The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

The restoration of public worship

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Encouraged by efforts in other places, I have written to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the prospects of Christian churches meeting again as soon as possible. The letter has been copied to Baron Greenhalgh, Faith Minister, and my local Member of Parliament. I put it here not because I think it is the last word, but in the hopes that others might themselves be encouraged to do more, better.

I hope that this communication finds you, and yours, safe and well during these still difficult days. My name is Jeremy Walker, and I am a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley, West Sussex. I am writing about the government’s plans for the restoration of public worship in Christian churches.

As the government attempts to lead us out of lockdown, I am conscious of the difficult decisions and fine judgments that government and Parliament make and carry out, and the wisdom required. The church of Christ makes this a matter of particular prayer. We pray not as an issue of party political allegiance (1 Timothy 2:1–2) but because the church is a spiritual body rather than a political or even a social agency.

In this regard, I and others like me have been disappointed and even distressed to see the government’s plans for the restoration of public worship. At present, church buildings are in Step Three of the government’s plan (OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy), in which the ambition “is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons), hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas)” (page 31).

When it comes to the matter of religious worship, the focus in the Bible is on the people who worship. The focus in government policy appears to be on the place of worship. When the focus is on the latter, the physical space and social dynamics of a church building lead to it being classified among other enclosed social spaces like cinemas, theatres and restaurants. When the focus is on the former, the question becomes one of facilitating our corporate gathering as what the Bible calls “the body of Christ”—the people who are joined to him by our faith in him, and who thus become the spiritual family of God.

I note that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has established a taskforce developing a plan to reopen places of worship. However, it seems that Christians who share my convictions about our faith and life (Protestant and Dissenting) are substantially absent from that taskforce. For the Christians of whom I am representative, both in Crawley and elsewhere, it is the act of worship more than the place of worship that is important. So, for example, the government suggests that places of worship may be open for private prayer before Saturday 4th July. While we commend any move toward the safe opening of our church buildings, we can privately pray anywhere and at any time, and we do, together with other acts of private and family devotion.

However, for the Christians for whom I speak, nothing can replicate or replace the distinct privileges of meeting together as a church under the Word of God preached to us in person. Christians like me join believers in other nations in making clear that neither confessional Christian faith nor the church as a body can faithfully exist without a Lord’s day gathering. As others have said in other countries, the Bible and centuries of habit oblige Christians to gather weekly for worship and witness around the Word of God and sacraments—we need one another to flourish in our service to Christ (Exodus 20:9-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Hebrews 10:24-25; Acts 2:42, 20:7). This divine obligation and hard-won historic freedom supersedes all human legislation and regulation. The church is not comparable to any other social venue and cannot be dismissed as non-essential by an expert in any field. We say with respect that the church does not exist and is not regulated by permission of the state, for its establishment and rule is found in Jesus Christ himself.

The biblical rhythm of worship is weekly, gathering on the first day of the week to honour God and to receive spiritual blessings from him as his Word is preached. It is why the Bible commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). The language of weekly corporate gathering is used repeatedly in the New Testament, and to it are attached any number of divine encouragements to pursue it, divine promises regarding it, and divine warnings against neglecting it. It is essential for us, and we are beginning to see among us and around us the effects of the churches failing to meet, both in the impact on us and on those whom we serve in various ways.

We understand that love to God and to our neighbour, with respect for and cooperation with the civil authorities whom God has placed over us, has necessitated not forsaking but suspending our regular assemblies. As Christians who know the hope of resurrection through Jesus Christ we do not fear death but we do wish to preserve health and life. However, we are convinced that more needs to be done to facilitate a restoration of our regular practice.

At present, we are permitted to spend time outdoors subject to government guidelines. Step Two of the government’s plan begins on Monday 1st June. It includes such measures as phased returns for schools, opening non-essential retail, permitting cultural and sporting events behind closed doors, and re-opening some public transport. There is some scope for increased social and family contact (pages 30-31 of the plan to rebuild).

I respectfully suggest that during this second phase it should be possible for Christians to meet for worship outside their existing church buildings. While we recognise that this involves more than physical families gathering, we believe that we can meet and conduct our worship safely. For example, the church which I serve, and others like us, might:
Use our own church grounds, where we have them, or sufficiently wide open spaces, where we do not, to prevent potentially obstructing or endangering others going about their own business. We would be willing to meet early or late, as common sense dictates, to enable us to meet at all.

  1. Communicate and enforce health protocols in our gatherings based on government guidance.
  2. Prevent access to our buildings to minimise any actual or potential risks from proximity.
  3. Ensure that individuals or family units attending outdoor services are and remain at least two metres apart from one another for the duration of our services, including arrival and departure.
  4. Encourage attendees to use appropriate personal hygiene measures including but not limited to regular handwashing, the appropriate use of hand sanitiser, and the wearing of masks.
  5. Continue online provision of religious services as we are able, so that those who are not comfortable with gathering or who cannot meet in person due to age or health challenges can engage in some degree.
  6. Require attendees to affirm explicitly that they have no symptoms, have not travelled out of the country within the last fourteen days and have not been in contact with anyone with the virus.

I would also suggest that the third phase should explicitly provide for the safe restoration of public worship, whether within or without church buildings. For this to be done well, it might include the following:

  1. Communicating and enforcing health protocols in our churches based on government guidance.
  2. The initial limitation of access to our services and ministries to approximately 40% of our building capacities to permit physical distancing, expanding that number as circumstances permit. This will allow for plenty of room between persons well beyond two metres in most facilities and acknowledges that not all church facilities have equal capacity. If necessary, we could hold multiple or staggered services to allow as many as possible to attend.
  3. Providing a clean facility including hand sanitisers and wiping down of common surfaces between services.
  4. Encouraging attendees to use appropriate personal hygiene measures including but not limited to regular handwashing, the appropriate use of hand sanitiser, and the wearing of masks.
  5. Continuing online provision of religious services as we are able, so that those who are not comfortable with gathering or who cannot meet in person due to age or health challenges can engage in some degree.
  6. Requiring attendees to explicitly affirm that they have no symptoms, have not travelled out of the country within the last fourteen days and have not been in contact with anyone with the virus in order to attend.

Our first concern is for the glory of God and the good of all those for whom the church of Jesus Christ brings God’s good news. We should be grateful for a response from you as soon as possible, and willing to consider any further advice you have to offer us. I look forward to your positive response, and to a continued good and respectful relationship with civil authorities as we seek to honour our Creator and Saviour in the country of which he has made us grateful and prayerful citizens.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 27 May 2020 at 13:51

When did you last weep?

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In this further guest post by my father, Austin Walker, he adds to a previous article some further reflections on the church’s response to the present crisis.

In my first article I outlined some of the biblical reasons why I believe we are facing the present crisis. I suggested that the true church of Christ should take the lead in seeking the face of God, confessing our sins and the sins of our nation, pleading with him for his great mercies’ sake. In so doing the church would be following the noble examples of men like Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This second article is intended as a sequel. I would like to develop the response of the church further by considering in particular the examples of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul.

If you have followed the details of the crisis on the internet over the past few months you will have read some tragic and harrowing accounts of those who have died as a result of Covid-19. Sometimes husbands and wives have died within days of each other. Members of the same family have died in similar circumstances. Occasionally younger people and even children have been cut down, though many have been spared. In some care homes across our nation many elderly people have died. Early on in the crisis we heard of nurses and doctors who were reduced to tears because their patients had died without any relatives being present at their bedside. The disease has not discriminated. We know of Christians who have died as well as those who adhere to different religions or none. In the UK some 35,000 are known have died as a result of Covid-19. Unnumbered tears of sorrow have been shed by the families, relatives and friends of those who have died. Such grief has been compounded by the restrictions on numbers attending funerals.

Of course many people die every day from a wide range of diseases or as a result of accidents or for some other reasons. Public attention is not normally drawn to these ‘ordinary’ statistics in the way that it has with regard to deaths associated with Covid-19. These are extraordinary days. While it is true that many more have survived the disease than have died , we cannot escape the distress and sorrow that accompanies the death of loved ones. There is no escaping the fact that this is a very real disease, often bringing long-term damage even when it does not fatal, that has brought intense grief in its wake.

Many people regard death simply as an inevitable and natural process. The Bible sees it with a different pair of eyes. The book of Job refers to death as the “king of terrors” (Jb 18.14). There are some unbelievers who say they are not afraid to die. That sounds bold, but it is folly born of unbelief. Death is not a natural process. Death is an unwelcome invader, an evil that brings to everyone pain, grief and sorrow. It entered into the world in which we live as a result of the sin of one man, Adam: “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5.12). Furthermore, we read that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6.23). Death brings us face to face with our Judge: “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb 10.27). Confronted by death we are powerless and exposed to God’s judgment.

Death is not only the inevitable outcome of sin but primarily divine punishment for sin. Beyond death there is God’s judgment of condemnation and hell unless we have been cleansed and forgiven for our sins. The Lord Jesus several times warned of being “cast out into outer darkness” where there will be such intense sorrow—“weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 8.12; 13.42; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30). Hell is real, the place of “everlasting punishment” (Mt 25.46), utterly devoid of any of God’s blessings which every human enjoys in this life.

The Bible has the answer to the dilemma caused by death and the reality of divine condemnation. There is a way of escaping judgment and the wrath of a just God. The gospel of Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead, is our only hope, as 1 Corinthians 15 makes plain. He died for our sins and—having been raised from the dead—is the first fruits of those who died believing in him. “Since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead” (1Cor 15.21). “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2Cor 5.21). “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Gal 3.13).

Our present concern is with our reaction to the deaths caused by the current pandemic which was identified in the previous article as a temporal judgment of God, justly deserved by our nation. Furthermore, it serves as a divine warning about the final judgment. If we understand our Bibles correctly there is a far deeper sorrow than death from Covid-19 or any other disease. Disease is one of the tragic consequences arising from the entrance of sin into the world. This pandemic brings us face to face with death which is the result of sin and ends in condemnation and everlasting punishment if we remain in unbelief.

The reality of death and all that is involved in death plunged our Lord Jesus Christ into tears. John 11.33-38 is a remarkable unveiling of the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ as he is confronted with the death of his friend Lazarus and the grief of Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha. Twice we read that Jesus groaned (verses 33 and 38), once that he was troubled (verse 33), and once that he wept (verse 35). Christ’s tears were not shed for Lazarus—he was about to raise him from the dead. The spirit of the Lord Jesus was reacting to the reality of death with a mixture of righteous anger and intense grief. Death was the object of his anger. He was also very aware of the one behind death, namely the devil, who has “the power of death” (Heb 2.14). Christ did not react with a cold and somewhat distant concern but rather, as B. B. Warfield once said, “with flaming wrath” against the foe. Yet at the same time his reaction showed that he had entered into our lot and identified himself with our deepest griefs and sorrows, taking to himself all the miseries associated with sin. The devastating evidence of a fallen world drew out of his heart both anger and compassion.

Similarly, in Luke’s Gospel, we read how he reacted as he drew near to Jerusalem before his death. “He saw the city and wept over it” (Lk 19.41). He wept over their ignorance, their spiritual blindness, and unbelief. They did not know “the things that make for your peace,” nor did they “know the time of their visitation” (Lk 19.42, 44). On a previous occasion he had cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” a cry pregnant with pathos and pity (Lk 13.34-35). He knew what would happen in the future when divine judgment fell on Jerusalem. The Romans came and destroyed both the temple and the city. He wept in compassionate pity in the light of their persistent wicked unbelief and the inevitable heavy judgment to come.

Surely, then, we who profess to be the true church of Jesus Christ should be imitating our Saviour by weeping over the present predicament of our nation in its unbelief and apparent determination to continue flouting the law of God? We live in the same fallen world that Christ entered. It is all too easy for us to react to what we continually see before our eyes by saying it is what our nation deserves. We can react with holy indignation and display little or no grief and shed no tears. The result will be a hardening of our hearts and the growth of a self-righteousness that will blossom into an ugly pride. On the other hand, we can descend into sentimentality by displaying only sympathy. The truth is we live in tension while we are here. On the one hand there must be righteous indignation, but it must be joined with grief, compassion and Christlike tears. He alone is the pattern for our response to this present crisis and if there is to be revival in the church this certainly ought to be one of the things that must characterise the church. Have we become so dulled and adopted such an ungodly apathy and indifference that our hearts no longer feel any real compassion and our eyes shed no tears.

The apostle Paul followed the example set by his Redeemer. He spoke of having “great sorrow and continual grief in my heart,” such that, were it possible, he was willing to be counted accursed by God and devoted to destruction, if only his Jewish brethren might be saved (Rom 9.2-3, 10.1). Such a spirit was proof of a deep, fervent, Christlike love, an anguish of heart that was not only deep but continual. The language he used in Romans 9.1 is striking: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit.” It not only displays the profound extent of his feelings, and his great love, but also tells us what motivated and constrained his response to Jewish unbelief. It would be reasonable to say that Paul knew what it was to weep Christlike tears over his Jewish brethren. It was patterned after the love of Christ, who was made a curse for us (Gal 3.13).

How then should we respond to the present crisis? With righteous indignation mingled with compassion and tears. Paul’s language in Romans 9.1-3 is the language of a Christian. If we harden our hearts and crush our response, we will cultivate a spirit that is unconcerned about those who are perishing. Such a spirit should leave us wondering if we are Christians at all. Neither should we despair in unbelief, concluding that our God will not show mercy, or—worse—should not show mercy. That is too much like Jonah.

Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Paul and Christ show us the way to respond to what we are seeing in our nation. When we set our face towards the Lord God to make our requests by prayer and supplications it is not to be with a tepid spirit that we plead his great mercies, but with a fervent and full heart beseeching him to hear, to forgive, to listen and to act. It is difficult to beseech God in that manner without our eyes shedding tears.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 21 May 2020 at 09:11

Conditional lives

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“All of this is conditional.”

So said our Prime Minister when setting out the proposals for the ending of the UK’s national lockdown. It seems like a sensible thing to say. Whether or not you like the idea of being a slave to ‘the science’, our widespread ignorance makes it at least reasonable to suggest that we can only proceed step by step, simply because we do not know what will happen when we take each step. Even a bolder and more definite plan, and even taking account of the more detailed advice that has been promised, it always has to be what is insistently called “a conditional plan.”

It is striking to see how angry and afraid people become because of this. It reminds me of a road trip to preach at a church in the Midlands many years ago. Setting out in good time, I discovered that a major motorway had been closed overnight and the re-opening had been delayed. In company with thousands of others, I queued. In company with hundreds of others, I got fed up queuing and tried to find a way around. When those hundreds of us ended up in other and worse queues, I returned to my original queue, which was still shorter. When the road opened, off we all went, most of us now late. To begin with, I had the pedal to the metal, wondering if I could still get there in time, occasionally dropping out of the fast lane to let someone past at a ridiculous rate of knots. And I noticed their faces and their driving styles. They appeared, typically, angry or scared. Their plans were in disarray. They had thought that they were in control, and now they needed to get back in control, to catch up lost time, to get a grip again on their lives. It seemed to me that they thought that they had been in charge of things, and, when things were taken out of their hands, they became deeply agitated. At some level, it was idolatry of the self. At that point, I slowed down, called ahead to say that I would be late, and drove—relatively safely and sanely—to the place where I was preaching. I arrived about thirty minutes into the service, stepping inside the door as a man was fervently pleading for the safe arrival of the preacher. His earnestness suggested that he would be the man who would have to step in if I did not arrive. His relief when he opened his eyes was palpable. I don’t know if anyone has ever been that glad to see me! But I had been taught again that I am not in control.

It is a lesson that has been pressed home again in the last few weeks. On one level, everything has fallen apart. So much that I had planned, for which I had prepared, and upon which I had presumed over the course of the coming months, now lies in ashes. The plans for the Lord’s day ministry that I had in mind, the evangelistic efforts locally, the connections and investments close at hand, all proved conditional. Next week I should have been at a conference in the UK and then one in the US. They were, it seems, eminently conditional. This week, my involvement in a European conference in the summer was tentatively cancelled, but that’s conditional on the next few weeks. Possibly rescheduling of these conferences for the future is … er … conditional upon factors outside of our control. We are looking at plans for post-lockdown church meetings. Much of it is conditional. At its most visceral, we have come again face to face with our own mortality, and with the mortality of those who are most dear to us. My life is conditional. Perhaps the fear has faded a bit, but all plans might have been ended by death. I have had to face again my utter weakness. I have been reminded—I have needed to be reminded—that I am not in control, and that God is. In fact, in that there is something quite refreshing.

You see, I spend a lot of time planning. I think efficiency is a marvellous thing. My days tend to be quite full, even if not always well-constructed and minutely-detailed. I like a bit of flex. The bigger picture tends to be, in my calendar, a rainbow-hued glory of seamless transition from place to place and task to task. In the last few weeks, I have spent at least as much time deleting and re-ordering as I have entering and scheduling.

And in that there can be a real sense of relief. The first few weeks of lockdown, everything just dropped. The schedule to which I was a self-indentured slave meant very little. There were times when I could have danced, others when I felt the responsibility for diligence with a newly-cleansed calendar. But it was not simply the absence of the demand that offered peace; for many, the fact that they were no longer in control seemed to induce fear or anger. What gave me peace was the reminder that while I am not in control, God is.

Everything I plan is always conditional. I just tend to forget that it is so. Every plan, made by every individual and institution, every prime minister, president and potentate, every governor and every government and every grunt, is conditional. The world’s plans have been brought to a standstill, or even to nothing, by a virus we can barely trace or track. We all tend to forget that it is so. James reminds us of this reality at the personal, visceral level:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (Jas 4:13–16).

sun behind cloudsWe make our plans, and we forget that even tomorrow is not guaranteed. It is not wrong to make plans, but we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” Anything else is to boast in arrogance, and all such boasting is evil. What I ought to remember is that the only words which never fall to the ground are God’s. Nothing fails of any of his plans and promises. In that true sense, nothing has fallen apart; nothing has ended prematurely; nothing has been rescheduled. Everything has worked out as the Lord God has intended. From my perspective, all has proved conditional. From the throne of heaven, all comes to pass as it was intended. God’s sovereign determinations and unconditional decrees have issued in unfailing outcomes.

If we become angry or afraid because of the conditional nature of our plans and purposes, it is because we have not reckoned with our humanity, our mortality, our feeble finitude. We are not in control. That is true in the great things of our existence, and it is true of all the minute details of our individual lives. That tends to make the self-determining heart afraid and angry, or drift into despair, or insist upon the emptiness and pointlessness of it all. But true faith faces this, and turns to God and puts all things in his hands, and hangs all our plans and purposes upon his merciful and loving designs, without fear or anger.

My times are in your hand;
My God, I wish them there;
My life, my friends, my soul I leave
Entirely to your care.

My times are in your hand;
Whatever may unfold;
Pleasing or painful, dark or bright,
All by your love controlled.

My times are in your hand;
Why should I doubt or fear?
My Father’s hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.

My times are in your hand,
Jesus, the crucified!
Those hands my cruel sins had pierced
Are now my guard and guide.

My times are in your hand,
I’ll trust abidingly;
And, after death, at your right hand
I shall forever be.

William Freeman Lloyd (with minor modernisations)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 12 May 2020 at 12:31

Weary shepherds

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As I speak with my fellow-servants, one of the comments that many make is of their sense of weariness during this season. Several of them have mentioned this in different ways at different points in their experience. Let me suggest several ways in which they are feeling particular pressures.

To begin with, we have our usual work to do. Much of it is hidden. That is always true. In some senses, we have advantages. There are parts of lockdown life that feel fairly normal to many of us. If we are to be properly equipped for the work of ministry, we will be often alone, praying and studying. We are used to being, under God, our own masters, organising our own schedules and filling our days with productive investments. Our lives tend to alternate between periods of intense isolation and periods of intense engagement with others (either individuals, or smaller or larger groups). There is a lot of pouring in and a lot of pouring out, and not always much in between. So, unlike some other workers, we are, in principle, able to continue those more isolated aspects of our normal routines and labours without much interruption. Most of us are still doing what we normally do, in that respect.

We also face many of the pressures that others are facing under these circumstances. Perhaps we have young families. Despite being classed as key workers, most pastors with school-age children who are not home-schooling already are now home-schooling, and they are often doing so in their working environment. There is an invasion of time and space into the periods and places in which we are perhaps accustomed to hours of undistracted labour. Or, we are now not able to go out to the places in which we were free of the distractions of younger children. Perhaps older overseers without children at home, or those with more gregarious personalities, appreciated the stimulation of social contact with other family and friends, and are now deprived of that, and find the extended distance from others oppressive. We all lack the relief of being able to spend time with our fellow church members and other friends. We may find that the church budget is strangled, and our salaries are cut; that brings its own fears. We may find we cannot easily get the exercise we need. In a season when it seems like our natural tendencies are being amplified and intensified, we are dealing with our own sins and weaknesses, with our own fears and concerns. We are concerned lest, in this way, we should sin against God and his people. We are often repenting to our families of our edginess and irritability as we find ourselves stripped down by the pressures of the moment. We become agitated, and we need constantly to remember that we are not intended to carry the church by our own strength.

We have all the normal business of the church upon us. People have not stopped being people just because they are stuck at home! God’s people are all wrestling with the unusual pressures of this season, and some of them are in danger of cracking. All the challenging situations and individuals are still there, some of them already growing worse, others just stewing and waiting until the lid is pulled off the pot again. There is church administration that still needs to be done, despite the limitations of the moment. There are other labours in which your pastors may be involved which continue to demand their time.

We have all the additional business of the church upon us. Much of the work above is needing to be done in novel ways. Not all of us are technophiles and some of us are technophobes and neophobes. Some brothers have been exhausted having to come to terms with radically new ways of doing even a little of what they before have done. For pastors with smaller churches, many have had to figure all this out for themselves, or in concert with a few equally ill-prepared friends. See that poor quality video where your pastor is brushing his hair and checking his teeth and talking to himself? Yup, it looks really bad, but he’s really stressed because he’s got little idea what he’s actually doing, and then he’s got to put up with the embarrassment, perhaps, of watching himself back and seeing his incompetence and awkwardness being broadcast to anyone who cares to see. Those first couple of weeks, in particular, he may have been in a flat spin for days on end, trying to work out how he was going to do something like feed the sheep under these circumstances. Many pastors are older men, and what is normal and natural for a younger guy feels like a strange new world to some. Some slept for no more than a few hours each day for days on end as we tried to adapt to this. Some of us had haranguing phone-calls or accusatory emails from church members (or other interested members of the wider community, including other believers) who thought we were doing too much, not enough, or everything wrong.

Some of us, in company with many others, are losing friends and family members to Covid-19 and other diseases. Some of us are taking funerals of people we knew and did not know. Some of us are desperately sick ourselves, or have family members who are struggling. Some of us are stepping in to help brothers who are laid aside during this season.

We have upon our hearts the care of the church for which we have, under God, a responsibility. The people of God are constantly upon our hearts. It is hard for us to communicate to someone who does not know this the sense of it. We have sheep who were already isolated because of sicknesses or sorrows, who are now even more cut off. We have sheep who are now more isolated or isolating themselves, men and women who do not, old shepherd 1cannot, perhaps will not engage with others by the limited means now available to us. We tremble for them. We see some of the sheep with weaknesses and sicknesses that are now advancing in the absence of the regular use of the regular means of grace. We may be caring for the sick and dying at a distance. We may be trying to work out how to buy or use masks and gloves and going into high-risk environments to care for those on the verge of death, and then wondering whether or not we can safely go home to our families, if we have them. We have people who are panicking and others who are wilting. We have sheep that have not yet been gathered who we cannot reach and to whom we cannot speak and with whom we cannot plead face to face. We have people who are complaining and questioning, becoming bewildered or frustrated. We are dealing with a number of people who, caught up in their own troubles and sorrows, act as if they are the only people with whom the pastors (or others) need to be concerned. Problems that were only bubbling are now boiling over as the heat is turned up. Yes, we see grace shining, too. We see saints who are stepping up and reaching out. We see gifts being exposed and employed that we might never have imagined. And we have to fight to keep our eyes on the pinpricks of light in what can, on some days, feel like a very dark night. We know we should be praying more, but we are struggling to find another hour in the day to set aside for more concentrated intercession. We do not begrudge these extra demands, but we do not always know how to respond to them. We may have wider responsibilities, too, caring for or counselling other ministers or investing in other spheres and congregations. Congregations without their own preachers are calling upon settled pastors for additional sermons, some pre-recorded, some live.

So we are adding to everything else our efforts to reach out to God’s people under these circumstances and hold together a scattered flock. We are calling round the congregation week after week and finding that just doing that can sometimes take a couple of days. We are finding that many people like the idea of web-conferencing, but if you say yes to every suggestion that you get together online, you can end up with whole mornings, afternoons or evenings just swallowed up with not very much, day after day. We are concerned that this might prove a sifting time, when fringe attendees and non-committal members just drift further and further away. We are concerned for the fragmentation of the congregation. We wonder what we will have to learn and re-learn when, by degrees, we start returning to something that will become normal, and may not be like the normal we had before. We are conscious that the house of feasting and the house of mourning may only be a step away from each other for the church at the end of this.

And we are trying to feed the flock. What means do we have available? How do we use them? Should we record sermons? From our church buildings or from our living rooms? Should we do live teaching? At the regular hours? How does this effect people with little or no internet access, little or no digital equipment, little or no technical aptitude, particular challenges or limitations, including physical disabilities? How easy will people find it to listen, or pray, or sing, at home, alone or with others? Should we preach shorter sermons? Should we continue with our regular series or preach something suited to the moment? What is suited to the moment? Do we need to be reminded more of God’s sovereignty, or justice, or mercy, or power? Do we need words of comfort, or prompts to self-examination, or calls to repentance, or just a more regular diet? Do we need all of the above?

And the preaching itself is hard work. We are speaking in a vacuum. Some are ministering through a lens, speaking to an invisible congregation, concentrating without external prompts and helps, trying to be engaged and engaging. Others have multiple faces on a fairly small screen, straining to gauge the mood and the responses of those to whom we are speaking without half the normal immediate feedback of seeing faces and bodies in their normal spaces and moving in normal time. We have few encouragements in ourselves or from others that anything actually hits home. We feel like we are casting our bread upon the waters, and we have no notion of whether or not we will find it again at any point in the near future. We cannot gauge whether or not the sheep are being well-fed. Even our normal encouragers may have their avenues of communication choked off. The people who normally give little in person are perhaps not even present on camera, or are even flatter there than usual, or—we fear—may not be engaging at all. Perhaps there are new faces on the web-conference, and we are striving to make the gospel clear. We hope that people from our communities are listening or watching, and we want them to hear of Christ and be saved. We go home exhausted, feeling flat and washed out. And what will happen when things begin to ease? Will we first be allowed to meet in smaller groups? What then for the more vulnerable who will still be kept away? How will we feed a flock that is half-gathered and half-scattered? How will we round up the ones who have wandered? How will we bind up the broken, bruised and battered from this season? How will we keep some people from overwhelming others when we come back together, and keep others from being overwhelmed? How will we mend any breaches? How will we foster a renewed and deeper sense of our commitment to God and to one another? What will we have lost? What will we have gained?

Why, then, do I say this? This is not a whinging article, written out of an overwhelming sense of self-importance and self-pity. It is not a denigration of the efforts of other workers, nor a dismissal of their weariness. It is not a backhanded plea for appreciation and applause. It is not a less-than-subtle way of talking about myself or a particular friend or friends. It is a genuine reflection of various conversations. It is a reminder of the reality of pastoral labour and a hint toward understanding. It is intended to prompt some genuine awareness and a proper sympathy. It is meant to be a help to us to understand our elders, so that we can properly pray for them and otherwise support them.

Your pastor is not after a medal. He is not seeking a certificate of commendation. There is a reason why the typical metaphors of pastoral ministry are military, agricultural and athletic. He signed up for a job of real work, and most of his rewards are deferred. But even soldiers and farmers and wrestlers get bruised and wearied in the work. I write because at the end of this period of lockdown, you might have a very weary, nearly broken pastor. Most of his labours are unseen. That is part of the calling. The parts you see are the tip of the pastoral iceberg. We do not know yet what will be the effects of the ending of lockdown on our humanity. I have seen suggestions that there might be some parallel in the experience of released hostages. Some have suggested that a brief season of euphoria might be followed by a period of crushing aimlessness and even despair. And your pastors will, God helping them, be there for you then as well. So, now and in days to come, do remember their labours. Remember that the treasure is in earthen vessels, dull and cracked. As you consider what has happened, is happening, and will yet happen, do not forget to pray for them. As you are able, support them. Heed their counsels and receive their investments. Encourage their hearts.

And brothers, do not over-isolate yourselves. Do not give yourselves something like an Elijah complex. If you have fellow-elders, make sure that you are in close touch with one another, taking time to care for and pray with one another. Reach out to friends, to brothers-in-arms. Find a friend, a counsellor and companion, if you do not have one. If need be, reach out to a man you know and trust in order to get what you need, humanly speaking. If all else fails, reach out to a trustworthy man that you do not yet know. Talk these things over, pray these things over. And that is the great remedy, in some senses. Take yourself to the throne of grace. Bring all these cares and concerns before the Lord your God, before the Great Shepherd of the sheep, before your Good Shepherd, who loves you with an unbreakable and unshakeable love. He upholds the weary. Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Take what burdens you to God, casting all your cares upon him, because he cares for you.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 9 May 2020 at 06:35

Should we be surprised?

with 6 comments

A few days ago my father and I were talking about the current crisis and its causes and consequences. He suggested some possible causes for the divine displeasure, and we began to add a few more. We talked about the hand of God in all this, and our failure to see it and to respond to it. He wrote up his developing thoughts, we batted it back and forth a few times, and this guest post by Austin Walker is the result.

The pandemic caused by a coronavirus has brought the world as we know it to a virtual standstill. The normal life of a few months ago is a fading memory. The hustle and bustle of town and city life, the hum of constant traffic, guiding your shopping trolley through crowded supermarket aisles, are—for the moment—things of the past. I live within sight of Gatwick Airport’s take-off and landing flight path. It has now been silent for weeks.

What are we to make of this pandemic? Should we be surprised? Is it possible to discover any reasons for it? The prophet Amos asks a pertinent question of his contemporaries: “If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?” (Am 3:6). Hosea remonstrated with Israel, saying that the Lord had a complaint against them: “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed” (Hos 2:1–2). There are some dangers in comparing the theocracy of Old Testament Israel with any nation today. However, the link in Scripture between calamities and human sinfulness and the judgment of God can scarcely be denied.

Christ warns his disciples about “the beginnings of sorrows” (Mt 24:8) which precede his coming to judge the world. Among those sorrows are wars and rumours of wars. He also spoke of “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (Mt 24:7). At the time of writing, Covid-19 has accounted for over 32,000 deaths in the UK (the most in Europe) and an estimated 250,000 world-wide. It has plunged many families into distress and sorrow. In the mercy of God, our Prime Minister survived Covid-19. We were spared a political crisis in addition to the health crisis. For a few days, his life was in the balance and contingency plans were drawn up in case he became another casualty. We live in a time of extraordinary uncertainty. Many will be asking, “Why?”

But should we be surprised by what we are experiencing? Is it not the case that our nation has consistently put the word of God behind its back? What should surprise us is that God has been merciful and patient towards us because he has not judged us more severely and more quickly! There have been very few public voices suggesting that this crisis is, in fact, an expression of God’s mercy and patience calling us to wake up, to consider the way we are living and repent of our sins. The Bible tells us that such temporal judgments are a gracious warning from God and a precursor of Christ’s return to judge the world. Yet he is merciful. Speaking in the context of the judgment of the flood in Noah’s day, Peter reminds his readers, that “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2Pt 3:9).

Reflect for a moment on what has taken place in our nation in the seventy or so years since the Second World War. The years of post-war austerity were followed by the advent of the ‘permissive society’ in the 1960s. This was popularly associated with the discovery of sex, drugs, and rock and roll by the younger generation. There was no single event that marked the beginning of these changes, although many commentators at the time pointed to the 1960 trial of Penguin Books for publishing an unexpurgated version of the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Without doubt there was a marked change in social attitudes and behaviour from this time, which has continued to the present day.

Consider some of those changes. God’s name is repeatedly blasphemed in public, in television programmes, on the streets, and in offices and schools. Capital punishment was finally abolished in the UK in 1969. Hardly anyone talks about it anymore. The mass murder of thousands of unborn babies was sanctioned by law in 1967, and some are now campaigning for abortion up to birth. There are those who want to change the law promoting euthanasia and make assisted suicide permissible in law. Homosexuality is promoted on every side, together with same-sex ‘marriage’ and civil partnerships. Great confusion is being sown in people’s minds as our God-given identity as either male or female is rejected. The dignity of marriage and family life has been steadily eroded, and easy divorce is available should things not work out. No wonder thousands simply choose to live together! Sexual abuse and pornography thrive. The Lord’s day is desecrated and often filled with shopping trips, even labelled ‘Super Sunday’ with sporting activities on a large scale. Pluralism in religion is promoted so that Christianity is seen as just one option—and not a very popular or accepted option either. Free speech is constantly under threat. It would appear that materialism and secularisation have won the hearts of our nation.

Sadly, even among those who call themselves Christians, there have been examples of the sexual abuse of children, the sanctioning of same-sex ‘marriage,’ the promotion of a feminist agenda, and attacks on just about every doctrine taught in the Scriptures. The urge to modernise and to change has transformed ‘worship’ in many churches; having only one service on Sunday is commonplace.

The list makes frightening reading. The law of God summarised in the Ten Commandments is flouted daily in our land by all kinds of people. It would not take a great deal of effort to identify what has been described as a trampling in the dust of all of God’s commandments. Does God look on and smile complacently? What we have described is lawlessness, ungodliness and unrighteousness. Sin is lawlessness. The fact is, there is little or no knowledge of God in our land. Rather, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). We should not be surprised at all. What we are experiencing today are the warning judgments of God after years of placing God’s laws behind our backs. Very few will be willing to listen to that conclusion.

Those who are leading us through this crisis seem to be totally unaware of what we have been describing. There is an assumption that we, as human beings, with all our vaunted wisdom, technology and medical understanding can ultimately handle this crisis, despite the fears and sorrows it brings, and the economic ruin that is playing out before our eyes.

We are thankful for all the NHS workers, some of whom have died caring for Covid-19 patients. We are thankful for those who have medical skills. We are thankful for those who, for example, are now striving hard to find a vaccine that will save many more thousands of lives. Our hearts go out in sympathy to those who have lost loved ones. Many are lonely and suffer in silence, shut off from others in their homes, quarantined, or in hospital. We continue to pray to the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort as the only certain help in this our time of need.

Is it not time to seek God’s face and ask him in his great mercy to relieve us of our afflictions? Is it not time to humble ourselves before the God of heaven and earth and confess our sins as a nation? Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah were great men of prayer. Each of them was caught up in the judgments of God and their consequences. Yet in those times of divine judgment they called on the Lord, confessing their nation’s sins against God, and found he was merciful, even though it was the very opposite of what they deserved.

The true church of Christ should lead the way. Those three Old Testament saints serve as a pattern for the prayers of God’s people in the present crisis. Some speak of the possibility of revival but it will surely not happen until these and many other sins are confessed before God. He will finally bring the whole world to judgment. The Lord Jesus tells us that “as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt 24:37–39). In his great love God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into this world. We deserve nothing less than condemnation. By his death on the cross in the place of sinners, Christ makes atonement for sin and turns aside the wrath of God we deserve. Repentance and the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name alone: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). To believe on Christ will mean being humbled, acknowledging and repenting of our sin and our pride, and putting our trust for salvation in him alone.

Will the true church of Christ set the tone? There is a great danger of falling into the way of thinking that characterises our nation. However, our response must be directed by the word of God and, in particular, by the godly example of men like Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Daniel pleaded God’s great mercies: “I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession … we do not present our supplications before you because of our righteous deeds, but because of your great mercies” (Dan 9:3–19). By reading the entire prayer we see how Daniel humbled himself before God. He cried out sincerely, “we have sinned, we have done wickedly” (Dan 9:15). The truth is that we are definitely not in control of our lives and do not have the power or the wisdom that too many think we possess. God loves a broken spirit and a contrite heart, a heart that heeds his word instead of despising it, and thus casts itself on a merciful God.

Daniel was not surprised by the judgments that fell on his nation. What was more surprising was the mercy that God showed towards those who humbled themselves and set their faces towards him, who made urgent heartfelt requests to him by prayers and supplications. Has God changed? Will he not show himself merciful again to our generation if we but seek his face? Would that surprise you?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 7 May 2020 at 08:24

“The office of the Christian ministry”

with 3 comments

NPG D4124; John Collett Ryland published by Carington Bowles, after  John RussellIn 1781, John Collett Ryland (father of John Ryland Jr.) republished a book by Cotton Mather called Manuductio ad Ministerium: Directions for a Candidate of the Ministry. Mather originally published the work in 1726. Ryland came across it in Bristol in the mid-1740s, and esteemed it highly ever since. Ryland provided a foreword for his new edition, which is reproduced below. Mather’s work is instructive; Ryland’s foreword is thrilling. In it, he emphasises both the privilege of the work, and the work involved in the privilege.

To the gentlemen and other several Christians, in London and the country, who have the cause of Christ, and the honour of the Christian ministry at heart.

The office of the Christian ministry, rightly understood, is the most honourable and important, that any man in the whole world can ever sustain; and it will be one of the wonders and employments of eternity, to consider the reasons, why the wisdom and goodness of God assigned this office to imperfect and guilty man!

It is an office and character that are deeply interested in the highest concerns of God’s perfections and glory. It is an employment that obliges a man to the closest attention, to find out the true mind of God in the holy scriptures. It is a work in which we are called, to instruct the minds of men in the noblest knowledge, and teach them to adore and love God. The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher, are, to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men; to display in the most lively colours, and proclaim in the clearest language, the wonderful perfections, offices, and grace of the Son of God; and to attract the souls of men into a state of everlasting friendship with him.

It is an office and work, the grand design of which is to turn the sons and daughters of Adam, from darkness to light, from guilt to pardon, from corruption to holiness, and from ruin to eternal happiness. It is an employment that, when finished with wisdom and faithfulness, will be crowned with higher honours than were ever bestowed on the best kings, the most renowned heroes, the most celebrated philosophers.

It is a work which an angel might wish for, as an honour to his character; yea, an office which every angel in heaven might covet to be employed in for a thousand years to come.

It is such an honourable, important, and useful office, that if a man be put into it by God, and made faithful and successful through life, he may look down with disdain upon a crown, and shed a tear of pity on the brightest monarch on earth.

It is a work, that, when a man is called to it by the providence of God, should be entered upon with fear and trembling. It should be approached with a mixture of terror and joy, of awful reverence, and holy pleasure. No man should dare to rush into it, uncalled by God, or unqualified by the gifts and graces of the holy Spirit.

There are requisite to this office, an enlightened mind, a renewed heart, very tender affections; a fervent love to the souls of men; a fixed attention to, and delight in, the holy scriptures, and a peculiar love to Christ; an ability to speak in proper instructive words; a firmness of mind, to resist all opposition; and the utmost care to preserve a good moral character in the church and the world.

To all the above qualifications, it is necessary and of great importance, that young men, before they enter upon the full work of it, should have a very considerable length of time to be separated from all the business and cares of the world, and in a great measure from the conversation and company of most christians too; in order to acquire a habit of thinking closely; to exercise themselves in contemplation and prayer; to converse much with God, and their own hearts; to study the sacred scriptures in the original languages, with the utmost diligence and attention; and, especially, to improve by them in a way of devotional exercise.

For want of this useful and necessary preparation, many young men, of promising gifts, have been pushed too soon into public and stated work; and what has been the consequence? The churches know the consequence; but the young persons themselves have most severely felt the fruits of these hasty proceedings; they have to their cost and pungent sorrow, felt the loss to the end of life.

On the other hand, there may be an extreme likewise; not in the length of time allotted for their preparatory studies, but in the misapplication of that time; or wasting too much of it in studies, that have no tendency to form a solid and judicious minister of the gospel.

Certainly every thing should be made subservient to divinity; and the best hours of every day, from the first moment to the last, should be employed in gaining, by close attention and prayer, a masterly knowledge of all the great doctrines of the gospel, and the richest methods of improving them in a practical and devotional manner. And if this be done to purpose; be assured, sirs, there will be no time for trifling, in the space of four, five, or six years. This is the highest work, and the noblest employment of a young student; and if he has the strong, the capacious mind of an Owen, a Charnock, or a Witsius, he will find full work for it, not only in the course of his studies, but all the days of his life.

The scarcity of serious and evangelical ministers of every denomination, has been long complained of. If the Lord should remove a few of our aged and useful fathers, their loss will be most severely felt. The places of good and useful servants of God, are not soon filled up; an able minister of the New Testament, is not formed in a day or a year; no, not in seven or ten years: happy is that young man, who arrives to any degree of maturity, and strength of mind, in the compass of twenty years! I am sure it is worth twenty years study to be able to state clearly, and defend and improve practically, the truths of our holy religion. I dare affirm, that I have the concurring sentiments of all those, who are best able to judge in this matter.

If these things are true, then how careful and zealous ought we to be, to encourage and assist young men in our churches, who appear to be endued, not only with grace, but gifts for the ministry; or shall we sit still and say, “The Lord Jesus will provide, (by a miracle,) for all the wants of his people and churches, and there is no need to use any means at all?” But, my friends, does he do so in providence for your bodies and families? Did he give you all your wealth, and trade, and spacious houses, by a miracle?

Does he act thus in his dispensations of grace, in order to your growth in knowledge, and holiness, and the comforts of religion? Are you not obliged to use diligently all the means of grace, and constantly too, in order to have the comforts of grace?

Now ought serious christians to use time and pains to grow in knowledge and grace; and have not ministers, who are to preach the great truths of God every week to many thousands of immortal souls; have they not need of all profitable assistance from heaven and earth? And can we have the heart to refuse them any encouragement in our power, especially in their preparations for this glorious work? No; my honoured friends, and gentlemen, let us no longer lie in a state of indifference and disunion; but let us all, to a man, join our hearts, our purses, and our prayers, in this dearest and best of all causes; and, instead of starting frivolous objections, to diminish or Coll the generous dispositions of any, let us rather fan the fire into a brighter flame, and love those persons best, who are the most able and ready to promote so good a work!

And now, my dear and honoured friends, are these things so? Is the design of the christian ministry the greatest and noblest that God ever decreed, to put into the heart of man? Is it the end of the christian preacher’s office, to bring millions of immortal souls out of the ruins of the fall, into the riches of eternity; to recover souls from sin to holiness, from rebellion to obedience; from filthiness to purity; from the most horrid deformity, to the perfection of beauty; from guiltiness, to full justification by a divine and infinite righteousness; from misery to happiness; from the curse of God, to eternal blessings; from the deepest disgrace, to the highest honour; from extreme poverty, to unbounded riches; from slavery to the devil, to liberty in Christ; from the spirit and temper of a wicked world, to the spirit and dignity of the sons of God; from the ravages of moral death, to the pleasures of eternal life; from the darkness of hell, to the light of heaven; from violent enmity, to the most intense love of God; from the attachment of the passions to lust, to the full flow of affections to Christ, as the supreme beauty and good; from bearing the image of the great apostate spirit, to resemble God in a brighter manner than the angels in heaven?

Are these the sublime ends of the christian ministry? And is this to the continual and noble work of every true christian preacher?

Then, my dear friends, what encouragements should you give toward the regular education of pious and sensible young men, for his noble and divine office!

Permit me, my honoured friends, to proceed a little farther, to awaken your attention, and to rouse your generous zeal to encourage all serious and sensible young men who appear fit to be ministers of the gospel. Let me propose the following queries to your serious consideration.

Is not a wise christian minister the greatest character under heaven? If we compare him with all other characters in life, will not his shine brighter on the comparison, as much as the sun in the expanse of heaven, outshines a poor glow-worm in a ditch? If you compare him with a physician in a hospital, a counsellor in his chambers, an advocate at the bar, a merchant in his commerce, a judge on his seat, an ambassador in the court of kings, a banker amidst his treasures, a general at the head of an army, a representative of his country, a lord in parliament, or a monarch on his throne—yea, to go higher still, compare him with the stars of heaven, or an angel in glory; and a gospel minister will shine brighter on the comparison, and appear far above all the offices and characters in the whole world.

The greatest men that ever lived, were preachers of the gospel; witness Enoch, the seventh from Adam; witness Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and Paul; and let me dare so far to magnify the office, as to affirm, that if kings did but know and feel the dignity, importance, usefulness, and ends of the christian ministry, they would descend from their thrones, to ascend the pulpit, as a throne of much greater glory.

What preparation then, does this office deserve and demand; and how serious, how attentive, how active, and unweariedly diligent, ought every student to be, who desires and designs to employ himself in this glorious work to the end of his life! With what ardour and gratitude should he seize every help and guide, to his highest end! With what eagerness and delight should he embrace every means, and every friend, who is wise enough, and able to help him forwards in the grand design of preaching the glorious gospel!

My dear young friends, let me now address you. Do not your hearts burn with celestial fire, to be employed in the noblest work under heaven? Yea, let me not be thought extravagant, if I affirm that it is such a manner of serving and glorifying God, as cannot be practiced, even in heaven itself. It is such a work as, in some respects exceeds the work of heaven. There are no sinners to be converted there; no devils to be resisted; no conflicts with internal corruption; no living by faith on an invisible God and Saviour; no scorn to encounter; no persecutions and cruel mocking to be borne; but here we have them all; so that we have such graces to be exercised, and such difficulties to be encountered, as will never be found in heaven to eternity.

Amongst all the various books which have been written for the use of students of divinity, and christian preachers, I know of none equal to the Manuductio of Dr. Cotton Mather, especially if you consider the smallness of the treatise, and the peculiar pertinency and pungency of the thoughts contained in it.

I have been intimately acquainted with this excellent little book, for thirty-six years past; I first met with it in the study of my dear and honoured friend and father, the Rev. Mr. Hugh Evans, of Bristol, when I boarded at his house, in the years 1744, 1745, 1746. The book has been of exceeding great use to me ever since. I am sorry I did not publish it sooner, for the benefit of the risen generation of gospel ministers. It is with great satisfaction and delight, that I have done it now. Sensible, inquisitive, and pious young students, lie very near my heart. I feel a strong parental affection for them. I earnestly pray that they may rise to superior eminence in every part of their glorious employment. I shall rejoice to see them actuated with a noble and divine ambition to excel their predecessors, in wisdom, dignity, zeal, and diligence; and to see them glorify Christ, and allure a vast number of immortal souls into a vital union with the supreme truth, goodness, and beauty, and thus be for ever happy in his glorious presence, and infinite love.

To my own dear son, I do peculiarly present this treatise, with my additional notes and observations; and through his hands, I devote it to the service of modest, pious students, of all denominations. I leave it as a monument and proof of my tenderest affection to the churches of Christ, who are deeply interested in its contents; and shall rejoice to find that wise and religious gentlemen of property, are stirred up to do their very utmost towards encouraging a learner and evangelical education of worthy young men, who shall be ministers of the glorious gospel, when our heads are laid in the dust, and our souls adoring the Son of God, in the realms of light and glory.

John [Collett] Ryland

Northampton,
October 7, 1781

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 27 April 2020 at 03:00

“All Things For Good”

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Thomas Watson wrote a book called A Divine Cordial, a heavenly medicine, grounded in the words of Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” It is usually known by its more modern title, All Things For Good. I recently completed a step by step study through the book in twenty-three videos of ten minutes (excepting the invitation, which is briefer). All are available at the YouTube channel of the church which I serve. The idea was to be able to read through the whole in about three weeks. Each video simply walks through a particular section, giving an outline with some particular comments. If you are interested, please follow the link. I hope it is of some profit.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 18 April 2020 at 11:20

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