Archive for the ‘General’ Category
What is a Reformed Church?
Malcolm C. Watts
Reformation Heritage Books, 2011, 73pp., paperback, $8 / £7.50
This is a careful and thorough volume, covering much in short compass on the distinctives, emphases, worship, government, discipline and evangelism of Reformed churches. It should be read with equal care, for the author makes subtle but significant distinctions almost in passing. There are points in which he speaks with a more absolute tone about matters that I believe allow for a little more latitude among men substantially and sincerely committed to the same body of truth, but the reader does not need to agree with all the minutiae of either diagnosis or prescription to make this a stirring reminder of what has been so much abandoned in so many churches today, helping us to navigate through all the posturing and accommodation common in our age and making us ask whether or not we are practically as well as principially committed to the sufficiency of the Scriptures in our corporate faith and life. Provocative in the best sense, this is a positive statement of deeply-felt conviction that deserves to be wrestled with by all who would like to take the name Reformed.
The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon
Steven J. Lawson
Reformation Trust, 2012, 175pp., cloth, $16
This slim volume comes from the ‘Long Line of Godly Men’ Profiles series which accompanies a larger series of books (other volumes include Calvin, Edwards and Knox). Unashamedly partisan, the fact that this is a slightly gilded version of ‘the Prince of Preachers’ should not detract from this volume, because the aim is to show Spurgeon at his best and as a model for others. With the series’ perpetual focus on sovereign grace front and centre, Lawson here shows how Spurgeon’s robust Calvinism married his evangelistic fervour. It is, in essence, a warm-hearted introduction to Spurgeon as a man and a minister, with many helpful emphases. This would be a good gift for new preachers (or old ones!) as a reminder of the points of theology and practice that can be and need to be grasped by a gospel minister – not to remake Spurgeon, if that were possible, but to help form the convictions and qualities that made Spurgeon what he was, and which remain so much in need.
I have to say, this one’s a bit of a doozy: Archibald Brown’s broadside against the church’s abandonment of its mission of the plain and pointed preaching of God’s truth and the embrace of what he calls “the Devil’s mission of amusement.” It is too long to post in its entirety (though not that long in itself) so you can find it as a pdf here. He sets out to show that seeking to win the world by worldliness is contrary to Scripture, contrary to Christ’s example, and ultimately unfruitful and damaging. Telling stuff – do read it.
A lot of good stuff here. Generally speaking, it is sad that it should be considered a dilemma. A challenge perhaps, but it ought to be no dilemma.
Thoughtful comment from David Murray on the fact that the problem is not the interweb, it’s me.
More Calvin, writing in the preface to Pierre-Robert Olivétan’s 1535 translation of the New Testament:
He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death. He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards. He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition. He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all. He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit. He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land. He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection. He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity. He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies. This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father. If one were to sift thoroughly the Law and the Prophets, he would not find a single word which would not draw and bring us to him. . . . Therefore, rightly does Saint Paul say in another passage that he would know nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
via Justin Taylor.
Bill Heinz, a brother in the US, recently got in touch with news on a radio station running out of Powell, Wyoming, which now livestreams sermons from any number of fine preachers, and at least one nobody. They have recently added live streaming to their station, so all programmes can now be heard on the internet. You can find them at KLWR, should you be interested.
The Christian message is fundamentally eschatological (to use the standard theological nomenclature). It is not only about how God has entered the world during the first coming, but also about how God will enter the world again during the second coming. And when he does so, he will set all things right.
Michael Kruger does not want us to lose our eschatological edge as we move into the new year.
Challies calls it “humble celebrity” but I think it’s more anti-celebrity:
Doug was working for Operation Mobilization and was stationed in London during their big annual conference. He was assigned to the clean-up crew. One night at around 12:30 AM he was sweeping the steps at the conference center when an older gentleman approached him and asked if this was where the conference was being held. Doug said that it was, but that just about everyone had already gone to bed. This man was dressed very simply and had just a small bag with him. He said that he was attending the conference. Doug replied he would try to find him a place to sleep and led him to a room where about 50 people were bunked down on the floor. The older gentleman had nothing to sleep on, so Doug laid down some padding and a blanket and offered a towel for a pillow. The man said that would be just fine and that he appreciated it very much.
Read it all for a lesson.
Greetings, bleaders. I have a question and I am hoping that someone among the brainiacs might be able to help me. I am trying to remember the name of the surgeon/doctor/philosopher who taught his students to observe by requiring them to look at, if I remember rightly, a fish for an extended period of time and describe it. When they thought they had completed the task he would commend them and tell them to go on looking at the fish. This would be repeated until his students learned to look, to observe, to consider with depth and insight.
Now, do I have this story right, and can anyone tell me the name of the man involved? Answers in the comments, if you have any, please! Thanks in advance.
JUST PUTTING THIS BACK ON TOP FOR A FEW HOURS . . . PLEASE PRAY IF YOU CANNOT GIVE . . . THESE BROTHERS ARE NOT THERE YET.
As some of you know, the church I serve has been seeking to plant a church in a village just outside our town of Crawley. This work has brought us into and developed our contact with Pastor Barry King, who is involved in the Grace Baptist Partnership (essentially, the charitable organisation through which the church which Barry pastors seeks to pursue its church planting). Through this we came to know of a church planting project in Southall in West London, and last night we met with the three men who are heading up that work.
We are informed that Southall is home to the largest concentration of South Asian people outside the Indian sub-continent. More than 55% of the population is Indian or Pakistani. The town has ten Sikh gurdwaras, three Muslim mosques and two Hindu temples (not to mention the spiritualists around the corner). Spiritually it is a dark place, but the light is shining.
We met Vic Gill and Sonny Simak (the third brother, Sunny Kundhi, was not available) in the church building which they are hoping to buy as a home for the seedling Grace Church and a base for their gospel operations.
We were impressed by the fervour and commitment of these young men and the church they lead, and their determination and desire to have a witness for Christ in Southall. Their current concern is the purchase of the building, which they are offered at a very reasonable price, but which they need financial help to buy. This is especially significant because – as an existing church building – they already have a toehold in the town. If this building were to be bought out and the area developed, then the likelihood of obtaining planning permission for development or building of a new Christian place of worship is extremely slim.
To find out more, especially if you are interested in helping out, you can get information at the Grace Baptist Partnership Southall page or write with a request for information to gracebaptistpartnership[@]googlemail.com.
More importantly, please pray for this endeavour, that the opportunities for the preaching of Christ crucified might be taken faithfully, fearlessly and fruitfully, and that the kingdom would advance in this part of London.
I went out yesterday again to speak to the people in the village where we have been having evangelistic Bible studies. The first man I spoke to gave me an answer to which I am becoming sadly accustomed: “No . . . no . . . that’s not for me.”
I hear this so often, usually the moment someone knows that I am speaking to them about Jesus Christ. It becomes increasingly distressing the more often I hear it, and calls for prayers like this from Thomas Watson:
Oh, that the eyes of sinners may be speedily opened—that they may see the difference of things, the beauty which is in holiness, and the astonishing madness that is in sin!
HT The Old Guys.
. . . one of the consequences of the internet-trained brain seems to be an inability to hide very much – not much of the Word of God, to be sure – in our hearts. That results in a crippling weakness in the battle for godliness.
Yours truly offers some thoughts on hiding God’s word in our hearts at Reformation21.
My dear friend and brother, Pastor Reno Ulfo from Caltanissetta, sends a video of the laying of the first stone of their new church building. There has been much opposition, and there is a need for much continued prayer. The words read are from 1 Chronicles 29.11-16:
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you reign over all. In your hand is power and might; in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from you, and of your own we have given you. For we are aliens and pilgrims before you, as were all our fathers; our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build you a house for your holy name is from your hand, and is all your own.
I pass on a Spurgeonic, Pyromaniacal, set of prayerful best wishes for the new year:
Southey, in his “Solemn Thoughts for New Year’s-day,” bids the melancholy moraliser gather a dark and wintry wreath to engarland the sepulchre of time, “for” saith he,
“I pour the dirge of the departed days—
For well the funeral song
Befits this solemn hour.”
His muse is, however, interrupted in its sombre meditations by the delightful peals which hail “the consecrated day,” and the poet exclaims—
“But hark! even now the merry bells ring round
With clamorous joy to welcome in this day.”
The interruption was most opportune: “the dark-stoled maid of melancholy, with stern and frowning front,” may very fitly be dismissed until a more convenient season, for there is much that is cheery and exhilarating in the advent of “that blithe morn which ushers in the year.” Hope, earth’s one abiding angel, whispers of happiness now arriving, and makes our sluggish blood leap in our veins at the thought of the good new year. We feel like sailors who have finished one voyage and are commencing another amidst hurrahs and joyous shoutings: we are full of anticipation of the future, and are relieved by the departure of the past. The kindly salutation, “I wish you a happy new year,” rings sweetly with lingering chimes of Christmas, and harmonises well with the merry peals which bid adieu to the departed, and welcome the coming Son of Time. The vision of thought in which we see “the skirts of the departing year,” is viewed with sober cheerfulness, and the foresight of better days to come fills the house with social glee.
Human nature is so fascinated with the bare idea of novelty, that although time runs on like a river in whose current there is an unbroken monotony, yet the arbitrary landmarks which man has erected upon the shore, exercise a bewitching power over the imagination, and make us dream that on a New Year’s morning the waves of time roll onward with a fresher force, and flash with a brighter sheen. There is no real difference between the first of January and any other day in the calendar—the first of May is lovelier far—and yet because of its association with a new period, it is a day of days, the day of the year, first among three hundred and more of comrades.
Evermore let it be so. If it be a foible to observe the season, then long live the weakness. We prize the pensive song in its season, but we are not among those “to whom all sounds of mirth are dissonant.” The steaming flagon which our ancestors loved so well to drain, the lambs’ wool, and the wassail bowl are as well forgotten, and other of their ancient New Year’s customs are more honoured in the breach than in the observance; but not so the cheerful greetings and warm good wishes so suitable to the hour. We feel jubilant at the prospect of the coming day, and are half inclined to sing a verse or two of the old wassail ballad, and pass our hat round for our Orphan House.
“God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.
Good master and mistress,
While you’re sitting by the fire,
Pray think of those poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.”
English life has too little of cheerful observance and festive anniversary to relieve its dulness; there are but two real breaks in the form of holidays in the whole twelve months of toil; birth-days and new-year’s-days are at least semi-festivals, let them be kept up by all means, and celebrated by every family. Strew the path of labour with at least a few roses, for thorns are plentiful enough. Never may we cease to hail with pleasure the first day of the first month, which is the beginning of months unto us. Let not old Time turn over another page of eternity and truth, and find his children indifferent to the solemnity, or ungrateful for the longsuffering which permits them to enjoy their little span of life.
If others decline to unite with us, we are, nevertheless, not ashamed to confess that we adhere to the cheerful custom, and find it not inconsistent with the spirit of the church of God. We meet together at the last hour of the year, and prayerfully await the stroke of midnight, that we may consecrate the first moment of the new year with notes of holy song; then, having dropped each one of us his offering into the treasury of the Lord, we return to our homes in the clear frosty air, blessing the Preserver of men that we have shared in the devotions of one more watchnight, and have witnessed the birth of another year of grace.
If we do not hasten to the houses of our friends with presents and congratulations, as our lively French neighbours are wont to do, yet, with many an honest grip of the hand and cordial greeting, we utter our good wishes and renew our friendships; and then in our private devotions we “breathe low the secret prayer, that God would shed his blessing on the head of all.”
Nor does the influence of our midnight worship end with the motion of our minds towards friendly well-wishing, for the devout are quickened in the way of godly meditation, and led to prepare for that day of days for which all other days were made. Returning from the solemn meeting we have felt as he did who wrote—
“The middle watch is past! Another year
Dawns on the human race with hope and fear:
The last has gone with mingled sigh and song,
To join for ever its ancestral throng;
And time reveals
As past it steals,
The potent hand of God, the Everlasting,
Guiding the sun, with all his blazing peers,
And filling up the measure of our years,
Until Messiah, Prince, to judgment hasting,
Shall roll the darkness from this world of sin,
And bid a bright eternity begin.”
Wisdom is not content with sentiment and compliment, but would fain gather solid instruction: she admires the flowers, but she garners the wheat, and therefore she proposes the enquiry, “What is the message of the New Year to the watchers who listen so silently for the bell which strikes the twelfth hour of the night?”
O thou newly-sent prophet, hearken to the question of the wise, and tell us what is the burden of thy prophecy! We are all waiting; teach us, and we will learn! We discern not thy form as thou passest before our faces, but there is silence, and we hear thy voice, saying, “Mortals, before ye grow weary of me, and call me old and long, as ye did the year which has passed, I will deliver to you my tidings. As a new year, I bring with me the promise of new mercies, like a golden casket stored with jewels.
God will not forget you. The rock of your salvation changes not; your Father who is in heaven will still be gracious to you. Think not because the present is wintry, that the sun will never shine, for I have in store for you both the lovely flowers of spring and the ripe fruits of summer, while autumn’s golden sheaves shall follow in their season. The black wing of the raven shall vanish, and the voice of the turtle shall be heard in your land. Providence has prepared surprises of gladness for the sorrowful; unexpected boons will it cast into the lap of the needy; therefore let hope, like a dove, bear to the mourner the olive branch of peace, for the waters of grief shall be assuaged.
Fresh springs shall bubble up amid the wastes, and new-lit stars shall cheer the gloom; the angel of Jehovah’s presence goes before you, and makes the desert blossom as the rose. He who makes all things new will send his mercies new every morning, and fresh every evening, for great is his faithfulness.
Yet boast not yourselves of to-morrow, nor even make sure of to-day, for I forewarn you of new trials and novel difficulties. In the unknown future, the days of darkness shall be many; rains will descend, floods will arise, and winds will blow, and blessed shall he be whose house is built upon a rock. Crosses will be laid upon you for every hour, and cares will molest every day. Pilgrims of earth, ye must hold yourselves ready to traverse thorny ways, which your feet have not trodden heretofore; have your loins well girt about you, lest the trials of the wilderness should come upon you unawares. Your road leads o’er the barren mountain’s storm-vex’d height, and anon it dives into the swampy sunless valleys, and along it all you must bear more or less of affliction’s heavy load; arm yourselves with patience and faith, for you will need them every step of the march to “Jerusalem the Golden.” So surely as “the wintry wind moans deep and hollow o’er the leafless grove,” tribulation will await you frequently, for man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Adversity is an estate entailed upon the sons of Adam. Learn this before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass, ye may not be surprised with any amazement.
Be not, O children of God, dismayed at my message, neither let your harps be hung upon the willows, for I bring you tidings of new grace, proportionate to all your needs. Great is the strength which your covenant God will give you in the hour of your weakness, so great indeed that if all the afflictions of all mankind should meet upon the head of any one of you, he should yet be more than a conqueror through the mighty Lord who hath loved him. Onward, soldiers of the cross, where Jesus has led the way. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath you are the everlasting arms. You are not called upon to go a warfare at your own charges, neither are you left alone in the battle: the banner which waves over you bears the soul-assuring motto, ‘Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide.’
Labourer in the vineyard of the Lord Jesus, I bring to thee new opportunities for usefulness; I introduce thee to fresh fields of service. Many great and effectual doors shall be opened during the twelve months of my sojourn, and they who are wise to win souls shall have grace to enter. The moments as they fly, if taken upon the wing, shall yield a wealth of sacred opportunity: the frivolous shall ruin himself by suffering them to pass unheeded, while the watchful shall earn unto himself a good degree, by regarding the signs of the times and improving every occasion for promoting his Master’s glory.
Therefore, with earnest tones, I warn you that I bring new responsibilities, from which none of you can escape. For every golden moment you will be held responsible. O stewards of the manifold gifts of God, waste not your strength upon trifles, cast not away your priceless opportunities, fritter not away your precious hours: by the remembrance of eternity, I charge you live with an ardour of industry which will be worthy of remembrance in another world. O child of time, lay not up for thyself misery in the remembrance of misspent years, but live as in the presence of the all-seeing God. Believer in Jesus, gather jewels for his crown, and irradiate his name with glowing honours, so, as I pass away, thy record shall be on high, and thy reward in heaven. FAREWELL.”
As I have mentioned before, I am due to be giving a lecture on Hugh Latimer: the preaching prelate for the Evangelical Library on Monday 28 November at 1pm. Why bother learning from Latimer? Because competent judges, like Bishop Ryle, speak in this way:
Few, probably have ever addressed an English congregation with more effect than he did. No doubt his sermons now extant would not suit modern taste. They contain many quaint, odd, and coarse things. They are very familiar, rambling, and discursive, and often full of gossiping stories. But, after all, we are poor judges in these days of what a sermon ought to be. A modern sermon is too often a dull, tame, pointless religious essay, full of measured, round sentences, Johnsonian English, bald platitudes, timid statements, and elaborately concocted milk and water. It is a leaden sword, without either point or edge: a heavy weapon, and little likely to do much execution. But if a combination of sound Gospel doctrine, plain Saxon language, boldness, liveliness, directness, and simplicity, can make a preacher, few, I suspect, have ever equalled old Latimer.
Five English Reformers (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 106.
Philip E. Hughes speaks of him as a man
who was the most remarkable preacher of the day, and indeed one of the greatest preachers the Church universal has ever had.
Theology of the English Reformers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 127.
Sir Marcus Loane described him as
the recognised exponent of the moral teaching of the Reformation, and the practical character of his oratory was the surest means to arouse the conscience of his England . . . his was the voice of righteousness. . . . There was nothing crude or vulgar in his sermons; they were plain and opportune, shrewd and vigorous, with a touch of racy humour, and flair for homely illustration, and a magnificent verve, and a colloquial dash, that gave his words instant penetration.
Masters of the English Reformation (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005), 147.
Persuaded? If so, join us on Monday. All are welcome.
Here is an excerpt from a sermon by William Cunningham concerning the surpassing excellence of the Lord Jesus, seeking to stir the hearts of his people – indeed, of all people – to faith and adoration:
Christ, however, has all the properties of the Godhead and as God, He has an undoubted right to the first place in our affections, while He is possessed of such glorious perfections and stands m such a relation to us, that supreme love to Him should be the natural and proper result of any view which we take of Him, and of any attempt which we make to realize Him. No man hath seen God at any time; but the only-begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, He hath revealed Him. And one purpose for which God sent His Son into the world was, that He might manifest Himself to us in such a way as might more than ever constrain us to love Him. The apostle tells us, 1 John iv.9: ‘In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him;’ and one use we ought to make of the information which we have received concerning Christ is, to constrain us to obey the first and great commandment. But in endeavouring to use the record God has given concerning His Son, for impressing the Divine character and perfections upon our minds, and shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts, let us never forget that Christ is Himself God over all,—that He is Himself the object whom in the first great commandment we are required to love with all our hearts,—that He is possessed of all those perfections which render that commandment a reasonable one,—and that the giving Him all the honour and respect to which He is entitled, is guarded by an express reference to the day of judgment, and the decision there to be pronounced with respect to our eternal condition. Surely, then, though you have never seen Christ, yet when you know well and believe firmly that He has been from eternity, and is still, possessed of every perfection and excellence,—that He has always been, and still is, the author of every good and perfect gift,—surely you must be constrained to love Him, and to love Him far more than you have ever yet done. . . .
In short, the more carefully you examine the life of Christ as recorded in the Gospels, the more clearly will you see how all His thoughts, and words, and actions, were regulated by consummate wisdom,—by unspotted moral excellence,—by the most amiable and affectionate dispositions;—and when you thus, in realizing His character as exhibited in His life, contemplate Him as a pattern of all moral excellence,—as possessed of every quality fitted to command esteem and to call forth affection,—you will feel a holy exultation, that the same nature which you wear once appeared in such a form and aspect,—that One—who was a partaker of flesh and blood like yourselves—should have exhibited such a faultless pattern of everything that is excellent and beautiful;—and by all these views, and upon all these grounds, you will feel constrained to ‘love’ Him.
You know that Christ was God, possessed of all the perfections of Divinity;—and you know likewise that He was a most beautiful and perfect specimen of Humanity,—exhibiting His excellences amid perpetual and painful sufferings. You are to contemplate Him in these lights, that you may be constrained to love Him.
William Cunningham, Sermons, 162-164
John Newton, writing in the delightful day when to waste an empty space on your paper would be a crying shame, and fortunately having plenty to write about to fill up the gap:
And now, how shall I fill up the rest of my paper? It is a shame for a Christian and a minister to say he has no subject at hand, when the inexhaustible theme of redeeming love is ever pressing upon our attention. I will tell you then, though you know it, that the Lord reigns.
He who once bore our sins, and carried our sorrows, is seated upon a throne of glory, and exercises all power in heaven and on earth. Thrones, principalities, and powers, bow before him. Every event in the kingdoms of providence and of grace is under his rule. His providence pervades and manages the whole, and is as minutely attentive to every part, as if there were only that single object in his view. From the tallest archangel to the meanest ant or fly, all depend on him for their being, their preservation, and their powers. He directs the sparrows where to build their nests, and to find their food. He overrules the rise and fall of nations, and bends, with an invincible energy and unerring wisdom, all events; so that, while many intend nothing less, in the issue, their designs all concur and coincide in the accomplishment of his holy will. He restrains with a mighty hand the still more formidable efforts of the powers of darkness; and Satan, with all his hosts, cannot exert their malice a hair’s breadth beyond the limits of his permission.
This is He who is the head and husband of his believing people. How happy are they who it is his good pleasure to bless! How safe are they whom He has engaged to protect! How honoured and privileged are they to whom He is pleased to manifest himself, and whom He enables and warrants to claim him as their friend and their portion! Having redeemed them by his own blood, He sets a high value upon them; He esteems them his treasure, his jewels, and keeps them as the pupil of his eye. They shall not want; they need not fear; his eye is upon them in every situation, his ear is open to their prayers, and his everlasting arms are under them for their sure support. On earth He guides their steps, controls their enemies, and directs all his dispensations for their good; while, in heaven, He is pleading their cause, preparing them a place, and communicating down to them reviving foretastes of the glory that shall be shortly revealed.
Oh how is this mystery hidden from an unbelieving world! Who can believe it, till it is made known by experience, what an intercouse is maintained in this land of shadows between the Lord of glory and sinful worms? How should we praise him that He has visited us! for we were once blind to his beauty, and insensible to his love, and should have remained so to the last, had He not prevented us with his goodness, and been found of us when we sought him not.
The Letters of John Newton, “To Mrs. Place,” (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007), 237-239.
via The Old Guys.
A friend sends word that Charlesworth Baptist Chapel, Derbyshire, is hosting a four day conference from 10-13 October called Roots that Refresh. Jim Renihan is coming in from California to use his historical knowledge (he is Dean of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, Escondido, California, and author of Edification and Beauty: the Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705) to teach about Baptist church life today (more from Stephen Rees here). Jim will then be going on to the God’s Glory, Our Joy conference (Fri 14 and Sat 15 Oct) where he will be preaching alongside Andrew Swanson and John Hall, God willing.
Don’t forget, either, that the next Westminster Conference is not so far away. Due to take place on Tue 06 and Wed 07 Dec at the Salvation Army’s Regent Hall on Oxford Street, and the brochure for this year should be coming soon. Papers on “Christian Liberty and the Westminster Assembly” by Robert Letham, “The Covenanting Experience” by Knox Hyndman, a study of Obadiah Holmes by Stephen Rees, “The Broad Road from Orthodoxy to Heresy” by Robert Strivens, a look at the decline of Puritanism by Lewis Allen, and a biography of John Eliot by Hugh Collier, all under the general title of Freedom, Courage and Truth, make this an appetising line-up.
Preaching can be a dangerous business. I don’t mean the effects of the long-term stresses and strains and pressures of faithful pastoral ministry, or the risks of being assaulted by hearers who, if not actually disgruntled, are certainly very far from being gruntled. I refer to the possibility of do yourself an injury in the act of preaching.
Take last Sunday as a case in point. I have had an unusual number of health blips in the last few months. Last week, for example, I succumbed to a curious virus which left my mouth and throat covered with an abundance of tiny ulcers for a few days. I was still feeling some of the effects of said virus when I preached last Lord’s day, a fair amount of tightness in the throat and an extra effort to speak clearly and distinctly.
Anyway, the net effect of this was that, at one point during the morning sermon, when seeking to make a point with an appropriate degree of vigour, I got my breathing wrong, and managed to get within sight of the end of a longer statement without much air left in the lungs. A little extra effort and I managed to make it, but the inward strain combined with whatever gesture I was making at the time dinged what I thought was a muscle in the back. This happens from time to time when some pulpit action goes awry, and I thought little more of it. I managed to get through the church outing on Monday, including some vigorous Frisbee/Aerobie work, a fair stint in some bastardised version of a cricket game, and carrying one of my sons down a steep mile because he wanted to cross the stepping stones at the bottom of the hill. Painful, to be sure, but not unbearable. Sitting uprightly and breathing shallowly were doing the job. This morning I thought I would try out my dodgy foot (another one of those miserable afflictions that has sprung itself upon me) with a few exercises, only to discover that – though the foot was holding up – the back was going from bad to worse. Comically aggressive shooting pains meant that a scheduled chiropractic visit could not come soon enough, whereupon I was issued the happy diagnosis that my pulpit exertions had popped a rib, which problem I had been gleefully exacerbating for the last couple of days. Two days of taking it easier – no baby-carrying, sports, twisting and turning (there goes any prospect of a successful audition for the part of “second whirling Dervish” in any production I might have been interested in – curses!), and the like – should see things ease off, but until then I will remain in slightly shy of mint condition.
Got me thinking, though. I have cracked a knuckle before, and maybe provided myself with a couple of stress fractures through contact between hand and pulpit (the distinct occasion I recall was a sermon from Philippians 2, in which I was emphasising the hatefulness of the sins which required such humiliation on the part of Christ). I have heard of other such hand injuries. I have heard of a preacher who managed to detach a retina during a particularly earnest exhortation. I have seen my father unintentionally catch a finger under his glasses while seeking to make a point, with the effect that the following more expansive gesture propelled said reading aids from his face to a spot some fifteen feet or so away from the pulpit at a fair rate of knots. The spectacularly confused look on his face as he suddenly realised that something was amiss without being immediately able to put his finger on it (or, indeed, reach it with the outstretched arm) provided one of those classic balled-fist-in-mouth-trying-not-to-laugh moments. I have heard of a preacher losing a battle with a wasp, said bug managing to get inside his shirt collar despite his best efforts, and he managing the fairly impressive feat of punching himself a couple of times in the throat in an attempt to stun the blackguard, while being stung by the miscreant.
So, I am left asking, what other pulpit injuries have occurred? I should be interested to know if readers have seen or read of or themselves experienced the fearful outcome of those moments when pulpits attack.
Charles Spurgeon had the knack of straight talk with a cutting edge leavened with a cheerful spirit and a lively tone, even when dealing with a serious subject. Here he employs this composite skill on the subject of compromise:
Men seem to say—It is of no use going on in the old way, fetching out one here and another there from the great mass. We want a quicker way. To wait till people are born again, and become followers of Christ, is a long process: let us abolish the separation between the regenerate and unregenerate. Come into the church, all of you, converted or unconverted. You have good wishes and good resolutions; that will do: don’t trouble about more. It is true you do not believe the gospel, but neither do we. You believe something or other. Come along; if you do not believe anything, no matter; your “honest doubt” is better by far than faith. “But,” say you, “nobody talks so.” Possibly they do not use the same words, but this is the real meaning of the present-day religion; this is the drift of the times. I can justify the broadest statement I have made by the action or by the speech of certain ministers, who are treacherously betraying our holy religion under pretence of adapting it to this progressive age. The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world, and so include a larger area within its bounds. By semi-dramatic performances they make houses of prayer to approximate to the theatre; they turn their services into musical displays, and their sermons into political harangues or philosophical essays—in fact, they exchange the temple for the theatre, and turn the ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to amuse men. Is it not so, that the Lord’s-day is becoming more and more a day of recreation or of idleness, and the Lord’s house either a joss-house full of idols, or a political club, where there is more enthusiasm for a party than zeal for God? Ah me! the hedges are broken down, the walls are levelled, and to many there is henceforth, no church except as a portion of the world, no God except as an unknowable force by which the laws of nature work.
This, then, is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform himself, his people, and his Word to the world. I will not dwell any longer on so loathsome a proposal.
As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep his covenant, and to those who remember his commandments to do them. (Ps 103.15-18
Gary Brady passes on a near-tragedy in the life of Richard Baxter:
Another time, as I sat in my Study, the Weight of my greatest Folio Books brake down three or four of the highest Shelves, when I sat close under them, and they fell down on every side me, and not one of them hit me, save one upon the Arm; whereas the Place, the Weight, and greatness of the Books was such, and my Head just under them, that it was a Wonder they had not beaten out my Brains, one of the Shelves right over my Head having the six Volumes of Dr. Walton‘s Oriental Bible, and all Austin‘s Works, and the Bibliotheca Patrum, and Marlorate, &c. (Reliquiae, 1.82)
Clearly the lesson learned is to keep your heavy books on the low shelves.