The brochure and booking form for the Westminster Conference 2016 is now available for download. An excellent programme involves Ken Brownell, Peter Beale, James Mildred, Ian Hamilton, Geoff Thomas, and Iain Murray speaking about the life and labours of Luther, the doctrine of repentance, the impassibility of God, the recent history of British Evangelicalism, and J. C. Ryle.
It is due to take place on Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th December this year in central London.
That was interesting.
After all the argument, debate, discussion, bombast, hubris, scaremongering and threatening of recent months, some of it – it must be said – rhetoric of the highest order, Britain woke this morning to the news that we are almost certainly leaving the EU in the next couple of years. I say “almost certainly” because the timeframe is uncertain, and because we should probably be careful before we make absolute statements in such things. Apparently it was so important that even Lindsay Lohan was getting stuck in. At one point, it seems, she thanked Fife. I kid you not. This, it seems, warrants a fairly significant note in the BBC’s news coverage. Such is the world we live in.
But, regardless of such minor meddling, the deal seems to be done. Geographically, Britain is in Europe. Politically, it is on its way out. Philosophically, sociologically, culturally? Harder to say. It is too easy to look at the Leave/Remain map of the country this morning and to start making simplistic, rash and unfounded judgments, the kind that begin, “Well, it’s obvious that they would have voted to …” At the same time, the map is fascinating. Scotland, without exception, has voted to Remain. Wales, with the exception of a couple of westerly counties and more urban areas to the south, wanted to Leave. Northern Ireland was pulling toward Europe. London is overwhelmingly In. Most of the rest of the country, pretty firmly Out. My county was In. My town was Out. And now, indeed, we shake it all about.
Because if all that was interesting, what happens next is fascinating. I confess that one thing that I struggled to work out was the motives that people, especially some of the movers and shakers, had in their voting. It was fascinating, both politically and theologically, to listen to the voices. It was sometimes amusing, as men and women cut about them with two-edged swords, sometimes attacking arguments on this vote that they had stridently defended with precisely the same blade on other matters. So, what was driving us? Was it fear? Greed? Hatred? Anger? Pity? Sympathy? Pride? Perhaps, on both sides. Did people vote with or against certain personalities? That got difficult, because there were some compelling characters on both sides of the debate. What convictions, attachments, and principles, or lack of them, lay behind such emotions, on both sides of the debate? Did that unavoidable but almost-unquantifiable variable of class play a big part? These are not unimportant questions, because those realities and motives may now drive the practical outcome of this vote and colour the mood of the nation for years to come.
What that practical outcome, in all its far-reaching variety, will be, is much harder to predict. What that mood will be might yet change. Now that the die is cast, the strident voices will probably rise shrilly in the next few days. The prophets of doom will predict catastrophic meltdown. Some of their predictions might be right. I can only imagine that the mainland architects of the EU – France and Germany prominent among them – will do what they can to punish Britain, not least as a disincentive to others who are watching with interest to see what can be done and how it goes. The prophets of boon, on the other hand, are telling us that we are entering a brave rather than bleak new world, in which national sovereignty and good, old-fashioned British pluck will enable us to carve out a new and vibrant place in the global economy. The markets are already taking the mother of all kickings. Facebook is, doubtless, awash with populist banter and insult (I confess that I am still building up to having a look).
And then, once the dust immediately kicked up begins to settle, and people realise that society is not about to implode, the long and perhaps difficult reality will set in. Article 50 must be triggered, setting the date for the final act of departure. There will be two years or so of wrangling about what precisely it will involve. What does it mean that our borders might soon be harder to cross? How porous should they be? How much free movement do we want? How much will we get? Will it make Britain less susceptible to international terrorism or more susceptible to our inherent instability? What does it mean to be economically unyoked from the mainland and free to negotiate our own trade deals? Is it the dawn of a new age of innovation and bullishness? Is it the collapse of the pound? What will it mean for the ‘special relationship’ with the US? Will America find that they do not need us as their ally/lapdog now that we don’t have quite the same voice at the European table? Will the EU find it easier to forge ahead with some of their more radical proposals without Britain dragging its (Britain’s) heels while holding its (the EU’s) hand? Will the Little Englanders get their way? Will an ugly nationalism rear its head or a more positive patriotism inspire a measure of endeavour?
This vote radically changes the political landscape, and sets the political agenda for the next couple of parliaments at least, and perhaps the next couple of generations. It is a moment of real risk and real opportunity. Such usually walk hand in hand.
And what of the people of God? I confess that I have found some of the Christian and allegedly-Christian contributions to this debate curious and even distasteful. I believe that pastors should help their people work out why and for what reasons to vote, and not to tell them how to vote, implicitly or explicitly. Party and partisan politics does not belong in the pulpit. Aggressive and sometimes frankly xenophobic assertions of the UK as a Christian country are simply wrong-headed. Declarations of the brotherhood of man as a reason to pursue and promote global unity are also not looking good. The breadth and depth of our heritage and much of its Christian influence I will by no means deny, but the idea that we have somehow beaten back the antichrist with this vote I find curious. At the same time, there can be little doubt that the European influence was, by and large, one which tended to undermine Christian morality and promote a more secular agenda. Other Christian voices, more careful, have argued about the impact it will have on our capacity to take the gospel to the world and our ability to withstand some of the godless and idolatrous influences within and around our society. We might also need to be at least as much concerned about how to take the gospel to the many parts of our country, the cities and the parts of them, and the countless towns and villages, which are in almost entire gospel darkness, regardless of the national origin or cultural inheritance of the people who inhabit them.
You see, what seems to be overlooked by many, both within and without the true church of Christ (the company of the redeemed), is that nothing in this vote changes the hearts of men. It may change our circumstances. We have no idea how much that might prove to be the case. But it does not change our nature. If we think that Britain will rediscover a native rosy glow in the aftermath of this debate, and vaguely and confusedly patriotic strains of “Jerusalem” will once more arise from the corners of our sceptred isle, then we should get out more. If we fear, on the contrary, that we are now entering the darkest of days, we should look up more. In both cases, we need to read our Bibles more. We must not build our hopes or stir our fears on the words and deeds of mere creatures. It will invariably disappoint.
I write and wrestle with these things as the pastor of a church that rejoices in its happy variety: on any given Sunday, I am likely to preach to people from England, Wales, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, the Ukraine, Romania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Italy, India, America, and possibly a few others. Our fellowship meals are a thing of many-splendoured wonder! I have had the privilege of travelling to various parts of the world to enjoy real fellowship with the family of God in countless places. I still remember with some fondness the first time I read Andrew Fuller’s sermon on Christian patriotism, delivered when Britain was under threat of Napoleonic invasion. Though these circumstances are vastly different, I think that Fuller’s guidance is still extremely valuable. John Newton, too, is fairly robust. I have made some sort of contribution to the literature with a chapter on “Respect the Authorities” and other related material in a recent book, Passing Through (see sidebar for details).
So what do we do now? Is now the time for triumphalistic bombast? For prognostications of disaster? I think not. It should make us pray for magnanimity and wisdom on both sides as we deal with the aftermath. We should remain profoundly concerned for the peace and wellbeing of the nation in which we live and of which God has made us earthly citizens. But none of this changes our fundamental identity nor our basic activity. The apostle Paul tells us that in the last days (the days between the ascension of Christ and his return) there will be perilous seasons, marked by people who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2Tim 3.2-5). In or out of Europe, it seems to me that this is a fairly accurate description of the dangerous time in which we live. In or out of Europe, that is the spiritual landscape in which we labour.
So what do we do? We do, in our place and according to our part, what the Lord Christ told us through his apostles: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2Tim 4.1–5).
A proper and genuine patriotism, in the sense of a warm regard and earnest concern for the country where God has put us, is not just compatible with but required by a genuinely Christian soul. We are to serve where we are. Our battle is not so much for borders as for souls. Our gospel compassion must be extended to our neighbours, whoever they are. Our expectation is of a new heaven and a new earth characterised by righteousness, a city populated by the nations of the earth under the kingship of Christ. And that is not yet, though it is already glimpsed in the churches made up, Lord’s day by Lord’s day, of people from every kingdom, tribe, language and nation who gather to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords. In that sense, not much has changed. There may be some particular political challenges in the days ahead, and yet the challenges for the church – the demands upon and opportunities for the kingdom of God – will not change. We may yet have our City of God moments and seasons in the modern West, and God may yet grant us theologians like Augustine for such moments and seasons. Our hopes are not, and never should have been, in England or Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland, in the UK or Great Britain, in or out of Europe.
Perhaps you know the older English translation of “A safe stronghold our God is still,” written by Martin Luther, that German reformer? It was written at a time when much was shaking in the world, and Luther faced the spiritual realities of the time with candour and courage, and with this conviction and conclusion:
God’s Word, for all their craft and force,
One moment will not linger,
But, spite of hell, shall have its course;
’Tis written by His finger.
And though they take our life,
Goods, honour, children, wife,
Yet is their profit small;
These things shall vanish all:
The city of God remaineth!
It is as citizens of heaven that we are to live and to love and to labour, for the glory of God and the good of men. We need not, we should not, panic. If we feel the need for some sort of radical change this morning, it may be because we were not being and doing what we ought to have been and might have been in the first place. These are not to be the first things in our hearts.
There will be, this morning, much fear and much uncertainty for some, much rejoicing and glee for others. Some, perhaps many, more phlegmatic or less engaged, will not give two hoots about what has happened. For so many, there is too much pain and too much pressure in the next hours to worry about the next years. But, if Christians, we always knew that the world shakes, and one day soon will so shake that nothing is left except that which cannot be shaken. This must be our confidence and our conclusion, too, and our hope for the future, and our message to our neighbours: the city of God remains!
For the Glory: The Life of Eric Liddell from Olympic Hero to Modern Martyr
Doubleday (Penguin), 2016, 384pp., cloth, £20
For most of us, the strains of Vangelis are the soundtrack to the dramatised life of Eric Liddell. And that’s pretty much it: effortless running on beaches … getting up after falling and beating the opposition … taking a stand on the Lord’s day … beating all comers at a less-favoured distance. And yet, for most of us, the truth lies largely hidden or slightly murky behind the veil of entertainment. That is where a book like Hamilton’s can be a real help. Though it lacks the explicit Christian tone of John Keddie’s Running the Race, for example, it provides a largely clear lens through which to view our subject’s life. I do not think that Mr Hamilton is a Christian. That makes his testimony all the more powerful, even if his discussion of Liddell’s Christianity sometimes seems to lack awareness or sensitivity. He seems to stand in awe of Liddell without being quite able to understand him. For those of us who believe we better grasp his motives, his simple pursuit of cheerful obedience leaves us, perhaps, as far behind him as men of God as many of his rivals on the track were as athletes. Hamilton seems stunned by Liddell’s consistent virtue, constantly having to explain that Liddell really was everything that people claimed him to be: a shining example of Christlikeness. In fact, he protests so much that one is even tempted to wonder if he has fallen under Liddell’s spell himself. It may be the sports writer’s desire for a hero or love of the underdog. Certainly Hamilton seems possessed of an animus against any institution, especially the more bureaucratic, which leads to the working assumption of something on the far side of incompetence though generally just short of actual malice. Where the book really excels is giving a straightforward and thorough account of the whole of Liddell’s life, probably rising to its peak away from the earthly glories of the Olympic running track and focusing on the tireless, selfless labours of Liddell the missionary and his experiences in a Japanese prison camp in China. It is, for various reasons, hard to tease out much of Liddell’s theology from the book, but his godly character lies on the surface. Some readers may wish to be warned that, in telling the tale, Hamilton slips in a couple of profanities and vulgarities, sparse but present. I genuinely enjoyed this volume and would warmly recommend it to anyone seeking to know the man behind the film legend. The specious romance of certain elements of the screen tale is stripped away to be replaced by the substantial beauty of the simple truth. In doing so, it is Liddell’s determination to glorify God by a commitment to consecrated obedience that is the lasting impress his life’s race leaves upon the reader.
(Yes, this is a longer review, but it’s written to be enjoyed as well as employed. It also reflects the measure of the investment concerned. So stay calm, grab a brew, settle in, and ride along.)
The background bit
They called him Brownie. He played village cricket at the level at which a few of the more debonair players would agonise over the weight and balance of their bats and fuss about various aspects of their other equipment. Not so Brownie. He would pillage the dressing room before going out to bat, and – like some latter-day Shamgar with his ox-goad, or Samson with the jawbone of an ass – simply grab whatever came to hand and stride forth to smite lustily about him in order to slay his thousands. Meanwhile, at the boundary, the poor unfortunate whose bat Brownie had accumulated as he headed for the wicket would often be in agonies as he watched his beloved willow being so abused. At the other end of the scale was the occasion when, in the Louisville Slugger Museum, I picked up a casual bat and give it a twirl. “That,” intoned the solemn attendant, “is designed specifically for Derek Jeter.” Our eyes met and a frisson of understanding passed between us. He knew instinctively that I could not afford to damage it, and this was silently communicated to me. Even this uneducated Britisher knew enough to pause for a moment’s reverent silence before, with a slight bow, placing the aforementioned piece of wood back in its pillowed cradle. Apparently, the care with which that particular club was honed would put the most pedantic village cricketer to shame.
So it may be with the physical Bibles that we use for reading and preaching. For some of us, form is of little regard. We will pick up whatever comes to hand and go forth to battle. Others, more particular, or with a measure of permanence and precision in mind, look for the specific implement that best accentuates whatever natural and honed abilities we might have. That may be true for the general Bible reader, and is likely to be more true for the regular Bible preacher. I want to address both the reader and the preacher in this review, with an eye more to the aficionado than the barbarian.
The subject of my critical gaze will be the Schuyler Quentel Edition of the New King James Version. As a private and public reader and also a preacher of the Bible, I have a keen interest in a physical volume that lends itself to the rigours and demands of consistent and varied use. I would contend that there is real value in the preacher actually carrying a Bible into the pulpit (or any other preaching arena) with him. There is significance in evidently returning to the book in the course of one’s preaching, both by way of spoken and visual reference. It grounds one’s discourse in the very Word of God, with all the implications of authority and sufficiency that such reliance should communicate. And herein lies the problem. Depending on the regularity with and manner in which one refers to the Scriptures, a number of challenges arise. Many preachers, especially as they age, will find that the text of some Bibles is simply too small, or becomes so, leaving the congregation either with the sight of a man’s face replaced by the back of a little book, or regular close-ups of the top of his head as he bends to scour the page. In addition, with repetition comes familiarity, and many preachers can find even the most obscure text in the book and on the page by its location, almost instinctively thumbing to the right spot and casting an eye on the right portion. All this adds up to a more natural and even seamless relationship to the written word in the act of preaching. After a few years, even if one is careful, the Bible over which one pores and paws, perhaps in the armchair and the study, as well as in the pulpit, starts to wear out. The search begins for a new copy, but the desire may be for one which effectively mirrors the previous copy, so that the familiarity and facility are retained. And then the horrific discovery is made that some blighted publisher has only gone and decided to issue seven new editions, none as readable as the earlier ones, and none retaining the same format, often completely retypeset, and all that is now available is the Slovenian Basketweaver’s Edition with hessian cover for the horny-handed sons of toil, available in canary yellow or puce. The disappointment is crushing. One begins to search for some local bookbinder with the requisite skills to get another few years out of your increasingly haggard copy of God’s word.
All facetiousness aside, this is why I would counsel any young man setting out into the ministry, if he is able, to consider investing in one of the Bibles of superior craftsmanship that are currently available. In the same way as an old soldier might become so familiar with his weapon that it pretty much fits in his hand and can be stripped down and built up in his sleep, so a particular copy of the Bible might become almost a part of you, immediately familiar and readily wielded even under the most inauspicious circumstances. The same applies to the reader of the Scriptures: habits of time and place aid retention. Furthermore, familiarity not just with the text in itself but with a particular copy of the text can be a real help in knowing and using our Bibles as individuals, in families, and among friends. For those with a particular kind of memory, looking for something “about there on the page” is an easy way of working.
To be sure, there are times when, like Brownie, one must simply take up whatever lies at hand and go forth to conquer. But it may be that you can invest in a Derek Jeter special that will, because of its superior design and manufacture and catering to your specific capacities, augment your natural abilities and become a lifelong companion and perhaps even a bequest. That may be where a high-end Bible like the Schuyler Quentel NKJV comes into play.
I confess that I am not really an expert when it comes to these things. For years I used the same copy of the Scriptures, a nice but not overly-impressive leather-bound NKJV, purchased for me by my parents for some auspicious birthday. I did indeed have it resewn once, and the brother who did it did what he could with what he had in hand, leaving me with a serviceable but fairly tight volume that lay reasonably flat but pulled at the seams a bit when under strain. It travelled long distances and did sterling service. After a while, it simply began to pull apart once more. It was at this point that I began the search for a serviceable replacement. In addition, as I preached in other places, I found many that had lower pulpits and poorer lighting than I enjoy in my home church building. Readability became more of an issue. Many readers of a review like this might immediately point me toward the excellent work of R. L. Allan (whose efforts are also available through EvangelicalBible.com). I found ‘my’ copy of the NKJV in a slightly larger font but the same layout (the Broadman & Holman Ultrathin Large Print Reference Edition) and have used it now for a year or two. It does the job, but it’s a little larger to carry and the paper is sufficiently thin that – even with use – it is still not too easy to manipulate quickly in the pulpit, though it is familiar and functional. I therefore had my eye open for an alternative, and was pleased to be given the opportunity to review the Schuyler Quentel Edition of the New King James Version.
The technical stuff
This is a beautiful Bible. Mine is the dark green, black letter edition. A red letter edition is available, and the ability to differentiate between the two is an immediate bonus for those who – for reasons of principle or aesthetics or something else – prefer not to have the garish splatter of red across the pages of the New Testament or who like or wish to be, or are simply accustomed to being, able immediately to pick up the physical speech of the incarnate Christ. In the black letter edition, red is reserved for the chapter numbering and the footnote numbering, giving a helpful touch of distinctness and emphasis without overdoing things.
But let us begin on the outside and work in. The binding is beautifully done. I don’t need much persuading of the beauty of green, but it’s far more than this – or any other colour – that commends the Quentel. What hits home is the quality of the work.
The yapp is not particularly broad, as it is in some of the Allan Bibles. I guess that’s a matter of taste. It’s not something that fusses me too much. The Allan Bibles have a certain loucheness about them, while these Schuylers feel a little more rugged. The edge lining and stitching are all neat and precise, while the pages themselves enjoy red-under-gold art-gilt edging. There are raised spine bands that feel quite substantial but not aggressive, and the same could be said for the gilt lettering on the spine and the stamped cross on the front cover. Different customers might push for less (would many push for more?) but this is not over the top.
Everything is as tight and trim and clean as one would hope for the price and the promises. Three ribbons, a rather fetching combination of copper-gold-bronze colours (I am reasonably persuaded that mine are three different colours, but cannot say why) with the dark green cover, are really as much as most of us would need, while providing plenty of scope (though why they couldn’t be green as well, I don’t know!).
The binders have put in very dark brown endpapers – good in quality if not particularly striking. Again, one asks if a very dark green might have completed the look, though the brown does offset the green nicely – ask almost any tree. The hinges are reasonably stiff, but this is one of the places at which books – especially Bibles opened repeatedly and read regularly – start to suffer. I know that for some the sine qua non of a good binding is that the thing lies open, flat, as supple as an old rag, the first time it is opened – that Allan limpness comes to mind. I imagine that these will work in with use, especially given then overall weight of the book. That initial ‘pull’ does give some assurance that the main block will not break away from the spine if slightly manhandled or dropped. In fairness, this one drops open without too much lift, but – again – that physical robustness is properly tangible. The spine is Smyth sewn, as it should be, but beyond knowing that it’s there, it something you will only realise when it doesn’t start dropping apart within a few years.
Inside, the text is a punchy 11 points (the font is Milo for those who like to know such things) and seems larger on account of the crispness of the print. In practice, that means that it is a very good size, almost to the degree of reading somewhere between large and giant print. For the sake of comparison, side by side with an Allan edition of the Ultrathin Large Print Reference Edition you simply cannot argue with its readability.
The paper is a creamy 36gsm with an opacity rating of 83%. “Hooray!” I hear almost no one bellow. “Who knew?” cry the few. “Who cares?” cry the many. So what does that even mean in practice? Well, the initial fear is that black on cream will lack the potentially helpful contrast of the whiter page, but – once more – such is the quality of the print itself that the contrast is not an issue. In fact, the creamier paper is quite easy on the eye, even over time, neither demanding excessive strain to see the text nor offering any of the glare that might result from brighter lighting. The fair weight of the PrimaBible paper does help prevent ghosting – the tendency of the text on the back of the page to be visible from the side you are reading. What helps to reduce the impact further is the effective line-matching i.e. the fact that the lines on both side of the page match each other and don’t overlap and produce shadows on the other side. All in all, that combination produces a distinctly readable page with few obvious frustrations or distractions.
Bear in mind too that the volume contains a concordance and maps. That adds to the bulk a little, but is of value to those who still use such things in concrete rather than electronic form – I must confess I don’t mind having them to hand. The maps are beautifully done, it must be said, though the one of Paul’s journeys suffers a little with being stretched over two pages – great for scope, tricky to follow the detail in the centre. With all this, I knew that it would be a good size, but I was still slightly surprised by its heft. Of course, this is partly a consequence of the weight of the paper, which brings its own benefits. It feels like it will last. It may be a little heavy for some to tote around, while others accustomed to hauling around a study bible or its equivalent might feel this a frisky little number by comparison.
The practical considerations
For the reader, this is a delightful experience.
I actually love reading a paragraph Bible, especially with big blocks of text set out in single columns. For personal devotions and more intense reading sessions, there is not much to beat a single column Bible. The Schuyler reading experience is sufficiently pleasant that I had no real complaints. For those accustomed to such reading, the Schuyler will be a joy. If I were being snarky, I would ask why we need to have the text broken up with headings rather than paragraphed, but it does have the virtue of opening out the page, despite my personal distaste for it.
For the preacher, there is so much to commend. I have only used the Bible for preaching and teaching a couple of times, and was concerned that my lack of familiarity with the layout might become an issue. In particular, paragraph Bibles do not always work well for the preacher, especially if he is working very specifically. Finding individual verses in the text block can become extremely difficult, especially when working at speed. The Quentel largely overcomes that by simple virtue of its excellence of design and production. The font is sufficiently large to make it easy to follow, the verse numbers are picked out in bold, giving them that extra visibility, and the print clarity of the whole means that the eye very easily begins to work with and around the text, even in larger blocks, allowing one to zero in on a particular verse or verses.
Perhaps the downside for the preacher, especially one who travels more often and might need to travel light, is the size and weight of the Quentel. It is simply quite bulky: you cannot have what it offers without that bulk, but the bulk itself might make it slightly awkward as a travelling companion. On the other side, if someone were looking for a pulpit Bible, and did not want to go for one of the weighty tomes that often fall into that category, the Quentel’s readability means that you do not need to go large in order to benefit.
In short, if you are looking for that one Bible which will be with your in your home and home church, and not many other places, and are content to carry something quite massy around with you, you will hardly be able to go wrong with the Schuyler Quentel. For all-purpose reading and use in private, family and public settings, it might be hard to beat. It is, in terms of its reading ease, outstanding; in terms of its physical construction, magnificent. It is the kind of Bible that, God willing, you might hand on after your pilgrimage is done to others who will be able to go on using it in the same manner. On one level, you could argue that it is somewhat overbuilt. On another, it’s just going to keep going. Of course, I cannot guarantee what state it will be in in twenty years, should the Lord tarry, but – well cared for and gently handled – I cannot see it being in anything other than better shape as it gets worn in.
There may be times when you need simply to pick up whatever copy of the Word of God is to hand and go in swinging. However, in summary, if you have the luxury of and the capacity for selecting a more expensive Bible edition (all $222) that will be suited to your particular needs, the Schuyler Quentel begs your consideration.
A couple of weeks ago a friend asked a question: “How would you encourage a faithful brother who had been pastoring for several years and has not, in that season, seen a conversion directly from his preaching, though the church is growing and health with saints being built up and believers joining the church?”
It is a good question, and one which many faithful men might face. In itself, the question makes a number of what are good and proper assumptions, as well as wrestling with some significant issues that cannot be avoided. Here are some thoughts for pastors and preachers in such a position:
- Do not underestimate the work of building and equipping, for this is fruit, and it can be – as well as an end in itself – a means to the end of reaching others with the gospel.
- Do not presume that what you are preaching is not the gospel, but do not presume that you are preaching that gospel as clearly and pointedly as you might. Go back to your Bible to ensure that you are preaching truths rooted in the person and work of Christ, but also preaching the person and work of Christ in themselves – preach Christ, not just about him!
- Are you preparing the way by a thorough and plain explanation of the problem of personal sin and impending judgement? Are you preaching the law in the good old-fashioned sense?
- All your preaching should be evangelical, but consider whether regular and specific evangelistic sermons might be an extra avenue of pursuing this end.
- Is the church actively and specifically praying for conversions in its public meetings (Lord’s days and prayer meetings) and its private occasions (personal and family worship)?
- I think it is worth considering whether or not there is any sin in your life or the life of the church that might be a reason for God to withhold a blessing. I say this not to cripple you in conscience, but because it is worth taking into account.
- Do not fall into the mentality that ‘the nation is under judgement’ and that therefore, in effect, your labours are doomed to failure – the gospel remains the power of God to salvation for those who believe. Preach it in that confidence. You must cultivate this confidence actively.
- Consider whether and to what extent these growing members are personally engaged in making Christ known in their families and among their friends and neighbours and colleagues.
- Consider whether there are specific evangelistic avenues that could be pursued e.g. home and personal (1-2-1) bible studies, door to door, open air preaching. As we engage in such, the Lord sometimes sends blessing by another route.
- Are you setting a personal example of evangelistic endeavour (not merely pastoral-professional duty)?
- Are you equipping the saints for this work in your public ministry? Is this one of the areas in which they are being built up?
- Are you giving the impression that the church is a place for those believers to come and rest (it is) but not also to work (that too)? Some believers who seek out a faithful ministry do so because of weariness. They need, under God, to be healed, equipped, stirred up and sent out.
- Are you yourself given to prayer for God’s blessing upon your ministry in all these respects?
- Consider that Satan will particularly assault the church and ministers who particularly pursue this. Expect it to be hard, and to bring hardships.
- Are you prepared to accept that this could be a testing time in which the Lord is challenging your faith as to whether you believe God’s promises, and so will go on relying upon God’s means to accomplish God’s ends in God’s time? Such patient persistence is one of the hardest things to maintain.
In offering such counsels, I convict myself over again. None of them are accusations, but examples of the kind of questions I would ask and continue to ask myself. When you do so, preach in the prayerful expectation that God will bless his gospel.
Some readers might recall the Through the Eyes of Spurgeon documentary released a couple of years back, directed and produced by my good friend, Stephen McCaskell. Well, Stephen is back on the trail, this time hoping to produce a documentary called Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.
At the moment, he is seeking to raise the necessary remaining funds through a Kickstarter campaign. At time of writing, he’s about 25% of the way there – only another $15000 (CAD) to go. Bear in mind that this means that a $100 CAD pledge is only about £55-60 GBP or $80 USD. There’s more bang for your buck here, so you can pledge more than you think!
Here’s the promotional trailer:
If you have a minute and a few shekels to spare, please consider heading over to Kickstarter to help. The Spurgeon documentary has been viewed over 120000 times, and seems to have been much appreciated. The Luther project promises to be just as excellent and just as profitable.
Studying out some of the verses from Ephesians 4, I came across the following from Paul Bayne, calling upon the saints to appreciate the diversity of Christ’s present gifts to the church. He speaks against the kind of pickiness that demands or critiques a certain kind of minister in accordance with one’s taste and choosing, rather than receives different kinds of ministers in accordance with Christ’s gracious giving. The language is more than a little archaic, but the point is clear. Bayne says that a
consideration of diversity of gifts doth reprove those that will take mislike at this or that kind, because it is not as they would have. If one speak treatably and stilly, though he lay down the truth soundly, if he apply not forcibly, he is nobody, as if every one should be an Elijah, or a son of thunder. If others, on some plain ground, belabour the conscience, Tush, he is not for them; he doth not go to the depth of his text. They could themselves, at first sight, observe as much; as if every barque that sailed did draw a like depth, yet all sorts carry their passengers safe to their haven. So in ministers, every one hath not a like insight into doctrine, yet all be God’s instruments to thy salvation. This is a malapert, itching humour, which, if you will be Christians indeed, you must lay aside. (Bayne on Ephesians, 258-259).