone in any number of directions with such entreaties and exhortations, he settles on the plan of identifying four groups of people with whom pastors deal – serious and humble Christians; those who are walking in a disorderly way; people concerned about salvation; and those who are manifestly unconverted – and shows how God’s people can assist pastors in bringing the Word of God fruitfully to bear upon them, and pleading with the saints to do all they can to this end.

    I intend to post Fuller’s letter in several parts over the coming days (with links to help navigation), and hope that it will prove a spur to each one of us to embrace our privilege and responsibility in this matter. We begin with Fuller’s introduction, in which he sets out the grounds of seeking such assistance from the church at large.

    The pastor’s address to his Christian hearers, entreating their assistance in promoting the interest of Christ

    Beloved brethren,

    The ministry to which God by your election has called us forms a distinguished part of the gospel dispensation. Divine instruction was communicated under the Old Testament, and an order of men appointed of God for the purpose; but their work can scarcely be denominated preaching. They foretold the good news; but it is for us to proclaim it. The poor having the gospel preached to them is alleged in proof that the Messiah was come, and that they were not to look for another.

    The very existence of Christian churches is in subserviency to the preaching of the gospel; or they would not have been described as “golden candlesticks,” the use of which is to impart light to those around them. We speak not thus, brethren, to magnify ourselves. There is an important difference between Christian ministers and the Christian ministry. The former, we are ready to acknowledge, exist for your sakes. “Whether Paul, Apollos, or Cephas – all are yours;” but the latter, as being the chosen means of extending the Redeemer’s kingdom, is that for which both we and you exist. “Ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

    These considerations will enable us to account for the joy which the apostle expressed in “Christ’s being preached,” even though it were from “envy;” and may teach us to rejoice in the same thing, though it be in the most corrupt communities, or even from the most suspicious motives. But though God may cause his truth to triumph wherever and by whomsoever it is taught, yet it should be our concern to publish it willingly, and to the best advantage.

    The primitive churches were not mere assemblies of men who agreed to meet together once or twice a week, and to subscribe for the support of an accomplished men who should on those occasions deliver lectures on religion. They were men gathered out of the world by the preaching of the cross, and formed into society for the promotion of Christ’s kingdom in their own souls and in the world around them. It was not the concern of the ministers or elders only; the body of the people were interested in all that was done, and, according to their several abilities and stations, took part in it. Neither were they assemblies of heady, high-minded, contentious people, meeting together to argue on points of doctrine or discipline, and converting the worship of God into scenes of strife. They spoke the truth; but it was in love; they observed discipline; but, like an army of chosen men, it was that they might attack the kingdom of Satan to greater advantage. Happy were it for our churches if we could come to a closer imitation of this model!

    We trust it is our sincere desire as ministers to be more intent upon our work; but allow us to ask for your assistance. Nehemiah, zealous as he was, could not have built the wall if the people had not had a mind to work. Nor could Ezra have reformed the abuses among the people if nobody had stood with him. But in this case the elders, when convinced of the necessity of the measure, offered themselves willingly to assist him. “Arise,” said they, “for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.” Such is the assistance, brethren, which we solicit at your hands.

    We might enumerate the different ways in which your assistance in promoting the interest of Christ is needed. We might ask for your prayers, your early attendance, your counsels, your contributions, and your example; but what we have to offer will arise from a review of the different branches of our own labours.

    In the discharge of our work we have to do with four descriptions of people, and in dealing with each we stand in need of your assistance: namely, serious and humble Christians – disorderly walkers – persons under concern about salvation – and persons manifestly unconverted.

    The key question for the saints is: are you persuaded of the identity and purpose of Christ’s church, and of the part you might play in pursuing the ends for which the church has been called out of the world? Will you say with Fuller that

    [the early churches] were men gathered out of the world by the preaching of the cross, and formed into society for the promotion of Christ’s kingdom in their own souls and in the world around them. It was not the concern of the ministers or elders only; the body of the people were interested in all that was done, and, according to their several abilities and stations, took part in it.

    Furthermore, saying it, will you embrace it? In Fuller’s quaint language, “interest” is not passing concern, but active involvement and determined participation, knowing oneself to be part of the body of Christ.

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    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Friday 19 November 2010 at 16:56

    Contextualization vs. representation

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    A thought struck me this morning as I clothed myself.  I think it happened because I am preaching later today, after spending some time in London, and I was robing myself accordingly.

    We hear a great deal about contextualization, and 1 Corinthians 9.19-23 is often quoted:

    For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

    This is well and good and right.  But there is a parallel awareness that must be cultivated, an awareness not only of those to whom we go but the one by whom we are sent.  Paul also wrote 2 Corinthians 5.16-20:

    Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

    We think often and much and rightly of those to whom we go.  We are to be all things to all men – there is a necessary truth in contextualization.  But what of the one by whom we are sent?  We must also look up, and remember the principle of representation, and that must also be fully manifest in all our thoughts and words and deeds.  Because we are ambassadors of Christ we become all things to all men.  But our becoming all things to all men must never compromise our plain identity and moral authority as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, the risen and glorious Lord.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Thursday 8 July 2010 at 09:09

    Loneliness in the world of a thousand friends

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    The point has been made before on this blog about the limitations of Facebook and other social networking sites as a means of gaining and keeping true friends (see here and here, or Carl Trueman here).  I am also aware of the countless exceptions to this general rule, whereby existing friendships are maintained and strengthened, and some genuine new ones formed, by means of these media, not least for some who would have little access to these relationships normally.

    Nevertheless, a new study reported by the BBC suggests that loneliness is an increasing problem in the modern West.  While new technology may at times be a blessing, it can also be a curse:

    . . . there are also concerns that technology is being used as a replacement for genuine human interaction.

    Nearly a third of young people questioned for the report said they spent too much time communicating with friends and families online when they should see them in person.

    One charity states:

    The young people we work with tell us that talking to hundreds of people on social networks is not like having a real relationship and when they are using these sites they are often alone in their bedrooms.

    The issue here is not so much pro or con social networking, but rather the gospel opportunity that such alienation creates.  Multitudes are alienated both from God and from other humans: they are part of no people (compare 1Pt 2.10), and there is a natural need and desire that Christians – in doing good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith – can use as a means of bringing the good news to those seeking true friendship.  Jesus was accused of being the Friend of sinners (Mt 11.19), and Matthew reminds us there that “wisdom is justified by her children.”  Are not these ideal circumstances for us to communicate to the lost and wandering by both words and deeds that there is a Friend for sinners, and that there is a family of God which warmly embraces all who belong to her?

    On two occasions the apostle John emphasised that, for all the pen-work and ink-spilling, he wanted to see and speak with at least two of his correspondents – his friends – face to face, in order that his joy might be full (2Jn 12, 3Jn 13-14).  One of the buzzwords in the missional movement is how ‘incarnational’ we ought to be.  Is this, then, not one of the points at which the rubber must meet the road?  Friendships function fully in the body, with as many of the dynamics and dimensions of full interpersonal relationships exercised and cultivated as opportunity provides.  Our relationships as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ ought to be of an order that others, looking on, desire: under God, we can stir up a holy jealousy in men to be part of the family of God.  Our relationship with our elder Brother and truest Friend, Christ, and with his Father and ours, ought to spark a growing desire in those who are spiritually lost and lonely to have such a Brother, such a Friend, such a Father.  And, our relationships with our neighbours, colleagues, family members, and – yes – our friends, ought to be of a kind that preaches the good news in our attitudes, our words, and our deeds.  “So let our lips and lives express / The holy gospel we profess,” indeed.  If a man who has friends must himself be friendly (Prv 18.14), how much more the man who would win friends, to himself and through him to his great Friend and Redeemer, the Lord Christ (Mk 2.1 ff.)?

    It will take time and it will cost much, but it will gain much.  An incarnational ministry always does.  Just ask Jesus Christ.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Tuesday 25 May 2010 at 09:32

    Seeking rest

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    From Richard Baxter’s The Saints’ Everlasting Rest some counsels on helping others to seek the rest that the saints enjoy:

    Has God set before us such a wonderful possession as the saints’ everlasting rest, and made us capable of such unimaginable happiness? Why, then, don’t all of the children of this kingdom exert themselves more to help others to enjoy it? We see the glory of the kingdom, while others around us do not. We see the misery of those that are out of it, while others do not. And yet we will not seriously show them their danger and help to bring them into this eternal life. How few Christians there are who give themselves with all their might to save souls! Considering how important this duty is to the glory of God and the happiness of men, I will first show how to do it.

    Our hearts must be moved by the misery of other people. We must be compassionate towards them. If we earnestly longed for their conversion, and sincerely desired the best for them; it would put us to work, and God would bless such effort.

    We must take every opportunity that we can to instruct others in the way of salvation. Teach them their need of the Redeemer; how Christ mercifully bore their penalty on the cross. Teach them the privileges which believers have in Christ. Show them how wonderful heaven will be. Be sure to urge them to make use of all the ways God has provided for our help—such as hearing and reading the Bible, calling upon God in prayer, and having fellowship with other Christians. Persuade them to forsake sin, avoid temptations and evil companions.

    Aim at the glory of God in another person’s salvation. Don’t do it for your own credit or to attract followers; but do it in obedience to Christ and out of tender love for other people’s souls. Do it promptly too. That physician is no better than a murderer, who negligently delays treating a patient until he is dead or incurable. Let others perceive that it is your desire to help them; that you have no other motive in mind but their everlasting happiness. Say to them, “Friend, you know I have nothing to gain in this. The easiest way to please you and keep your friendship would be to say nothing and leave you alone; but love will not let me see you perish, and remain silent. I only seek your own happiness. You are the one who will gain if you come to Christ.”

    Do it plainly and faithfully. Don’t play down the seriousness of their sins, nor give them false hopes. If you see their situation is dangerous, speak plainly. Say to them, “Friend, if you were ‘in Christ,’ you would be ‘a new creature; old things’ would be ‘passed away, and all things’ would ‘become new’ (2 Cor. 5:17). You would have new thoughts, new friends, and a new life.” Thus you must deal honestly with people, if you ever intend to help them. It is not in pleasing people that you help them.

    Do it seriously, enthusiastically, and effectively. Try to make people know that heaven and hell are not matters to be played with, or dismissed with a few careless thoughts. To avoid extremes, I advise you to do it with discretion. Choose the most appropriate time. Don’t deal with people when they are angry or on the defensive. When the earth is soft the plough will enter. Take a person when he is in trouble, or when he is freshly moved by a sermon. Christian faithfulness requires us to watch for opportunities.

    Let all your words be backed with the authority of God. Let sinners be convinced that you do not speak merely your own thoughts. They may reject your opinions even though they would not dare reject the words of the Almighty. Try to bring all of your conversation to a verdict. God usually blesses those whose hearts are set upon the conversion of their hearers and who therefore seek a decision.

    Be sure your life witnesses as well as your words. Let people see you practicing what you seek to persuade them about. Let them see, by your attitude toward heaven and the world, that you do indeed believe what you would have them believe.

    Besides privately witnessing, you should try to help people through the church. Use your influence to secure faithful ministers, for “how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Many souls may be saved by the ministry which you have helped to secure for the church. What immense good might men of means do, if they would support the ministerial education of carefully chosen youth until they were ready for the ministry. You can also draw people to attend the services where faithful ministers preach the Gospel. Do your part to keep the church and its ministry in good repute, for no one will be affected much by that which he disdains. The apostle urged, concerning those who are over us in the Lord, “to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thess. 5:13).

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Thursday 20 May 2010 at 14:47

    Ministering in the metacities

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    Al Mohler gives us some statistics and challenges for the cities of the future now becoming the cities of the present:

    The history of humanity traces the flow of the earth’s inhabitants into cities. For thousands of years, that flow was slow, but still traceable. In 1800, only 3 percent of the human population lived in cities. By 1900, cities held 14 percent of the population. By 2000, fully half of all human beings lived in urban areas. We are fast becoming an urban species. . . .

    These new metacities will shape the future and, by extension, all of us. The Financial Times produced this important report with primary concern for the future of the cities as engines of economic development and political innovation. Christians must look to this report with a sober acknowledgment that the church is falling further behind in the challenge of reaching the cities. The emergence of these vast new metacities will call for a revolution in missiology and ministry.

    This much is clear — the cities are where the people are. In the course of less than 300 years, our world will have shifted from one in which only 3 percent of people live in cities, to one in which 80 percent are resident in urban areas.

    If the Christian church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must call a new generation of committed Christians into these teeming cities. As these new numbers make clear, there really is no choice.

    Read it all.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Friday 23 April 2010 at 13:28

    The LION migrates

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    LION of Zambia

    Some time ago I blogged about the Williamson family heading out to Zambia to support the churches there, particularly in the matter of ministerial training.  This week it is our privilege as a church to host the whole family en route to Lusaka, where they hope to set up home.

    James Williamson gave a report in Sunday School (combined for the adults and children), an updated version of the videos below.  He then preached powerfully and heart-warmingly from Revelation 5 on the Lamb who was worthy to open the scroll and administer God’s plans and purposes for the world.  The family are trying to get a few days of R&R in while they are here before heading out to Africa later this week.

    The LION of Zambia website gives more information, and Megan Williamson, Pastor James’ wife, is blogging the family experience.  For a voice from within, you can follow Conrad Mbewe’s blog.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Tuesday 19 January 2010 at 06:49

    Addressing unbelievers

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    Michael McKinley at 9Marks offers some provocative thoughts on how preachers should address unbelievers present in the congregation:

    Address “non-Christians” directly in your sermon, absolutely.  But do so in a way that helps people identify whether or not they fit in that category. . . . You can think of other natural ways to help your hearer define what it means to be a Christian by the way you address them.  Just don’t call them a “non-Christian”.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Monday 12 October 2009 at 09:02

    Making a connection

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    Reformissionary offers some suggestions for making gospel connections with strangers:

    1. Invitation cards (I keep planning this myself, but never quite get to sorting out the details).
    2. Tennis ball.
    3. Extra (stuff).
    4. Camera.
    5. Courage.

    Feel free to add more in the comments if you can think of any.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Wednesday 5 August 2009 at 11:30

    Posted in Missiology and evangelism

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    Christopher Wright: false dichotomies in mission

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    An interesting couple of posts (highlighted by Timmy Brister) in which Christopher Wright (author of The Mission of God and The God I Don’t Understand) sets out five false dichotomies in mission:

    1. Opposing the individual and the cosmic and corporate impact of the gospel, and prioritizing the first.
    2. Opposing believing and living the gospel, and prioritizing the first.
    3. Opposing evangelism and discipleship, and prioritizing the first.
    4. Opposing word and deed, or proclamation and demonstration, and prioritizing the first.
    5. Opposing evangelism and ecclesiology, and prioritizing the first.

    Read both parts in full.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Saturday 11 July 2009 at 11:28

    Gospel intentionality

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    charles-haddon-spurgeon-12-preachingThe Shepherd’s Fellowship quote Spurgeon to remind us that even when we are building our relationships with friends and neighbours, we must remember for what and for whom we are working.  Spurgeon delivered these words in a sermon in 1884.  I feel precisely the same temptations today, as a Christian and as an evangelist: it is always at the point of speaking about Jesus that my gospel intentionality fizzles out.  Spurgeon calls me back to where I ought to be.

    You [as preachers] have nothing else to employ as the means of good, except the salvation of Jesus, and there is nothing else worth telling.

    I heard of a congregation the other day that was so very small that hardly any one came to listen to the preacher. Instead of blaming himself, and preaching better, the minister said he thought he was not doing much good by sermons and prayer-meetings, and therefore he would found a club, and if the fellows came in, and played draughts, that might do them good. What a lot of that sort of thing is now being tried! We are going to convert souls on a new system,—are we? Are we also to have a substitute for bread?—and healthier drink than pure water?  . . .

    [T]o hope ever to bring sinners to holiness and heaven by any teaching but that which begins and ends in Jesus Christ is a sheer delusion. None other name is given among men whereby they can be saved. If you have to deal with highly learned and educated people, nothing is so good for them as preaching Jesus Christ; and if the people be ignorant and degraded, nothing is better for them than the preaching of Jesus.

    A young man said to another the other day, “I am going down to preach at So-and-so, what sort of people are they there? What kind of doctrine will suit them?” Having heard of the question, I gave this advice,—”You preach Jesus Christ, and that will suit them, I am sure, if they are learned people it will suit them; if they are ignorant it will suit them—God blessing it.”

    When the great Biblical critic, Bengel, was dying, he sent for a young theological student, to whom he said, “I am low in spirit; say something good to cheer me.” “My dear Sir,” said the student, “I am so insignificant a person, what can I say to a great man like yourself?” “But if you are a student of theology,” said Bengel, “you ought to have a good word to say to a dying man; pray say it without fear.” “Well, Sir,” said he, “What can I say to you, but that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin?” Bengel said, “Give me your hand, young man; that is the very word I wanted.”

    A simple gospel text is the word which every man needs who is in fear of divine wrath, and he may be sitting next to you at this moment, or he is in the same house of business with you, and needs that you should tell him about Christ. Do that, and bless his soul. May you all understand the Scriptures in this way, and may God make you a great blessing to those around you.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Monday 22 June 2009 at 20:41

    Simplified missional living

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    Jonathan Dodson dispenses some useful advice on bringing the gospel to your community, although you might want to fine-tune some of it (e.g. you might not want to flee the Christian sub-culture entirely, although you might choose not to be trapped within it).

    Eat with Non-Christians

    We all eat three meals a day. Why not make a habit of sharing one of those meals with a non-Christian or with a family of non-Christians? Go to lunch with a co-worker, not by yourself. Invite the neighbors over for family dinner. If it’s too much work to cook a big dinner, just order pizza and put the focus on conversation. When you go out for a meal, invite a non-Christian friend. Or take your family to family-style restaurants where you can sit at the table with strangers and strike up conversations. Have cookouts and invite Christians and non-Christians. Flee the Christian subculture.

    Walk, Don’t Drive

    If you live in a walkable area, make a practice of getting out and walking around your neighborhood, apartment complex, or campus. Instead of driving to the mailbox or convenience store, walk to get mail or groceries. Be deliberate in your walk. Say hello to people you don’t know. Strike up conversations. Attract attention by walking the dog, carrying along a 6-pack to share, bringing the kids. Make friends. Get out of your house! Last night I spent an hour outside gardening with my family. We had good conversations with about four of our neighbors. Take interest in your neighbors. Ask questions. Engage. Pray as you go. Save some gas, the planet, and some people.

    Be a Regular

    Instead of hopping all over the city for gas, groceries, haircuts, eating out, and coffee, go to the same places at the same times. Get to know the staff. Smile. Ask questions. Be a regular. I have friends at coffee shops all over the city. My friends at Starbucks donate a ton of leftover pastries to our church 2-3 times a week. We use them for church gatherings and occasionally give them to the homeless. Build relationships. Be a regular.

    Hobby with Non-Christians

    Pick a hobby that you can share. Get out and do something you enjoy with others. Try city league sports or local rowing and cycling teams. Share your hobby by teaching lessons, such as sewing, piano, knitting, or tennis lessons. Be prayerful. Be intentional. Be winsome. Have fun. Be yourself.

    Talk to Your Co-workers

    How hard is that? Take your breaks with intentionality. Go out with your team or task force after work. Show interest in your co-workers. Pick four and pray for them. Form moms’ groups in your neighborhood and don’t make them exclusively non-Christian. Schedule play dates with the neighbors’ kids. Work on mission.

    Volunteer with Non-Profits

    Find a non-profit in your part of the city and take a Saturday a month to serve your city. Bring your neighbors, your friends, or your small group. Spend time with your church serving your city. Once a month. You can do it!

    Participate in City Events

    Instead of playing XBox, watching TV, or surfing the net, participate in city events. Go to fundraisers, festivals, cleanups, summer shows, and concerts. Participate missionally. Strike up conversation. Study the culture. Reflect on what you see and hear. Pray for the city. Love the city. Participate with the city.

    Serve Your Neighbors

    Help a neighbor by weeding, mowing, building a cabinet, or fixing a car. Stop by the neighborhood association or apartment office and ask if there is anything you can do to help improve things. Ask your local Police and Fire Stations if there is anything you can do to help them. Get creative. Just serve!

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Tuesday 5 May 2009 at 21:56

    Evangelism and what it is not

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    Mark Dever is preaching on evangelism at the current Desiring God conference, and the notes from his second message are up.  Evangelism is not:

    1. Imposition
    2. Personal testimony
    3. Social action / Public involvement
    4. Apologetics
    5. Determined by its results

    Read it all (there is a link to the video, too).

    The substance of many of these is found, I think, in Dever’s book on evangelism.  I will try to post a review sometime.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Tuesday 3 February 2009 at 22:57

    Revival and reformation

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    In two posts, linked in theme but not by design, Jeff Smith and Michael Haykin both engage with issues of Baptistic attitudes to church polity, purity, and the progress of the gospel, taking in issues of tradition and catholicity.

    Jeff Smith, continuing his series of lessons from 18th century Particular Baptist history, points to Baptist negativity toward the 18th century revival because of their suspicions about those at its forefront: Whitefield and the Wesleys, and the Calvinistic Methodists, for example.  Many of those concerns had to do with church polity:

    They had a hard time accepting that anything good could come out of a denomination they refused to consider as a true church. This was partly related to what was a commendable and faithful commitment of the Baptists to the importance of biblical church order. In some instances, however, this commitment went wrong by swinging over to the extreme of failing to have a proper spirit of catholicity toward all true Christians.

    He draws out some important and challenging questions:

    What is the lesson for us as Reformed Baptists as we enter into the 21st century? Well here we are reminded of how important it is to have a catholic spirit toward all true Christians, though they may not be part of our circle of churches. Though some may have difficulty accepting this, God in his sovereignty sometimes greatly blesses and uses men who are not Reformed Baptists; men who don’t have everything right in their ecclesiology, or even men who are wrong in other areas of their theology. They have the gospel and they preach the gospel, but they are lacking in some areas. May I dare to say it, they may even be confused Arminians. Yet God uses them, and He may even use them in ways He’s not using any of us. We need to be able to rejoice in that. We need to ask ourselves, if God raised up some men in our day full of the Holy Spirit; men who are preaching the gospel and whose preaching God is mightily blessing with every biblical evidence of true conversions (not merely decisions, but real conversions), and those men are Methodists or Episcopalians, or Assembly of God or some other denomination, or some other kind of Baptist, other than Reformed Baptist, could we rejoice in that and be thankful for it? Could we even consider those men as our friends and brothers and even work together with them insofar far as we can? Or is our almost immediate knee jerk reaction to be critical and to pick at any and every fault we can find to try to discredit any one God is using who is not one of us?

    And again:

    Related to this, there’s a common mistake we need to be aware of. It’s the error of thinking that there can be no revival without thorough reformation first. It’s true that reformation sometimes precedes revival. Likewise it’s true that we must always be pursuing more and more thorough reformation. If we are not seeking to reform our lives and our churches by the scriptures, it is presumption to expect revival. But in God’s sovereignty it is simply a fact of history that sometimes revival precedes reformation. Some of the Particular Baptists thought there could be no church renewal if there was a neglect of believer’s baptism and the principles of Baptist church government. They were wrong, and because they felt that way, they renounced the revival when it came.

    Michael Haykin has been making some similar points:

    Take the revival among English and Welsh Calvinistic Baptists at the close of the “long” eighteenth century. In the wake of this dramatic renewal came a fresh evaluation of what constituted the parameters of the Calvinistic Baptist community. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries these parameters had been oriented around the concept of the church as a congregation of baptized believers and any missional component largely lost. Revival came to be linked to Baptist polity. This focus among Calvinistic Baptists on ecclesiological issues and their linking of spiritual vitality to church order, however, received a direct challenge from the Evangelical Revival. The participants of this revival, who knew themselves to be part of a genuine movement of the Spirit of God, were mainly interested in issues relating to salvation. Ecclesial matters often engendered unnecessary strife and, in the eyes of key individuals like George Whitefield, robbed those who disputed about them of God’s blessing.

    By the end of the century many Calvinistic Baptists agreed. While they were not at all prepared to deny their commitment to Baptist polity, they were not willing to remain fettered by traditional patterns of Baptist thought about their identity. Retaining the basic structure of Baptist thinking about the church they added one critical ingredient drawn from the experience of the Evangelical Revival: the vital need for local Baptist churches to be centres of vigorous evangelism. There is no doubt that this amounted to a re-thinking of Baptist identity. From the perspective of these Baptists, Baptist congregations and their pastors were first of all Christians who needed to be concerned about the spread of the Gospel at home and abroad.

    Haykin also draws some positive and challenging conclusions:

    May we, the spiritual descendants of those brethren-oh what a joy to have men and women like Andrew Fuller and John Sutcliff, Samuel Pearce and Anne Steele, Benjamin Beddome and Benjamin Francis as our forebears!-not fail to learn the lessons they learned so well!

    Oh to treasure the traditions these brothers and sisters have handed on to us, but a pox on traditionalism! This is not a contradiction: to love our traditions, but to want nothing to do with traditionalism. The latter loves the past because it is simply the past and thinks that things were always done better then. The former loves the traditions of the past for they are bearers of truth and we dare not lose that treasure.

    Oh to be found faithful to the end of our days to the faith once for all delivered to the saints and which these brethren have handed on to us. But oh to avoid like the plague the aridity of traditionalism in second- and third-order theological truth, not daring to think new thoughts in these areas. Fuller and his friends were not so fearful.

    These are important points, and need to be borne in mind.  But let us also look forward a little distance from the time my brothers are writing about.

    In 1813 the Baptist Union was established, on the back of such endeavours as the Baptist Missionary Society.  At the time, it was a distinctively Calvinistic body.  It was then restructured in the early 1830s to include General Baptists.  That re-establishment was on the broad and undefined basis of “the sentiments generally denominated evangelical.”[1] Those involved seemed to think that they knew what those sentiments were, and they were substantially convinced that such a foundation was sufficient to bear the weight of what would be built upon it.

    Fast forward just a few years, and into the heritage of truth that the Particular Baptists of the 18th century passed down steps C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).  He – if you study his life and read his writings carefully – was as much a reformer as he was anything else.  God used him mightily in the middle of the 19th century to bring the gospel to countless thousands and to establish a multitude of churches.  True catholicity reigned in Spurgeon’s heart alongside a blood-earnest attachment to Jesus and the truth as it is in him.  There was no contradiction.

    Toward the end of his life, Spurgeon knew that he had expended his energies in the cause of Christ.  In March 1891, a preacher from the College called E. H. Ellis left for Australia.  Spurgeon bade him farewell: “Good bye, Ellis; you will never see me again, this fight is killing me.”[2]

    What was the fight?  It was that which church history calls the Downgrade Controversy.  Those sentiments usually denominated evangelical – being largely assumed and undefined – had not held back the tide of error sweeping in “the New Theology.”  Spurgeon averred that the Baptist Union as he knew it had been founded “without form and void” and remained so.

    I am not drawing direct parallels between the Higher Criticism against which Spurgeon contended and some of the men implicitly referenced in the work of Jeff Smith and Michael Haykin, but I do think that the period after the 18th century provides us with salutary warnings and necessary exhortations.

    The best men are always genuinely catholic in spirit.  They love all those who love Jesus in truth, even when they disagree with them over matters that they mutually confess to be of genuine and significant importance (e.g. church polity).  Men like John Owen, Jeremiah Burroughs, George Whitefield, and Charles Spurgeon were able to see across and attempt to reach across certain divides.  It does us well to cultivate the same spiritual wisdom.

    However, in so doing, let us not lose sight of gospel distinctives (even more than ecclesiological ones, though not ignoring that the former feeds and defines the latter).  The truth is too high a price to pay for peace and unity (even in the short term).  We must not breed a suspicious and judgemental spirit, but we must maintain a discerning and distinguishing one.  We would be fools if we allowed catholicity of spirit to blind us to issues of truth and error.  I accuse neither of the men referenced of this, but I know that wise men make judicious and righteous statements, and the foolish apply them in muddle-headed and dangerous ways, and that there are more of the latter men than there are of the former, with obvious consequences.

    What a tragedy it would be if, on the one hand, we failed to recognise a genuine work of the Spirit of God, even if “God in his sovereignty sometimes greatly blesses and uses men who are not Reformed Baptists.”  We should rejoice wherever Christ’s kingdom advances, and yearn to be useful and fruitful in that work, alongside all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity.  But, on the other hand, what a tragedy it would be if the inheritance we bequeathed to a generation to come was one of theological fuzziness, of pie-eyed and ungrounded optimism and well-meaning indistinctness that sold them into decades of unanchored drifting or bloody contention for the truth, or both.  In this regard, we have to say that – in surveying the broad theological landscape, not least among the “young, restless and reformed” and those to whom they look up – there are issues of which we must be aware, matters of pith and moment that are all too easily dismissed or overlooked.  Too little catholicity, and we may miss the boat.  Too much, and we sink it for future generations.

    Some truth matters more, some truth matters less, but all truth matters.  We need wisdom to judge where the lines are drawn, and to recognise where they exist, even while we accept that some are scored more deeply than others.  Some are barely visible to the naked eye, although they exist and are worth knowing and appreciating.  Some we can reach across at certain times and in certain places even while we will never erase them.  Some we must maintain, even with sorrow.  Some are inviolable boundaries: our only efforts in those regards are to defend them with all we have and are, reaching out only to pull people across them from error and danger into truth and safety.

    Let us be content, then, to be thought broad or narrow (as the spirit of the age dictates and the tenor of our own time and place in it require), so long as we are walking closely with Jesus, in spirit and in truth.  Conflict is miserable, and we must not allow times of conflict to determine all our conduct in times of peace.  At the same time, let us remember that our conduct in peace will determine our conduct in war.  The crisis will not form our character, it will only reveal it.  Taking this into account, consider that Spurgeon was fighting because he would not see Christ dishonoured, and that became a fight to the death.  In the midst of the battle, speaking to College students on the preacher’s power, he remarked

    trimming [the gospel] now, and debasing doctrine now, will affect children yet unborn, generation after generation.  Posterity must be considered.  I do not look so much at what is to happen to-day, for these things relate to eternity.  For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me.  I have dealt honestly before the living God.  My brother, do the same.[3]

    There are lots of dogs, and they will eat us: let the dogs of liberalism eat us for our convictions, and the dogs of the blinkered hyper-orthodox for our catholicity, and the dogs of broad evangelicalism for our narrowness, and the dogs of the world for our exclusivity.  There are lots of dogs.  But let us content to be sheep of Christ’s flock, in company with other true sheep.  Let us pray for and pursue both revival and reformation, personally and corporately: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

    If I may be permitted to reach across, while holding firm (the point will be clear if you look up the original!), let me end with a hymn from Charles Wesley:

    A charge to keep I have,
    A God to glorify,
    A never-dying soul to save,
    And fit it for the sky.

    To serve the present age,
    My calling to fulfill:
    O may it all my powers engage
    To do my Master’s will!

    Arm me with jealous care,
    As in Thy sight to live;
    And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
    A strict account to give!

    Help me to watch and pray,
    And on Thyself rely,
    And let me ne’er my trust betray,
    But press to realms on high.


    [1] Ernest A. Payne, The Baptist Union: A Short History (London: Baptist Union, 1959), 61.

    [2] Autobiography, 3:152.

    [3] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Preacher’s Power, and the Conditions of Obtaining it,” in An All-round Ministry, pp.361-2.

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