The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

The inimitable Mr Delves

with 3 comments

Some weeks ago I had the opportunity to preach at the Annual General Meeting of the Stanley Delves Trust at Forest Fold Baptist Church in Crowborough. I had the opportunity to speak with several of the trustees, men who had known Mr Delves in his pomp (if that is not an utterly inappropriate word for that humble man of God). I know a few other people who remember him, and all of them speak of him with genuine affection and esteem. I was particularly struck by the high regard that the men in Crowborough had for him, and the sense of obligation they felt in the discharge of their duty. When I got into the pulpit to preach it was with a similar sense of obligation, not just to the Lord but to the memory of a faithful man who preached the gospel.

With this in mind, I was keen to track down Peter Rowell’s biography, Preaching Peace: The Life of Stanley Delves of Crowborough, Sussex, which I then read while on holiday recently. It is a well-written biography, showing genuine and intelligent appreciation without being blind to the man’s idiosyncrasies and foibles, and recognising sin, weakness, and struggle. There was much to enjoy and learn from; here are just a few snippets that I noted as I went along.

Ministerial advice

“Young man,” he [the older minister] said [to Stanley Delves], “I would like a word with you. Expecting some grave advice about the maintenance of proper doctrine and proper church order, he heard these astonishing words – “Young man, if you can manage the heating, the ventilation, and the singing to everyone’s satisfaction, you will do very well.” (41-42)

Then a memory from his daughter, Christine:

Looking back on our early family life, I can remember Monday as being usually a day of unrelieved gloom. I can see now that Father was obviously physically exhausted by the effort of preaching three times the previous day and emotionally drained by the strain involved. It was also usually visiting day which added further darkness to Father’s spirit; partly because he did not accomplish as much as he felt he should, partly because he did not feel he did it as well as he should, and partly because he came back like a sponge, having absorbed all the troubles and sorrows and criticisms. The last were particularly tortuous to his spirit – he could not think why so many illnesses were caused by chapel temperatures, too hot, too cold, too draughty, not enough ventilation; why the speed of the singing or other real or imagined mismanagements were so much more important than the content of the sermon, and the faith he so longed to see mixing with it in his hearer’s hearts. (108)

I think many preachers would testify that the apparently mundane matters of church management test the mettle more than almost anything else, reveal more stubbornness and pettiness than many significant things, and have the capacity to cause more grief and distraction to a pastor than can be imagined. I heard of a church that eventually split, the root cause of the problem – the initial flashpoint, if you will – being the colour of the curtains in the main meeting place. How many ministers are worn down by guerrilla warfare on these matters – carking complaints and petty snipings and deliberate resistance – cannot be calculated.

A quote from John Berridge

Study not to be a fine preacher, Jerichos are blown down with ram’s horns. Look simply unto Jesus for preaching food, and what is wanted will be given, and what is given will be blessed, whether it be a barley grain or a wheaten loaf, a crust or a crumb. Your mouth will be a fountain sealed or a flowing stream according as your heart is. Avoid all controversy in preaching or writing or talking, preach nothing down but the devil, and nothing up but Jesus Christ. (95-96)

How is the preacher’s heart? His mouth will be the register of his soul. And what is the burden his ministry? He should set out to preach up Christ.

 On unction

What of unction? It is the indefinable in preaching which makes it preaching.

It makes the preaching sharp to those who need sharpness, it distils as the dew to those who need to be refreshed.

This unction comes to the preacher not in the study but in the closet. It is Heaven’s distillation in answer to prayer.

How and whence comes this unction? Direct from God in answer to prayer. Praying hearts are the only hearts filled with this holy oil; praying lips only are anointed with the divine unction.

Prayer, much prayer, is the price of preaching unction. Prayer, much prayer, is the one sole condition of keeping this unction. (96)

And yet how hard it is to pray, and how easy to find other things to do! How little is this vital duty and holy privilege pursued.

On steadfastness in the church

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable.” This is always suitable, but when pillars are removed from the Church of God, I mean from any particular and individual church, when any who have stood firm and stedfast are taken home, all the more need that those who remain should seek to be more stedfast because of the loss of a pillar from the Church of God. For if one pillar after another is removed and there is not stedfastness in those that remain, what is going to happen? The house will fall! and it is as likely to fall if it is a large house as a small one. What is so necessary is stedfastness. Twenty members, in a church, who are stedfast and unmoveable, secure that church by the grace of God more than forty who are unstable. (116)

Quality over quantity is the rule here.

On the pressure of preaching

From a daughter:

In the main he seemed to me to be more at ease when preaching away from Forest Fold; and certainly Sunday mornings at home, prior to the service, were times of great tension. Irritation with small matters was an obvious sequel to this strain. That he would appear within so short a time in the pulpit looking relaxed and confident was a weekly demonstration of a power quite beyond any human ability. (122)

Certainly many preachers find the tension of being about to preach almost unbearable, even to the point of physical sickness. The spiritual and emotional turmoil and the associated agitation and irritability are no small matters, for they can unfit a man for his work in the very preparation for it. Do you pray that your minister may be kept from sinning especially as his body and soul begin to stir in preparation for preaching? Christ’s purity is a potent rebuke to sinful outbursts at such times:

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness;
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee,
That we may dwell in perfect unity.

On the weakness of the church

The subject of the second coming of Christ seemed to fill his mind frequently as he drew near to death. A ministerial friend once asked him what he felt was the cause of the present decline in our churches and to his surprise the reply was, “The almost total lack of teaching about the second coming of Christ.” (130)

Strange how so much error abounds in this regard today, how much confusion and weirdness exists concerning the return of the Lord. Very often, and strangely, the response is to avoid the issue altogether, and yet to consider the second coming of the Lord Jesus is a powerful stimulant to lively faith and a holy life.

On dying well

Concerning the approach of death:

During his long life there had been times of great agitation of mind and spirit and especially during periods of weakness and pain, but now there seemed to be a deepening calm and repose. To one of his members he said, “Brother, I am dying but all is well. I have no fears, everything I preached, every truth and doctrine has been sorely tried but not now. I rest on Jesus. The things I have preached, I can not only live by but die on.” (132)

A question for preachers: do we preach what we can not only live by but die on? Nothing else will do, either for us or for those to whom we preach.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 4 August 2011 at 12:50

3 Responses

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  1. What does the Delves Trust do?

    Jonathan Hunt

    Thursday 4 August 2011 at 14:40

    • According to the book, the jubilee fund “was legally established as the Stanley Delves Trust and still continues, with funds being invested and the proceeds used to assist cases of need such as the Pastor would have approved” (80). From what the trustees said to me, that is still very much the case. The trust funds are used for Christians in need, which needs are assessed by the trustees in keeping with the character and convictions of Mr Delves.

      Jeremy Walker

      Thursday 4 August 2011 at 15:09

  2. I appreciated your review and how you put it together. It moves the heart especially as you see the real man. Thanks


    Tuesday 16 August 2011 at 05:08

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