The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

John Fletcher’s self-examination

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The Wesleyan preacher and theologian John Fletcher of Madeley drew up a series of questions for self-examination. I found them a helpful stimulus.

  • Did I awake spiritual, and did I keep my mind from wandering?
  • Have I got nearer God this day in times of prayer, or have I given way to a lazy idle spirit?
  • Has my faith been weakened or strengthened this day?
  • Have I this day walked by faith?
  • Have I denied myself in all unkind words and thoughts?
  • Have I made the most of my precious time, as far as I was able to?
  • Have I kept my heart pure?
  • What have I done for God’s people?
  • Have I spent money on myself when I might have used it for the cause of God?
  • Have I governed well my tongue this day?
  • In how many instances have I denied myself?
  • Do my life and conversation adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 24 August 2015 at 08:18

“Only One Life”

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I quoted a couple of lines of this poem by C. T. Studd, a missionary, in our Sunday morning sermon. The whole poem is worth pondering. It usually goes by the title, “Only One Life.”

Two little lines I heard one day,
Travelling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfil,
Living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me, Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervour burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, “Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say ’twas worth it all;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

— extra stanza —
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.

C. T. Studd

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 28 July 2015 at 20:01

Austin Walker talks Keach

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 18 July 2015 at 09:17

Posted in Interviews

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“Respect the Authorities”: Specific Counsels 5 and 6

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Manage the expectations and approach the throne

With all this in mind, we must manage the expectations. Those who rule on the earth do not have the answers; they are not our saviors. There seems to be a constant temptation for the people of God to believe that if only we can marshal enough rich and important people, if only we can obtain enough celebrity endorsements, if only we can generate a big enough wave of public opinion, then we can help the church out of its troubles. But such men and women, however well meaning, cannot sustain or prosper the church in the world. Again, it is to look for apples on an orange tree.

Earthly authorities and celebrities are not the answer to the needs and pursuits of the church, any more than the world is its home and destiny. There are certain things that we can and should expect of civil governments, and there may be certain times when the church, through appropriate spokespeople given appropriate opportunities, might remind government of its obligations to God. But human authority and power are not the solution to the church’s problems. The kingdom of God is not yoked to any nation, party, policy, platform, coalition, or organization and will not rise or fall with any kingdom of the earth:

Through the rise and fall of nations
One sure faith yet standeth fast:
God abides, His Word unchanging,
God alone the first and last.

Or, singing of the providence of God:

The kingdoms of this world
Lie in its hand;
See how they rise or fall
At its command!
Through sorrow and distress,
Tempestuous storms that rage,
God’s kingdom yet endures
From age to age.

As we wrestle with these things, we need to remember that God does know what He is doing. Even those things that men mean for evil He has intended for good. Kings and kingdoms rise and fall by His divine and all-wise appointment. Even the individual activities of rulers are not outside his control:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD,
Like the rivers of water;
He turns it wherever He wishes. (Prov. 21:1)

We may look at some of those who have risen to prominence or power, who have abused that platform horribly, and wonder how this can be securing the glory of God or the good of men. Often the answer will simply be that we do not know, and we may never know. Perhaps heaven itself will not make plain the answers to all the questions we may now have.

But we must bow before God. Our hopes for the kingdom of Christ—whether the advance of the gospel or the health of the church itself—hang upon the divine King and not upon mortal men. Ultimately, we are waiting upon Him and waiting for Him.

That being the case, we should approach the throne. Prayer ought to be our first port of call as the church—whether institutionally or individually—in dealing with the civil magistrates. We should pray and give thanks for the rulers and authorities themselves, seeking “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:2), able to live as saints without unnecessary difficulties or distractions. We should pray to God for His appointments, that His glory and our peace might be secured. We should pray concerning the Lord’s kingdom, that all God’s purposes would be accomplished for the ingathering of the elect and the building of His church. We should pray for the equipping of the church in all her circumstances, whether at peace or persecuted, not looking to worldly powers nor relying upon worldly means to accomplish kingdom ends. We should pray that the Lord would fill us with His Spirit and give us bold speech, enabling the saints to be witnesses for Christ in every circumstance that we face, not looking to or relying upon worldly means (Acts 4:8, 31). We do not trust in legislation, adjudication, or intimidation to obtain the things we desire for the glory of God and the good of men, but on the proclamation of the truth as it is in Jesus with power from on high. To that end we should remember who is on the throne and call upon Him. We pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

We remember that there is One who sits enthroned above the earth, and He is our God and our King.

 

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 10 July 2015 at 08:29

“Respect the Authorities”: Specific Counsels 5 and 6

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Pay the dues and address the government

We must not forget to pay the dues. We must offer the civil authorities what is theirs by right of divine appointment, whether inwardly or outwardly. We do it because the civil magistrate bears the sword and because God has put it in his hands. This is not a call to pander to every whim of careless and thoughtless governments. It is not encouraging mindless quiescence of the most abject sort. It is not the suggestion that there is virtue in constituting yourself some craven holy doormat. It is the simple fact that—not just because of wrath but also because of conscience—we are to render to Caesar whatever belongs to Caesar. Whether it is a financial obligation (such as in the matter of taxes), a matter of legal recognition (obeying the laws of the land), or simply the expression of our outlook in speech and behavior, it ought to be clear from our attitudes and actions that we offer the civil authorities the support and the reverence to which they are entitled as those whom God has appointed.

We are also free to address the government. We must realize that it is not the task of the church to dictate policy nor to dabble in politics. That, again, is to confuse the spheres in which we operate: “Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.” The church is to declare the gospel to all, but she is also to make clear the duty of all to God, both as a prompt to true repentance and as a help to true obedience.

Gospel ministers have duties in several respects. First, God’s servants are—as occasion provides—to preach to authorities concerning their duties as men and ministers of temporal justice, accountable to the God who has put them in their place. It is, of course, perfectly appropriate for a Christian pastor to make clear the responsibilities of governing authorities, but that is not the same as preaching to the authorities. There may be legitimate opportunities to do this. Some legislatures or executives invite the preaching of the word of God in some measure. Perhaps there are those in authority in a congregation, and to them the word of God must be addressed as part of the regular ministry, publicly and privately, in accordance with their calling in the world. It may be that a preacher, in his capacity as a private citizen as well as a preacher, might address his local or national representatives, if he has them. Perhaps if a Christian is dragged before authorities, he might take the opportunity to declare the truth of God. But all this is very different from railing at rulers from the pulpit or in the street when they are not present. For example, you might hear hotheaded pulpiteers or throaty street preachers attacking some local or national policy that they consider unchristian, tearing into the legislators or executive powers even though they are not present to hear. To whom are they preaching? Certainly not to the people in front of them. They are on their soapbox, aiming high and wide of the souls before them who—though they might applaud or deplore what they are hearing—are hardly involved in the matter. If there were representatives of the authority present, perhaps even then it is not mere official failure (in which the individual may or may not have a personal stake), but real, personal sin that ought to be the core concern.

Further, God’s servants ought to instruct the church and her members—both as saints and as private citizens, as a matter of Christian witness and testimony—in their relations to the state in her specific roles. Preachers might also, publicly or privately, offer counsel and guidance in particular matters in which the saints as private and concerned citizens might speak. So, for example, there are issues with which the church as a church is not politically concerned. However, as a spiritual force for truth and righteousness, she might act for the good of those involved, and the members of the church might need particular instruction as to how they should engage. Think, to take one example, of the matter of abortion. Preachers might and should proclaim the sanctity of life and the crime of murder as it is appropriate. They might encourage and equip individual Christians to represent these truths. It would not be wrong for the church to draw attention to legitimate ways and means by which the feelings of believers might be communicated. A church might seek a particular opportunity to minister in various ways to women who face pressures to abort (perhaps because of social or economic demands) or who are wracked with guilt on account of their sin. A church might encourage Christians to consider adoption as a means of caring for unwanted children. But should the church be spearheading and organizing political campaigns, with pastors lobbying politicians and influencers on behalf of their congregations? I fear that this might distract from the work that the Lord has primarily given them to do.

We have already noted that in Acts 4 there may have been present Christian men and women who might have had some, even significant, opportunities to serve Christ in the world at large. As a church, though, they prayed. I am not suggesting that they returned to their homes and their employments, suspended their Christian convictions, and watched blithely or participated readily as the church was put under the hammer of persecution or as natural law was flouted and trampled upon. But there is a difference between how they acted as a church and how they might have acted as private individuals. We can and should discharge our responsibilities as Christians who have been placed in a particular time and place, living in certain nation-states by God’s appointment. We can write and speak and visit and engage with those who are in authority, but this is not the business of the church as a church. We must, then, both recognize the boundaries and discern the overlaps—those points at which our Christianity has a necessary impact on the way we relate to governments and authorities on particular issues.

I do not offer these counsels lightly. Every child of God, every church, must sincerely seek to discern—in the light of God’s written truth—where such boundaries lie. We need to work out where responsibilities as the citizens of heaven’s kingdom and members of earth’s societies touch and overlap.

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 July 2015 at 19:10

“Respect the Authorities”: Specific Counsels 3 and 4

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Appreciate the protection and use the freedoms

Then we should appreciate the protection. Paul was not ashamed to appeal to Caesar when threatened with unjust judgments and unlawful imprisonment. He relied upon the protections afforded by the rule of law under Nero (Acts 25:11), the man who was becoming the great enemy of the Christian church. Even oppressive and persecuting governments may provide a measure of control against open sin, a measure of legitimate protection against lawlessness. I travelled some time ago to a country that had for many years lain behind the Iron Curtain. It was interesting to hear even younger people, including Christians, reminisce about the perceived benefits of the days of communism when their parents had work and homes, when they had little to eat but were thankful when it came, when they could play outside in safety until all hours of the night. They recognized the privations and oppressions that communism involved. They valued their newfound liberty, and in some cases had labored long and hard to obtain it. Many had waited years for such freedoms and suffered much in seeking them. But they also suggested that they could now buy everything and afford nothing, and that a materialistic spirit was increasingly evident in society. They found that the church too had lost something of its edge, its sense of community and its expressions of loving sacrifice in the face of difficulty and opposition. Neither were they nor am I offering some kind of apologetic for any form of totalitarianism with all its typical abuses and cruelties. Nevertheless, there was a tacit recognition that even this oppressive form of government, with all its evils, afforded them something valuable and appreciated. Despite the iniquities of totalitarianism, life under that system still offered a measure of protection in society at large, but also put an edge upon their sense of belonging to another kingdom. In a more developed liberal democracy, we ought to be properly thankful for the rule of law as it provides us with a measure of peace and stability and freedom, even if we might bemoan the spiritual flabbiness of the church under the circumstances.

There is an exegetical tradition that interprets the restraint of the man of sin—the man of lawlessness—in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 as the rule of law. The suggestion is that the man of sin himself will thrive in and arise out of an environment of undiluted and aggressive self-determination, unrestrained by strong and just government. Whether or not one accepts this interpretation, it at least underlines that we ought to be more thankful than perhaps we are for what we presently have. How many freedoms do we enjoy of which countless thousands past and present have been and are deprived? Many Christians ought to be slower to complain and quicker to express gratitude for the rulers and authorities over us.

This being so, we ought to use the freedoms we are presently afforded, wherever we might be. While we have the opportunity to live undisturbed and pursue our mission as the people of God, we ought to get on with the job. Many readers of this book still live in an environment of almost unprecedented civil liberty, and we ought to seize the day, pursuing open, frank, and full obedience to our Sovereign, carrying out our happy duty as the church of Christ in relative peace and safety. One of the tragedies is that we often use our freedoms not to labor but to relax and take our ease. We have scope to live righteously, to worship faithfully, and to preach truthfully. We should readily walk, worship, and witness as unashamed Christians while God provides us a safe environment in which to do so. We should pray that these blessings may long abide and labor as private citizens of our particular nations to preserve them.

We should remember that it is a relatively rare thing, historically and geographically, for believers to enjoy such freedoms as these. The kind of honor that has been afforded to Christian truth in much of the Western world in recent centuries is not the norm, and we might have come to assume too much. We are probably returning to the real historical norm of persecution, and we should be the more thankful for our relative freedoms while we have them, remembering those who do not as if we suffered with them (Heb. 13:3).

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 7 July 2015 at 06:55

“Respect the Authorities”: Specific Counsels 1 and 2

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Specific Counsels: Remember the Distinction and Recognize the Appointment

Almost nothing agitates Christians as much as discussion of the relationship of the church to the state. Some seem to imagine that theological and political allegiances are inextricably bound together. Others set out to avoid any kind of commitments. Some practice an extreme separatism, as if no Christian should care about or be involved in any political, social, or economic discussions or processes. Others fling themselves into this realm with what can appear to be thoughtless abandon. I trust that the discussion of this issue so far has at least provided a measure of clarity. Without the deliberate intention of slaying any particular sacred cows, let me offer what I hope are some clear and coherent principles based on what we have seen from the Word of God.

First, we must remember the distinction. Do not mix or confuse the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God. Perhaps one of the most helpful volumes in assessing our attitude and developing our responses to this issue is a very old one—The City of God by the theologian Augustine. Written at a time when the Roman Empire was collapsing, when many believers feared that the kingdom of God would collapse with it under the ravages of the barbarians, when many were confused about God’s intentions and perhaps feared that the unshakeable was being shaken, Augustine’s weighty work provides a corrective to such shortsightedness and a counterbalance to such fearfulness.

Augustine looks at the world from the perspective of the last day, recognizing that there are really only two peoples on the earth, citizens of two kingdoms or cities. One of those kingdoms is marked by supreme love to the Creator, and one by supreme love to the creation. These cities exist in stark antithesis to one another. Each has its own distinctive identity, activity, and destiny, although at present they coexist in one environment—those who worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25) and those who worship and serve the Creator rather than the creature are side by side in this present age. Every person on the planet belongs to one city or the other. Each person bows to only one sovereign. You are either God’s in Christ or of this present world, building your hopes and dreams here. The church cannot confuse her identity. We are the Creator’s, and we do not wed ourselves to this present creation. The church is the city of God, and it is separate from the cities of men.

Here is the key point: though the citizens of the two kingdoms necessarily mingle as they make their way through this world, God’s people cannot be finally identified with any nation, party, society, or institution in the earth. There is no such thing as a Christian nation, though there may be nations in which we find many Christians. There are no Christian governments, though there may be governments well seasoned with Christians. As we saw before, “this City has no home here in this world, but is on its way to its true home in the world to come” [Michael Haykin, “‘The Most Glorious City of God’: Augustine of Hippo and The City of God, in The Power of God in the Life of Man: Papers Read at the 2005 Westminster Conference ([London]: Westminster Conference, 2005), 51].

All this taken into account, it is vital that every one of us consider the issue of our allegiance. Where do you belong? To whom do you bow? Are you wedded to the creation, or waiting for the Creator? Where is your treasure, your home, your hope, your heart? Are you a resident here, with all your anchors dropped in this present world, or are you a pilgrim here, with your eyes fixed on the heavenly city? It is only when the Christian understands himself to be unequivocally and distinctively a citizen of heaven that he knows how to relate to the kingdoms of the earth.

In the church I serve there have been people from many different nationalities who have been in my country temporarily. If you ask them where they live, they know that they are in England. If you ask them where they belong, they know it is somewhere else. They know what it is to be resident aliens. Christians too recognize where they are and where they belong, and they do not blur the lines.

Once he knows who and whose he is and where he belongs, the Christian can then recognize the appointment of the earthly authorities by the God of heaven. He can both see it as true and respond to it in righteousness. God has appointed subordinate authorities in various spheres. He has appointed His regents in the home, the church, and the state. If we rebel there, we are rebelling not just against men but against the God who has put those men over us. Children would do well to remember this as they arrogantly react to their parents. Church members would do well to remember this as they contend or buck against the shepherds appointed for them. Citizens would do well to remember this as they carelessly and carnally complain about, ignore, or despise the civil authorities in their nations. This is not the same as saying that parents, pastors, and governments are infallible. Nevertheless, our underlying attitude toward them reveals something about our attitude to authority in general and—by virtue of the particular relation that underpins them—our attitude to God’s authority in particular. Raise the fist against whom or what God sends, and you are raising the fist against God Himself.

With specific regard to governments and rulers, it is because our allegiance is ultimately to God and to His Christ that we submit to the authorities He has called into being and into whose hands He has put a measure of responsibility. This recognition conditions even the manner in which we express our ultimate allegiance when there is a conflict between our obedience to God and our submission to God’s appointed authorities. Who can submit even while he disobeys without wisdom and grace from God? The examples of Daniel and his friends and later of the apostles and the early church demonstrate what this can and should look and sound like.

The fact that God has put these authorities in place governs how we should think about, speak of and to, and act toward civil magistrates. Often it will show itself in smaller things: in our driving habits, in our tax returns, in our patience with what seems like so much nonsensical bureaucracy. The fifth commandment has penetrating implications that must be embraced. We are to uphold and respect God’s authorities.

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 6 July 2015 at 07:21

Posted in General

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