The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

“My day is drawing to an end”

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Written after spending time talking with a saint who is nearly home.

UPDATE: I wrote this after making my visit on Tuesday 30 June 2020. It reflects some of what we spoke about, but I never read these words to her. The lady with whom I spoke went to be with Christ on the evening of Wednesday 01 July 2020. It makes these truths all the sweeter. She knows most of this now by experience, and is awaiting the dawn.

Belmont  C.M.

My day is drawing to an end,
The light of life grows dim;
My thoughts to Christ all sweetly tend,
For soon I’ll be with him.

I must put off this feeble tent,
But death itself defy;
My soul released, I’ll make ascent
To be with Christ on high.

The sufferings of this present time
Soon swallowed up in love;
Out of this pain and darkness climb—
Glory to come above!

My soul with him in perfect joy
Will wait the coming morn;
I know that nothing can destroy
The hope of that new dawn.

In Christ most happy and most blessed,
A body new I’ll take;
And all be peace, delight and rest
When in his form I wake.

And much that I have known below
Shall quickly fade away,
But life in Christ I’ll ever know,
In God’s eternal day.

©JRW

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See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 30 June 2020 at 13:18

Luther walks the line

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I know the world and his wife have already shared this, but I so appreciate the calm confidence of Luther here, as—amidst the bubonic plague—he walks the happy path of faith, far from either folly or fear:

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See! This is such a God-fearing faith; it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

The whole letter is here, with the quote at the bottom of page six.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 19 March 2020 at 07:45

Posted in General

Christian compassion

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Many readers might have seen the excellent ‘viral help’ leaflets circulating online, offering assistance to people who may be seriously disadvantaged by isolation or other effects of the virus. I also saw an excellent church leaflet by a friend in Northern Ireland which covered much the same territory. I wanted something fairly cheap and adaptable, something believers in various places could use.

I have therefore circulated the sheets below to the members of the church I serve, and I am posting them here in case they prove useful to others.

Here is the basic set up, an A6 card (with link to A6 pdf below) with space for personal and church details and offers of particular help, including copies of the Scriptures and contact with a local pastor. The versions I have created include our full church details and some relevant Bible texts on the back of each card, ready for double-sided printing.

Coronavirus help frontCoronavirus help front

Here is the full front sheet (with link to A4 pdf below), set up to print and cut ready for distribution. Again, the complete version has a second sheet with those church details lined up for double-sided printing.

Coronavirus help sheet frontCoronavirus help sheet front

Feel free to take these, use or adapt them as you see fit, and may the Lord use the trials of these days to open many ears and hearts to the good news of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 March 2020 at 22:50

Posted in General

Sanctifying God’s name at the Lord’s supper

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What is going on when a believer comes to the Lord’s table? What should be gripping your heart – your thinking, feeling and willing – when you come to the Supper? According to Jeremiah Burroughs, in his book on Gospel Worship, it is imperative that we come to the table with understanding. Burroughs says:

I must know what I do when I come to receive this holy sacrament; knowledge applied to the work that I am about; when some of you have come to receive this sacrament, if God should have spoken from heaven and have said thus to you, what are you doing now, what do you go for, what account had you been able to have given unto him, you must understand what you do when you come thither. (244)

So, what might your answer be? Here is Burroughs’ quite magnificent answer, given – I suspect – not to be parroted without understanding, but used as a model for the kind of thoughtful engagement by which we sanctify God’s name in coming to the Lord’s table:

First you must be able to give this account to God, Lord, I am now going to have represented to me in a visible and sensible way the greatest mysteries of godliness, those great and deep counsels of thy will concerning my eternal estate, those great things that the angels desire to pry into, that shall be the matter of eternal praises of angels and saints in the highest heavens, that they may be set before my view; Lord, when I have come to thy word, I have had in mine ears sounding the great mysteries of godliness, the great things of the covenant of grace, and now I go to see them represented before mine eyes in that ordinance of thine that thou hast appointed.

Yea Lord, I am now going to receive the seals of the blessed covenant of thine, the second covenant, the new covenant, the seals of the testimony and will of thine; I am going to have confirmed to my soul thine everlasting love in Jesus Christ.

“Yea Lord, I am going to that ordinance wherein I expect to have communion with thyself, and the communication of thy chief mercies to my soul in Jesus Christ.

I am going to feast with thee, to feed upon the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Yea I am now going to set to the seal of the covenant on my part, to renew my covenant with thee, I am going to have communion with thy saints, to have the bond of communion with all thy people to be confirmed to me, that there might be a stronger bond of union and love between me and thy saints then ever; these are the ends that I go for, this is the work that I am now going about, thus you must come in understanding; you must come with understanding, you must know what you are going about; this is that which the Apostle speaks of, when he speaks of the discerning the Lord’s body; he rebukes the Corinthians for their sin, and shows them that they were guilty of the body and blood of Christ, because they did not discern the Lord’s body, they looked only upon the outward elements, but did not discern what there was of Christ there, they did not understand the institution of Christ; they did not see how Christ was under those elements, both represented, and exhibited unto them, that’s the first thing, there must be knowledge and understanding. (244-45)

When you come next to the communion service, you might consider the question: “What are you doing now, what do you go for?” You are not required to be able to give Burroughs’ answer in its entirety, but it would be good to consider how we, too, need to come with understanding, that we might not only benefit ourselves but also, and especially, sanctify the name of God in our worship.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Sunday 3 November 2019 at 09:30

Selfies at Niagara

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IMG_3917There are some things that I could simply stand and stare at for hours. A natural fire. A storm-tossed sky. A coursing stream. Niagara Falls would drop into the category. It is an instantly and constantly fascinating sight, a stable flow of endless variety, an infinitely interesting glory of God.

I had the opportunity to be there again recently, watching from the Canadian side where you get the most immediate views of the falls. I love the great tumble of rocks at the foot of the American falls that churns the waters as it falls. I love the power of the water that pours over and the swirl of the cloud that boils up from the Canadian falls. Give me a little space and a little peace, and I could gaze endlessly.

As I strolled among the tourists, I was struck by the number of people who were not actually looking at this wonder of creation. Of course, the vast majority were looking at it largely through a screen. What struck me particularly, though, were the number of people who were not looking at it at all. In some spots, about a third of the crowd had their backs to the water. With arms or sticks extended, they were trying to angle their bodies so as to get themselves front and centre in a photo or video of themselves with Niagara in the background. I will barely mention the gentleman who was standing on the path with a high end camera concentrating on a series of shots of … the Marriott hotel blocks towering alongside the river!

I know many love to complain at the way we view the wonders of this world through a lens or a screen. But this was something else. Given the opportunity to drink in something of the majesty of the Creator’s work, the concern of so many was to get themselves into the picture. As one friend asked, “Exactly how do they think that their face is going to make that picture better?”

We do much the same with the Creator himself. For most, he is not to be personally adored, but the imposing subject of a passing snapshot rather than the enduring object of deep engagement. For far too many, even Christians, our ideas of dealing with God are like the person at Niagara with the camera in hand, or attached to the end of that glowing wand of Narcissus. We are impressed by God, but he is in the background of a picture of me. We see him in the Bible, but we need to be the central character in the narrative. God is my backdrop. It is our presence in shot that makes him relevant. It is profoundly selfish, blindingly self-centred, genuinely tragic. We have not known him as we should.

There are all the infinite glories of his majesty by which to be entranced. There is the heaven-praised splendour of his glory instantly and constantly passing before us. There is an unchanging flow of endless depth, the infinitely interesting glory of God. And we, even if not taking pictures of the hotels, so often have our backs to God, angling to get ourselves front and centre.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 14 October 2017 at 11:04

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Family Conference 2017 in Louisville

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For those who are or can get within striking distance of Louisville this summer, you might be interested in the Reformed Baptist Family Conference 2017. It is hosted on the campus of Southern Seminary and runs from Tuesday 4th through Friday 7th July. There are a good number registered, with a few weeks still to go until the general registration deadline of 26th May. In addition, there are at time of writing still rooms remaining at the Legacy Hotel on the SBTS campus.

There will be preaching and teaching from Savastio, Hueni, Grevious, Hughes and Walker. If that doesn’t put you off, and you have an appetite for some sweet fellowship with God’s people, resting and being refreshed, please have a look at their website for more information.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 5 May 2017 at 08:43

Posted in General

Perkins the Magnificent

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Actually, that’s not what they called him, but it should not stop you learning more about him. On the evening of Friday 19th May, and then for most of the day on Saturday 20th May, there is a William Perkins Conference taking place at the Round Church in Cambridge. The lecturers are Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, Geoff Thomas, Stephen Yuille, and Greg Salazar. It is open to all and free of charge. If you are within striking distance, it should be worth your while.

william-perkins-conference

 

 

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 22 February 2017 at 07:45

Posted in General

Keeping our commitment

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[A note before reading: concerning the timing of this posting, we had a delightful turnout out of members, regulars and visitors yesterday.]

It is Friday. You are going to the doctor for an inoculation, and you turn up for your appointed meeting, and the receptionist informs you that, “Sorry, but I am afraid that the doctor was a little bit tired today, and wasn’t able to come in. End of a long week, you know.”

You head on to the dentist, as scheduled (it has been that kind of week), only to find a sign on the door: “Due to a bit of a cold, the dentist is not fulfilling her appointments.”

Undeterred, on Saturday you move on to a child’s weekly sporting event, only to have the news filter round the assembled parents that the coach came to the conclusion that he had a few other things he felt were pressing, and so dropped out at the last minute.

Not to worry, at least there’s the birthday party this afternoon. Except that the hosts have suddenly decided that they wanted a bit of family time, and so the party has been unceremoniously cancelled.

Still, at least there’s church on the Lord’s day. The morning is a bit underwhelming, to be honest. But off you trot in the evening, arriving at the building at the appointed hour, only for it to become apparent that the pastor has been a bit overwhelmed this week, didn’t quite get his act together, missed his afternoon nap, and so decided he would rest up a bit in the hope of being a bit more ‘with it’ by next Sunday. After all, he preached to you this morning, so at least he was there once! (In case you think I am joking, I heard only recently from a brother who had booked a visiting preacher for a small church needing encouragement. A couple of days before the preacher was due to be there, he called through, explained that he had had a few struggles with his preparation that week, and as a result he was very disappointed to have to call off his engagement at such short notice. And that was that.)

I imagine, in most–if not each–of those instances, you would be somewhat dischuffed. After all, there’s a tacit agreement if not a more formally implied contract in most of those arrangements. To be sure, maybe the dentist is understating her ailment, and you wouldn’t want someone with streaming waves of mucus mucking around with your mouth. Generally speaking, though, I think you would feel that all of this was a little unreasonable.

And yet, put the shoe on the other foot. You expect the doctor to be there, but you perhaps don’t think very much of cancelling your appointment if you weren’t feeling up to it. After all, the doctor will be there anyway, another day. The dentist you might push for – after all, they’re a bit tricky to book appointments with. That weekly sporting event will have plenty of other kids at it. You know at least three other families who will be at the birthday party, so you won’t exactly be missed. And, church …

Actually, how would you feel if the pastor were missing, or unengaged and listless, or excusing his absence, or just had not got his act together, as are many church members all too often?

Perhaps you know the joke about the son complaining to his mother about school attendance:

“Son, it’s time to get up. You are going to be late!” calls the mother.

“But I don’t wanna go to school today, mum!” replies the son.

“You don’t have a choice.”

“But none of the kids like me!”

“You know that’s not true. Some of them think you’re great!”

“All the teachers hate me!”

“The teachers don’t hate you – they’re just trying to do their job!”

“But I don’t WANNA go!”

“You have to go,” says the mother with final firmness. “You’re the headmaster!”

Isn’t the whole joke meant to be that, as the headmaster, you wouldn’t expect him to be anywhere else? The excuses that he might have used were he a pupil–flimsy as they are in the themselves–clearly hold no water for the headmaster. In fact, the flimsiness of the excuses is revealed by the relationship of the person to the institution or obligation.

But surely the same goes with regard to the church. You would, I imagine, be mortified to turn up at a church service only to find that the preacher has cried off for the same reasons, or kinds of reasons, as so many in the congregation have decided that this morning or this evening they are not going to make it.

I understand that the pastor has a particular responsibility. I understand that there’s only one of him preaching, and plenty of others hearing. But I fear that the burden of responsibility, the flow of commitment, often seems to exist only in one direction. The preacher ought to be there. After all, that’s his job. But me? I can pretty much take it or leave it, depending on my circumstances.

Really? Are you not part of the body? Are you not a living stone in that divinely-indwelt temple? Are you not covenanted together with those fellow saints to minister to them and to be ministered to by them? Are you not persuaded that in this service heaven will draw near to earth, that the Lord will speak, more or less powerfully, through the preaching of the Word? That you will genuinely and really render prayers and praises to the Most High God in your participation in the whole service? That heavenly manna will be there for you to eat? That this might be the morning or the evening when you might obtain an unusual blessing, or your friend, or your child, or your neighbour, attending with you, might be converted? That, if nothing else, you have said, more or less formally, that you will not forsake the assembling together of those saints to whom you have made a commitment to love them and to be loved by them?

Oh, sorry, I forgot. You had a cold! You had a long week! Really?

I do not think any one of us would deny that there are, at times, providential hindrances to our attendance upon the means of grace. I have been in a hospital with one of my children on a Sunday evening because of an emergency, knowing that another brother was primed to preach. My wife has had to stay home to care for one or more sick children, and to try to prevent the current plague from sweeping through the unsuspecting congregation. I have had to cancel a Sunday preaching engagement late on a Saturday night because my wife went into labour early. Someone might drive into my car on the way to church. The roads might be closed because of a flood, with no alternative way around. I might myself be struck down with an illness that I cannot overcome. But these are providential hindrances, not casual excuses. They are obstacles I simply cannot overcome, barriers that are genuinely insurmountable at that moment, factors for which I cannot have planned which prevent me, despite my best efforts, from being where I have promised to be, doing what I have promised to do. I made a commitment. So did you.

When you go to the church building on Sunday, to gather with God’s people, you will all be expecting the pastor-preacher to be there, unless providentially hindered. He has arranged his week around being present, willing and able, by God’s grace, to invest in those hours of worship. He is expecting you to be there. You ought to be expecting one another to be there. It ought to be an oddity for you to be absent. If you are a healthy Christian, your brothers and sisters should be entitled to wonder what might be wrong that you are not in your appointed place. Expect a phone call to see whether or not you are OK. After all, you’re so rarely missing.

Dear Christian friend, your pastor–or one of them (or whoever else may be preaching)–is even now labouring over his preparation. He is prayerfully, even tearfully, wrestling with his text and with his God. He is weary in body and soul as he seeks to manage all his commitments, many of them as unseen and unknown as yours are. He too is probably juggling his family life and his work responsibilities in an attempt to do all that he is committed to do. He has you in mind. Your face, your life, is before him as he sweats away in the study. He is considering his explanations and crafting his applications for you, your family, and the others whom he hopes and expects will be there morning and evening on the Lord’s day. And he will, one way or another, spring or drag himself into the pulpit on that day in order to minister God’s word to your soul. The blessing of God for you is in a measure tied, by God’s decree, to his labours. He is part of the body. In that context, he has a particular duty as a mouth. He has to be there to speak. You are part of the body. In that context, you have a particular role as an ear. You ought to be there to hear.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 19 December 2016 at 15:44

Posted in General

“Grace Alone” – a Sicilian report

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People gathered from all over Sicily, Italy, and beyond for the opening of the new church premises of Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica “Sola Grazia” in Caltanissetta, in the heart of Sicily. The building itself is beautiful, though it remains – in some of its details – a work in progress. Every major part of the whole is intended to communicate something of the truth of the church and its biblical convictions.

You enter the building as you reach the seventh step – hints of a Sabbath rest. The visitor walks through four ‘Gospel’ pillars into an octagonal meeting room, reminding us that the Lord Jesus met with his people on the day of resurrection, and eight days afterward. You come in from the west, leaving the darkness behind you. On the eastern side of the church, the pulpit is the focal point, and there the light of God’s Word is shining. Behind the pulpit are two windows, suggesting the Old and the New Testaments. Opposite the pulpit are three windows in front of one window. The light shining through the one also beams through the three, giving at least an inkling of the God whom we worship. On each side of the main hall are a further twelve windows, a nod to the patriarchs and the apostles reminding us of the church of all the ages, and the great cloud of witnesses about the church militant. All the light coming in shines from above. Simple decor and wise use of space indicate that the light of nature has also taught the people one or two things.

The grand opening began on the evening of Friday 2nd December 2016. The particular focus of this night was the immediate community, a good number of whom were represented in the crowd who filled the building, along with several local dignitaries. The first act of the evening was to go back outside for the unveiling of the stone plaque bearing the church’s name and the five key Reformation solas. Underneath, a bronze plate records thanks to the God of all grace, and to his people – known to himself – whose generosity has contributed to the erection of the building. Pastor Reno Ulfo spoke simply as the green cloth dropped from the plaque, and we all filed back inside.

The strains of “Amazing Grace” in Italian filled the building before Pastor Leonardo de Chirico (Chiesa Evangelica Breccia di Roma) opened proceedings. He spoke briefly and pungently of the purpose of the church, addressing the local authorities plainly, and broadening his gospel applications to all those gathered. It was both instruction in and an example of the priorities of the people of God. The local mayor responded, followed by one of his predecessors. Both spoke as politicians, but I thought that in both a note of personal respect and some interest could be detected. Certainly, this opens up a door of opportunity for the church. The fact that the building has been constructed without draining local civil funds – unusual for this part of the world – is a testimony in itself. Already this is established as a congregation that gives more than it takes.

Professor Bolognesi of Padova then briefly outlined the theological implications of the architecture. Pastor Reno went on to identify several people and groups who had made particular contributions to the building project. After this, a video history of the church was shown. Minor technical problems, typical of life in new premises, somewhat curtailed that exercise. I don’t believe anyone was too bothered, though, as it ushered in refreshments. Light and sweet Sicilian snacks paved the way for the heavy stuff – rice balls and varieties of pizza providing enough carbohydrates for the most demanding athletes, and with enough leftovers to keep many small armies on their feet for a week or two. One is tempted to suggest that a good twelve baskets of hefty fragments could have been gathered.

Notable on this first evening and over the whole weekend – and highlighted in Pastor Reno’s thanksgiving – was the investment of the whole church, both local and beyond. The tireless and generous contributions of God’s people were evident even before attention was drawn to them. The fruits of the work were often more evident than the workers themselves, but it was clear how much had been given by so many, in terms of time, energy, and expertise. The living stones have not been neglected for the sake of the concrete blocks. Particularly moving was Pastor Ulfo’s brief tribute to his family. Few will appreciate that, for all the pastor’s sacrifices, those made by his wife and children can often be greater. In some measure, they sacrifice him as well as for him and for the Lord. Giovanna Ulfo and the children deserve credit for the work that Reno Ulfo does, and it was good to see that publicly recorded. We pray that the fruit of Reno’s gospel labours might shine as brightly in his family as it does anywhere else.

As the night wound down, we drifted back to our various rooms and guesthouses. The Saturday began fairly slowly. The overseas preachers gathered again: Pastor Alan Dunn (Grace Covenant Baptist Church, Flemington, New Jersey, who was travelling with his wife, Patricia), Pastor Gordon Cook (Grace Baptist Church, Canton, Michigan), and myself. We met with a number of the key men at Caltanissetta, including all those involved in various church planting endeavours. We also chatted with our translator, Damion Wallace, to prepare for the next couple of days’ work. After the usual generous hospitality, we went back to our lodgings and prepared for the evening.

As we gathered, we discovered that some of our preparations had been less helpful than others. Damion was losing his voice. Alan Dunn had adopted a non-traditional way of arresting an unpremeditated act of violent genuflection he had undertaken in Reno’s home, viz. bringing his forehead into vigorous contact with a very hard object. Butterfly stitches and plasters had somewhat repaired the damage. Add in Gordon Cook’s travails in travel, and our fighting capacity was sliding badly. We forged ahead.

The focus of the ministry that night turned to the broader church, represented among us by various believers from around the island and further afield. With that in mind, we began to address the solas of the Reformation. I began with sola Scriptura, followed by Gordon Cook on solus Christus and Leonardo de Chirico on sola fide, before Alan Dunn closed the evening dealing with sola gratia. All the ministry seemed warmly appreciated, and fellowship over further piles of food was very profitable. There was clearly much intelligent and heartfelt engagement with the truth, and several men and women spoke thoughtfully and earnestly about what they were hearing.

The Lord’s day started early, and added to our catalogue of outward woes. Reno’s voice started to get croaky, and I had a blithe journey with a man who was late even before he casually announced that he did not know the way to the church building.

Despite all this, we started at a reasonable time. I completed the series on the solas with a study of soli Deo gloria. A brother called Jose was stepping in to assist with the translation, and did a cracking job. This day we were speaking more to the local church, and so I tried to make this a particular emphasis. From there we moved straight into the formal dedication of the building to the worship of the true and living God, and Pastor Reno preached the Word of God, giving us a wonderful survey of the concept of God’s temple throughout the Scriptures. He ensured we got and kept our eyes fixed on God’s presence among his people, rather than mere buildings. God also strengthened Damion’s voice and restored him to his duties, further assisted by Jose and Giovanni Marino, one of the faithful and gifted deacons in Caltanissetta. Several brothers – local pastors – stood and pleaded earnestly with God for a blessing on the church and its work in the new premises. Gordon Cook represented the visitors in this season of intercession.

Lunch followed before we turned, for the balance of the day, to the doctrines of grace. I opened on the depravity of fallen man, and was able to finish before the effects of our latest abundant feeding were too well-advanced. Pastor Dunn followed with redemptive-historical studies on the election of God and the redemption that Christ accomplished. The weight of these sessions was, for me, relieved by a delightful older lady doubtless using headphones for the first time. This meant that she regularly bellowed at her husband at a volume which ensured that she could hear her own voice. She also cackled loudly at anything humorous about fifteen seconds after it was spoken, as the translation caught up.

Given Reno’s other duties and to preserve his voice, I had the unexpected opportunity to address the irresistible grace of the Spirit’s work in the heart. By this stage, the folks were flagging, and several had been obliged to leave, so I kept it to about thirty minutes. Pastor Cook finished the public ministry by highlighting the perseverance and preservation of the saints, admirably demonstrated on one level by the fact that most of them were still listening to us after three days of intense teaching and preaching. Gordon’s focus on the double grip of divine power and love from John 10 was a fitting end. As Pastor Ulfo said, “dulcis in fundo” – “the sweet stuff is at the bottom.”

There seems little doubt that God’s strength was made perfect in our weakness on this occasion. Weariness, illness and injury in us was outmatched by grace and goodness in him and in the patience and earnestness of those hearing.

Monday morning saw Reno and I have a brief opportunity to explain the gospel to a couple of people at my lodging house. Attempts at trilingual (English, Italian, French) evangelising leave me half-wishing that the gift of tongues remained extant. Would it not be wonderful if these brief contacts bore gospel fruit?

We drifted toward Catania for Pastor Cook’s last preaching engagement and my flight home. Along the way, we stopped at a city set on a hill, Calascibetta. Unfortunately, far from being an enlightened and enlightening place, it was wrapped in fog and sunk in spiritual darkness. A visit to the Roman Catholic church building confirmed the vacuity of the question driving one hundred conferences in the next year: Is the Reformation over? That so much genuine spiritual ugliness could be communicated in a place of undeniable architectural beauty answered that question, for these falsehoods if not for many more. Flagrant Mariolatry vied for the laurel of ungodliness with statues of the church ‘patron’, Peter, decked out in all the regalia and symbolic power of the pope. From the position of the building to the message of the decor to the arrogance of the priest (it became clear as we spoke that he was an old-school Catholic and personally godless), it all shouts a message of carnal dominion that Islam itself can only rival.

Walking back down the damp streets, we paused at the prison from which a man called Francesco Giovanni Porcaro was taken by the Spanish Inquisition to his death by burning. His crimes? Denying Christ in the sacrament, indulgences, and the pope, as well as propagating the doctrines of Luther and other errors, and continuing in the above with all obstinacy. It is good to know that the light once shone in this now-gloomy city. We should pray that it would prove true once more – post tenebras, lux! Reno’s promise that there would be open-air gospel preaching on this spot in the coming year was some consolation that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ would again beam forth. But who knows what price this and coming generations must pay for such faithfulness?

Sobered, we entered Catania and found some food at Fud, a delightful restaurant where options included horse and donkey. I opted for a more than bearable and not too risky buffalo, joined by Reno. Patricia Dunn, afflicted throughout the weekend by the presence of all the men, and having worked like a Trojan alongside the friends at Sola Grazia, opted for a ladylike salad. Alan had something fittingly but reliably cheesy, and Gordon got himself outside of a sandwich that may have involved a fairly safe chicken.

Our conversation over lunch centred on the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the churches we love and serve. As ever, hard questions rarely produce easy answers. Still, they are better than empty questions carelessly shrugged off.

It was with joy and sorrow that we arrived at the airport. It had been sweet fellowship in Christ and his service, and there was more work for us all to do already looming. With mutually renewed promises of communication and prayer, information to exchange and promises to keep, I strolled through security. They drove off into the sunset, and I flew off into the darkness.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 12 December 2016 at 14:38

Chrysostom on the gospel

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Here is John Chrysostom’s golden-tongued definition of the gospel:

The gospel comprehends, a discharge from punishment; a remission of sins; the gift of righteousness; the endowment of sanctification; redemption from every evil; the adoption of sons; the inheritance of heaven; and a most endeared, a conjugal relation to the infinitely majestic Son of God. All these divinely precious privileges preached, presented, vouchsafed, to the foolish, to the disobedient, to enemies.

Good news indeed!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 9 December 2016 at 13:02

Posted in General

Rutherford’s regrets

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In a letter to John Fleming, Bailie of Leith, Samuel Rutherford lists a number of concerns about his attitudes and actions:

I have been much challenged,

1. For not referring all to God, as the last end:that I do not eat, drink, sleep, journey, speak and think for God.

2. That I have not benefited by good company; and that I left not some word of conviction, even upon natural and wicked men, as by reproving swearing in them; or because of being a silent witness to their loose carriage; and because I intended not in all companies to do good.

3. That the woes and calamities of the kirk, and particular professors, have not moved me.

4. That in reading the life of David, Paul, and the like, when it humbled me, I, coming so far short of their holiness, laboured not to imitate them, afar off at least, according to the measure of God’s grace.

5. That unrepented sins of youth were not looked to and lamented for.

6. That sudden stirrings of pride, lust, revenge, love of honours, were not resisted and mourned for

7. That my charity was cold.

8. That the experience I had of God’s hearing me,in this and the other particular, being gathered, yet in a new trouble I had always (once at least) my faith to seek, as if I were to begin at A, B, C, again.

9. That I have not more boldly contradicted the enemies speaking against the truth, either in public church-meetings, or at tables, or ordinary conference.

10. That in great troubles, I have received false reports of Christ’s love, and misbelieved Him in His chastening; whereas the event hath said that all was in mercy.

11. Nothing more moveth me, and burdeneth my soul, than that I could never, in my prosperity, so wrestle in prayer with God, nor be so dead to the world, so hungry and sick of love for Christ, so heavenly-minded, as when ten stoneweight of a heavy cross was upon me.

12. That the cross extorted vows of new obedience, which ease hath blown away, as chaff before the wind.

13. That practice was so short and narrow, and light so long and broad.

14. That death hath not been often meditated upon.

15. That I have not been careful of gaining others to Christ.

16. That my grace and gifts bring forth little or no thankfulness.

It is a shame that we ourselves are not more sensitive to our sins and shortcomings.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 21 November 2016 at 15:55

Posted in Christian living, General

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Review: “1966 And All That”

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1966 And All That: An Evangelical Journey
Basil Howlett
Evangelical Press via 10ofthose, 2016, 128pp., paperback, £6.99
ISBN 978-1783971275

1966-and-all-that-howlettTo be honest, I was not quite sure what to expect from this book. I wondered if it would be a sort of rambling reminiscence or a series of strident assertions from a heavily fortified redoubt. I was pleasantly, even delightfully, surprised.

The book is, unashamedly, a personal history and contains much in that vein. But it is not a series of anecdotes, either limned in the halo glow of past glories or shadowed with defeatist gloom. It begins with what comes across as a thoroughly honest and painful testimony about what it was like to be converted and to serve in doctrinally mixed denominations in which gospel distinctiveness and Christ-centred preaching and living were at a premium. This was an era in which you might hear the gospel rarely, because a church had accidentally invited someone to preach who believed the Bible, and who – once the fearful fact was discovered – would never again darken that building’s doors.

The author goes on to describe what felt like a second conversion when, training in a liberal theological college, he heard a certain Welshman preach … really preach, and preach truth … real truth. He describes the early years of life in a Baptist Union church, battling with unconverted members and labouring with confused Christians. I have heard some of these horror stories from others. Here is a further brief catalogue. Under such circumstances, men of God would gather eagerly in London from month to month, to enjoy fellowship at Westminster Chapel with likeminded brothers, and to enjoy the wisdom and engage with the opinions of one of the few senior leaders they knew and trusted, Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Such history gives way to the most theologically oriented section of the book, an assessment of the arguments of evangelicals in various mixed denominations (not just the Anglicans, it must be remembered, but among various free church associations and denominations as well) to remain ‘in it to win it’. All this leads up to the night of Tuesday 18th October, 1966. There Lloyd-Jones did what he was invited to do: he delivered, as a sermon, his opinion on the question of true church unity, calling evangelicals to come out of their compromised bodies. Infamously, the chairman – John Stott – took it upon himself to respond in the negative.

We tend to view the outcomes of that night in terms of macro-ecclesiology. Howlett gives us a window into the micro-ecclesiology. He and the church he served were evicted from their building by the Baptist Union; he and his family were evicted from their home by the same group. As all the latent conviction of the preceding years precipitated the exit from many denominations of godly men, so all the latent animosity of the preceding years against biblical conviction and action seemed to be released against them. Refreshingly, the author names names, allowing us to see just what was going on, and with whom, and why. It is neither gossipy nor vindictive, but it is plain and sometimes painful.

We also then see the smile of God. We hear of churches blessed as they continued down their difficult path, and of opportunities for ministry and service that might otherwise have been denied, as preachers and churches sought to establish themselves upon the truth of God rather than the opinions of men.

In all this, Howlett takes pains to underline that Lloyd-Jones, in many ways both standard-bearer and catalyst for much of this activity, was never the object of mindless hero-worship from a bunch of brainless acolytes. Rather, we see a man who was flawed but faithful, as are all true men of God, one whose wisdom, humility, kindness and firmness were treasured by those who had few other models to which they could look. The whole finishes with a generally positive survey of some of the evangelical institutions and the gospel endeavours in which the historian has participated and still participates, the fruit of the often costly investments of those preceding years.

Most of us, especially those who have (hopefully) matured after the dust had begun to settle on these events, or who pontificate about these things from further afield, have no real idea of the battles fought and the blood, sweat and tears shed by those who have gone before, the sacrifices made by men faithful to their convictions. Perhaps some of those who are even now fighting similar battles for the souls of their own churches will have some insight. But honestly, most younger men probably lack any real awareness of the horrific grip that liberalism had on British churches, just what fiendish froth and filth the Downgrade had eventually spawned.

As the author draws his conclusions, different readers will draw theirs. To those, like some evangelical Anglican brothers, still wrestling in a fatally compromised denomination, Howlett’s proclamations may read like the ‘same old, same old’ criticisms, long since shown to hold no water. To others, Independents for whom the FIEC is less hitting its stride as a denomination and more developing the hallmarks of an anodyne but self-aggrandising octopus, his celebration of such organisations might ring a little hollow.

However, what should become clear to those in the former camp is that Lloyd-Jones’ call was not, in itself, an anti-Anglican statement but a pro-evangelical declaration. Howlett, not merely echoing but sincerely communicating the issues and the points of departure, presses home the same questions upon the conscience of those who remain in doctrinally and practically compromised denominations of all stripes. To those of us in the latter camp, it would do us good to realise what a haven the FIEC might have felt like to those men and women who paid such a high price for their faithfulness and unwillingness to compromise. You might still not agree with what the FIEC is, and you might still be unimpressed with what it seems to be becoming, but you will have greater sympathy for and understanding of those who lived through these years and have invested in it. There are also bigger issues for us all. For too many, questions of soteriology and ecclesiology are seen to have almost no bearing upon one another. Very often the former are elevated and the latter denigrated. The former unite, the latter divide, we are told. But they are more closely linked than most of us consider. The book hints at this, without, in my opinion, pressing it particularly far home. It remains a significant and often overlooked or swept-aside tension as Christians continue to ask questions about cooperation and connection in gospel endeavours.

There have been a number of other contributions to the history of these events in recent years, and especially recent weeks and months. There is value in trying to look back from a greater distance and make cooler assessments. There is also great value in listening carefully to the recollections and experiences of the men who were there, who lived through and fought through battles within and around genuine evangelicalism. Such histories ought to teach us, that we might build upon what we have inherited, consider what remains to be addressed, and resist the same compromise and confusion that once characterised the congregations of our country.

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 21 October 2016 at 10:05

Posted in General

Masculinity and the priority of love

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If you were asked to identify the primary quality which defines a true man of God in his specific relation to a true woman of God – distinctively within the marriage relationship – what one-word answer might you give? What if the opposite question were asked: what single quality ought to characterise a woman of God in relation to her husband in particular?

In pondering the answers to those questions, rest assured that I am not having a sly dig at anyone or seeking to make unreasonable or unfair assumptions. I am on record in The New Calvinism Considered (US and UK) as being what is generally now defined as a complementarian, but also as being uncomfortable with some of the excesses that I have perceived, and those in both directions.

Most germane to the purposes of this post are those excesses in which biblical masculinity is celebrated but potentially or actually exaggerated toward a caricature of (Western?) masculinity – “a sort of hairy, Neanderthal, chest-beating machismo.” This caricature, it seems, is now being used by some to justify not just a strangely exaggerated form of masculinity but a horribly perverted abuse of it.

I wonder if this can be traced in some instances to a fundamental misunderstanding of what true masculinity looks like in relationship to true femininity? As so often, perhaps there is a danger of reactionary theology: a position formed not from the Word of God but from a response – proper in kind but not in degree – to some opposite aberrance. So, for example, think of someone so (rightly) horrified by the suggestion that the Lord Jesus, in some way, was not fully human that he responds in such a way as actually (wrongly) to undermine his divinity. Such is the skewed reaction to the cultural pressure by which many men have become milk-livered geldings that the goal becomes the embodiment of the rutting stallion. Neither is it a matter of finding some kind of middle ground. The aim should not be some anodyne mean, but a biblical fulness.

But what does that look like with regard to male leadership, especially leading to and in marriage? A simple passage like Ephesians 5 helps us here. I will not go into the substructure of male-female relations, grounded in both being made in the image of God, both being fallen in Adam, both able to be redeemed and restored in Christ. In such a relationship there is a genuine correspondence, a profound cleaving, a total commitment and a joint commission. Furthermore, I am persuaded from the Word of God that there are some distinctive roles within that relationship. In Ephesians 5, the apostle sounds two abiding keynotes, one for the woman and for the man. The primary element for the woman of God is submission, and I recognise that that must be carefully and scripturally defined and worked out. Paul, in this passage, then moves on to the keynote for the man. And what is it? If we make a merely reactionary leap (and I fear this is, in essence, what many are doing) we start looking for the counterpoint to submission. The husband is to be marked by … what? Authority? Rule? Headship? Leadership? Some other near-synonym for being in charge that emphasises the difference between the sexes?

No, the distinctive feature of masculinity in this relation to femininity is love. Leadership or headship may be implied, but the focus of the apostle is on the motive and nature of the husband’s relation to his wife. This love is neither physical lust nor romantic delight, and neither one can or will supply a lack of intelligent and principled love.

Let me briefly spell out several things about this love. Note first its character, for it is Christlike. As such, it must be principled, realistic, intelligent , sweet and – ultimately – sacrificial. Its great pattern is Christ’s coming for and dying for his church. This is not a matter of occasional spectacular demonstrations, though it may include them. It is not a notional knight in shining armour who, fortunately for the husband, never actually needs to make an appearance. It is to labour for the good of your wife regardless of the cost to yourself, a daily death of a thousand cuts to male selfishness and laziness.

Secondly, see the quality of this love: it is purposeful. Like Christ’s love to his church, it aims not at a wife’s slavish subjugation, but at her proper liberation. A husband’s love aims to raise his beloved wife to the highest point development and her greatest blessing. He invests in and serves her so as to bring her, by all legitimate means, to the highest pitch of spiritual and moral excellence to which she is able to attain, as defined by God himself. There is a deliberate goal in such love.

Thirdly, consider the anchor of this love: union. Paul grounds this love in the one-flesh union between husband and wife. For the married man, she is one with me. Whatever I would do or have done for my true good and real blessing, by God’s estimation, I should pursue for her. As it would be both unnatural and ungodly to ignore, neglect, despise or injure your own flesh, so – if our love is remotely Christlike – it ought to be recognised as unnatural and ungodly to do the same with regard to our wife.

Finally, observe the activity of such love: it is a nourishing and cherishing affection. Whatever the origin of this language, it is clearly not meant to be demeaning, because it refers both to the way in which a man is expected to be caring for himself, and representative of the way in which Christ cares for his church. The words communicate a profound tenderness and principled care, to develop by nurture and to envelope with affection. Some men show more of this toward their car or their home than they do toward their wife – investing more time, energy and money in a hobby than in their God-given wife. The call is for words backed up by deeds, and deeds adorned with words, just as with Christ.

So, brothers, how do you assess your distinctive relationship toward your wife? What ought to lie at the root of your dispositions and actions toward other women who are not your wife? Do you perceive your relationship toward your spiritual sisters (or, indeed, unconverted women), and especially with regard to (but not merely) your wives, to be characterised primarily by rule – by the robust exercise of the authority which has been so largely abandoned by our generation and culture? If so, you are missing the mark. The characteristic quality of the true man of God is a Christlike love, first and primarily with regard to his own wife, and then to other women in appropriate measure and framed by the parameters of a legitimate relationship. If, to paraphrase the apostle elsewhere, you are getting other things right but have not love, you have failed to follow and to show Christ at this point.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 October 2016 at 18:15

Posted in General

Ministerial magpies

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In the light of recent controversies, I am revisiting this:

The Wanderer

The magpie (at least, the one I have in mind) is a striking European bird of black and white plumage (as Jeeves might say, “The species pica pica of the family corvidae, sir”) – a sort of jazzed up crow, if you will, although I imagine many magpies would be thoroughly offended by the description. An even worse sobriquet attaches to this unfortunate bird: “the thieving magpie,” a reference to its alleged and rather unfortunate habit of flying away with anything shiny that takes its fancy and is not firmly tied down.

It is the sort of heist of which preachers are often accused, a connection all the more unfortunate if you also go in for monochrome livery. But is it a legitimate accusation?

Preachers are easily criticised, and sometimes rightly so, for taking short cuts with preparation. Many years ago a peer sent me a sermon he was…

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2016 at 16:27

Posted in General

Westminster Conference 2016

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Brochure 2016The brochure and booking form for the Westminster Conference 2016 is now available for download. An excellent programme involves Ken Brownell, Peter Beale, James Mildred, Ian Hamilton, Geoff Thomas, and Iain Murray speaking about the life and labours of Luther, the doctrine of repentance, the impassibility of God, the recent history of British Evangelicalism, and J. C. Ryle.

It is due to take place on Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th December this year in central London.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 7 July 2016 at 18:23

Posted in General

And now …

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That was interesting.

After all the argument, debate, discussion, bombast, hubris, scaremongering and threatening of recent months, some of it – it must be said – rhetoric of the highest order, Britain woke this morning to the news that we are almost certainly leaving the EU in the next couple of years. I say “almost certainly” because the timeframe is uncertain, and because we should probably be careful before we make absolute statements in such things. Apparently it was so important that even Lindsay Lohan was getting stuck in. At one point, it seems, she thanked Fife. I kid you not. This, it seems, warrants a fairly significant note in the BBC’s news coverage. Such is the world we live in.

But, regardless of such minor meddling, the deal seems to be done. Geographically, Britain is in  Europe. Politically, it is on its way out. Philosophically, sociologically, culturally? Harder to say. It is too easy to look at the Leave/Remain map of the country this morning and to start making simplistic, rash and unfounded judgments, the kind that begin, “Well, it’s obvious that they would have voted to …” At the same time, the map is fascinating. Scotland, without exception, has voted to Remain. Wales, with the exception of a couple of westerly counties and more urban areas to the south, wanted to Leave. Northern Ireland was pulling toward Europe. London is overwhelmingly In. Most of the rest of the country, pretty firmly Out. My county was In. My town was Out. And now, indeed, we shake it all about.

Because if all that was interesting, what happens next is fascinating. I confess that one thing that I struggled to work out was the motives that people, especially some of the movers and shakers, had in their voting. It was fascinating, both politically and theologically, to listen to the voices. It was sometimes amusing, as men and women cut about them with two-edged swords, sometimes attacking arguments on this vote that they had stridently defended with precisely the same blade on other matters. So, what was driving us? Was it fear? Greed? Hatred? Anger? Pity? Sympathy? Pride? Perhaps, on both sides. Did people vote with or against certain personalities? That got difficult, because there were some compelling characters on both sides of the debate. What convictions, attachments, and principles, or lack of them, lay behind such emotions, on both sides of the debate? Did that unavoidable but almost-unquantifiable variable of class play a big part? These are not unimportant questions, because those realities and motives may now drive the practical outcome of this vote and colour the mood of the nation for years to come.

What that practical outcome, in all its far-reaching variety, will be, is much harder to predict. What that mood will be might yet change. Now that the die is cast, the strident voices will probably rise shrilly in the next few days. The prophets of doom will predict catastrophic meltdown. Some of their predictions might be right. I can only imagine that the mainland architects of the EU – France and Germany prominent among them – will do what they can to punish Britain, not least as a disincentive to others who are watching with interest to see what can be done and how it goes. The prophets of boon, on the other hand, are telling us that we are entering a brave rather than bleak new world, in which national sovereignty and good, old-fashioned British pluck will enable us to carve out a new and vibrant place in the global economy. The markets are already taking the mother of all kickings. Facebook is, doubtless, awash with populist banter and insult (I confess that I am still building up to having a look).

And then, once the dust immediately kicked up begins to settle, and people realise that society is not about to implode, the long and perhaps difficult reality will set in. Article 50 must be triggered, setting the date for the final act of departure. There will be two years or so of wrangling about what precisely it will involve. What does it mean that our borders might soon be harder to cross? How porous should they be? How much free movement do we want? How much will we get? Will it make Britain less susceptible to international terrorism or more susceptible to our inherent instability? What does it mean to be economically unyoked from the mainland and free to negotiate our own trade deals? Is it the dawn of a new age of innovation and bullishness? Is it the collapse of the pound? What will it mean for the ‘special relationship’ with the US? Will America find that they do not need us as their ally/lapdog now that we don’t have quite the same voice at the European table? Will the EU find it easier to forge ahead with some of their more radical proposals without Britain dragging its (Britain’s) heels while holding its (the EU’s) hand? Will the Little Englanders get their way? Will an ugly nationalism rear its head or a more positive patriotism inspire a measure of endeavour?

This vote radically changes the political landscape, and sets the political agenda for the next couple of parliaments at least, and perhaps the next couple of generations. It is a moment of real risk and real opportunity. Such usually walk hand in hand.

And what of the people of God? I confess that I have found some of the Christian and allegedly-Christian contributions to this debate curious and even distasteful. I believe that pastors should help their people work out why and for what reasons to vote, and not to tell them how to vote, implicitly or explicitly. Party and partisan politics does not belong in the pulpit. Aggressive and sometimes frankly xenophobic assertions of the UK as a Christian country are simply wrong-headed. Declarations of the brotherhood of man as a reason to pursue and promote global unity are also not looking good. The breadth and depth of our heritage and much of its Christian influence I will by no means deny, but the idea that we have somehow beaten back the antichrist with this vote I find curious. At the same time, there can be little doubt that the European influence was, by and large, one which tended to undermine Christian morality and promote a more secular agenda. Other Christian voices, more careful, have argued about the impact it will have on our capacity to take the gospel to the world and our ability to withstand some of the godless and idolatrous influences within and around our society. We might also need to be at least as much concerned about how to take the gospel to the many parts of our country, the cities and the parts of them, and the countless towns and villages, which are in almost entire gospel darkness, regardless of the national origin or cultural inheritance of the people who inhabit them.

You see, what seems to be overlooked by many, both within and without the true church of Christ (the company of the redeemed), is that nothing in this vote changes the hearts of men. It may change our circumstances. We have no idea how much that might prove to be the case. But it does not change our nature. If we think that Britain will rediscover a native rosy glow in the aftermath of this debate, and vaguely and confusedly patriotic strains of “Jerusalem” will once more arise from the corners of our sceptred isle, then we should get out more. If we fear, on the contrary, that we are now entering the darkest of days, we should look up more. In both cases, we need to read our Bibles more. We must not build our hopes or stir our fears on the words and deeds of mere creatures. It will invariably disappoint.

I write and wrestle with these things as the pastor of a church that rejoices in its happy variety: on any given Sunday, I am likely to preach to people from England, Wales, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, the Ukraine, Romania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Italy, India, America, and possibly a few others. Our fellowship meals are a thing of many-splendoured wonder! I have had the privilege of travelling to various parts of the world to enjoy real fellowship with the family of God in countless places. I still remember with some fondness the first time I read Andrew Fuller’s sermon on Christian patriotism, delivered when Britain was under threat of Napoleonic invasion. Though these circumstances are vastly different, I think that Fuller’s guidance is still extremely valuable. John  Newton, too, is fairly robust. I have made some sort of contribution to the literature with a chapter on “Respect the Authorities” and other related material in a recent book, Passing Through (see sidebar for details).

So what do we do now? Is now the time for triumphalistic bombast? For prognostications of disaster? I think not. It should make us pray for magnanimity and wisdom on both sides as we deal with the aftermath. We should remain profoundly concerned for the peace and wellbeing of the nation in which we live and of which God has made us earthly citizens. But none of this changes our fundamental identity nor our basic activity. The apostle Paul tells us that in the last days (the days between the ascension of Christ and his return) there will be perilous seasons, marked by people who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2Tim 3.2-5). In or out of Europe, it seems to me that this is a fairly accurate description of the dangerous time in which we live. In or out of Europe, that is the spiritual landscape in which we labour.

So what do we do? We do, in our place and according to our part, what the Lord Christ told us through his apostles: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2Tim 4.1–5).

A proper and genuine patriotism, in the sense of a warm regard and earnest concern for the country where God has put us, is not just compatible with but required by a genuinely Christian soul. We are to serve where we are. Our battle is not so much for borders as for souls. Our gospel compassion must be extended to our neighbours, whoever they are. Our expectation is of a new heaven and a new earth characterised by righteousness, a city populated by the nations of the earth under the kingship of Christ. And that is not yet, though it is already glimpsed in the churches made up, Lord’s day by Lord’s day, of people from every kingdom, tribe, language and nation who gather to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords. In that sense, not much has changed. There may be some particular political challenges in the days ahead, and yet the challenges for the church – the demands upon and opportunities for the kingdom of God – will not change. We may yet have our City of God moments and seasons in the modern West, and God may yet grant us theologians like Augustine for such moments and seasons. Our hopes are not, and never should have been, in England or Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland, in the UK or Great Britain, in or out of Europe.

Perhaps you know the older English translation of “A safe stronghold our God is still,” written by Martin Luther, that German reformer? It was written at a time when much was shaking in the world, and Luther faced the spiritual realities of the time with candour and courage, and with this conviction and conclusion:

God’s Word, for all their craft and force,
One moment will not linger,
But, spite of hell, shall have its course;
’Tis written by His finger.
And though they take our life,
Goods, honour, children, wife,
Yet is their profit small;
These things shall vanish all:
The city of God remaineth!

It is as citizens of heaven that we are to live and to love and to labour, for the glory of God and the good of men. We need not, we should not, panic. If we feel the need for some sort of radical change this morning, it may be because we were not being and doing what we ought to have been and might have been in the first place. These are not to be the first things in our hearts.

There will be, this morning, much fear and much uncertainty for some, much rejoicing and glee for others. Some, perhaps many, more phlegmatic or less engaged, will not give two hoots about what has happened. For so many, there is too much pain and too much pressure in the next hours to worry about the next years. But, if Christians, we always knew that the world shakes, and one day soon will so shake that nothing is left except that which cannot be shaken. This must be our confidence and our conclusion, too, and our hope for the future, and our message to our neighbours: the city of God remains!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 24 June 2016 at 08:50

Posted in General

Review: “For the Glory”

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For the Glory: The Life of Eric Liddell from Olympic Hero to Modern Martyr
Duncan Hamilton
Doubleday (Penguin), 2016, 384pp., cloth, £20
ISBN 978-0857522597

for the gloryFor most of us, the strains of Vangelis are the soundtrack to the dramatised life of Eric Liddell. And that’s pretty much it: effortless running on beaches … getting up after falling and beating the opposition … taking a stand on the Lord’s day … beating all comers at a less-favoured distance. And yet, for most of us, the truth lies largely hidden or slightly murky behind the veil of entertainment. That is where a book like Hamilton’s can be a real help. Though it lacks the explicit Christian tone of John Keddie’s Running the Race, for example, it provides a largely clear lens through which to view our subject’s life. I do not think that Mr Hamilton is a Christian. That makes his testimony all the more powerful, even if his discussion of Liddell’s Christianity sometimes seems to lack awareness or sensitivity. He seems to stand in awe of Liddell without being quite able to understand him. For those of us who believe we better grasp his motives, his simple pursuit of cheerful obedience leaves us, perhaps, as far behind him as men of God as many of his rivals on the track were as athletes. Hamilton seems stunned by Liddell’s consistent virtue, constantly having to explain that Liddell really was everything that people claimed him to be: a shining example of Christlikeness. In fact, he protests so much that one is even tempted to wonder if he has fallen under Liddell’s spell himself. It may be the sports writer’s desire for a hero or love of the underdog. Certainly Hamilton seems possessed of an animus against any institution, especially the more bureaucratic, which leads to the working assumption of something on the far side of incompetence though generally just short of actual malice. Where the book really excels is giving a straightforward and thorough account of the whole of Liddell’s life, probably rising to its peak away from the earthly glories of the Olympic running track and focusing on the tireless, selfless labours of Liddell the missionary and his experiences in a Japanese prison camp in China. It is, for various reasons, hard to tease out much of Liddell’s theology from the book, but his godly character lies on the surface. Some readers may wish to be warned that, in telling the tale, Hamilton slips in a couple of profanities and vulgarities, sparse but present. I genuinely enjoyed this volume and would warmly recommend it to anyone seeking to know the man behind the film legend. The specious romance of certain elements of the screen tale is stripped away to be replaced by the substantial beauty of the simple truth. In doing so, it is Liddell’s determination to glorify God by a commitment to consecrated obedience that is the lasting impress his life’s race leaves upon the reader.

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 30 May 2016 at 05:00

Posted in General

Review: the Schuyler New King James Version

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IMG_1213(Yes, this is a longer review, but it’s written to be enjoyed as well as employed. It also reflects the measure of the investment concerned. So stay calm, grab a brew, settle in, and ride along.)

The background bit

They called him Brownie. He played village cricket at the level at which a few of the more debonair players would agonise over the weight and balance of their bats and fuss about various aspects of their other equipment. Not so Brownie. He would pillage the dressing room before going out to bat, and – like some latter-day Shamgar with his ox-goad, or Samson with the jawbone of an ass – simply grab whatever came to hand and stride forth to smite lustily about him in order to slay his thousands. Meanwhile, at the boundary, the poor unfortunate whose bat Brownie had accumulated as he headed for the wicket would often be in agonies as he watched his beloved willow being so abused. At the other end of the scale was the occasion when, in the Louisville Slugger Museum, I picked up a casual bat and give it a twirl. “That,” intoned the solemn attendant, “is designed specifically for Derek Jeter.” Our eyes met and a frisson of understanding passed between us. He knew instinctively that I could not afford to damage it, and this was silently communicated to me. Even this uneducated Britisher knew enough to pause for a moment’s reverent silence before, with a slight bow, placing the aforementioned piece of wood back in its pillowed cradle. Apparently, the care with which that particular club was honed would put the most pedantic village cricketer to shame.

So it may be with the physical Bibles that we use for reading and preaching. For some of us, form is of little regard. We will pick up whatever comes to hand and go forth to battle. Others, more particular, or with a measure of permanence and precision in mind, look for the specific implement that best accentuates whatever natural and honed abilities we might have. That may be true for the general Bible reader, and is likely to be more true for the regular Bible preacher. I want to address both the reader and the preacher in this review, with an eye more to the aficionado than the barbarian.

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The subject of my critical gaze will be the Schuyler Quentel Edition of the New King James Version. As a private and public reader and also a preacher of the Bible, I have a keen interest in a physical volume that lends itself to the rigours and demands of consistent and varied use. I would contend that there is real value in the preacher actually carrying a Bible into the pulpit (or any other preaching arena) with him. There is significance in evidently returning to the book in the course of one’s preaching, both by way of spoken and visual reference. It grounds one’s discourse in the very Word of God, with all the implications of authority and sufficiency that such reliance should communicate. And herein lies the problem. Depending on the regularity with and manner in which one refers to the Scriptures, a number of challenges arise. Many preachers, especially as they age, will find that the text of some Bibles is simply too small, or becomes so, leaving the congregation either with the sight of a man’s face replaced by the back of a little book, or regular close-ups of the top of his head as he bends to scour the page. In addition, with repetition comes familiarity, and many preachers can find even the most obscure text in the book and on the page by its location, almost instinctively thumbing to the right spot and casting an eye on the right portion. All this adds up to a more natural and even seamless relationship to the written word in the act of preaching. After a few years, even if one is careful, the Bible over which one pores and paws, perhaps in the armchair and the study, as well as in the pulpit, starts to wear out. The search begins for a new copy, but the desire may be for one which effectively mirrors the previous copy, so that the familiarity and facility are retained. And then the horrific discovery is made that some blighted publisher has only gone and decided to issue seven new editions, none as readable as the earlier ones, and none retaining the same format, often completely retypeset, and all that is now available is the Slovenian Basketweaver’s Edition with hessian cover for the horny-handed sons of toil, available in canary yellow or puce. The disappointment is crushing. One begins to search for some local bookbinder with the requisite skills to get another few years out of your increasingly haggard copy of God’s word.

All facetiousness aside, this is why I would counsel any young man setting out into the ministry, if he is able, to consider investing in one of the Bibles of superior craftsmanship that are currently available. In the same way as an old soldier might become so familiar with his weapon that it pretty much fits in his hand and can be stripped down and built up in his sleep, so a particular copy of the Bible might become almost a part of you, immediately familiar and readily wielded even under the most inauspicious circumstances. The same applies to the reader of the Scriptures: habits of time and place aid retention. Furthermore, familiarity not just with the text in itself but with a particular copy of the text can be a real help in knowing and using our Bibles as individuals, in families, and among friends. For those with a particular kind of memory, looking for something “about there on the page” is an easy way of working.

To be sure, there are times when, like Brownie, one must simply take up whatever lies at hand and go forth to conquer. But it may be that you can invest in a Derek Jeter special that will, because of its superior design and manufacture and catering to your specific capacities, augment your natural abilities and become a lifelong companion and perhaps even a bequest. That may be where a high-end Bible like the Schuyler Quentel NKJV comes into play.

I confess that I am not really an expert when it comes to these things. For years I used the same copy of the Scriptures, a nice but not overly-impressive leather-bound NKJV, purchased for me by my parents for some auspicious birthday. I did indeed have it resewn once, and the brother who did it did what he could with what he had in hand, leaving me with a serviceable but fairly tight volume that lay reasonably flat but pulled at the seams a bit when under strain. It travelled long distances and did sterling service. After a while, it simply began to pull apart once more. It was at this point that I began the search for a serviceable replacement. In addition, as I preached in other places, I found many that had lower pulpits and poorer lighting than I enjoy in my home church building. Readability became more of an issue. Many readers of a review like this might immediately point me toward the excellent work of R. L. Allan (whose efforts are also available through EvangelicalBible.com). I found ‘my’ copy of the NKJV in a slightly larger font but the same layout (the Broadman & Holman Ultrathin Large Print Reference Edition) and have used it now for a year or two. It does the job, but it’s a little larger to carry and the paper is sufficiently thin that – even with use – it is still not too easy to manipulate quickly in the pulpit, though it is familiar and functional. I therefore had my eye open for an alternative, and was pleased to be given the opportunity to review the Schuyler Quentel Edition of the New King James Version.

The technical stuff

IMG_1212This is a beautiful Bible. Mine is the dark green, black letter edition. A red letter edition is available, and the ability to differentiate between the two is an immediate bonus for those who – for reasons of principle or aesthetics or something else – prefer not to have the garish splatter of red across the pages of the New Testament or who like or wish to be, or are simply accustomed to being, able immediately to pick up the physical speech of the incarnate Christ. In the black letter edition, red is reserved for the chapter numbering and the footnote numbering, giving a helpful touch of distinctness and emphasis without overdoing things.

But let us begin on the outside and work in. The binding is beautifully done. I don’t need much persuading of the beauty of green, but it’s far more than this – or any other colour – that commends the Quentel. What hits home is the quality of the work.

IMG_1211The yapp is not particularly broad, as it is in some of the Allan Bibles. I guess that’s a matter of taste. It’s not something that fusses me too much. The Allan Bibles have a certain loucheness about them, while these Schuylers feel a little more rugged. The edge lining and stitching are all neat and precise, while the pages themselves enjoy red-under-gold art-gilt edging. There are raised spine bands that feel quite substantial but not aggressive, and the same could be said for the gilt lettering on the spine and the stamped cross on the front cover. Different customers might push for less (would many push for more?) but this is not over the top.

Everything is as tight and trim and clean as one would hope for the price and the promises. Three ribbons, a rather fetching combination of copper-gold-bronze colours (I am reasonably persuaded that mine are three different colours, but cannot say why) with the dark green cover, are really as much as most of us would need, while providing plenty of scope (though why they couldn’t be green as well, I don’t know!).

IMG_1210The binders have put in very dark brown endpapers – good in quality if not particularly striking. Again, one asks if a very dark green might have completed the look, though the brown does offset the green nicely – ask almost any tree. The hinges are reasonably stiff, but this is one of the places at which books – especially Bibles opened repeatedly and read regularly – start to suffer. I know that for some the sine qua non of a good binding is that the thing lies open, flat, as supple as an old rag, the first time it is opened – that Allan limpness comes to mind. I imagine that these will work in with use, especially given then overall weight of the book. That initial ‘pull’ does give some assurance that the main block will not break away from the spine if slightly manhandled or dropped. In fairness, this one drops open without too much lift, but – again – that physical robustness is properly tangible. The spine is Smyth sewn, as it should be, but beyond knowing that it’s there, it something you will only realise when it doesn’t start dropping apart within a few years.

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Schuyler on left, Broadman & Holman Ultrathin Large Print right

Inside, the text is a punchy 11 points (the font is Milo for those who like to know such things) and seems larger on account of the crispness of the print. In practice, that means that it is a very good size, almost to the degree of reading somewhere between large and giant print. For the sake of comparison, side by side with an Allan edition of the Ultrathin Large Print Reference Edition you simply cannot argue with its readability.

The paper is a creamy 36gsm with an opacity rating of 83%. “Hooray!” I hear almost no one bellow. “Who knew?” cry the few. “Who cares?” cry the many. So what does that even mean in practice? Well, the initial fear is that black on cream will lack the potentially helpful contrast of the whiter page, but – once more – such is the quality of the print itself that the contrast is not an issue. In fact, the creamier paper is quite easy on the eye, even over time, neither demanding excessive strain to see the text nor offering any of the glare that might result from brighter lighting. The fair weight of the PrimaBible paper does help prevent ghosting – the tendency of the text on the back of the page to be visible from the side you are reading. What helps to reduce the impact further is the effective line-matching i.e. the fact that the lines on both side of the page match each other and don’t overlap and produce shadows on the other side. All in all, that combination produces a distinctly readable page with few obvious frustrations or distractions.

IMG_1214Bear in mind too that the volume contains a concordance and maps. That adds to the bulk a little, but is of value to those who still use such things in concrete rather than electronic form – I must confess I don’t mind having them to hand. The maps are beautifully done, it must be said, though the one of Paul’s journeys suffers a little with being stretched over two pages – great for scope, tricky to follow the detail in the centre. With all this, I knew that it would be a good size, but I was still slightly surprised by its heft. Of course, this is partly a consequence of the weight of the paper, which brings its own benefits. It feels like it will last. It may be a little heavy for some to tote around, while others accustomed to hauling around a study bible or its equivalent might feel this a frisky little number by comparison.

The practical considerations

For the reader, this is a delightful experience.

I actually love reading a paragraph Bible, especially with big blocks of text set out in single columns. For personal devotions and more intense reading sessions, there is not much to beat a single column Bible. The Schuyler reading experience is sufficiently pleasant that I had no real complaints. For those accustomed to such reading, the Schuyler will be a joy. If I were being snarky, I would ask why we need to have the text broken up with headings rather than paragraphed, but it does have the virtue of opening out the page, despite my personal distaste for it.

IMG_1156For the preacher, there is so much to commend. I have only used the Bible for preaching and teaching a couple of times, and was concerned that my lack of familiarity with the layout might become an issue. In particular, paragraph Bibles do not always work well for the preacher, especially if he is working very specifically. Finding individual verses in the text block can become extremely difficult, especially when working at speed. The Quentel largely overcomes that by simple virtue of its excellence of design and production. The font is sufficiently large to make it easy to follow, the verse numbers are picked out in bold, giving them that extra visibility, and the print clarity of the whole means that the eye very easily begins to work with and around the text, even in larger blocks, allowing one to zero in on a particular verse or verses.

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Spine bends out, good flexibility on the cover but DO NOT make a habit of doing this to your Bible – demonstration purposes only!

Perhaps the downside for the preacher, especially one who travels more often and might need to travel light, is the size and weight of the Quentel. It is simply quite bulky: you cannot have what it offers without that bulk, but the bulk itself might make it slightly awkward as a travelling companion. On the other side, if someone were looking for a pulpit Bible, and did not want to go for one of the weighty tomes that often fall into that category, the Quentel’s readability means that you do not need to go large in order to benefit.

In short, if you are looking for that one Bible which will be with your in your home and home church, and not many other places, and are content to carry something quite massy around with you, you will hardly be able to go wrong with the Schuyler Quentel. For all-purpose reading and use in private, family and public settings, it might be hard to beat. It is, in terms of its reading ease, outstanding; in terms of its physical construction, magnificent. It is the kind of Bible that, God willing, you might hand on after your pilgrimage is done to others who will be able to go on using it in the same manner. On one level, you could argue that it is somewhat overbuilt. On another, it’s just going to keep going. Of course, I cannot guarantee what state it will be in in twenty years, should the Lord tarry, but – well cared for and gently handled – I cannot see it being in anything other than better shape as it gets worn in.

There may be times when you need simply to pick up whatever copy of the Word of God is to hand and go in swinging. However, in summary, if you have the luxury of and the capacity for selecting a more expensive Bible edition (all $222) that will be suited to your particular needs, the Schuyler Quentel begs your consideration.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 May 2016 at 08:25

Faithful and fruitless?

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A couple of weeks ago a friend asked a question: “How would you encourage a faithful brother who had been pastoring for several years and has not, in that season, seen a conversion directly from his preaching, though the church is growing and health with saints being built up and believers joining the church?”

It is a good question, and one which many faithful men might face. In itself, the question makes a number of what are good and proper assumptions, as well as wrestling with some significant issues that cannot be avoided. Here are some thoughts for pastors and preachers in such a position:

  • Do not underestimate the work of building and equipping, for this is fruit, and it can be – as well as an end in itself – a means to the end of reaching others with the gospel.
  • Do not presume that what you are preaching is not the gospel, but do not presume that you are preaching that gospel as clearly and pointedly as you might. Go back to your Bible to ensure that you are preaching truths rooted in the person and work of Christ, but also preaching the person and work of Christ in themselves – preach Christ, not just about him!
  • Are you preparing the way by a thorough and plain explanation of the problem of personal sin and impending judgement? Are you preaching the law in the good old-fashioned sense?
  • All your preaching should be evangelical, but consider whether regular and specific evangelistic sermons might be an extra avenue of pursuing this end.
  • Is the church actively and specifically praying for conversions in its public meetings (Lord’s days and prayer meetings) and its private occasions (personal and family worship)?
  • I think it is worth considering whether or not there is any sin in your life or the life of the church that might be a reason for God to withhold a blessing. I say this not to cripple you in conscience, but because it is worth taking into account.
  • Do not fall into the mentality that ‘the nation is under judgement’ and that therefore, in effect, your labours are doomed to failure – the gospel remains the power of God to salvation for those who believe. Preach it in that confidence. You must cultivate this confidence actively.
  • Consider whether and to what extent these growing members are personally engaged in making Christ known in their families and among their friends and neighbours and colleagues.
  • Consider whether there are specific evangelistic avenues that could be pursued e.g. home and personal (1-2-1) bible studies, door to door, open air preaching. As we engage in such, the Lord sometimes sends blessing by another route.
  • Are you setting a personal example of evangelistic endeavour (not merely pastoral-professional duty)?
  • Are you equipping the saints for this work in your public ministry? Is this one of the areas in which they are being built up?
  • Are you giving the impression that the church is a place for those believers to come and rest (it is) but not also to work (that too)? Some believers who seek out a faithful ministry do so because of weariness. They need, under God, to be healed, equipped, stirred up and sent out.
  • Are you yourself given to prayer for God’s blessing upon your ministry in all these respects?
  • Consider that Satan will particularly assault the church and ministers who particularly pursue this. Expect it to be hard, and to bring hardships.
  • Are you prepared to accept that this could be a testing time in which the Lord is challenging your faith as to whether you believe God’s promises, and so will go on relying upon God’s means to accomplish God’s ends in God’s time? Such patient persistence is one of the hardest things to maintain.

In offering such counsels, I convict myself over again. None of them are accusations, but examples of the kind of questions I would ask and continue to ask myself. When you do so, preach in the prayerful expectation that God will bless his gospel.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 19 May 2016 at 14:03

Posted in General

Picking and choosing

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Studying out some of the verses from Ephesians 4, I came across the following from Paul Bayne, calling upon the saints to appreciate the diversity of Christ’s present gifts to the church. He speaks against the kind of pickiness that demands or critiques a certain kind of minister in accordance with one’s taste and choosing, rather than receives different kinds of ministers in accordance with Christ’s gracious giving. The language is more than a little archaic, but the point is clear. Bayne says that a

consideration of diversity of gifts doth reprove those that will take mislike at this or that kind, because it is not as they would have. If one speak treatably and stilly, though he lay down the truth soundly, if he apply not forcibly, he is nobody, as if every one should be an Elijah, or a son of thunder. If others, on some plain ground, belabour the conscience, Tush, he is not for them; he doth not go to the depth of his text. They could themselves, at first sight, observe as much; as if every barque that sailed did draw a like depth, yet all sorts carry their passengers safe to their haven. So in ministers, every one hath not a like insight into doctrine, yet all be God’s instruments to thy salvation. This is a malapert, itching humour, which, if you will be Christians indeed, you must lay aside. (Bayne on Ephesians, 258-259).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 23 April 2016 at 11:21

Posted in Christian living, General

Tagged with ,

Gospel resources in Farsi

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Anchored in Grace in FarsiThe Gospel Coalition recently launched a site entirely in Farsi, offering a small variety of resources translated into Farsi, among which was Anchored in Grace (see sidebar). I must confess that, while I recall someone at Cruciform Press mentioning the translation, I had rather lost sight of this. However, for those with an interest, either for themselves or for Farsi-speaking and -reading friends, here is the blurb from Cruciform:

We’re thrilled and honored to be part of The Gospel Coalition’s first “language landing site,” a website entirely in Persian/Farsi. As Bill Walsh of TGC International Outreach has said,

We’ve labored for a long time to get solid, biblical resources translated into this key language for sharing with Iranian Christians and the Persian diaspora around the world. Our hope is to…have [the site] serve as a prototype for other languages such as Arabic. The Internet has enormous capacity for reaching some of the hardest places to spread Christian content.

The site is currently offering seven foundational books in Farsi, one each from John Piper, R.C. Sproul, David Platt, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Chris Bruno, and our own Jeremy Walker (Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith). If you haven’t yet checked out Anchored in Grace, you really should.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 26 March 2016 at 18:09

Posted in General

In everything give thanks

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I have a dear old godly friend. He will be 89 this year, if the Lord preserves him. I spent a couple of hours with him this morning in the sheltered accommodation where he lives, not far from the church building. He’s not a member of the church I serve, but a man who delights in God and in his word. He’s suffering from a chest infection at the moment, which adds to woes from a stroke of some sort last year, when he lost quite a lot of memory capacity and speech facility (especially on days when he is tired, as he is at present, because of his illness). One of his particular joys before all these afflictions was his singing, a joy of which he has now been robbed until Christ restores his body at the resurrection. All in all, you would say he is having quite a rough ride.

I sat with him and we read and talked through Psalm 1. How his eyes gleamed with joy when we talked about what it meant to be planted by rivers of water! How he wept when he thought of some of the other residents who are like the chaff, which the wind blows away! How he urged me to wait on and see if there would be an opportunity to speak with them later on! We talked about our love and prayers and words to those for whom we are concerned.

As we spoke and wept and prayed together, he told me that he was very thankful for the illnesses he has suffered. He was really struggling with his speech this morning, so I was not sure that I had got quite the right message. I checked. He insisted. He was grateful for what he had been through. I probably looked at him quizzically. He explained. He patted his Bible, his eyes gleaming once more.

“If it had not been for my illness last year,” he said, “I would not have been given the opportunity to learn this book all over again.”

Blessed indeed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and in which law he meditates day and night. It makes us truly thankful, genuinely and lastingly happy, even in the midst of great affliction.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 9 March 2016 at 16:03

Christian greatness

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J. C. Ryle, as so often, has the knack of speaking plainly, even painfully, to our hearts, in these comments on Luke’s Gospel, chapter 22, verses 24-30:

Usefulness in the world and the Christian church, a humble readiness to do anything, a cheerful willingness to fill any post, however lowly, are the true tests of Christian greatness. The hero in Christ’s army is not the man who has rank and title and dignity and chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. It is the man who is not concerned about himself but about other people. It is the man who is kind to everyone, tender to everyone, thoughtful toward everyone, ever helpful and sympathetic. It is the man who spends his time binding up the brokenhearted, befriending the friendless, comforting the sorrowful, and enlightening the ignorant. This is the truly great man in God’s sight. The world may ridicule his efforts and deny the sincerity of his motives, but while the world is sneering, God is pleased. This is the man who is walking most closely in the steps of Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 7 March 2016 at 18:42

Posted in Christian living, General

Tagged with ,

“Solus Christus”

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 18 February 2016 at 21:59

Posted in Conferences, General

Tagged with

Baptist and general resources

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There are a couple of interesting volumes that have been produced in recent months that Baptists might appreciate. But first, and more generally, may I draw your attention to a new bi-annual journal called Unio Cum Christo: International Journal of Reformed Theology and Life? Never knowingly undersold, it intends to show itself an international scholarly and practical journal for the global Reformed community; to encourage deeper fellowship, understanding, and growth in faith, hope, and love in the Reformed community at large; and, to support small and isolated Reformed witnesses in minority missional situations. It is a proper journal, weighing in at 332 pages, costing $20-35 for a year depending on your status, and sponsored by Westminster Theological Seminary and International Reformed Evangelical Seminary. The first number contains a long and stirring editorial by editor-in-chief Paul Wells, followed by sections on biblical studies (on the theme of witness), historical theology (covering a great deal of chronological and geographical territory), contemporary issues (persecution the topic du jour), an interview and a series of book reviews (including a stimulating brief review of Metaxas on Bonhoeffer by William Edgar). Surveying the contributors, one finds a few of the usual suspects, but also an interesting range of writers from a variety of backgrounds and differing degrees of reputation (not bad or good so much as better and less well known). Both the editorial committee and the board reveal a genuinely and refreshingly international scope (though it must be said that Baptists appear to be at a premium!). These strengths are evident in the opening number, and I hope will be sustained in coming years (the second number focuses on the text of Scripture). Those with the requisite interests, appetites and capacities are likely really to enjoy this new journal. I hope it does much good in its sphere, and holds its tone and line for as long as the Lord grants it life.

Then, on to Baptist books. The first is called Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk), edited by Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman. This is a spirited study and defence of a robust and well-defined church polity (authority structures and government) from Baptist convictions. It is neither brief nor shallow, but substantial and thorough, academic in timbre. It is nevertheless both enjoyable and profitable.

An array of historians and theologians – many of whom are also pastors – blend their notes within and among the nineteen essays that make up this work. Five broad elements are addressed: congregationalism, ordinances, membership and discipline, elders and deacons, and inter-church relationships. In reading, careful attention must be given to definitions, which should not be assumed. For example, the mantra of “congregational rule that is elder led” must be fairly handled. Indeed, the tensions between those two phrases are evident in the book itself. British readers should also recognise that the book arises primarily out of a Southern Baptist environment, which means some strands of the discussion are less relevant in a conservative evangelical British context.

Even so, what we have here drives us back to first principles. From a careful hermeneutic base it offers a fairly coherent, consistent, cohesive pattern for Baptist churches without being overly prescriptive. It is deeply-rooted Baptist high churchmanship, sometimes wrestling with difficult questions (such as the nature of apostolicity). It gives the lie to crass assertions or accusations casually tossed off that Baptists have no ecclesiology, while poking a necessary finger in the eye of those Baptists who have not bothered to cultivate it.

This is, then, a volume that will both confirm and challenge those of Baptist convictions especially. We must work through and work out the principles and practices raised here if we are to be faithful to God’s word and our heritage.

The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement, edited by Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn and Michael A. G. Haykin (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk) is another work of a more academic tone, but of a very different outlook, being intended primarily – as far as I can tell – for students within American (Southern) Baptist seminaries, and more in light of the so-called Reformed resurgence. This is one of those catch-all introductions to a subject, with all the strengths and weaknesses of the genre, buttressed and mollified or undermined and exaggerated by the qualities of the editors and contributors. In this case, the strengths are more buttressed and the weaknesses less exaggerated, but all present and correct.

The book is divided into four sections, covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the nineteenth century, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and Baptist beliefs. The three editors each take the reins for a particular period, and then, presumably, combine for the rest. With minimal footnotes, and with a brisk tone and at a good pace, the book carries us through the events, personalities, sermons, churches, tensions and efforts of Baptist history. Excerpts from sermons and documents are scattered throughout to give some flavour from primary sources. There are even a few pictures for those who weary of words. Depending on your appetites and predilections, you will either be delighted or devastated at the inclusions or exclusions. The recommended reading must fill in the gaps.

Sadly, Baptists outside America will find the book less and less useful as it advances, because the focus is more and more on the States and its distinctive groups, denominations, interests and battles. In addition, the concern for ‘balance’ sometimes leads to the inclusion of what seem to me to be rabbit trails or aberrations of greater or lesser degree. Although the closing historical chapters make every effort to give a global sense, it is still a survey through American eyes. Of course, as the stream of Baptist history broadens, one has to sit on a particular island in order to take one’s view – the ever-widening topic makes a complete and thorough survey almost impossible in a book of this order.

The chapter on identity and distinctives is also fascinating. After a little to-ing and fro-ing on the Baptist attitudes to confessions of faith, the authors suggest that Baptists are marked by regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism, congregational polity, local church autonomy, religious freedom. To all of which the only answer can be, “Yes, but …”. It is undeniably true that many Baptists (especially the kind of Baptists who are likely to be reading this book) do hold to such distinctives, and those who give others this textbook might think that they should. However, the issues over what these things look like in practice, and who embraces them, and how many are embraced at any particular point and in what way, even by those who call themselves Baptists, make this a quite surprising absolutism. I don’t disagree that it should be so, more or less, but I query whether or not it is so. The conclusion suggests that promoting liberty of conscience, following Christ’s will in our individual lives and churches, and proclaiming the gospel everywhere, are the three interrelated themes of Baptist history that crop up again and again. Again, that’s frustratingly exclusive and maddeningly broad at the same time. Up to a point, it is indisputable; in other respects, it leaves much to be desired.

So much for the inherent strengths and weaknesses of books like this and this book in particular. It is an introduction to its topic, and should not be assumed to be anything more. If you are an American Baptist history student, or indeed a student of American Baptist history, this will be a fine volume for you. Others will find much of real value and genuine interest, but will feel more as if we are looking over the wall than playing the game.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 4 January 2016 at 22:53

Posted in General

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