The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Janet Mefferd interview: “Passing Through”

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For those who may be interested, I was interviewed by Janet Mefferd at the end of September. That interview will air on 30th December, God willing. The audio can be heard under the podcast link at JanetMefferd.com, or it is also streamed at 10pm Central Time at the BottRadioNetwork.com site. Enjoy!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 28 December 2015 at 21:25

Posted in General

Five stars?

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Drop into some Amazon site or an equivalent at some point and have a look at the reviews for fairly substantial books by reasonably substantial authors of a fairly solidly evangelical stripe. Or look at the endorsements on some of the slim volumes and weighty tomes that issue ceaselessly from the presses of more or less evangelical publishing houses.

I had cause to look at some reviews recently, and I still contribute my own from time to time. I also check out various new books and even get asked to consider writing an endorsement from time to time. I confess to being concerned by a lack of properly critical engagement that borders on the lazy on the one hand and the dishonest on the other.

With regard to reviews, it is far from unusual to see the fanboy reviews in which, because Author Smith has written it, it gets a five star review because … well, how could it get anything else? Either that, or some other book gets an absolute slamming because it is written by Author Jones, and it goes without saying that Author Jones produces nothing but unmitigated tripe. Has anyone stopped actually to engage with Authors Smith and Jones and to consider and assess their assumptions, reasonings, and conclusions? Another class of laziness is seen in those middling reviews in which the reviewer seems disappointed to discover that the book was not the one which he had been expecting, and still less the far better one he clearly would have written had a cruel world not deprived him of the opportunity. Really? How about judging the book on its merits and intentions, or would that require stepping away from pre-judgments and presumptions and necessitating a little careful and critical participation?

One is tempted to conclude that if this is the vox populi, then it really needs to get its act together before it makes a future pronouncement. I am not suggesting that every reviewer needs to be an expert, as if every response must be a genuine peer review, but such contributions really help no one and offer no valuable insights. I recognise, too, that most reviewers review because moved to do so by a strong reaction, which tends to skew the system. However, when so many ordinary books are awarded five stars or the equivalent, it devalues the whole rating system, and robs one of the ability to recognise the rare but genuinely outstanding title.

If anything, the situation is even worse when it comes to endorsements. Given the amount of written applause generated by some blokes, it would not be surprising to read in a future biography that Pastor Brown had dedicated the year 2015 to the perusal of unpublished manuscripts, while Professor Green was grateful to be offered a sabbatical for the same purpose in 2013. I know that a lot of the top men know and appreciate and esteem one another, and that there is some kind of pecking order to differentiate those of us who lie in the gutter gazing at the stars. In some respects, I don’t have a beef with that, especially with regard to rightfully earned credibility and genuine relationship.

However, whether it comes from the top of the tree or slightly further down among the branches, it is disconcerting to read of decidedly average books that they are destined to be instant classics, read for years to come. Really? How often has that actually been the case? Will some of these instant classic really be recognised as such in fifty or one hundred years time? We open the pages of a treatise which we have been guaranteed will revolutionise our spiritual life (such a claim should always provoke the raised eyebrow). We find ourselves confronted with recycled mundanities or eccentric novelties communicated in a decidedly flat fashion or with self-important extravagance. Perhaps more troubling is the kind of professional puff that announces a triumph of insight and a model of precision on the back of something that is anything but. One is tempted to ask, “Has Endorser McKay actually read this dangerously vague and evasive tosh?” One begins to fear that Endorser MacDuff may be a little too close to Author McTavish to give a properly thoughtful and careful endorsement, or that McTavish saw fit to hint to MacDuff that favours in kind were available in return for something generous. I have seen evangelical cheeses of the largest sort give two thumbs up to volumes which border on the suspect and even flirt with the heretical, though whether by accident or design cannot be discerned thanks to the ineptitude of the apparently “brilliantly perspicuous” writer in question. The good stuff may benefit from a few honest and reliable voices underlining its value. Derivative and diluted drivel is not worthy of entering the arena to the kind of fanfare reserved for an unusually unrestrained Wrestlemania. I have wondered how this strange state of affairs has come about, and whether or not anyone cares that said big cheese seems to have lost or suspended his alleged capacity for spiritual discernment.

I appreciate that an endorsement is not a review, but neither is it a hearty pat on the back for trying hard and failing. It is a commendation intended to demonstrate to the reading public that the book in their hands or on their screen is indeed worthy of their investment and attention. Surely all the more reason for endorsers, especially those who name the name of Christ, only to give their stamp of approval to those volumes that they have properly read, and then to do so only in terms that they could properly explain if asked to do so? When endorsements prove to be nothing more than overcooked soufflés, they provide neither flavour nor sustenance for those who hope to be nourished by them.

It would be grand if 2016 would prove to be the year of the thoughtful review and the sincere endorsement. For those of us who seek them, write them, or read and use them, surely honesty and integrity, fairness and openness, ought to be appreciated above all? Sure, they may not be as dashing or glowing as the vacuities we presently endure, but at least they will be true and substantial. So here’s to crisp and clear endorsements that carry weight, and to truthfully appreciative four star and necessarily stinging two star reviews! Here’s to a bit more honesty and integrity! May we cultivate a spirit of generous but genuinely critical engagement that serves authors and readers well, promotes the health of God’s kingdom, and reflects a desire for righteousness even in the smallest things.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 21 December 2015 at 09:30

Posted in General

A warning

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Not so long ago I received the kind of warning that puts you to and keeps you looking over your shoulder. It came from an older and wiser man in the aftermath of a particular event, and it sent chills down my spine. In essence, I was warned to look out for the assaults of the wicked one, because – in his estimation – the distinctive circumstances suggested to him that the Adversary would be bristling.

Needless to say, this put me on my guard. I would not go so far as to say that I was on tenterhooks, but it would be reasonable to suggest that I left in a heightened state of spiritual alertness. Conscious of some of my particular, personal weaknesses and frailties, I sought to guard my heart, keeping Eye-Gate, Ear-Gate, Nose-Gate, Mouth-Gate and Feel-Gate well defended. My prayers took on a particular edge. Having had reason to mention the excellent little book by Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, I was left considering what might be the particular points at which I should expect the warned-against assaults.

As I pondered, a number of possibilities passed through my mind. And then I realised that several of them I could substantially discount. In themselves, it seemed that they were less likely to be the immediate occasion of the attack. Specifically, I did not need overmuch to fear physical death or damage. To be sure, there might be pressures associated with those circumstances which could be the assaults, but that is not, typically, the way Satan seeks to attack pastors.

He does not so much seek to harm or destroy us physically as to hurt or damage us in our role as ambassadors of Christ. He would no doubt be very content to see certain warriors carried away from the field of battle, but his greater concern is to damage the cause of Christ, if he could. He is much more likely to seek to destroy our reputations, and so to bring dishonour to our Saviour, than anything else. It is not trials alone, but trials as a means to temptation, that are most to be feared. Sufferings, even to death, can be occasions for the glorifying of God and his grace in Christ. However, the temptations that come in suffering, or the danger of being drawn or driven into the kinds of iniquities that allow men to mock our testimony and discount our witness – those are the things most to fear.

I know of at least one man of God who prays that the Lord would rather take his life than permit him to discredit or dishonour his Saviour by acting in a way that would be contrary to his testimony and would undermine his witness.

And so, if not quite on tenterhooks, it is good for God’s servant to cultivate this heightened sense of spiritual alertness. We should buttress the various gates that give entrance to the heart. We should consider afresh the distinctive points in our own humanity at which the Adversary is most likely to strike. We should watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation, and succumb to it in ways which not only bring us to disgrace but – in doing so – expose the name of Christ to dishonour. May the Lord in his mercy, and for his own name’s sake, rather take us away, than allow us to be the means of bringing scorn upon the name and cause of the best of Masters.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 19 December 2015 at 11:05

Posted in General

Review: “Do More Better”

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Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity
Tim Challies
Cruciform Press, 2015, 132pp., paperback, $9.99
ISBN 978-1-941114-17-9

In the kingdom of the distracted, the focused man is king. I often wonder if one of the prime saleable skills in the job market of the near-future will be the ability to concentrate over an extended period of diligent effort. If that is so, too many of us are going to be out of work.

As Christians, we accept that work is a gift, a privilege, and a duty. Before Adam fell, he was put in the perfect garden to tend and to keep it. Now, we contend with thorns and with thistles that cumber the ground – a host of obstacles and awkwardnesses that make our work hard. We contend, too, with our own sinful laziness. We contend with streams of diversions and distractions from our vocations and their moment-by-moment expressions.

Into that environment have come a number of books from Christian authors intended to assist us. Two that spring quickly to mind are Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung, a book which could have been entitled Deeply Distracted as I think it has as much if not more to do with the problem of distractedness than busyness. Then there are more developed volumes like Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next?, a sort of holy Getting Things Done book, full of helpful counsels.

Somewhere in the space between comes Tim Challies’ Do More Better. Challies’ book is shorter than Perman, more personal than DeYoung. Let me confess that I know Tim a little; I like Tim very much; I respect Tim a great deal. I am also in the slightly awkward situation of discovering that my own attempts at productivity use a very similar system to Tim, and some of that is due to the fact that I have taken his counsels once or twice over the years.

In brief, the author has spent a lot of time trying to work out how to be genuinely and responsibly productive to the glory of God and in the service of others, and here is the counsel he passes on. His definition of productivity is “effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.” The answer is not so much a checklist as the cultivation of a certain kind of character.
The productivity process begins with definition: working out what you’re actually supposed to be doing then defining your mission(s) in those spheres. Tim then identifies three tools: one for task management, one for scheduling, and one for information, each one organised around the simple principle that there is a home for everything, and like goes with like. As a creature of the digital age, Tim suggests three programmes (and some equivalents and alternatives) that provide these functions. Those who have turned their backs on (or never turned their faces to) the digital realm will have to find their own equivalents. Basically, Tim has a well-ordered set of filing cabinets and calendars floating in the electronic ether and well-stocked with information. With each tool comes some comments and counsels on how to make the most of each in integration with each other. Planning and prioritising and reviewing and maintaining also get a few words, before the whole is closed with some thoughts on taming email and twenty miscellaneous tips.

In short, it’s short and sweet. You may not use all the tools that Tim recommends, but the overall approach is – I think – a good one, and the structures within which Tim is operating are profitable to work through even if one does not necessarily arrive at all the same spots. I found myself going back over some of my own systems and fine-tuning under the gentle prods and reminders of Do More Better. This book may not have all your answers, but it contains very good questions and offers very helpful pointers. Like so much in this and other spheres, it provides the toolbox but it requires diligence and effort to learn and use the tools. Do that in dependence on God, and you will very likely thank God that someone like Tim bothered to write something like this.

And now, having checked off this task, Tim urges me on to another. Thank you, brother!

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 11 December 2015 at 12:54

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Baptist covenant theology study day

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 29 October 2015 at 13:35

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“Respect the Authorities”: Specific Counsels 1 and 2

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Specific Counsels: Remember the Distinction and Recognize the Appointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 6 July 2015 at 07:21

Posted in General

“Respect the Authorities”: Scriptural Framework #1 ~ A Proper Subjection

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Following on from the introduction, here is the first element of a scriptural framework helping us through the issue of respect for civil authority.

A Proper Subjection

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (Rom. 13:1–7)

This is part of the apostle’s treatment of practical Christian living in the real world, and here Paul traces a tight, logical sequence. What he says may be considered an outworking of the full spiritual force of the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12). The implications of this commandment concern our relationship to God-appointed authority, and its demands reach far deeper and wider than parental authority. The Shorter Catechism helpfully expands the essence, reminding us that the fifth commandment requires us to preserve the honor of and perform the duties belonging to all people in their various places and relations, whether as superiors, inferiors, or equals. By way of negative contrast, it forbids the neglecting of or doing anything against the honor and duty that belong to all people in their various places and relations.

Here Paul takes that principle and applies it to the relationship of believers to the civil magistrate. It is a rule for all people: each one must be subject to the governing authorities, “the powers that be,” in the evocative phrasing of the King James Version. It is a call not merely to grudging quietism or passive acceptance but to an active and comprehensive embrace of submission in all lawful duties and services. It is not a mere matter of obligatory constraint or restraint, but a positive pursuit of a disposition and deeds that show one’s awareness that the Lord has appointed authorities.

There is a recognition inherent in this submission that the power exercised by these authorities is by divine appointment (Prov. 8:15). God has devised, designated, and delegated the exercise of all earthly powers subordinate to His own. The highest and lowest civil authorities have been ordained in principle and in person by the Lord of heaven and earth. There is a clear sequence of corollaries: to resist these authorities is to resist what God has ordained, which is to resist God, which is to invite wrath or judgment. Although the context suggests that the primary reference is to the judgment meted out by civil magistrates in accordance with God’s appointment, there may be a hint of eternality in the language as well.

All this is bounded in the intended benefits of government. Rulers are appointed to be a terror to evil—to spook the bad guys, keeping evil at bay—so that the citizen who acts uprightly should have nothing to fear. We must recognize that God has appointed earthly authority to be a blessing to men. Civil magistrates have been granted the sword to defend good and to punish evil. Even usurped or abused authority—which we might and should as Christians and citizens speak against—ought to and often does provide a measure of control and order in a nation against the outbreak of open sin, a protection against those times when every man does what is right in his own eyes (Judg. 21:25).

Two reasons are provided for this principled submission. The first is “wrath,” the fear of temporal judgments against evildoing, but this is not the only reason and would in itself be a fairly shallow one. The saints also obey “for conscience’ sake,” recognizing their obligations to the God who has appointed those authorities and having their consciences bound ultimately to Him.

The implications are clear and practical. Christians are to offer to the government whatever belongs to the government by right— appropriate maintenance and appropriate reverence: “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Rom. 13:7).

Whether in the material or the moral spheres, governments ought to receive from us what God has called us to give. Before we begin to buck at this and start offering exceptions to the rule, we would do well to recognize that this commandment was not issued to a church basking in the hazy afterglow of the largely tragic Constantinian settlement. It did not float down to saints enjoying the benefits of a post-Enlightenment liberal democracy, but to believers who were living in the Roman Empire under the tyranny of such beasts as Claudius and Nero Caesar. These men were no friends to humanity, let alone to Christianity, but despots who ruled with the proverbial fist of iron as those who considered themselves gods. The issue is not first and foremost the character of the magistrate or his abuses of the power put in his hands, but the position to which he has been appointed by God as an agent of temporal justice in some measure.

We must acknowledge that this does not suspend the believer’s ultimate obligation to God. The apostles themselves were perfectly clear that they ought to obey God rather than men whenever the civil or religious authorities commanded something that God forbade or forbade something that God commanded. Peter challenged the Sanhedrin, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge” (Acts 4:19). Not long after, he and the other apostles were even plainer: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

While we will consider this tension in more detail as we move on, we should note that this understanding dictates the occasions on which and the tone in which some form of resistance or disobedience is legitimized. Perhaps the finest examples are found in the book of Daniel. In the first instance, Daniel’s three friends refuse to bow to the image of gold erected by Nebuchadnezzar. Threatened with death in the fiery furnace if they will not obey, their reply is a model of gracious refusal. Their language is polite and eminently respectful. Their recognition of the king’s authority is sincere and humble. Their refusal to obey is absolute. Their faithfulness to God is complete: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:16–18). How infuriating it must have been to Nebuchadnezzar to have men who humbly and reverently accepted his right to throw them into a fiery furnace and politely refused to obey him anyway!

Daniel is no less noble and gracious when forbidden to pray to anyone but Darius. He will not lay aside God’s law in the matter and is willing to be thrown into the lions’ den as a consequence. And how does he respond to the concerned emperor who hurries down to the den the morning after? With words like these: “O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you” (Dan. 6:21–22). Daniel honors his sovereign, testifies to God, and defends his actions, all at once. Recognizing the authorities as appointed by God conditions our attitudes and actions toward them, even when as disciples of Christ we are legitimately obliged to refuse particular demands.

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 29 June 2015 at 06:40

Posted in General

An enemy

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I would not go so far as to call this high art, and I have no idea whether or not the author, Edwin L. Sabin, was a Christian by profession or in truth, but there’s something that rings real about the following poem. How often we fight and struggle, only at least to discover what Sabin identifies here.

An enemy I had, whose mien [appearance]
I stoutly strove in vain to know;
For hard he dogged my steps, unseen,
Wherever I might go.

My plans he balked; my aims he foiled;
He blocked my every onward way.
When for some lofty goal I toiled,
He grimly said me nay.

“Come forth!” I cried, “Lay bare thy guise!
Thy wretched features I would see.”
Yet always to my straining eyes
He dwelt in mystery.

Until one night I held him fast,
The veil from off his form did draw;
I gazed upon his face at last—
And, lo! myself I saw.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 22 June 2015 at 07:39

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The Westminster Conference 2015: “The Power of God for Salvation”

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Brochure 2015The Westminster Conference will take place later this year, God willing, in central London at Regent Hall on Oxford Street. As usual, there are two days of lectures and discussion, Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th December. The outline for the two days is below, and the brochure can be downloaded to obtain the booking form. More information can be found at the conference website.

Sin and sanctification in John Owen (Sinclair Ferguson ~ Elder at St. Peter’s Free Church, Dundee). John Owen is one of the monumental figures of the seventeenth century. His profound scriptural sensitivity to sin and understanding of sanctification form some of the deepest currents of his work both as a theologian and as a pastor. This paper will explore these complementary and contradictory elements of Christian experience through the lens of Owen’s wrestling with the issues.

“On the side of God”: Andrew Fuller’s pastoral theology (Jeremy Walker ~ Pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley). Andrew Fuller is recognised as a theologian and for his friendship with and support of William Carey. However, these labours cannot be divorced from his principles and practices as a pastor and a preacher. This was his primary calling. It informed and was expressed in everything else in which he was involved. This paper will draw together some of the convictions recorded, conclusions reached and counsels expressed by Andrew Fuller in the realm of pastoral theology.

The atonement and evangelistic preaching in John Owen (David Pfeiffer ~ Minister of Cheltenham Evangelical Free Church). Apparent tensions between convictions about the definite extent of the atonement joined with commitments to the freeness of the gospel offer are perennial issues in Christ’s church. Few men have contended for the former more effectively than John Owen and his works breathe a lively and transparent concern that lost men should trust in the only Saviour of sinners. David Pfeiffer will help us to see these elements of Owen’s labour in healthy parallel.

Erasmus and the Greek New Testament (Peter Hallihan ~ retired from pastoral ministry; Editorial Consultant for TBS). Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469–1536) was the genius sometimes described as the prince of the humanists. Perhaps his most enduring contribution to learning and religion was his edition of the Greek New Testament of 1516, which became the basis of most vernacular translations of the Scriptures for the next three centuries. Peter Hallihan will give us insights into the man and his work, tracing some of his influences and influence.

Jonathan Edwards and the religious affections (Paul Helm ~ formerly Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion, King’s College, London). The name of Jonathan Edwards, together with select elements of his theology, have become more prominent in the thinking and practice of Reformed evangelicals in recent years. Ready reference is made to well-known but not always well-understood works such as Edwards’ study of the religious affections. Paul Helm will take a fresh look at this book, emphasising its setting and its sources, helping us grasp the substance and application of Edwards’ work.

Isaac Watts and the gift of prayer (Benedict Bird ~ ThM Student and Greek Teacher at London Theological Seminary). Best known for his hymnody, Isaac Watts was also an influential theologian. He considered prayer to be not only a duty but a precious privilege, and he wrote to assist the saints in learning to pray. He showed that prayer is a gift, but one that can be developed. Prayer is not always high on the agenda in the church of Christ, and not often developed to a high degree when it is. In his Guide to Prayer, Watts directs us still to cultivate “this holy skill of conversation with God.”

“Living Dangerously” in Kensworth

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Living DangerouslyOn Thursday 25th June at 7.30pm I shall, God willing, be at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Kensworth, Bedfordshire, to give an address on Edward Harrison, vicar of the church in the 1600s before he embraced Baptist practice and polity and became one of the movers and shakers among the London Particular Baptists at the height of the persecution of Dissenters during the middle part of that century. It is all part of the “Real Life” sequence of events connected with Grace Baptist Church, Edlesborough.

The address is entitled “Living Dangerously.” It’s not my title, but it is certainly an apt one, for Harrison was a man who sacrificed much for the sake of a clear conscience before God and men. I have been impressed by his courage and refreshed by his convictions, and I hope those who hear me will be be similarly encouraged.

Your prayers for the occasion would be appreciated. Your presence, if you could make it, would be delightful.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 13 June 2015 at 22:48

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Desperate crowdsourcing

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Does anyone out there, anywhere in the world, have a copy of a book or pamphlet called Touchstone, which has to do with the laying on of hands on baptized persons, published about the year 1653 by Edward Harrison, once vicar of Kensworth and by this time among the Particular Baptists in London? I have tried all the libraries and private collections I can think of, and this is among my last resorts. Thank you in advance!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 June 2015 at 10:01

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A breath and a blessing

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dandelion blowing 3On the morning of Tuesday 24th March 2015, 150 people – passengers and crew – boarded Germanwings flight 4U9525. They were travelling from Barcelona in Spain to Düsseldorf in Germany. The flight took off at 9.01am. The final contact with air traffic control was at 9.30am. At 9.30am the autopilot was switched on. By 9.31am the aircraft was in a controlled descent over the Alps. There was no response at 9.35am when air traffic control attempted to make further contact, but the flight recorders picked up the sound of some kind of pounding on the cabin door. The last radar contact was made at 9.40am, with the aircraft about 2000 feet above the mountains; screaming can be heard on the recordings. Within moments the aircraft struck the ground at 430 miles an hour. All 150 people on board were killed almost instantly.

How do you respond to these events? Perhaps with shock, grief, anger or fear? As we survey these things, we have seen courage and dignity, pride and vindictiveness, pain and sorrow, anguish and bewilderment. We are reminded that we do not know what is in the heart of man, and we may never know all that took place in the aeroplane.

But what should you make of it? What lessons can we learn from such a tragedy? In the Bible, a king called David was writing about some of the triumphs that he had enjoyed and the mercies he had obtained. And then he strikes a thoughtful, sober note: “Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:3–4).

In these words, mankind is seen to scale in a fallen world full of sin and sorrow. It puts my life and yours in perspective. These words remind us that life is a breath and a blessing.

Life is a breath

Why does the God of heaven have regard for mankind? These words suggest a comparison while they make a declaration. Breath is mere vapour, a puff of air, something that is empty. A passing shadow has no strength or substance – it is a shade that slips away. This is a picture of human life in a fallen world.

It speaks of frailty. Even a child knows that bubbles do not last and balloons do not endure. The life of a shadow depends on the passing clouds! When the aircraft struck the ground, humanly speaking, there was no chance of survival. The strongest, wisest, cleverest, fittest, richest, most gifted and talented people died just as suddenly as any others. King David enthroned in triumph acknowledges that his life is a breath. Assaults, accidents, diseases – all bring men and women to a quick end.

The language also communicates brevity, the shortness of life. Bubbles burst, breaths are exhaled. The longest lifespan of a shadow is a single day, and it leaves no trace behind. A man who lived to be 130 years old said, “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). There was a seven month old baby who died. Sixteen school children were killed. And yet the longest life on that plane was a relatively short one.

Then we learn of the uncertainty of life. Perhaps no-one boarded that plane – perhaps one person did – thinking that they were in the last hour of their life. Those school children sent texts of eager anticipation at being home. We have heard reports of the expectations and ambitions, the dreams and the schemes of some of those who died. Those grand plans and efforts have now come to nothing. You and I do not know when or how our life on earth will end. The Word of God warns us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). So many people are ushered unprepared into eternity, imagining a longer life and making no preparation for death and judgment.

Have you considered these painful realities of human life in a fallen world? Such events – especially such tragedies – force us to face the frailty, brevity and uncertainty of life, and the fact that afterward there is a judgement. The Lord Jesus himself reminded people, in the face of various sudden deaths, that the people who suffered them were no worse sinners than any others. He used the occasion to warn us that “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke’s Gospel 13:1–5).

These are painful lessons to us who remain. We are too often arrogant bubbles and proud shadows, quick to boast of our strength and to forget the fearful reality.

Life is a blessing

So what is our hope? If our lives are so frail, brief and uncertain, is there any prospect for us? Remember the words of King David: “Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:3–4).

Here is an astounding fact: the Lord God Almighty takes notice of mankind. It does not mean that God is aware of our existence and sends a passing glance in our direction. It means that he plans and purposes with mankind in mind, he designs and determines to take account of sinful creatures like you and me. God is mindful of mankind with regard to both our weakness and our wickedness.

With regard to our weakness, life is given and sustained. Perhaps we presume our entitlement to life. We ought to be grateful for the gift. God is described in the Bible as the one who “gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts17:25). The tragedy is that we often live like another king from history who lived as he pleased and worshipped what he wanted, but “the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified” (Daniel 5:23). God ought to be glorified by you and all his creatures, “for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever” (Romans 11:36). The gift of life is not to be used to pursue your sinful pleasures but to seek the glory of God who made you. Do you have any thought of God? Do you live with any regard for him? Do you serve him with your life or waste your hours on vanities? Our opportunities are so short, and our life is so unstable, and yet we live with no regard for God.

Furthermore, that life given is sustained. Though life in itself is frail, brief and uncertain, yet you are still alive to read these words! How many times have you been spared death? How many times has your life been preserved? Perhaps you can remember assaults, accidents or sicknesses when you almost lost your life. Perhaps there were risks and dangers about which you still have no idea. You owe to a merciful God not only the life you have but the fact that you still have it. That is true on the largest scale: God sustains this world and everything in it, all its reliability and stability in terms of days and seasons (Genesis 8-9). “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew’s Gospel 5:45). We all benefit from his kindnesses. It is true on the smallest scale, for our individual lives are all known to him. We can say that “in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:16). A Christian can say with confidence that not even the smallest bird “falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew’s Gospel 10:29–30).

But God is mindful not only of our weakness but also our wickedness. You see, the problem is not merely that we are creatures, but we are sinful creatures. Though we have been given life, breath and all things by a mighty and merciful God, we live as if we were gods, as if we called all the shots in our life. And yet God is still mindful of mankind. In the face of our rebellions and sins, life is offered and assured.

Not only has God given us what we might call common mercies, he also holds out saving mercies. He offers us eternal life in his kingdom, so that one writer can say that “even when we were dead in trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be our peace, to make it and to proclaim it to sinners like us. He “remembered us in our lowly state … and rescued us from our enemies, for His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:23–24). Those enemies include sin and death – the only way to be prepared for our entrance into eternity is through Jesus Christ, whom God sent in love so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life (John’s Gospel 3:16). This is God taking knowledge of sinners so as to hold out salvation to us. The Son of God became a man and died on the cross so that sinners like us might have everlasting love (Philippians 2:5–8). This is God’s mercy to and pity for sinners, offering life to us though we are lost and helpless in ourselves. He has thought upon us and held out life in Christ.

And this life is assured. When a sinner trusts in Jesus Christ they obtain a life which death itself cannot end, and are given “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4–5). Our present body can be likened to “our earthly house, this tent,” but if it is destroyed, a Christian can say that “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). There is nothing frail, brief or uncertain about that life! Your hope in life and in death hinges upon the saving mercies of God in Christ, grasped by faith. In the Old Testament, a prophet called Isaiah contrasted the person who trusts in empty things with the one who believes in God: “When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry them all away, a breath will take them. But he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, and shall inherit My holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13). So those who trust in Jesus, according to the promise of God, “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

Have you considered the frailty, brevity and uncertainty of your life? Let the dreadful events of recent days press these things home to your soul. And remember, in the face of all your weakness, and despite all your sin and your sinning, God has given and sustained the gift of natural life. Furthermore, in the face of all your wickedness, God has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, that you might have life in his name, and might have it more abundantly (John’s Gospel 10:10) – life everlasting!

The God of heaven and earth is marvellously, mercifully, mindful of mankind. This is your only hope in this world and for the next. The only answer to your frail, brief, uncertain life is the divine mercy and sufficiency.

I plead with you to think about the mercies you have already received in the face of your weakness and your wickedness. Your life is a gracious gift, and though it may hang by a thread, you still possess it. What thought – what gratitude, worship and service – have you given to the God who gives and sustains your life?

But think, too, of the mercies you are now offered in the face of your weakness and wickedness. Life is passing, but God has been mindful of you. Without Christ, you will die and go into judgement, and face the horrors of hell. But God has sent Christ as a Saviour, and has put this leaflet in your hand to warn you of eternal death and awful damnation and to hold out everlasting life in Christ. Christ says, “Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 3 April 2015 at 14:31

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Looking for a headteacher

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A few weeks ago I mentioned a CofE primary school in Crawley, West Sussex, called St Margaret’s, Ifield, that is in the process of seeking a new head teacher. The position has now been advertised. Perhaps you or someone you know might be interested? As you will see from the advert, the school is seeking a robust and faithful Christian who will be an excellent head teacher. Oh, and there happens to be a fine Reformed or Particular Baptist church not too far away …

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Friday 20 February 2015 at 16:00

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Disappearing into the sunset of another brave new world

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ride into sunsetThe credits roll. The hero and/or heroine (fling in a plural or two as appropriate) mount their horses, or link their arms, or climb aboard, or do something else redolent of completion, and disappear into the sunset. Some measure of victory lies behind them, even if more battles might lie ahead.

It is what happens at the end of a thousand films or television programmes – not all, but most. Sitting on a long aeroplane flight, as was my recent situation, you catch a glimpse of it up and down the aisles. But review the programmes on offer, and a slightly more nuanced story emerges. The vast majority of films presume upon a painful, dystopian, or even (favourite phrase) post-apocalyptic setting for the action. Despite a succession of happy-ish endings (even temporary ones, where the hero[es] wander on to the next conflict in the dystopian haze) the working assumption is that man is a fairly miserable creature.

It may be struggle and conflict. It may be sickness and disease. It may be disasters natural or man-made. It may be broken relationships of battered minds and bodies. Whatever it may be, the vast majority of these films seem to begin with evil in the ascendancy. Of course, they often end on a high note, but high notes don’t work when you need another slice of devastation and grimness against which to set your next hero. It is a matter of interest of me that no matter what denials our cultures cultivate against the fact of original sin and the depravity of our nature, it is what they assume when they begin to consider or anticipate the future.

What seems to be the norm is a fairly realistic (biblical) view of human nature, with a desperate desire for someone who rises above the norm and who can therefore overcome the dead ends into which our nature drives us. We struggle to argue overmuch with the first – it might at least give us at least some point of contact as we seek to expose the proud folly of sinful man. With regard to the second, it is a tragic case of fallen men looking in all the wrong places.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 17 February 2015 at 20:03

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Head teacher alert

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Those in the teaching profession might be interested to know that there is a CofE primary school in Crawley, West Sussex, called St Margaret’s, Ifield, that is in the process of seeking a new head teacher. I intend to draw attention to the advert when it is finalised and publicised, but perhaps you or someone you know might be interested. One reason for bringing this to attention through this blog is that we would be hopeful that the candidate will be a robust and faithful Christian in addition to being an excellent head teacher. If you are interested, or know someone who might be, please keep your eyes open through this blog or the usual channels. Oh, and there happens to be a fine Reformed or Particular Baptist church not too far away …

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 14 January 2015 at 16:42

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A Fuller taste

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Andrew Fuller 4This year is the 200th anniversary of the death of the Baptist pastor-theologian Andrew Fuller, so expect a few bits and pieces coming your way.

Here is your starter for ten …

You may be in the sad condition of not really knowing what you are missing by not knowing Fuller. One way to get a taste of the man as a preacher is a selection from his sermons providing a thirty day devotional. It may be a little late for the start the year, but I would like to think it would provide a real blessing to your daily spiritual routine at some point over the next twelve months. It’s dirt cheap, seems to be only available on Kindle, and you can grab it at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

Enjoy!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 8 January 2015 at 23:55

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Shallow and narrow

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pile of books 7One of the joys, if we choose to call it that, of the turn of the year is the “books wot I red” lists that emanate from bloggers left, right and centre. Some of them are simply crass arrogance – the “I read bigger, better, harder, higher, or simply more books than you” approach, a bit like those posts that slide out before the holidays suggesting the thirty tomes that the great and the good will be knocking back in their five days by the seaside. Some of the lists are genuine attempts to encourage and direct others in their reading or the well-meaning surveys of those who read more rapidly, more widely or in a more disciplined way than the rest of us. Some are combined with, or set alongside, the ten or twenty or fifty books that every Christian should read. So, for example, “The twenty books published this year that I read that every other Christian should read.”

But when you flick through a few of these, a pattern begins to emerge. Whether or not it’s your year-end or all-time lists, most of the books are often fairly predictable. What’s particularly disappointing is when the all-time lists include a significant majority of predictable authors from the same circles writing over the last ten years or so. I have seen a couple recently in which, having read the first five, I could have finished off the list for the chap in question, it being so clear the trajectory he was on.

I suspect that we are all prone to this (notice, I did not yet say guilty) to some degree. Most of us, either of necessity or habit or developed preference, have a measure of limit or focus to our reading at any particular time. If I am preparing a series of sermons, researching a particular person or period, or just enjoying something more than usual, my patterns of reading will reflect an element of concentration. Beyond that, we doubtless gravitate toward what we enjoy and profit from – reliable authors, favoured schools of thought, sweet places and stirring periods. That is fair enough, and understandable over time.

However, despite the Pavlovian salivation that occurs whenever anyone mentions the sainted Lewis, well-known for his critique of chronological snobbery in our reading, few seem to be taking him too seriously (whether or not they are confessed Lewis-slobberers). Indeed, the problem spreads beyond the temporal into the topical and the authorial and the geographical.

Too many of those lists show a narrowness and a shallowness that goes beyond the myopic and borders on the deliberately blind. Few contain anything more than a passing nod to anything too far outside the comfort zone. How will we ever test and assess and grow if we refuse to read anything that does not merely buttress or endorse our own preferred authors, preconceived notions, precious systems and protected memes? Some of these lists read like little more than exercises in how to pronounce ‘shibboleth’ properly.

I am not saying that we should indulge an appetite for pap or an itch for poison. Less mature readers usually need safer boundaries than more mature readers. But even the less mature could and should read beyond the hackneyed round of a few religious gurus. All should read those books which – without ever going outside the bounds of substantial orthodoxy – push us to think in ways we never otherwise would. Those starting out need to get into a groove, not drop into a pit. For most of us, it does us good to be stretched, challenged, engaged, taken out of our depth. If we are well-grounded in the faith, such a process can helpfully stir us, exercise us and ultimately strengthen us.

Take a few minor examples: you are a dyed-in-the-wool right wing reactionary of the sort who believes that the injunction to be subject to the governing authorities is somehow suspended in some way when speaking of and dealing with the Blairs and the Obamas of this world. Read a little Christopher Wright, and the first time you come up against his (let the reader understand) sentimental promotion of a left wing agenda of social (read socialist!) justice in the name of the Lord and Anglicanism you shy like a startled mustang. Fine, but once you calm down, you need to ask yourself where his notions and convictions come from, and go back to your Bible, and sieve his conclusions through the grid of Scripture, and assess and learn and argue. At worst, you have tested your own convictions against the convictions of another, and decided that – though you may have a little extra nuance – you see no particular need to shift your most fundamental anchor points. You might even wonder if you have been reading the Bible with one eye closed, and become determined to be more honest with Scripture and with yourself, even if you still can’t see what Mr Wright sees. Or, you are a high Presbyterian who believes that Baptists cannot be considered covenantal theologians, let alone in any way Reformed, and so you insist on referring to them as Anabaptists and dreaming of the day when a properly established Christian state is once again free to persecute such. It might not hurt you to read through some of the material recovering, interacting with and rehearsing some of the seventeenth century material and its underlying convictions, so that in the future your invective is marginally less marred by ignorance. Or, you are a persuaded cessationist, steadfast in your proper conviction that the apostolic gifts ceased with the office of the apostles while still delighting in and relying upon the continued operations of the Holy Spirit. Fair enough, but what about reading your differing brothers at their most intelligent and reasonable, so that you can at least understand why they believe what they say, can see the differences between what is claimed to be the case and what usually happens when someone lays claim to such gifts, and can more thoughtfully and graciously expose the exegetical flaws and practical dangers of their position?

Whatever our particular anchor points, it often does no harm to consider why someone would drop their anchor some little distance from our own. If nothing else, it might get your blood flowing. Who knows, you might even learn something? Better still, we should be deliberately searching out those who have gone before us with reputations for genuine godliness and sacrificial service who shake us out of our crassly comfortable little ruts and make us wonder whether or not we have ever grasped the greatness and the glory of the Lord.

So, let us get outside our own century and our own circle. Let us have lists with a little of a patristic flavour, with a few of the best medievals, a dose of the Reformers, a shot of the Puritans and their successors, a fillip of the eighteenth century men, a snack on the best that the nineteenth has to offer, and a smattering of the twentieth, as well as the low-lying fruit of the twenty-first. Let the breeze of the centuries waft over your souls. Roam the world where the truth has taken root – let the theologians of Europe and Africa and Asia and Australia, and perhaps even America, expand your sense as they wrestle with and apply theology in a context utterly unlike your own. Are you more of a historian? Read some biblical theology! Systematics your thing? How about some missiology? Linguistics float your boat? Dive into a few more biographies. Love your new Calvinists? Read some old ones – get into the Puritans! More of a Genevan? Have a dig around in the Calvinistic Methodists. Stuck in the sentiment of the Victorians? Take a bracing dose of a scholarly Scot. Mired in the multiplied divisions of the Puritans? Shake yourself loose with a canter through the church fathers. Plodding through the Princetonians? Dive into the Particular Baptists. Drowning in the Particular Baptists? Get stuck into the English or Continental Reformers.

As you think about your reading for the coming year, might I suggest that you take up something, early on, that is very much not what you would incline toward. Sprinkle a little seasoning into your reading, slide something spicy into your bland book pile, and add a little zest to your nightstand. Range righteously but rigorously through time and space and opinion. And perhaps, next year, you will produce some truly refreshing ‘best of’ lists that – in addition to blessing your own soul – will introduce the rest of us to a wider and more spiritually stimulating world.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 30 December 2014 at 21:36

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Grace and sin

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A number of pastoral issues have arisen recently which have brought home to me some particular truths and some particular emphases arising from them. Many of these situations are on the fringes of church life or outside it (though I sincerely hope that some of them might, under God’s gracious influences, come within it in due course). How much we need to grasp spiritual realities with scriptural definition! It is a great distress to see how often false religion dismisses the former and degrades the latter, but even more grievous is to see professing Christians mishandle matters of central importance. (Please understand that these are not veiled critiques of events in the Christian stratosphere, but observations about concrete situations in local churches, or at least those places which call themselves churches. But you are wise, and may apply it.)

One area where this has cropped up recently is in the matter of grace, what Matthew Henry somewhere describes as “the free favour of God and all the blessed fruits of it.” In common Christian parlance, grace seems to have become a catch-all noun to describe a certain kind of softness and carelessness with regard to sin. When acts and patterns of sin are exposed, we are encouraged to be gracious, but that grace is often not defined or ill-defined. When criticisms are made of certain acts and their actors, the rebuke is readily offered, “That is not gracious!” Grace, apparently, can ignore the sin that calls forth the critique, but not the sin of critiquing it!

So, for example, when there is gross sin in the church, we must show grace. When someone is acting wickedly, it is gracious not to condemn it. When a lie is told, grace will ignore the matter. When leaders fudge matters of righteousness, ignore God’s truth, and expose God’s flock to harms because they will not deal with transgressors, they are showing grace, and we must show grace by not charging them with any failings.

But this nebulous notion of grace is very far removed from the spiritual reality with scriptural definition that we find revealed and displayed in our Bibles. Gospel grace does not excuse or ignore or neglect sin. Gospel grace is never casual or careless with regard to transgression. Gospel grace, whether patterned in God or echoed in man, never pretends sin is not sin. Gospel grace does not expose the flock to harm because it will not identify error and heresy and defend against errorists and heretics, even in the name of love. Gospel grace suffers long, but it is not a disregard for iniquity that is dishonouring to God and dangerous to men. Gospel grace does not call evil good, and good evil; it does not put darkness for light, and light for darkness, or bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Is 5.20).

Gospel grace always faces and addresses sin, though it does so in a gracious way. If you want a seasonal example, think of that just man, who did not want to make the woman he loved a public example, despite what he was legitimately persuaded was the growing evidence of heinous sin, and “was minded to put her away secretly” (Mt 1.19). Grace took no delight in parading sin, but it did not pretend that it was not (as far as could reasonably be determined) sin. When Joseph was enlightened concerning the reality of the situation, would he not have been relieved that he did not have an immediately ungracious response, and make of Mary the most public example he could? Grace prevents us making errors born of harshness, and allows for the easy correction of mistakes.

Remember that fervent love is commanded among the saints, a love which will cover a multitude of sins (1Pt 4.8 cf. Prv 10.12), but consider that such love recognises sin as sin and chooses that, for good and proper reasons, it will be discreet in dealing with it or covering it. Again, to quote Matthew Henry, this love “inclines people to forgive and forget offences against themselves, to cover and conceal the sins of others, rather than aggravate them and spread them abroad.” We read that “the discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Prv 19.11) – he decides, as appropriate, that this transgression is not something that needs to be dealt with immediately and publicly, though he still recognises it as transgression, and there may come a time when a pattern of transgression requires him to stop overlooking and start acting. We do not pull one another up on every slip of deed and word, but take account of our frailties and failings as sinful creatures, creatures with remaining sin even as redeemed men and women. This is the grace of God as Father, who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103.8–14).

Notice here the hints at the greatest expression of grace: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in coming into the world to die on the cross for his wretched and sin-wrecked people was at once the clearest recognition of sin and the highest expression of mercy. God did not pretend that there was no sin; he saw it more clearly than we ever shall, but put it away by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. The cross is at once the revealing of the sinfulness of sin and the demonstration of the graciousness of grace.

Gospel grace does not revel in the public exposure of sin and aggressive shaming of sinners, like a church boasting of how many cases of corrective discipline it has handled recently. But neither does it sweep sin away as if it were of no moment. True gospel grace, patterned in a gracious God and echoed in gracious men, always faces sin head on. It is patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, but it is also fiercely committed to the glory of a God who is holy and to the good of those who are called to be holy just as he is holy. It calls sin sin, and it considers the nature, occasion and consequences of any particular sin and responds appropriately.

Grace is not, then, an excuse to downplay or dismiss sin as if it were of no consequence, to go on neglecting to deal with it. Grace does not make sin of no account. Grace is the most honest in dealing with sin. Grace always takes account of sin, it looks sin in the ugly eye and – one way or another – it puts it away, sometimes at great cost to itself, dealing fairly and even tenderly with those in whom that sin is discerned, as occasion demands.

Grace, ultimately, is Godlike. It is not a commodity, a mere thing, but an expression of the heart of God in Christ Jesus his Son. If we would have a pattern for gospel grace, we must find it in Christ crucified. Bring all sin into the light of the gospel, put all sin under the shadow of the cross, and there you shall find wisdom in how to deal with it. Deal with it graciously, but deal with it you must. There is nothing gracious about pretending otherwise.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 23 December 2014 at 10:01

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Well, OK, but just this once …

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My concern is, more generally, how very practiced evangelical Christians seem to be at backing down. I imagine we believe that it is gracious. Do not resist the evil person, turn the other cheek, give your cloak to him who wants your tunic (not as catchy, I admit), go the extra mile, give to him who asks, surrender every point of principle … oh, hang on!

Read about the dangers of capitulation at Reformation21.

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Friday 19 December 2014 at 15:26

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“Through the Eyes of Spurgeon”

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Thursday 18 December 2014 at 09:05

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The gospel in Kent

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Word reaches me that those interested in the progress of the gospel in Kent can join likeminded brothers and sisters to pray about the planting of a new church in Maidstone. Join others this Thursday at 7:30pm at Union Chapel in Bethersden for the next Maidstone prayer meeting.

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Wednesday 22 October 2014 at 11:27

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On pastoral (dis)qualification and other things

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This is not about Mark Driscoll, though it is prompted by a few notes being sounded (not by him, as far as I am aware) with regard to his resignation letter, and the circumstances surrounding it.

First, pastoral qualification is never merely a matter of apparent giftedness and effectiveness. It has at its root a question of character. I thankfully acknowledge that, mercifully, and to the best of our knowledge, Mark has not been guilty of “immorality, illegality and heresy.” Nevertheless, I protest that this is not the issue in the matter of pastoral qualification and disqualification. The presence of scandalous and often public sin would certainly disqualify any man from ministry at that point in time and very possibly perpetually. Its mere absence, though, is not the same as being qualified for ministry. There are a set of very specific and detailed qualifications that are necessary – not optional – for any man who would be an under-shepherd of any flock of God. For the sake of completeness, here they are, with some emphasised elements, some relating to present and some to past issues:

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Tim 3:1–7)

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. (Ti 1:5–9)

Many moons ago, I addressed some of this here. Any man – however prominent, apparently gifted or seemingly effective – who falls short in these matters is disqualified from the pastorate. If these matters of character remain as unresolved patterns of behaviour in any man seeking to shepherd the flock of God, then he cannot – for the sake of the church, he must not! – be permitted to take that office.

A second matter has to do with the matter of apologies and forgiveness. We are often told that some man has apologised for something. He was sorry he did it. Fine, and so might we all be. But an apology is not the same as repentance. The gracious dynamic that truly resolves sin and its offence is not the mere passage of time, nor the issuing of a more-or-less public apology (see here for more on this). It is the expression of sincere repentance, with its appropriate fruits, with forgiveness extended in principle and practice, leading – we trust – to genuine reconciliation and appropriate restoration. Quite apart from anything else, I can be sorry for a sin that I may or intend to go on committing. Repentance involves a God-dependent determination and whole-souled commitment to keep from sinning in that way again. So applause for apology is a different thing to forgiving the repentant, and we should not confuse the two, either in their intention or effect.

Finally, let there be no gloating: “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1Cor 10:12). You may believe you saw this coming. You may have mourned over the painful trajectory that developed, and perhaps the failure of those who publicly applauded phases of Mark’s career publicly to address the change in tack. You may have your suspicions and fears about what comes next. But to revel in the sin of another is a demonic thing. To rejoice in a man’s public downfall is to join Satan’s company. When you see another man, any man, sinning and stumbling, remember that – but for the grace of God – that is you, and pray with tears that it might never be.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 16 October 2014 at 10:03

Bring the books!

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books 4I did not think to mention this earlier, but for those in and around Sussex (and anyone else who can get there) there is a Sussex Conference this coming Saturday, hosted by Hailsham Baptist Church, and the topic is “Bring the books!”

I have been asked to preach and teach three times on that topic and am very much looking forward to it. The conference begins at 10.30am, and the cost is negligible. It’s a little late in the day, but I am sure that they will be delighted to welcome all comers, though grateful for advance notice if you are able to give it. All the details are on the brochure here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 October 2014 at 13:02

Posted in General

Westminster Conference 2014: “Authentic Calvinism?”

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Brochure 2014 coverThis year’s Westminster Conference is within hailing distance (Tue 02 and Wed 03 Dec) and the bookings have begun rolling in. Details can be found on the new website, together with the booking form for those wishing to attend. First time attendees at the conference can come free if they are among the first ten such to notify the Secretary (contact via the website). It looks like a pretty ripe array of the usual theological and historical subjects, and the fee is peanuts by comparison with other two day conferences in central London, so do check it out and come along.

Papers are as follows:

  • Holy worldliness? by Stephen Clark
  • Thomas Charles of Bala by Adrian Brake
  • The International Phenomenon of Calvinistic Methodism by Andrew Davies
  • Law and Grace by Mark Jones
  • Richard Baxter and his Legacy by Robert Strivens
  • John Knox: An International Christian by Andy Young

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 2 October 2014 at 12:48

Posted in General

Review: “What is a Reformed Church?”

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What is a Reformed Church?

Malcolm C. Watts

Reformation Heritage Books, 2011, 73pp., paperback, $8 / £7.50

ISBN 978-1-60178-118-5

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 28 February 2014 at 15:52

Posted in General

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