The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

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From the heart of Spurgeon

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4C9B0283-E0E9-48A1-98AB-48749ED406ACCharles Haddon Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon, a village in the county of Essex in the east of England, on 19 June 1834. He went to be with Christ from Mentone, France, on the evening of Sunday 31 January 1892. During his lifetime he became perhaps the greatest preacher in the English-speaking world, of his own or any other century. We marvel not just at the precocious and maturing genius of the man, not just at the sustained numbers of hearers and converts, not just at the faithfulness in the face of much abuse and opposition, not just at the theological clarity amidst growing spiritual confusion, but at the heartfelt and humble holiness of a man who walked with God amidst it all. Spurgeon himself predicted that his reputation would suffer in the short term but that the truth of Christ which he proclaimed would outlast all those slurs: “I do not look so much at what is to happen to-day, for these things relate to eternity. For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”

Spurgeon was the most ardent and articulate exponent and defender of reformed truth in the church of his day, standing firmly against the theological downgrade being experienced by many evangelical churches of his time. He was a preacher, pastor, author, philanthropist … he seemed to roll the work of ten lifetimes into one sustained burst of service to Christ! He probably ranks among the greatest Englishmen of all time, but he claimed that he would not have crossed the road to hear himself preach. We think and know better of him than he did of himself. His sermons and other productions continue to bring blessing to countless souls.

It was therefore with no little interest that I recently responded to the inquiry of a friend who asked how long it would take to read the complete sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon at a rate of one a day. “Which ones?” I asked, for in addition to the six volumes of the New Park Street Pulpit (NPSP) and the fifty-seven volumes of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (MTP) there are now others available, some dredged out of and collected from The Sword & The Trowel magazine, others a recovery of his earliest sermon manuscripts.

“I’m thinking New Park Street Pulpit and Met Tab Pulpit,” replied my textually-challenged chum.

The answer is that each of those sermons, originally issued as a Penny Pulpit series, is numbered. Beginning with volume one of NPSP, they finish in the combined volume sixty-two and sixty-three of MTP, published for 1916-17, when a paper shortage during the Great War finally put paid to the ongoing publication of Spurgeon’s primary work. There are 3,561 such sermons in total. If you assume consecutive reading, that means nine three hundred and sixty-five day years and two hundred and seventy-six days. If you assume two leap years rather than three, you will finish on day two hundred and seventy-four of the tenth year of reading. If you begin on 1 January, you should finish on 1 October in your tenth year of reading.

Provided with all the necessary information, my semi-literate friend responded thus: “U gonna join me?”

And so was born the scheme for reading Spurgeon. From 1 January 2021, a few intrepid friends will set out to read one of Spurgeon’s sermons each day, beginning with the first volume of NPSP, and continuing on. The first target is to complete the six NPSP volumes, after which we may plough on through MTP. Because this exchange was public, others expressed interest. Being magnanimous types, we decided to spread the joy. A Twitter feed followed, @ReadingSpurgeon, and others began to join in. For those for whom a sermon a day may be a stretch, we hope to recommend one a week. Our friends at Media Gratiae got involved, and now we may be doing a weekly podcast, From the Heart of Spurgeon, and some occasional ‘lively readings’ of select sermons—not acted-out preaching but an attempt to communicate something of the sermonic form and force of those sermons as originally delivered.

Anyone who is interested in either the full or the partial reading scheme is welcome to join us. Just head over to the Twitter feed and follow us for all the necessary information and links. However, there may be others who simply want a taster. With that in mind, here is a brief survey of the Spurgeon material available from The Banner of Truth, an overview suggested by Robert Strivens.

An All-Round Ministry. More or less a mini-pastoral theology, this is a selection of addresses from the annual gathering of Spurgeon’s Pastors’ College. Spurgeon sets out both to instruct and to inflame, so that the work of the ministry is clearly laid out, and encouragements and exhortations for that work supplied. There is a sweet honesty to these addresses, and the closeness between Spurgeon and his students bleeds on to the page.

The Greatest Fight in the World: Spurgeon’s Final Manifesto. This is the final address Spurgeon delivered to those Pastors’ College men. It was delivered in 1891, when Spurgeon was battered and bruised from the Downgrade Controversy (he died 31 January 1892). It is his final call to arms to those who remained faithful, not so much to him, as to their Saviour. He calls the pastor-preacher’s attention to our armoury, the Scriptures, to our army, the church, and to our strength, the Holy Spirit. Reading this will stir your soul, even as it carries you beyond your own strength to rest in that which God supplies.

Flowers From a Puritan’s Garden: Illustrations and Meditations. This is one of those volumes which throws light upon Spurgeon’s distinctive genius. Reading through Manton’s twenty two volumes was not enough. Marking all his striking imagery did not do the job. No, Spurgeon culled them from those pages, arranged them for our delectation, and added some colour of his own! While each of Spurgeon’s deliberations serves as a meditation for us, they also help us to think about how we can turn an illustration into an application, and so adorn our own sermons.

Advice for Seekers. This volume reads like some pastoral chats between a concerned soul and a faithful man of God. Spurgeon did not mistake stirring interest in religion for real conversion, and so was concerned to clear the obstacles that might lie between the soul now alerted to its need and the Christ who meets that need. It is almost conversational in style, and so helpful both to those who still need such counsels and to those who wish to learn how to give them in person. It still serves as a good evangelistic tool, especially to those who already know something of Christianity without knowing Christ himself, and as a good pattern for dealing with souls.

Christ’s Glorious Achievements. One of the things that Spurgeon was good at was selecting and arranging sermons preached more or less separately to create a sort of topical arc. That is what he does here, and Banner have picked up this selection and repackaged it. It shows something of Spurgeon at his best. Of this matter of Christ’s work, he said, “Upon no theme is the true minister so much at home, and yet no subject more completely surpasses his ability. We love the subject, though we are lost in it.” If you are going to get lost in this subject, Spurgeon is a great man with whom to get lost! In seven sermons he takes you on a short tour of Christ’s work, leaving the reader lost in wonder, love and praise.

Majesty in Misery (3 volumes). This excellent and more extensive selection of sermons again carries us to the heart of Spurgeon’s holy obsession with Christ and him crucified. Here the aim is to set before us the very core of our faith, the sufferings and death of our Saviour. The three volumes carry us chronologically from “Dark Gethsemane” by way of the “The Judgment Hall” to “Calvary’s Mournful Mountain.” It is easy to hear Spurgeon’s heart and his voice breaking as he preaches from the page, and the dry-eyed preacher of the present day will learn a true spiritual pathos from Spurgeon’s deeply-felt presentation of our Lord’s physical and spiritual agonies.

C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography (2 volumes). This is the condensed version! Spurgeon’s own, completed by his wife and secretary, spans four volumes. I confess to quite liking the full version, but it is very Victorian, and sometimes lacks a little urgency. This is the nuggety edition, keeping the action moving while still giving us plenty to get our teeth into. “The Early Years” carries us into the heart of his London ministry, while “The Full Harvest” depicts the blessings, burdens and battles of his mature years of service. A really wonderful set, up there with Banner’s Whitefield and Lloyd-Jones biographies, though bear in mind that this one has a very different flavour, being autobiographical.

Revival Year Sermons. 1859 was a spiritual jubilee even by Spurgeon’s standards. During this season, Spurgeon preached Christ in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall to a congregation of some 8,000 people. This little selection of sermons from that year of blessing communicates something of the fervour and the earnestness, the directness and the plainness, of Spurgeon’s gospel preaching. The preacher feels that if he could just attain to a tenth of Spurgeon’s spiritual liveliness, he will be a hundred times more than preacher that he now is. His congregation doubtless endorses his feeling! We can, at the very least, learn, and pray, and follow, where we can never copy.

Letters Of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. One of those indefatigable Victorian types, Spurgeon kept up a zesty correspondence, dashing off little notes here and there, as well as longer missives. Iain H. Murray’s selection lets us see Spurgeon the man. We note that there is no gap between Spurgeon at his writing desk and at his pulpit desk: he is manifestly the same person, but here are different glimpses of his humanity and personality, glittering through a variety of letters to a variety of people.

Spurgeon’s Practical Wisdom: Plain Advice for Plain People. There’s a peculiar relentlessness in these pages. It reminds the reader that Spurgeon could probably have been hard work for the less gifted. Writing under cover of the name John Ploughman, these are Spurgeon’s articles on practical topics for the common man—debt, temptation, drunkenness and the like. It is hard to imagine many today responding so warmly to the occasionally patrician tone, but Spurgeon does a good job of ‘talking across’ and not so much ‘talking down.’ This is less gospel exhortation and more moral instruction, and he lays it on thick. Some chapters feel like a couple of hundred sentences all making precisely the same point in a subtly different way. Bearing in mind that these appeared as magazine articles, it helps to read them from time to time, as a repeated dose can become a bit overwhelming.

The Pastor in Prayer: A Collection of the Sunday Morning Prayers of Charles Spurgeon. This man of God prayed like a child. There is a simplicity of vocabulary and a directness of address here that puts even the sermons to shame. One gets the sense of what it means to speak to God on behalf of men. In a spirit of humble dependence, Spurgeon approaches our Father in heaven; in a spirit of expectant faith, he lays before a gracious God the needs of the hour; in a spirit of eager hope, he leaves the throne of grace equipped and energised for the labour at hand. Reading these, one wonders whether a Christian might not have gone to the Tabernacle to hear Spurgeon pray as much as to hear him preach.

Metropolitan Tabernacle (Volume 38: Sermons Preached and Revised in 1892). Somewhere on a shelf I have a collection of Banner’s battered yellow-jacketed volumes of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series, of which this seems to be the last published survivor. First issued by Passmore & Alabaster right at the end of Spurgeon’s life and ministry, this is the man of God at the coalface, to his last days making known the glorious gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Compared with his earliest pulpit efforts, there are some clear differences in aspects of tone and approach, marking the very different circumstances, but not in real substance. Still it is Christ, preached from the whole of Scripture, which attracts and holds the heart of the preacher, and still it is Christ, in all his saving majesty, who is held out to all who will hear.

Lectures to My Students. While many editions of this work abound, this is a beauty! Fully reset, and with all the paraphernalia which Spurgeon put in the original, it rocks with humanity and humour. Here is Spurgeon putting the point on the pin, putting the edge on the blade forged during his students’ week in the college. Deliberately lively to aid the flagging spirits of those weary men on a Friday afternoon, this is still a tonic for the soul. We forgive readily every occasion on which Spurgeon forgets that the rest of us are not him, and wonder at the kind of men who such instruction must have produced. Spurgeon pulls no punches, dilutes no truth, softens no blows, and relieves no duties, but neither does he withhold any sympathies, reserve any encouragements, or dash any hopes. Still a wonderfully positive but enduringly realistic take on the work of the ministry, it covers some topics that others barely touch. It perhaps focuses more on the pulpit than the parlour (as Spurgeon might have said)—more on the preaching ministry than the personal pastoral dimension. This edition includes Spurgeon’s bewilderingly brilliant “Commenting and Commentaries”; when you read Spurgeon’s commendation of a particular volume, this is often where it comes from.

Commentary on Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom. Let me recast a previous brief review: this is the only complete commentary on a book Spurgeon wrote (excepting his treatment of the Psalms, which was in some senses more of a compendium of others’ comments). It is magnificently Spurgeonic: from its opening paragraph, Spurgeon points us to Christ and never once loses sight of him in all the pages that follow. With laudable brevity, wry wit, proverbial pithiness, earnest devotion, vigorous plainness and gripping earthiness, Spurgeon paints his portrait of the King of kings, bringing the beauties of the Lord Christ into sharp relief and sweet expression. Other commentaries may provide an anatomically correct model of this Gospel, but Spurgeon gives you its beating heart.

A Defence of Calvinism. A little booklet in which Spurgeon extols the free grace of God in the salvation of lost sinners. Again, his direct mode of address grips us, as Spurgeon speaks directly off the page to his reader. This is less aggressive than you might imagine, but there are no concessions with regard to truth even while he embraces brothers who differ from him on the points he raises. On the one hand, one might feel that Spurgeon was perpetually in Calvinism’s so-called ‘cage stage.’ On the other, he is so forthright, so amenable, so open, that he comes across well even at his most in-your-face. This is a good, personal, warm, and engaging treatment of several of the issues that are often raised as one begins to understand that gospel of free grace which often goes by the nickname of Calvinism.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 12 December 2020 at 10:47

Zwingli’s plague hymn

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What follows is a hymn written by the Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli (1 January 1484 – 11 October 1531) during a seminal period in his life when he was afflicted with the plague. It is grounded in the language of Psalm 18:2: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” The whole is divided into three sections, one referring to the onset of the disease, the next to the lowest point, and the last to the joy of recovery, with determination to walk in faith and with holiness from that point on.


Help me, O Lord,
My strength and rock;
Lo, at the door
I hear death’s knock.

Uplift thine arm,
Once pierced for me,
That conquered death.
And set me free.

Yet, if thy voice,
In life’s midday.
Recalls my soul,
Then I obey.

In faith and hope
Earth I resign.
Secure of heaven.
For I am thine.


My pains increase;
Haste to console;
For fear and woe
Seize flesh and soul.

Death is at hand.
My senses fail.
My tongue is dumb;
Now, Christ, prevail.

Lo! Satan strains
To snatch his prey;
I feel his grasp;
Must I give way?

He harms me not,
I fear no loss,
For here I lie
Beneath thy cross.


My God! My Lord!
Healed by thy hand.
Upon the earth
Once more I stand.

Let sin no more
Rule over me;
My mouth shall sing
Alone to thee.

Though now delayed,
My hour will come.
Involved, perchance.
In deeper gloom.

But, let it come;
With joy I’ll rise,
And bear my yoke
Straight to the skies.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 12 October 2020 at 10:02

Reformation 500

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Knox, JohnTrading hard on the connections of John Knox with Newcastle is the Reformation 500 conference. It runs from 12-14 October this year, and includes addresses from such luminaries as Joel Beeke, Ian Hamilton and Geoff Thomas. More information is available on the website,  including registration details. Interestingly, the further through the website you travel, the more impressive the beards become, until Luther spoils the progression.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 15 September 2017 at 10:57


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Some readers might recall the Through the Eyes of Spurgeon documentary released a couple of years back, directed and produced by my good friend, Stephen McCaskell. Well, Stephen is back on the trail, this time hoping to produce a documentary called Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.

At the moment, he is seeking to raise the necessary remaining funds through a Kickstarter campaign. At time of writing, he’s about 25% of the way there – only another $15000 (CAD) to go. Bear in mind that this means that a $100 CAD pledge is only about £55-60 GBP or $80 USD. There’s more bang for your buck here, so you can pledge more than you think!

Here’s the promotional trailer:

If you have a minute and a few shekels to spare, please consider heading over to Kickstarter to help. The Spurgeon documentary has been viewed over 120000 times, and seems to have been much appreciated. The Luther project promises to be just as excellent and just as profitable.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 6 May 2016 at 07:39

Andrew Fuller (1754-1815)

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Two hundred years ago today, on the morning of Sunday 7th May 1815 dawned, the sixty one year old Andrew Fuller was grieved that he had not the strength to go and worship his God with his people. As his end approached, so his faith had increased. When his dear friend John Ryland Jr. heard that Fuller had testified to a brother minister, “My hope is such that I am not afraid to plunge into eternity,” he declared it the most characteristic expression his friend might have uttered.

Fuller spent his last half-hour seemingly engaged in prayer, though the only words which could be distinctly heard were, “Help me!” He died, said his friend Mr Toller, an Independent minister, “as a penitent sinner at the foot of the cross.”

Just a few days before going home, as Fuller considered his approaching death, he was able to write this to Ryland:

I know whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day. I am a poor guilty creature; but Christ is an almighty Saviour. I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace; but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope, than from salvation by mere sovereign, efficacious grace, through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour. With this hope, I can go into eternity with composure. Come, Lord Jesus! come when thou wilt! Here I am; let him do with me as seemeth him good!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 7 May 2015 at 15:07

Posted in History & biography

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“Through the Eyes of Spurgeon”

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Through the Eyes of SpurgeonThe release date for Stephen McCaskell’s Spurgeon documentary is looming – only one week to go. The film is going to be released online, but there will be a limited number of DVD and Blu-Rays being pressed. Please note that hard copies are only available through pre-orders made before the formal release date. If you want your own ‘proper’ copy, you need to place your order here and now.

Again, it will be available free via streaming, but hard copies need to be pre-ordered. The first showing will be at on Thursday 18 December at 12:00am CST.

All the information you need is here. We hope you enjoy it! More than that, we hope it is a means of bringing glory to God in Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 December 2014 at 09:34

Sore Spurgeonic eyes and feet

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Over the last week or so, I have put aside a few days to work with my friend Stephen McCaskell, who has been directing the biographical film of the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon, Through the Eyes of Spurgeon. With Stephen have been the outstanding Matt Pennings, a quite magnificent photographer (see here and here, especially if you live in Ontario) and Director of Photography on this project, and the effervescent Brandon McCaskell, sound guy and general helper.

Stephen has been sending out updates through the film’s Facebook page and on the blog. I have to say, I have been impressed with the technical skills of these gentlemen. Of course, I have no real expertise with which to judge, but the quiet efficiency and all round competence on display, together with what looks like some great final product, gives me real hope of a happy outcome to this project. I readily acknowledge that my occasional appearance as narrator could be considered to drag the whole thing down horribly, but there’s not much I can now do about that.

There remains a great deal to be accomplished, but the last few days have been profitable, as I hope the following pictures suggest.

2014-09-16 08.45.11
2014-09-16 12.38.11
2014-09-16 13.41.13
2014-09-16 14.32.07
2014-09-10 13.21.39
2014-09-10 15.37.34
2014-09-10 15.58.27
2014-09-11 11.27.40
2014-09-12 10.35.04

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 17 September 2014 at 23:04

“Through the Eyes of Spurgeon”

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Although I mentioned it before at Reformation21, readers here may wish to be aware of a planned biographical film of the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon, Through the Eyes of Spurgeon. I may have some involvement in the end product, and I have been impressed with the labours of Stephen McCaskell (whose name you might know from his collection of quotations from the great Victorian, Through the Eyes of C. H. Spurgeon: Quotes from a Reformed Baptist Preacher, available at and

Stephen has sent out an update through the Facebook page:

Over the last 9 months, the Through the Eyes of Spurgeon team and I have been working hard to get ready to shoot the film. Your prayers and generosity have been so appreciated by all of us. But we’ve come into a bit of a bind—after reviewing all our costs, and after fundraising a considerable amount with your help, we’re coming up about $6400 short of what we need to finish the film. Can you please help us make up this shortfall? Go to to donate today.

I am sure that the help of anyone who is in a position to assist would be greatly appreciated.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 31 July 2014 at 20:02

Being an historian

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Michael Haykin:

How does one become an historian? Well, the path is not an easy one. But then the learning of no skill or art is easy. It does not come through merely much reading. Nor does it come through merely much writing. There have been all kinds of journal-writers—currently prolific bloggers—but neither much writing nor much reading in themselves doth an historian make. There must be reading and there must be writing, but being prolific in either or both does not guarantee good history.

There must be discernment. There must be reflection. But before anything else there must be an attitude that takes time to be careful and precise, an attitude that is revealed in the small things of the craft. In fact, how one tackles those small things reveals the ability to handle the larger. If, with regard to the small things, the seemingly unimportant things, there is simply the desire to get them out of the way as soon as possible to make way for the truly “significant things,” the faculty of a good historian is lacking. Such an attitude is not perfectionism—an impossibility in this life for fallible humanity—though it is the desire to make everything written the best and most precise it can be.

Without precision, the faculty of taking care to be exact and right, the interest in details, there can be no good history-writing. If such a faculty is naturally present, it must be honed. If it be not present, it must be learned.

via Credo Magazine.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 20 November 2012 at 15:55

Matthew Henry

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Matthew Henry was born on 18 October 1662, not long after Black Bartholomew’s Day (24 August 1662), the date on which his father – in common with about 2000 other ministers of the gospel – was ejected from the Church of England for refusing to compromise his conscience by taking the Oath of Uniformity (binding those who took it to the prescribed forms of rite, ritual, administration of the ordinances, and prayers of the Church of England of its day). 350 years since his birth, what can we learn of his life and take from his legacy?

I try to answer this question exceedingly briefly at Reformation21. If you are interested in learning more, and will be in the London area on Monday 29 October at 1pm, I will be giving a lecture on Henry at the Evangelical Library. All are welcome.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 October 2012 at 16:58

Before the Great Ejection

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According to Gary Brady, this sober and earnest prayer was lifted to God 350 years ago today on the Lord’s day before the Great Ejection:

To thee, O Lord Jesus, we commend ourselves: To thee who judgeth rightly, thy poor Servant resigneth, and committeth this Congregation. The Lord pardon unto me wherein I have been wanting unto them: The Lord pardon unto them, wherein they have been wanting in the hearing of thy Word, that we may not part with sin in our hearts. Unto thee who judgest uprightly I commend them. The Bishop of Souls take care of them: Preserve them from the love of the World: teach them to wait on thee, and to receive from thee whatever any one or Family may stand in need of.

Provide them a Pastor according unto thine own will, only in the mean time give us that Anointing [that] shall lead us out of our own wills and ways, that we may walk in the ways of Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus say now amongst them, I am your Shepherd, you shall not want. Say to them as thou didst to thy Disciples, Let not your hearts be troubled, you believe in the Father, believe also in me. So far as we are able we put thy Name upon them: we name the Name of the Lord Jesus over them. The Lord Jesus bless them; teach them to follow Holiness, Peace, and a Heavenly Conversation. The Lord make them useful to each other. The Lord Jesus be a blessing to them, and me and all ours. The God of Peace and Consolation fill them with blessings according as thou seest every one stand in need of. To thee, O Lord, we commend them, do thou receive them, that under thy counsel they may be preserved blameless, until the day [of] Jesus, where we may all meet crowned with Glory. Amen.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 17 August 2012 at 17:11

Posted in History & biography

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Reformed and Baptist: the third wave

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This is a cross-post from Reformation21.

Not long ago, the good Dr Trueman took up the question of why the label ‘Reformed’ is more often associated with Baptists than with Presbyterians.

I appreciated the irenic tone of Carl’s answer (appreciably and appreciatedly different to the caustic and dismissive attitude of some others), and I share a number of his underlying convictions. My intention in this post is not to start a fight with the esteemed Trueman or anyone else, nor to try to put clear blue water between churches like the one I serve and everyone else in the whole wide world, nor indeed to enter a competition about who is the most Reformed. (Indeed, I admit to a sinking feeling whenever someone – usually with a self-satisfied tone – takes it upon themselves to inform me that not only are they Reformed, but that they consider themselves to be very Reformed – whatever that means.)

Carl concluded his piece by saying that “the eclipse of Presbyterians in the evangelical world’s adoption of the term ‘Reformed’ is probably in large part a function of the transformation of the term’s meaning by the contemporary evangelical scene. This is not something I myself will lose any sleep over.” No more do I lose sleep over the strident demands of some Presbyterians that I relinquish any right to the label: I am happy to be a Reformed Baptist, a Particular Baptist, a confessional (or ‘1689’) Baptist, an independent Baptist, or whatever particular label enables someone to fit me fairly accurately into a fairly appropriate pigeonhole.

Similarly, I think that there is a degree of common ground between Carl and those of my ilk, stamp and kidney: I agree that the word ‘Reformed’ should mean more than ‘vaguely Calvinistic in its soteriology.’ I agree that the word ‘confessional’ is bandied around with some carelessness and a great deal of vacuity as a kind of synonym for ‘orthodox’. I further accept that real confessionalism – like any form of real conviction – enshrines certain proper distinctions (and, in degree, necessary divisions) over issues of the ordinances and ecclesiology (though it should be noted that soteriology raises its head here as well). Indeed, it is for these very reasons that when someone tells me that they are a Reformed Baptist, my response tends to be something like, “That’s great! Would you mind telling me exactly what you mean by that?”

Furthermore, I accept (without agreement) that for some Presbyterians (I am not suggesting that this is true for Carl), the historical narrative for the Reformed and the legitimate application of the word stop short somewhere in or around Dordrecht in the early seventeenth century (others would, perhaps, like to turn a little further back and south toward Calvin’s Geneva, some forward and west toward Westminster in the mid-seventeenth century). Indeed, I have seen one definition of ‘Reformed’ that included, as a fairly central element, the wearing of a Geneva gown in worship. Now if that isn’t an oddity, kindly fax me an explanation of what is!

But in the midst of it all, I find that nowhere does the good doctor properly allow for the kind of Reformed Baptist that I am and that many of my friends are, and neither do many of the discussions of this issue. I guess I am, in part, picking up on this because of Carl’s Anabaptist jibe of some moons ago, to which I responded with tongue equally firmly in cheek. But behind those friendly barbs and this post lies a more serious concern. In the discussion of what it means to be Reformed, and in the consideration of what it means to be a Reformed Baptist (or whatever else you wish to call us), I generally find that there is a gap on the spectrum that is overlooked or quickly dismissed, the gap that tends to be brushed over with the suggestion that there are Reformed Baptists who are not quite (or at all) Pipettes or a certain brand of Southern Baptists or Acts 29 types or SGM guys, but who actually – to use Carl’s words – “hold to more traditional forms of worship and polity.”

This post, after that long preamble, intends to introduce the small group of such men and churches more formally. And no, I do not presume to be any kind of appointed spokesman for all or part of that group. And no, I do not presume that relative smallness means that we have an innate claim to greater purity than anyone else (though it does have an effect on our visibility). Furthermore, we do not really have, as far as I know, any great gurus or monumental figureheads – I mean, we have enough personalities to start some miserable fights, but no name behind which we all line up. People might come to our churches and start throwing around the names of the evangelical and ‘Reformed’ celebrities and trying to figure out whether or not we are of Paul or Cephas or Apollos but – by and large – we do not neatly fit into such camps, although we have genuine and sometimes close affinities with several of them. It may be that part of the problem is that, historically, we did not have our roots in the US (although it is fair to say that the twentieth century resurgence – for the New Calvinists are not the first to use the word – among Reformed Baptists probably had a more American flavour than otherwise).

It was, indeed, the Anabaptists who provided the backdrop to some of the first public statements of those who would become known as Reformed Baptists, but not as some would imagine. The first Calvinistic or Particular Baptist churches in England had their origins in the 1630s when men like William Kiffin (and, later, Hanserd Knollys) sat under the umbrella of the Independent congregation usually known as the Jacob-Lathrop-Jessey church. By the mid-1640s both Kiffin and Knollys had left the Jessey church to form distinctively Baptist congregations.

Perhaps the definitive breaking of cover for the Particular Baptists was their 1644 Confession. This is an important document: seven churches produced it in order to make plain their distinctive beliefs while putting distance between themselves and the excesses and errors of the continental Anabaptist groups on the one hand, as well as the General (Arminian) Baptists on the other. At this time (and, my, haven’t things changed!) the label ‘Anabaptist’ was a deliberate slur, designating the kind of people who could be relied upon to turn any society morally upside down within moments (“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”), and was readily slapped on people or groups which advocated the novel and dangerous notion that the church did not consist of everyone born into a particular nation-state under the auspices of its national church. Drawing on a couple of earlier documents, the 1644 was an important step at a point when an essentially Presbyterian Parliament was exercising unprecedented powers and the Westminster divines were recommending some fairly uncomfortable measures for those considered outside the fold. Revisions swiftly followed in 1646, several of which read as unnecessary attempts to appease the powers that be – this was not necessarily an advance, although the line was holding firm.

When Oliver Cromwell died and – after a period of confusion – Charles II assumed the throne, the Baptists were among those who faced severe persecutions. The full weight of a church and state, yoked together in oppression, came down on anyone outside the restored and vengeful Church of England (whether Baptist, Independent or Presbyterian, who were all now more or less beyond the pale). Persecution drove these groups more closely together than they could have been when some Presbyterians had been advocating the forcible sublimation of Baptists and their churches.

Out of this arose a desire on the part of the Baptist churches to demonstrate their common ground with their fellow pilgrims, while maintaining their own distinctive identity from the Paedobaptists on the one hand and the Anabaptists on the other (including the Constantinianism/Erastianism of the former and the wild political radicalism of many of the latter). The result was what is commonly called the 1689 (Second London) Baptist Confession of Faith. Some slight awkwardness arises from the fact that this confession was actually written in 1677, although it was not signed and published until 1689, the year of the Glorious Revolution, when there was a greater degree of freedom afforded to the men and churches responsible.

The 1689 (which I will call it for the sake of simplicity) takes a line from the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians through the Savoy Declaration of the Independents. Much water had passed under the bridge (and, indeed, over the Baptists) since 1644, and this document was the result of the mature thinking of the finest and godliest minds among the growing churches of the Particular Baptists. It is a great shame that many modern editions of the 1689 omit the introductory epistle “To the Judicious and Impartial Reader,” and what is simply entitled, “An Appendix,” both masterpieces of irenic polemicism, or polemic irenicism, depending on which side you like your bread buttered.

In the former, they explicitly link their work with the form and purpose of the 1644 Confession, while making plain that they wanted not only “to give a full account of our selves, to those Christians that differ from us about the subject of baptism” (I modernise the English slightly in this and the following quotes) but also a defence of the genuine godliness that the doctrine of the Particular Baptists was producing, a godliness that would have been recognised as essentially the same as that of other orthodox believers, tying it in with the work of the Westminster divines and the Savoy Conference. “We have no itch,” they wrote, “to clog religion with new words, but do readily acquiesce in that form of sound words, which has been, in consent and the holy Scriptures, used by other before us.” With a sincere spirit, they went on,

In those things wherein we differ from others, we have expressed our selves with all candour and plainness that none might entertain jealousy of aught secretly lodged in our breasts, that we would not the world should be acquainted with; yet we hope we have also observed those rules of modesty, and humility, as will render our freedom in this respect inoffensive, even to those whose sentiments are different from ours.

The Appendix is equally irenic and equally incisive. It begins:

Whosoever reads, and impartially considers what we have in our forgoing confession declared, may readily perceive, that we do not only concenter with all other true Christians on the Word of God (revealed in the Scriptures of truth) as the foundation and rule of our faith and worship. But that we have also industriously endeavoured to manifest, that in the fundamental articles of Christianity we mind the same things, and have therefore expressed our belief in the same words, that have on the like occasion been spoken by other societies of Christians before us.

What follows, having established this common ground, is a quite brilliant Baptist apologetic (and I do not say that simply because of my fundamental agreement with it), laudable for its clarity and brevity and simplicity, setting out key elements of the Baptist view of salvation, covenant, ordinances and church, concluding:

So may it be now as to many things relating to the service of God, which do retain the names proper to them in their first institution, but yet through inadvertency (where there is no sinister design) may vary in their circumstances, from their first institution. And if by means of any ancient defection, or of that general corruption of the service of God, and interruption of his true worship, and persecution of his servants by the Antichristian Bishop of Rome, for many generations; those who do consult the Word of God, cannot yet arrive at a full and mutual satisfaction among themselves, what was the practise of the primitive Christian Church, in some points relating to the Worship of God: yet inasmuch as these things are not of the essence of Christianity, but that we agree in the fundamental doctrines thereof, we do apprehend, there is sufficient ground to lay aside all bitterness and prejudice, and in the spirit of love and meekness to embrace and own each other therein; leaving each other at liberty to perform such other services, (wherein we cannot concur) apart unto God, according to the best of our understanding.

What needs to be understood is that these men were not trying to start a war, but neither would their consciences allow them to retreat. The Particular Baptists of the seventeenth century unashamedly considered themselves as the heirs and the advancers – the third wave, if you will – of the Reformation.

Such an awareness was not misplaced triumphalism or mere bombast. These men and churches appreciated where they had come from, but they had clear views as to where they needed to go. In espousing their distinctive convictions they realised that they were in disagreement not only with the Anglican Church but also with fellow Dissenters – Presbyterians like Richard Baxter and Independents such as John Owen. They understood that the magisterial Reformers had struck the first blows, being responsible for exposing the corruptions of Antichrist and bringing important doctrines such as justification by faith to light. The second wave they identified in men like William Ames and later John Owen, who argued that on the one hand a true gospel church was comprised of professing saints, but on the other hand that the children of believers were still to be baptized by sprinkling. They appreciated that many of the Puritans had gone (far) beyond the half-way Reformation of Anglicanism (which – despite some outstanding men, and because of circumstances peculiar to the United Kingdom – stalled in its application of the same foundational realities), and how the Puritans pressed the principles of the Reformation into additional spheres of faith and life, many paying for it with their expulsion. But with the third wave the error of infant baptism was exposed. Now the Particular Baptists, self-consciously a part of this progress, were pressing those Reformation principles more fully into further areas of faith and life, not least the doctrine of the church, especially with regard to its very nature and its role and purpose on the earth.

This central issue and their sense of their place is evident in the preface to Philip Carey’s splendidly-titled A Solemn Call unto all that would be owned as Christ’s Faithful Witnesses, speedily and seriously, to attend unto the Primitive Purity of the Gospel Doctrine and Worship: or a Discourse Concerning Baptism (London,1690). Five prominent London Particular Baptists – William Kiffin, John Harris, Richard Adams, Robert Steed and Benjamin Keach, theological leaders among their brothers – put their names to this piece, arguing that “the true gospel visible church is to consist only of such as are saints by profession, and who give themselves up to the Lord and to one another by solemn agreement to practice the ordinances of Christ.” (For more on the doctrine of baptism these men held, see chapter 12 of Austin Walker’s The Excellent Benjamin Keach [Dundas, Ontario: Joshua Press, 2004].)

For all their esteem of the magisterial Reformers and for their ground-breaking labours, and for all their (and our) respect for the often underestimated and undervalued principles and practices that those Reformers embraced, Reformed Baptists cannot regard Geneva as the sole and abiding high-water mark of the Reformation. While recognising the genuine continuity between the Old and New Covenants, our forefathers – with modern Reformed Baptists of the same stripe – also recognised the genuine discontinuity that the Scriptures themselves demand.

In that respect, the principle of a gathered church of baptised believers, conducting itself in the holiness of renewed lives, was something to which those pioneers believed their brothers-in-arms had not attained. A failure to embrace this principle allowed a potentially fatal rot to set in. Again, Benjamin Keach made their convictions and concerns plain when he wrote Light broke forth in Wales, expelling Darkness (London, 1696):

I look upon Infant-Baptism to be one of the chief Pillars of the Romish Church, and of all National Churches and Constitutions in the European World; this is that Christendom that is so cried up, and the way of making and continuing the pretended Christian-Name; in the Anti-christian Church, and World, all are made Christian in their Infant-Baptism: And thus the inhabitants of the Earth are cheated, and deluded with a Shadow and empty Name that signifies nothing; and certain I am, until Christendom (as it is called) is Unchristianed of this pretended Rite, or Christendom, there will never be a thorough Reformation: I mean until they see that Christianity, or Christian-Name, which they received at their Infant-Baptism, signifies nothing, but throw it away as an Human Innovation, and labour after true Regeneration, or a likeness to Christ, and so believe and are baptized upon the profession of their Faith, according as in the Apostolical Primitive Church: ’Tis Infant-Baptism that tends to uphold all National Churches, and deceives poor People who think there were hereby made Christians. (234)

To those who follow these men, in terms of pursuing and applying the Biblical principles that have led and do lead to the reformation of the church, the Reformed or Particular Baptist activity of the seventeenth century was a further step in the right direction, and is an essentially healthy heritage. It is also a developing heritage, as the stream of Particular Baptist thought – with all its struggles and stands, its tensions and triumphs (in common with other traditions) – flows down through a host of gracious and godly men into the present day. (If you are interested in learning more about the men and the issues, you might begin with Robert Oliver’s History of the English Calvinistic Baptists 1791-1892[Banner of Truth, 2006] or the volumes edited by Michael Haykin on The British Particular Baptists I, II and III[Particular Baptist Press].)

In speaking in this way, I am not trying to sneak in the assertion that we are ‘very Reformed.’ However, it ought to be recognised that these Particular Baptists, and those who follow them and take up in this sense the label of ‘Reformed Baptists’, were self-consciously advancing the cause of the Reformation by deliberately pressing its principles into every area of faith and life, even those which had been sacred cows beforehand. At the same time, they were concerned to emphasise their shared doctrinal and practical convictions with those who stood in the same stream of historic, orthodox, Reformed Christianity. (For a brief and popular treatment of both the common ground and the distinctive territory, I think one of the best documents that speaks to this definition of the Reformed Baptists remains the booklet, What is a Reformed Baptist Church? by Jim Savastio.)

And this is one of the particular blessings of a confessional inheritance with so much common ground. When I, as a confessional or 1689 Baptist, sit down with a Westminster Presbyterian or Savoy Congregationalist or Independent, I know just how much we hold in common, and I am able to enjoy fellowship with such a brother on a broad, deep, shared foundation. We also know, clearly and concisely, those issues on which we differ, and how and why we differ, and are therefore able to embrace one another as brothers who walk with a clear conscience before God.

But while we trace the spiritual history, let none of us forget the spiritual reality. Here faith and life must be joined or we will have nothing but painted fire. Surely the Reformed faith is far more than a particular historical connection, a certain theological tradition, or a series of dogmatic assertions. This grasp of things presumes a soul-conquering vision of the great God and Saviour lifted up; it embraces a soul-humbling conviction of one’s own natural sinfulness and wretchedness before that great and holy God; it supposes a soul-enrapturing reception of the grace of that great God and Saviour; and, it issues in a soul-encompassing consecration of the entire redeemed humanity of a saved sinner to the glory of the Lord. It was described, in its essence, by B. B. Warfield in his essay on Calvinism, as lying “in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature. . . . when the sinful soul rests in humble, self-emptying trust purely on the God of grace” (Works [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991], 5:354-5).

Surely this is the core of the matter: being captured and captivated by the triune God, therefore seeing oneself in proper and humble perspective, both in terms of what we once were without grace, might still be apart from grace, and have now become because of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. What fools we would be to ignore the treasure and fight over the box! If our confessionalism of any genuine stripe – which provides what we are persuaded are Biblical boundaries and direction to the whole – does not involve and produce this vibrant spirituality, then surely it is missing the mark, a mere cipher, a pretty shell without any enduring substance. By this measure, perhaps we ought to ask whether or not we have quite so much scope for self-congratulation as we sometimes seem to imagine? For this view of God in Christ, with all its concomitants and consequences, ought to be what above all unites those who are Reformed, and what imposes those degrees of separation from those with differing views of God and of man.

So, when the issue of what it means to be Reformed gets discussed, we ask not to be lauded and applauded, so much as simply, accurately and fairly recognised as existing. It may be that you just did not realise that we exist. It may be that the kind of Baptist convictions – about soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, doxology and a whole bunch of other ologies – to which you have been exposed have left you with some serious and significant questions, and you have given up looking for the answers among Baptists. It may be that you have met some who take the name of Reformed Baptists who, through pride or ignorance, have left you with a sour taste in your mouth, for which I am sorry. It may be – and I say this in a spirit of straightforward inquiry and not backhanded accusation – that you would rather not acknowledge this part of the spectrum because it does not fit into your historical narrative, and rather upsets your carefully piled apple-cart. But please do not repeat the old saw about Anabaptism; if I might be so bold, it will not wash. Neither dismiss us with the vague assertion that there are some Baptists out there who are both Calvinistic in their soteriology and traditional or conservative in our doxology. That is not what we really are, certainly not all we are. An honest historiography surely requires that – if nothing else – those original Particular Baptists (discounting, of course, the apostles and the early church!) are at least considered on their own terms, and taken for what they believed themselves to be, even if you might disagree with them.

There are those who are still doing what our forefathers did (and, in fact, what their Reforming, Presbyterian and Congregational forefathers had begun to do): seeking to press the Word of God ever further and more firmly into the hearts and minds of the people of God, individually and corporately, so as to promote, under God, this full-orbed appreciation of and consecration to the Lord God. As such, the Particular Baptists are – or should be – not so much slipping back as stepping forward in reformation, finding the older paths and walking in them, and – in the spirit of fraternal encouragement – it would be remiss of me, even churlish, not to invite you to join us.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 9 July 2012 at 12:50

Reasons to study Old Testament history

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David Murray recognises the difficulty that we may have in studying Old Testament history, and provides some encouragements to do so even in the face of those difficulties, real or imagined:

Shakespeare said that history is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The Christian view of history is quite a contrast; we believe God ordained it, organizes it, and moves it towards a meaningful, definite, and certain purpose.

However many Christians entertain a negative view of Old Testament History, of its usefulness and even of its accuracy. It is often regarded as “far away” and “distant” chronologically, geographically, socially, and theologically. “What can it do for me?” and “Why study it?” are common questions. Here are five reasons to study it and benefit from it.

In brief, it is true, selective, relevant, purposeful and redemptive history. Get it explained and expanded here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 July 2012 at 12:36

Andrew Fuller

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Steve Weaver continues his survey of Baptists you should know with a man I highly esteem, one of the first Baptists of the eighteenth century that I read with any kind of thoroughness, Andrew Fuller. Roll on the critical edition!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 29 May 2012 at 17:36

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The bulldog barked and bit

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Mike Iliff was kind enough to give the lecture on Latimer: God’s Bulldog a kind write-up, and he also directs us to the audio from the lecture here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 2 May 2012 at 08:01

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Sarah on George

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Gary Brady passes on the following letter from Sarah Edwards about George Whitefield. Incidentally, I think her comment on Garrick’s comment about Whitefield’s gift of speech – that “this last was a mere speech of the play actor” – is a comment well worth remembering now that so manhy people seem to have bought the ‘divine dramatist’ line about Whitefield as man and minister.

October 24, 1740

Dear Brother James,

I want to prepare you for a visit from the Rev. Mr. Whitefield, the famous preacher of England. He has been sojourning with us, and after visiting a few of the neighbouring towns, is going to New Haven, and from thence to New York.

He is truly a remarkable man, and during his visit, has, I think, verified all we have heard of him. He makes less of the doctrines than our American preachers generally do and aims more at affecting the heart. He is a born orator. You have already heard of his deep-toned yet clear and melodious voice. O it is perfect music to listen to that alone!

And he speaks so easily, without any apparent effort. You remember that David Hume thought it was worth going twenty miles to hear him speak; and Garrick said, ‘He could move men to tears or make them tremble by his simple intonations in pronouncing the word Mesopotamia.’ Well, this last was a mere speech of the play actor; but it is truly wonderful to see what a spell this preacher often casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. I have seen upwards of a thousand people hang on his words with breathless silence, broken only by an occasional half-suppressed sob.

He impresses the ignorant, and not less, the educated and refined. It is reported that while the miners of England listened to him, the tears made white furrows down their smutty cheeks. So here, our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day-labourers throw down their tools, to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected. A prejudiced person, I know, might say that this is all theatrical artifice and display; but not so will anyone think who has seen and known him.

He is a very devout and godly man, and his only aim seems to be to reach and influence men the best way. He speaks from a heart aglow with love, and pours out a torrent of eloquence which is almost irresistible. Many, very many persons in Northampton date the beginning of new thoughts, new desires, new purposes, and a new life, from the day on which they heard him preach of Christ and this salvation. I wish him success in his apostolic career; and when he reaches New Haven, you will, I know, show him warm hospitality.

Yours in faithful affection,


Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 2 May 2012 at 07:50

William Kiffin

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William Kiffin (c. 1616-1701) is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of English Particular Baptists. His remarkable life nearly spanned almost the entirety of the formative seventeenth century and he was the only man to sign both the First London Confession of Faith of 1644 and the Second London Confession of Faith of 1689.

Steve Weaver at Credo Magazine gives us a nice brief introduction to William Kiffin, including plenty of recommendations for further study.

PS There’s a stimulating article on Adoniram Judson as well.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 2 May 2012 at 07:46

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Hugh Latimer: the preaching prelate #3 Latimer’s practice of preaching

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Part onePart two ∙ Part three

Latimer’s practice of preaching, as befits a man with a reputation for integrity of character, is very much in keeping with his principles. We can identify several distinctive features, acknowledging that others could be chosen, or different divisions drawn and nuances identified, and that some necessarily overlap.

Firstly, Latimer is a vivid and lively preacher. He readily employs anecdotes about himself (for example, how he got locked out of a church building because it was Robin Hood’s day and the people did “prefer Robin Hood to God’s word”[34]) and others (in addition to the napping gentlewoman,[35] we have a variety of visiting bishops,[36] complaining chaplains [who are usually complaining about Latimer],[37] traitorous Lord Admirals,[38] thieves on the gallows[39] and such like). His illustrations and imagery are rich and effective, ranging from a “captain and defender” charged by the king with the defence of “his town of Calais . . . against the Frenchmen especially, above all other enemies”[40] (one can almost hear the venom in his voice and the muttered satisfaction of his congregation), through the whole central conceit of the “Sermon of the Plough,” to an allegory of Faith as “a great state, a lady, a duchess, a great woman” who “hath ever a great company and train [of graces and virtues] about her,”[41] or the Lord Christ’s work highlighted by a prisoner on his way to “the dungeon of Ludgate” whose friend becomes surety for him and so spares him his punishment.[42] Neither must we bypass the jokes, for Latimer is a master of harnessed humour in the pulpit, whether the sarcastic aside about the possibility of a sincere pilgrim chancing “to visit pigs’ bones instead of saints’ relicks,”[43] the faux-wounded innocence when he reports that he answered challenges about the whereabouts of Jairus’ daughter’s soul between her death and rising with an innocent sounding, “I cannot tell; but where it pleased God it should be, there it was,” followed by the congregational nudge-and-wink, “Is not this a good answer to such a clerkly question?”[44] or the more developed tale, for example, concerning the

bargain that I heard of late should be betwixt two friends for a horse: the owner promised the other should have the horse if he would; the other asked the price; he said twenty nobles. The other would give him but four pound. The owner said he should not have him then. The other claimed the horse, because he said he should have him if he would. Thus this bargain became a Westminster matter: the lawyers got twice the value of the horse; and when all came to all, two fools made an end of the matter.[45]

So adept is Latimer in this sphere that he has on occasion, when he has caught the imagination of his congregation with some apposite tale, to tell them, “It is no laughing matter, my friends, it is a weeping matter, a heavy matter.”[46] In short, Latimer knows how to catch and keep the ear of his congregation.

Secondly, and allied with that vividness and liveliness, Latimer is – in the best sense of the word – popular, having a thoroughly engaging grasp of the world in which he lives and the people to whom he speaks. He is not afraid to take events and habits in the world as the occasions of his sermons. In his Christmas “Sermons on the Card” he uses the common seasonal practice of card games to create his own game and deal out some sermonic “cards” from the pulpit. The illustration of Calais above would have been of immediate relevance to any right-thinking Englishman (and Latimer’s further hint that you could liken the French to the fiend[47] probably did him no harm in their estimation). He does not speak around or over his audience, but to them, engaging their esteem and affections, never unnecessarily insulting them. Consider the subtle wisdom of his address to a London congregation: “Now if I should preach in the country, among the unlearned, I would tell what propitiatory, expiatory, and remissory is; but here is a learned auditory; yet for them that be unlearned I will expound it.”[48]

Drawing on his experience among the ordinary people, he readily puts himself in the shoes of his hearers:

But some will say, “Our curate is naught; an ass-head; a dodipole; a lack-latin, and can do nothing. Shall I pay him my tithes, that doth us no good, nor none will do?” “Yea,” I say, “thou must pay him his duty; and if he be such a one, complain to the bishop.” “We have complained to the ordinary, and he is as negligent as he.” Complain to the council. “Sir, so have we done, but no remedy can be had.” Well, I can tell where thou shalt complain; complain to God, he will surely hear thee, he will remedy it.[49]

He knows that real people are before him, and so he deals in the known business of earth and the substantial realities of heaven.

Thirdly, this preaching prelate is always direct. He communicates in plain language which – even taking into account the distance of time and development of language – rarely leaves you asking what Latimer means. This does not mean his vocabulary is dull and his tone predictable. Rather, he has a knack for a ripe and telling turn of phrase that carries his meaning clearly. So in discussing the tension between two neighbours who are pretending to get on while one bears an ancient grudge against the other, he warns that “you may both laugh and make good cheer, and yet there may remain a bag of rusty malice, twenty years old, in thy neighbour’s bosom.”[50] There is an unembarrassed and manly vigour that lends itself to straight and sometimes earthy talking, which Latimer admires in the prophets:

Esay, that faithful minister of God, he is a good plain fellow; he telleth them the matter in plain, saying, Argentum tuum versum est in scoriam, principes tui infideles, socii forum: “Thy silver is turned to dross, thy princes are unfaithful, and fellows of thieves.” He is no flatterer, he telleth them the truth.[51]

Latimer calls on others to demonstrate what he himself exemplifies even in the very act of making that call:

Therefore, you preachers, out with your swords and strike at the root. Speak against covetousness, and cry out upon it. Stand not ticking and toying at the branches nor at the boughs, for then there will new boughs and branches spring again of them; but strike at the root, and fear not these giants of England, these great men and men of power, these men that are oppressors of the poor; fear them not, but strike at the root of all evil, which is mischievous covetousness.[52]

Another strength is Latimer’s gift for vernacular paraphrase. He does it repeatedly, bringing Scripture and theology into common speech, but surely never so freely and boldly as when he is speaking on John 7 and quotes the Pharisees in verse 47: “Then answered the Pharisees, Num et vos seducti estis?” A fairly sober modern translation of the Greek will offer something like “Are you also deceived/led astray?” Latimer provides a personal and far riper paraphrase of the Latin: “What, ye brain-sick fools, ye hoddy-pecks[53], ye doddy-pouls[54], ye huddes[55], do ye believe him? are you seduced also?”[56] When we criticise Latimer’s homiletical structure (or lack of it), we must recognise that his strength as a homiletician lies in his memorable and easy style.

But this directness also shows itself in searching applications. Latimer pulls no punches. When speaking of the shepherds of Luke 2 to the servants of the household of the Duchess of Suffolk at Grimsthorpe, he makes plain that his hearers should

note the diligence of these shepherds: for whether the sheep were their own, or whether they were servants, I cannot tell, for it is not expressed in the book; but it is most like they were servants, and their masters had put them in trust to keep their sheep. Now if these shepherds had been deceitful fellows, that when their masters had put them in trust to keep their sheep, they had been drinking in the alehouse all night, as some of our servants do now-a-days, surely the angels had not appeared unto them, to have told them this great joy and good tidings. And here all servants may learn by these shepherds to serve truly and diligently unto their masters: in what business soever they are set to do, let them be painful and diligent, like as Jacob was unto his master Laban.[57]

After a few more Biblical examples of such diligence, he asks, “But, I pray you, where are these servants now-a-days ? Indeed I fear me, there be but very few of such faithful servants.”[58] (Never one to miss a sitting duck, he also has a few choice comments from the diligent shepherds for lazy clergy.) But we are not surprised to hear our preacher speak with equal force to men of all ranks. We find him before the young Edward VI, not only declaring to the scheming court the validity of a youthful king but also pointing out the sufficiency of the Scriptures for a king to live by, and descending to particulars:

In speaking these words, ye shall understand that I do not intend to speak against the strength, policy, and provision of a king; but against excess, and vain trust that kings have in themselves more than in the living God, the author of all goodness, and giver of all victory. Many horses are requisite for a king; but he may not exceed in them, nor triumph in them, more than is needful for the necessary affairs and defence of the realm. What meaneth it that God hath to do with the king’s stable, but only he would be master of his horses? The scripture saith, In altis habitat, “He dwelleth on high.” It followeth, Humilia respicit, “He looketh on low things;” yea, upon the king’s stables, and upon all the offices in his house. God is the great Grandmaster of the king’s house, and will take account of every one that beareth rule therein, for the executing of their offices; whether they have justly and truly served the king in their offices, or no. Yea, God looketh upon the king himself, if he work well or not. Every king is subject unto God, and all other men are subjects unto the king. In a king God requireth faith, not excess of horses.[59]

The nobles receive their due instruction. When speaking to them of Jonah’s ministry in Nineveh, the parallels he draws are hard to mistake:

There were noblemen, rich men, wealthy men; there were vicious men, and covetous men, and men that gave themselves to all voluptuous living, and to worldliness of getting riches. Was this a time well chosen and discreetly taken of Jonas, to come and reprove them of their sin; to declare unto them the threatenings of God; and to tell them of their covetousness; and to say plainly unto them, that except they repented and amended their evil living, they and their city should be destroyed of God’s hand within forty days? And yet they heard Jonas and gave place to his preaching. They heard the threatenings of God, and feared his stroke and vengeance, and believed God: that is, they believed God’s preacher and minister; they believed that God would be true of his word that he spake by the mouth of his prophet, and thereupon did penance, to turn away the wrath of God from them. Well, what shall we say? I will say this, and not spare: Christ saith, Ninive shall arise against the Jews at the last day, and bear witness against them; because that they, hearing God’s threatening for sin, ad praedicationam Jonae in cinere et sacco egerunt poenitentiam, “They did penance at the preaching of Jonas in ashes and sackcloth,” (as the text saith there:) and I say, Ninive shall arise against England, thou England; Ninive shall arise against England, because it will not believe God, nor hear his preachers that cry daily unto them, nor amend their lives, and especially their covetousness. Covetousness is as great a sin now as it was then: and it is the same sin now it was then: and he will as sure strike for sin now, as he did then.[60]

We have seen him confront the clergy[61] with language that is terse and penetrating: “Wherefore lift up your heads, brethren, and look about with your eyes, spy what things are to be reformed in the church of England. Is it so hard, is it so great a matter for you to see many abuses in the clergy, many in the laity?”[62]

Latimer will never shy away from dealing with particular sins and calling for particular repentance and enjoining to particular duty, and in this he stands in stark contrast with many modern pulpits.

Fourthly, Latimer is appropriately polemical. While we recognise his readiness to take on sin in all its forms – preachers, like the Christ who rebuked his own mother, “shall not bear or comfort any man in his sins and wickedness, but admonish him; nor flatter him against our conscience, as some do, which will not displease, but rather allow things against their own conscience”[63] – he has two primary targets in this regard: false religion and injustice (including abuse of privilege and position). With regard to false religion, popery gets shortest shrift, as when Latimer offers the thought that

the devil, by the help of that Italian bishop yonder, his chaplain, hath laboured by all means that he might to frustrate the death of Christ and the merits of his passion. And they have devised for that purpose to make us believe in other vain things by his pardons: as to have remission of sins for praying on hallowed beads; for drinking of the bakehouse bowl; as a canon of Waltham Abbey once told me, that whensoever they put their loaves of bread into the oven, as many as drank of the pardon-bowl should have pardon for drinking of it. A mad thing, to give pardon to a bowl![64]

But Latimer also includes the superstition and paganism, often walking in lockstep with Roman Catholicism, that plagued Reformation England. Neither can Latimer abide injustice. Bribery sickens him, and he inveighs against it repeatedly:

It is very sure that they that be good will bear, and not spurn at the preachers: they that be faulty they must amend, and neither spurn, nor wince, nor whine. He that findeth himself touched or galled, he declareth himself not to be upright. Wo worth these gifts! they subvert justice everywhere. Sequuntur retributiones: “they follow bribes.” Somewhat was given to them before; and they must needs give somewhat again: for Giffe-gaffe[65] was a good fellow; this Giffe-gaffe led them clean from justice. “They follow gifts.”

A good fellow on a time bade another of his, friends to a breakfast, and said, “If you will come, you shall be welcome; but I tell you aforehand, you shall have but slender fare: one dish, and that is all” “What is that,” said he? “A pudding, and nothing else.” “Marry,” said he, “you cannot please me better; of all meats, that is for mine own tooth; you may draw me round about the town with a pudding.” These bribing  magistrates and judges follow gifts faster than the fellow would follow the pudding.[66]

Indeed, he goes so far as to suggest a rather grim remedy:

Cambyses was a great emperor, such another as our master is: he had many lords-deputies, lords-presidents, and lieutenants under him. It is a great while ago since I read the history. It chanced he had under him in one of his dominions a briber, a gift-taker, a gratifier of rich men; he followed gifts as fast as he that followed the pudding; a hand-maker in his office, to make his son a great man; as the old saying is, “Happy is the child whose father goeth to the devil.” The cry of the poor widow came to the emperor’s ear, and caused him to flay the judge quick, and laid his skin in his chair of judgment, that all judges that should give judgment afterward should sit in the same skin. Surely it was a goodly sign, a goodly monument, the sign of the judge’s skin. I pray God we may once see the sign of the skin in England![67]

He lists miscarriages of justice, and calls upon the king “to remedy the matter, and God grant you to see redress in this realm in your own person.”[68] Neither is he unwilling to stand himself against the expectations of the day: on one occasion he obtained pardon for an unloved wife whose husband used the death of their child as an excuse to rid himself of his spouse by accusing her of murder;[69] in the same connection he warns that “a man may sin deadly with his own wife, if he, contrary to God’s order, misuse her.”[70] Latimer’s life among the people before his elevation, both from his less privileged background and his visiting of those in prison, together with the perspective obtained from his appointment as a bishop, all inform an abiding concern for the poor and vulnerable, and a concern that, for them, justice should be done and provision be made. For those who are the victims of injustice, he has words of comfort:

You widows, you orphans, you poor people, here is a comfortable place for you. Though these judges of the world will not hear you, there is one will be content with your importunity; he will remedy you, if you come after a right sort unto him. . . . Thou widow, thou orphan, thou fatherless child, I speak to thee, that hast no friends to help thee: “call upon me in the day of thy tribulation, call upon me; Ego eripiam te, I will pluck thee away, I will deliver thee, I will take thee away, I will relieve thee, thou shalt have thy heart’s desire.”[71]

Fifthly, Latimer is pastorally thorough and thoroughly pastoral. Again, we should not imagine that – working within the confines of his own development as a theologian and the tools available to him – he is any way a careless preacher. This is the man  who, according to his servant Bernher, “every morning ordinarily, winter and summer, about two of the clock in the morning he was at his book most diligently.”[72] His series on the Lord’s prayer covers a lot of territory, and he clearly has an excellent grasp of his material. He works through the text verse by verse, commenting and applying, but in such a way as always to maintain the connection of the text with his congregation. There is never a theory in Latimer’s preaching that does not translate into practice, and that is not made to translate into the practice of the very people to whom he preaches. Today’s high-flying scholarly orations that never land on the earth of a man’s life are shot down in flames by Latimer’s solid cannons. Latimer never forgets that pastoral dynamic, that need to bring the Word of God into connection with the hearts of his people, and his preaching is governed by that sense of responsibility.

His searching applications and gospel comforts are intended to do people good as sinners and as saints. Again, it is evident that he knows them: their circumstances, their errors, their sins, their grievances, their ignorance, their needs. He sets out to meet them all in the course of his preaching. For those who wonder whether or not Latimer’s stinging rebukes can be considered pastoral, we might consider the demands of the times he lived in, and the demands of our own. A true shepherd cares enough about his sheep to keep them safe, and that sometimes demands a whack on the flanks as much as a tender embrace from the strong arms of the shepherd. Perhaps the problem lies not so much in the fact that Latimer has added so much to his conception of pastoral preaching and counsel, but that we have evacuated so much from ours.

Latimer wants none to wander and none to stray once brought in. So he rebukes, instructs, and entreats with a view to the present and eternal good of all who hear him. His evident concern readily overflows, and it drives all his preaching. Here is his encouragement to repent of sin:

You have heard how needful it is for us to cry unto God for forgiveness of our sins: where you have heard, wherein forgiveness of our sins standeth, namely, in Christ the Son of the living God. Again, I told you how you should come to Christ, namely, by faith; and faith cometh through hearing the word of God. Remember then this addition, “As we forgive them that trespass against us;” which is a sure token, whereby we know whether we have the true faith in Christ or no. And here you learn, that it is a good thing to have an enemy; for we may use him to our great commodity: through him or by him we may prove ourselves, whether we have the true faith or no.[73]

And here are some more of his gospel comforts:

Call this, I say, to remembrance, and again remember that our Saviour hath cleansed through his passion all our sins, and taken away all our wickedness; so that as many as believe in him shall be the children of God. In such wise let us strive and fight against the temptations of the devil; which would not have us to call upon God, because we be sinners. Catch thou hold of our Saviour, believe in him, be assured in thy heart that he with his suffering took away all thy sins. Consider again, that our Saviour calleth us to prayer, and commandeth us to pray. Our sins let us, and withdraw us from prayer; but our Saviour maketh them nothing: when we believe in him, it is like as if we had no sins. For he changeth with us: he taketh our sins and wickedness from us, and giveth unto us his holiness, righteousness, justice, fulfilling of the law, and so, consequently, everlasting life: so that we be like as if we had done no sin at all; for his righteousness standeth us in so good stead, as though we of our own selves had fulfilled the law to the uttermost. Therefore our sins cannot let us, nor withdraw us from prayer: for they be gone; they are no sins; they cannot be hurtful unto us. Christ dying for us, as all the scripture, both of the new and old Testament, witnesseth, Dolores nostros ipse portavit, “He hath taken away our sorrows.”[74]

Such, then, is the preaching in principle and in practice of the man who was, according to Sir Marcus Loane,

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.[75]

And so it was that Sir John Cheke, the learned tutor of Edward VI, said of this preaching prelate, “I have an ear for other preachers, but I have a heart for Latimer.” I hope that we can now begin to understand why, and are perhaps more ready to ask the Head of the church to raise up men of God with integrity of soul, courage of conviction and penetration of speech for the pulpits of today.

Part onePart two ∙ Part three

[35] 1:201, see above.

[36] 1:207.

[37] 1:154-55.

[38] 1:161-65.

[39] 1:163.

[40] 1:5.

[41] 1:168.

[42] 1:223.

[43] 1:53.

[44] 1:550.

[45] 1:89.

[46] 1:208.

[47] 1:5-6.

[48] 1:73.

[49] 1:304.

[50] 1:20.

[51] 1:381-2.

[52] 1:247.

[53] A hoddy-peck, hoddypeak or hoddypake is a blockhead or simpleton, although some suggest it may also indicate a cuckold.

[54] A doddy-poul or doddy-poll is a thickhead or dolt.

[55] Huddes are husks, offscourings or refuse.

[56] 1:136.

[57] 2:119.

[58] 2:119.

[59] 1:92-93.

[60] 1:241-2.

[61] See above on the preacher’s faithfulness.

[62] 1:52.

[63] 2:118.

[64] 1:74.

[65] “Giffe-gaffe” seems to be personified mutual back-scratching.

[66] 1:140. Again, note that this is not preached to those who are suffering from these injustices, but to those who are committing them.

[67] 1:146.

[68] 1:189-91.

[69] 1:335.

[70] 1:343.

[71] 1:142-143.

[72] 2:xxi.

[73] 1:426-7.

[74] 1:329-30.

[75] Sir Marcus Loane, Masters of the English Reformation (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005), 147.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 24 January 2012 at 11:22

Hugh Latimer: the preaching prelate #2 Latimer’s principles of preaching

with 2 comments

Part one ∙ Part two ∙ Part three

The first demand that Latimer lays on all prelates – and he uses the word to describe any cleric of whatever rank in his system who have “a flock to be taught of him,” “any spiritual charge in the faithful congregation,” any “cure of souls”[11] – is that they be diligent preachers. As we have already heard, Latimer is unsparing in his denunciation of those in the office of preachers who will not preach. He has a ripe vocabulary and rich invective which he regularly unleashes against men whose pulpits are like bells without clappers,[12] men who should learn diligence of the devil if they will not heed the commands of God. But it is not merely formal disquisitions on set occasions that are to occupy gospel ministers. They are to preach whenever opportunity provides:

I would our preachers would preach sitting or standing, one way or other. It was a goodly pulpit that our Saviour Christ had gotten him here; an old rotten boat, and yet he preached his Father’s will, his Father’s message out of this pulpit. He cared not for the pulpit, so he might do the people good. Indeed it is to be commended for the preacher to stand or sit, as the place is; but I would not have it so superstitiously esteemed, but that a good preacher may declare the word of God sitting on a horse, or preaching in a tree. And yet if this should be done, the unpreaching prelates would laugh it to scorn. And though it be good to have the pulpit set up in churches, that the people may resort thither, yet I would not have it so superstitiously used, but that in a profane place the word of God might be preached sometimes; and I would not have the people offended withal, no more than they be with our Saviour Christ’s preaching out of a boat. And yet to have pulpits in churches, it is very well done to have them, but they would be occupied; for it is a vain thing to have them as they stand in many churches.[13]

This insistence on preaching is the direct result of his convictions about the God-ordained nature and effect of preaching: “God’s instrument of salvation is preaching”[14] which is why “the devil wrestleth most against [it]: it hath been all his study to decay this office.”[15] The minister of the gospel must go about his business in dependence on God without being dissuaded. He must issue the gospel call, but

can do no more but call; God is he that must bring in; God must open the hearts, as it is in the Acts of the Apostles: when Paul preached to the women, there was a silk-woman, cujus cor Deus aperuit, “whose heart God opened.” None could open it but God. Paul could but only preach, God must work; God must do the thing inwardly.[16]

He puts such convictions in the context of opposition to the truth, referring to a complaint against his preaching from a chaplain to his bishop (one cannot help but note how often Latimer is forced to begin a sermon with a defence of his previous one!). The bishop advised the chaplain to

“. . . let his unfruitful sermon alone.” “Unfruitful,” saith one; another saith, “seditious.” Well, unfruitful is the best: and whether it be unfruitful or no, I cannot tell; it lieth not in me to make it fruitful: and God work not in your hearts, my preaching can do you but little good. I am God’s instrument but for a time; it is he that must give the increase: and yet preaching is necessary; for take away preaching, and take away salvation. I told you of Scala coeli, and I made it a preaching matter, not a massing matter.

Referring immediately to Christ as “the preacher of all preachers, the pattern and the exemplar that all preachers ought to follow,” he asks,

And if he had no better luck that was preacher of all preachers, what shall we look for? Yet was there no lack in him, but in the ground: and so now there is no fault in preaching; the lack is in the people, that have stony hearts and thorny hearts. I beseech God to amend them! And as for these folk that speak against me; I never look to have their good word as long as I live; yet will I speak of their wickedness, as long as I shall be permitted to speak. As long as I live, I will be an enemy to it. No preachers can pass it over with silence: it is the original root of all mischief. As for me; I owe them no other ill will, but I pray God amend them, when it pleaseth him![17]

However, in relying upon God Latimer is not ignorant of the human dynamic of the pulpit, and insists that the preacher be adaptable. Paul and Barnabas in Iconium “went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed” (Acts 14.1). Latimer likewise requires that a preacher preach to the people in front of him. He reports how he asked King Henry VIII to “give me leave to frame my doctrine according to mine audience: I had been a very dolt to have preached so at the borders of your realm, as I preach before your Grace.”[18] So we find him wisely employing the tools of his ministerial trade: he moulds his language, illustrations, structure, humour and applications to the precise congregation to which he preaches.

However, such righteous accommodation to place, occasion, and congregation, can never, in Latimer, be mistaken for compromise. Preachers must be faithful:

I know that preachers ought to have a discretion in their preaching, and that they ought to have a consideration and respect to the place and the time that he preacheth in; as I myself will say here that I would not say in the country for no good. But what then? Sin must be rebuked; sin must be plainly spoken against.[19]

So, that recorded request about “framing doctrine according to mine audience” comes in a sermon to Edward VI, referring to an altercation with his unstable and dangerous father, Henry VIII:

In the king’s days that dead is a many of us were called together before him to say our minds in certain matters. In the end, one kneeleth me down, and accuseth me of sedition, that I had preached seditious doctrine. A heavy salutation, and a hard point of such a man’s doing, as if I should name him, ye would not think it. The king turned to me and said, “What say you to that, sir?” Then I kneeled down, and turned me first to mine accuser, and required him: “Sir, what form of preaching would you appoint me to preach before a king? Would you have me for to preach nothing as concerning a king in the king’s sermon? Have you any commission to appoint me what I shall preach?” Besides this, I asked him divers other questions, and he would make no answer to none of them all: he had nothing to say. Then I turned me to the king, and submitted myself to his Grace, and said, “I never thought myself worthy, nor I never sued to be a preacher before your Grace, but I was called to it, and would be willing, if you mislike me, to give place to my betters; for I grant there be a great many more worthy of the room than I am. And if it be your Grace’s pleasure so to allow them for preachers, I could be content to bear their books after them. But if your Grace allow me for a preacher, I would desire your Grace to give me leave to discharge my conscience; give me leave to frame my doctrine according to mine audience: I had been a very dolt to have preached so at the borders of your realm, as I preach before your Grace.”[20]

Later in the same series to the young Edward, he draws again on his prior experience:

You that be of the court, and especially ye sworn chaplains, beware of a lesson that a great man taught me at my first coming to the court: he told me for goodwill; he thought it well. He said to me, “You must beware, howsoever ye do, that ye contrary not the king; let him have his sayings; follow him; go with him.” Marry, out upon this counsel! Shall I say as he says? Say your conscience, or else what a worm shall ye feel gnawing; what a remorse of conscience shall ye have, when ye remember how ye have slacked your duty![21]

Latimer preaches to kings as kings, and to particular kings under particular circumstances. It would be easy to rail at the carnal clergy or the corrupt nobility when addressing the poor and oppressed, or to complain of the laziness and superstition of the common man to the clergy and nobility. But not Latimer. He charges those before him with their particular sins – he is a master of “a nipping sermon, a pinching sermon, a biting sermon,”[22] being persuaded that the man who “dare not rebuke sin and wickedness, no doubt he is not meet for his office”[23] – and declares to them their particular duties and entreats them to avail themselves of the grace of God. That “Sermon of the Plough” was preached in the Shrouds at St. Paul’s Cathedral, probably a sheltered spot against the weather, but hardly a shelter for the clergy who would have been there to hear him. Thus we find him preaching to the convocation of the clergy before Parliament began (under Henry VIII) in the summer of 1536. In the morning, speaking as if from God himself, he tells them,

All good men in all places complain of you, accuse your avarice, your exactions, your tyranny. They have required in you a long season, and yet require, diligence and sincerity. I commanded you, that with all industry and labour ye should feed my sheep: ye earnestly feed yourselves from day to day, wallowing in delights and idleness. I commanded you to teach my commandments, and not your fancies; and that ye should seek my glory and my vantage: you teach your own traditions, and seek your own glory and profit. You preach very seldom; and when ye do preach, do nothing but cumber them that preach truly, as much as lieth in you: that it were much better such were not to preach at all, than so perniciously to preach. Oh, what hear I of you? You, that ought to be my preachers, what other thing do you, than apply all your study hither, to bring all my preachers to envy, shame, contempt? Yea, more than this, ye pull them into perils, into prisons, and, as much as in you lieth, to cruel deaths. To be short, I would that Christian people should hear my doctrine, and at their convenient leisure read it also, as many as would: your care is not that all men may hear it, but all your care is, that no lay man do read it: surely, being afraid lest they by the reading should understand it, and understanding, learn to rebuke our slothfulness. This is your generation, this is your dispensation, this is your wisdom.[24]

Their lot does not improve after lunch, when – in addition to pointing out, with a modicum of social insensitivity, that a good number of those to whom he is preaching wanted to burn him at the stake – he asks as follows:

The end of your convocation shall shew what ye have done; the fruit that shall come of your consultation shall shew what generation ye be of. For what have ye done hitherto, I pray you, these seven years and more? What have ye engendered? What have ye brought forth? What fruit is come of your long and great assembly? What one thing that the people of England hath been the better of a hair; or you yourselves, either more accepted before God, or better discharged toward the people committed unto your cure? For that the people is better learned and taught now, than they were in time past, to whether of these ought we to attribute it, to your industry, or to the providence of God, and the foreseeing of the king’s grace? Ought we to thank you, or the king’s highness? Whether stirred other first, you the king, that he might preach, or he you by his letters, that ye should preach oftener? Is it unknown, think you, how both ye and your curates were, in [a] manner, by violence enforced to let books to be made, not by you, but by profane and lay persons; to let them, I say, be sold abroad, and read for the instruction of the people? I am bold with you, but I speak Latin and not English, to the clergy, not to the laity; I speak to you being present, and not behind your backs. God is my witness, I speak whatsoever is spoken of the good-will that I bear you; God is my witness, which knoweth my heart, and compelleth me to say that I say.[25]

Such convictions are a rebuke to preachers who trim our sails rather than place our guns according to our congregations. We may win friends that way, but never souls. Fidelity to God and therefore to men compel a preacher to pursue what is often a thankless task. Latimer asks – with eerie premonition of his own fate – of those who call men to the gospel feast,

I pray you, what thanks had they for their calling, for their labour? Verily this: John Baptist was beheaded; Christ was crucified; the apostles were killed: this was their reward for their labours. So all the preachers shall look for none other reward: for no doubt they must be sufferers, they must taste of these sauces: their office is, arguere mundum de peccato, “to rebuke the world of sin;” which no doubt is a thankless occupation. Ut audiant montes judicia Domini, “That the high hills,” that is, great princes and lords, “may hear the judgments of the Lord:” they must spare no body; they must rebuke high and low, when they do amiss; they must strike them with the sword of God’s word: which no doubt is a thankless occupation; yet it must be done, for God will have it so.[26]

But is Latimer all blood and thunder? Is he all judgement and no mercy, all law and no grace? Not at all! Although it is plain that Latimer is persuaded that preachers are to expose unrighteousness and rebuke sin, the purpose of such is ultimately that men be brought to Christ. Accordingly, Latimer wants preachers to be true ambassadors of Christ. The Lord Jesus is to be held up and earnestly presented by his ministers as the Saviour of sinners:

This office of preaching is the office of salvation; for St Paul saith, Visum est Deo per stultitiam praedicationis salvos facere credentes: “It hath pleased God to save the believers by the foolishness of preaching.” How can men then believe, but by and through the office of preaching? Preachers are Christ’s vicars: legatione funguntur pro Deo. “They are Christ’s ambassadors.” St Paul saith, Evangelium est potentia Dei ad salutem omni credenti; “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for every believer.” It is the mighty instrument of God.[27]

We therefore find Christ woven into Latimer’s sermons, and some of his highest flights of rugged eloquence are in the service of extolling the Lord Jesus. All preaching is to be carried out with this end in mind:

But how shall we come to Christ? How shall we have him? I hear that he is beneficial, as scripture witnesseth: Copiosa est apud Deum redemptio; “There is full and plenteous redemption by him.” But how shall I get that? how shall I come unto it? By faith. Faith is the hand wherewith we receive his benefits; therefore we must needs have faith. But how shall we obtain faith? Faith indeed bringeth Christ, and Christ bringeth remission of sins; but how shall we obtain faith? Answer: St Paul teacheth us this, saying: Fides ex auditu, “Faith cometh by hearing God’s word.” Then if we will come to faith, we must hear God’s word: if God’s word be necessary to be heard, then we must have preachers which be able to tell us God’s word. And so it appeareth, that in this petition we pray for preachers; we pray unto God, that he will send men amongst us, which may teach us the way of everlasting life.[28]

Indeed, Latimer is greatly concerned for the supply and identification of faithful preachers. This is not an office to be entered lightly, not are preachers to be chosen for crass or carnal reasons (a warning that many congregations today would do well to heed):

Christ knew what a charge hangeth upon this necessary office of preaching, the office of salvation, and therefore most earnestly applied it himself. And when he chose his twelve apostles to send them forth unto this office, he first prayed all the night. He, being God almighty with the Father, might have given all gifts fit for this office; but to teach us, he would first pray all night. Here is good matter for bishops and patrons to look upon; and not to regard so little whom they give their benefice unto, or whom they admit to cure the souls they have charge of. A notable example: Christ prayed all night, ere he would send them forth, ere he would put them in this preaching office, this most necessary office of salvation. For he saw that they had need of great zeal to God and to souls’ health, that should take upon them to keep souls, and a bold courage and spirit, that should rebuke the world of their sin and wickedness. Many will choose now such a curate for their souls, as they may call “fool,” rather than one that shall rebuke their covetousness, ambition, unmercifulness, uncharitableness; that shall be sober, discreet, apt to reprove and resist the gainsayers with the word of God.[29]

We should also note that Latimer is equally clear about the need for faithful hearing. Indeed, Latimer is so confident of the power of God’s Word and so determined for preachers to be effective that he would rather have people come to hear a sermon for a poor reason than not to come at all:

I had rather ye should come as the tale is by the gentlewoman of London: one of her neighbours met her in the street, and said, “Mistress, whither go ye?” “Marry,” said she, “I am going to St Thomas of Acres to the sermon; I could not sleep all this last night, and I am going now thither; I never failed of a good nap there.” And so I had rather ye should go a napping to the sermons, than not to go at all. For with what mind soever ye come, though ye come for an ill purpose, yet peradventure ye may chance to be caught or ye go; the preacher may chance to catch you on his hook. [30]

Nevertheless, Latimer obviously desires that people would come with an ear to hear, because of the issues at stake:

Where ye may perceive, how necessary a thing it is to hear God’s word, and how needful a thing it is to have preachers, which may teach us the word of God: for by hearing we must come to faith; through faith we must be justified. And therefore Christ saith himself, Qui credit in me, habet vitam aeternam; “He that believeth in me hath everlasting life.” When we hear God’s word by the preacher, and believe that same, then we shall be saved: for St. Paul saith, Evangelium est potentia Dei ad salutem omni credenti; “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe; the gospel preached is God’s power to salvation of all believers.” This is a great commendation of this office of preaching: therefore we ought not to despise it, or little regard it; for it is God’s instrument, whereby he worketh faith in our hearts. . . . Here I might take occasion to inveigh against those which little regard the office of preaching; which are wont to say, “What need we such preachings every day? Have I not five wits? I know as well what is good or ill, as he doth that preacheth.” But I tell thee, my friend, be not too hasty; for when thou hast nothing to follow but thy five wits, thou shalt go to the devil with them. David, that holy prophet, said not so: he trusted not his five wits, but he said, Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum, Domine; “Lord, thy word is a lantern unto my feet.” Here we learn not to despise the word of God, but highly to esteem it, and reverently to hear it; for the holy day is ordained and appointed to none other thing, but that we should at that day hear the word of God, and exercise ourselves in all godliness. But there be some which think that this day is ordained only for feasting, drinking, or gaming, or such foolishness; but they be much deceived: this day was appointed of God that we should hear his word, and learn his laws, and so serve him.[31]

Latimer’s view of preaching is of a high calling to be humbly embraced:

But we preachers, we have a greater and higher degree: we are magistrates, we have the spiritual sword of God, in a higher degree than the common people; we must rebuke other men, and spare no man. Our office is to teach every man the way to heaven; and whosoever will not follow, but liveth still in sin and wickedness, him ought we to strike, and not to spare. Like as John Baptist did, when he said to the great and proud king Herod, Non licet tibi; “Sir, it becometh not thee to do so.” So we preachers, must use God’s word to the correction of other men’s sins; we may not be flatterers or claw-backs. Other people, that have not this vocation, may exhort every one his neighbour to leave sins; but we have the sword, we are authorised to strike them with God’s word.[32]

The good bishop portrays for us the preacher as a man of fidelity and courage, with wisdom from God and insight into men, unflinching in his stand against sin and unstinting in his declaration of Christ. “The properties of every good preacher,” says Latimer, are

to be a true man; to teach, not dreams nor inventions of men, but viam Dei in veritate, “the way of God truly”; and not to regard the personage of man; not to creep into his bosom, to claw his back; to say to the wicked he doth well, for filthy lucre’s sake. Ah, these flatterers! no greater mischief in the commonwealth, than these flatterers![33]

By Latimer’s standards, I would suggest that there are a lot of people today who stand up in pulpits to talk who would be thoroughly denounced by this pulpit giant as no preachers but mere flatterers, and a great mischief in the commonwealth.

Part one ∙ Part two ∙ Part three

[11] 1:60.

[12] 1:207.

[13] 1:206-7.

[14] 1:178.

[15] 1:202.

[16] 1:285.

[17] 1:155.

[18] 1:135.

[19] 1:241.

[20] 1:134-135

[21] 1:231-232.

[22] 1:240.

[23] 1:507.

[24] 1:38.

[25] 1:45-6.

[26] 1:468.

[27] 1:349.

[28] 1:418.

[29] 1:292. See also 2:26, where Latimer describes at greater length the kind of character required in the preacher, and the prayer required for choosing a godly and faithful man.

[30] 1:201.

[31] 1:470-1.

[32] 1:506.

[33] 1:292.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 January 2012 at 09:10

Hugh Latimer: the preaching prelate #1 Introduction

with 3 comments

Part one ∙ Part twoPart three

Hugh Latimer speaks best for himself:

For preaching of the gospel is one of God’s plough-works, and the preacher is one of God’s ploughmen. . . . Ye may not then, I say, be offended with my similitude, for because I liken preaching to a ploughman’s labour, and a prelate to a ploughman. But now you will ask me, whom I call a prelate? A prelate is that man, whatsoever he be, that hath a flock to be taught of him; whosoever hath any spiritual charge in the faithful congregation, and whosoever he be that hath cure of souls. And well may the preacher and the ploughman be likened together: first, for their labour of all seasons of the year; for there is no time of the year in which the ploughman hath not some special work to do as in my country in Leicestershire, the ploughman hath a time to set forth, and to assay his plough, and other times for other necessary works to be done. And then they also may be likened together for the diversity of works and variety of offices that they have to do. For as the ploughman first setteth forth his plough, and then tilleth his land, and breaketh it in furrows, and sometime ridgeth it up again; and at another time harroweth it and clotteth it, and sometime dungeth it and hedgeth it, diggeth it and weedeth it, purgeth and maketh it clean: so the prelate, the preacher, hath many diverse offices to do. He hath first a busy work to bring his parishioners to a right faith, as Paul calleth it, and not a swerving faith; but to a faith that embraceth Christ, and trusteth to his merits; a lively faith, a justifying faith; a faith that maketh a man righteous, without respect of works: as ye have it very well declared and set forth in the Homily. He hath then a busy work, I say, to bring his flock to a right faith, and then to confirm them in the same faith: now casting them down with the law, and with threatenings of God for sin; now ridging them up again with the gospel, and with the promises of God’s favour: now weeding them, by telling them their faults, and making them forsake sin; now clotting them, by breaking their stony hearts, and by making them supplehearted, and making them to have hearts of flesh; that is, soft hearts, and apt for doctrine to enter in: now teaching to know God rightly, and to know their duty to God and their neighbours: now exhorting them, when they know their duty, that they do it, and be diligent in it; so that they have a continual work to do. Great is their business, and therefore great should be their hire. They have great labours, and therefore they ought to have good livings, that they may commodiously feed their flock; for the preaching of the word of God unto the people is called meat: scripture calleth it meat; not strawberries, that come but once a year, and tarry not long, but are soon gone: but it is meat, it is no dainties. The people must have meat that must be familiar and continual, and daily given unto them to feed upon. Many make a strawberry of it, ministering it but once a year; but such do not the office of good prelates.[1]

But now for the fault of unpreaching prelates, methink I could guess what might be said for excusing of them. They are so troubled with lordly living, they be so placed in palaces, couched in courts, ruffling in their rents, dancing in their dominions, burdened with ambassages, pampering of their paunches, like a monk that maketh his jubilee; munching in their mangers, and moiling in their gay manors and mansions, and so troubled with loitering in their lordships, that they cannot attend it.[2]

And now I would ask a strange question: who is the most diligentest bishop and prelate in all England, that passeth all the rest in doing his office? I can tell, for I know him who it is; I know him well. But now I think I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him. There is one that passeth all the other, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And will ye know who it is? I will tell you: it is the devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all other; he is never out of his diocess; he is never from his cure; ye shall never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish; he keepeth residence at all times; ye shall never find him out of the way, call for him when you will he is ever at home; the diligentest preacher in all the realm; he is ever at his plough: no lording nor loitering can hinder him; he is ever applying his business, ye shall never find him idle, I warrant you. And his office is to hinder religion, to maintain superstition, to set up idolatry, to teach all kind of popery. He is ready as he can be wished for to set forth his plough; to devise as many ways as can be to deface and obscure God’s glory. Where the devil is resident, and hath his plough going, there away with books, and up with candles; away with bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel, and up with the light of candles, yea, at noon-days. Where the devil is resident, that he may prevail, up with all superstition and idolatry; tensing, painting of images, candles, palms, ashes, holy water, and new service of men’s inventing; as though man could invent a better way to honour God with than God himself hath appointed. Down with Christ’s cross, up with purgatory pickpurse, up with him, the popish purgatory, I mean. Away with clothing the naked, the poor and impotent; up with decking of images, and gay garnishing of stocks and stones: up with man’s traditions and his laws, down with God’s traditions and his most holy word. Down with the old honour due to God, and up with the new god’s honour. Let all things be done in Latin: there must be nothing but Latin, not so much as Memento, homo, quod cinis es, et in cinerem reverteris: “Remember, man, that thou art ashes, and into ashes thou shalt return:” which be the words that the minister speaketh unto the ignorant people, when he giveth them ashes upon Ash-Wednesday; but it must be spoken in Latin: God’s word may in no wise be translated into English.

Oh that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel! [3]

These rich passages are taken from perhaps the most famous of Hugh Latimer’s sermons, the “Sermon of the Plough,” and are truly representative of this preaching prelate.

Hugh Latimer lived from about 1490 (the birth date is sometimes given as late as 1492) until 16th October 1555, when he was martyred with Nicholas Ridley (c. 1500-1555) at Oxford. His sermons are in the two volumes of his Sermons & Remains.[4] The first volume is almost entirely sermons (thirty-three in all); the second contains fifteen sermons and some miscellaneous remains. With regret, our focus on the sermons means that we must pick up what we can of the person from our study of the preacher. Neither can we dwell much on his history as person or preacher, or the theology of his sermons, except incidentally.

The sermons span a period of about twenty-five years and three monarchs (1529 through to 1553 – two years before his death – and Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I). They are often grouped by time, occasion or place of preaching (e.g. “Seven Sermons preached before King Edward the Sixth, 1549” or “Sermons preached in Lincolnshire, 1552”) or by their matter (“Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, 1552”). They are the productions of Latimer’s heart and mouth but not necessarily of his pen, nor were they revised by their author (with the possible exception of the “Sermon[s] before the Convocation”). Rather, they were gathered by Latimer’s friend and attendant, and one who himself became a gospel preacher, Augustine Bernher, “albeit not so fully and perfectly gathered as they were uttered; yet nevertheless truly.”[5] We must take into account that we have, in the language of the introduction to one, “the effect and tenor”[6] of the sermon, more a full and careful sense of the substance than a transcription of every word. So we must exercise care in making absolute judgements while confident that we get our material from one who knew the preacher well, was sympathetic to his theology, was concerned to preserve his teaching accurately, and learned to preach – at least in part – from hearing Latimer. And, we might ask, who can capture the thunder and the lightning anyway?

Latimer is a man of his time, not least in his theology (it being more of a developing Lutheranism and therefore sometimes lacking the clarity of his reforming successors, and sometimes being simply inaccurate) and his sociology. As a preacher, he can ramble with the best (or worst!): one finds either a telling phrase of pith and moment, or must resort to a paragraph or two to get the sense and flow of some holy harangue.

His capacity for the unexpected excursus (or, to be more frank, the rabbit trail) is close to unparalleled. In one sermon, speaking of Jairus’ daughter, he gives some pointed counsel on how to make sure that someone is genuinely dead before burying them, concluding, “Therefore, I admonish you not to be too hasty with dead corses: as long as they be warm, keep them in the bed; for when a man is dead indeed, he will soon be cold.”[7] One might defend this on the grounds of pastoral or practical necessity while questioning whether or not it is entirely germane. Neither could we describe Latimer as an exegetical nonesuch (at least in the commendatory sense): we do not turn to him for a robust demonstration of the grammatico-historical approach. In terms of sermonic structure, he has a variety of approaches, none of them regular. We might kindly describe him as exegetically and homiletically untrammelled, with a style that is essentially natural and conversational.

He is not unaware of his idiosyncrasies. Some are deliberate, a part of his convictions concerning the pulpit and his concern for the people who hear him:

I have a manner of teaching, which is very tedious to them that be learned. I am wont ever to repeat those things which I have said before, which repetitions are nothing pleasant to the learned: but it is no matter, I care not for them; I seek more the profit of those which be ignorant, than to please learned men. Therefore I oftentimes repeat such things which be needful for them to know; for I would speak so that they might be edified withal.[8]

Despite well-intentioned nitpicking, we must acknowledge that Latimer is easy to read and to hear read. P. 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.”[9] Bishop Ryle is no more restrained:

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.[10]

With such testimonies before us, rather than try to identify and examine a typical sermon (for I am not sure one exists), we shall attempt to draw from the complete corpus briefly to explore and assess the principles and practice of this preaching prelate.

Part one ∙ Part twoPart three

[1] Latimer, Sermons & Remains (Cambridge: CUP, 1844), 1:60-62. All references to the sermons are from this edition, sometimes referred to as Latimer’s Works.

[2] 1:67.

[3] 1:70-71.

[4] Sometimes referred to as Latimer’s Works; they are readily obtainable online, or secondhand in the Parker edition from the Cambridge University Press.

[5] 1:xvi and 455, fn 5.

[6] 1:3.

[7] 1:537-8.

[8] 1:341. I have to think that the fact that in three sentences he twice states that he is given to repetition for the sake of the ignorant is an example of the preaching tongue firmly in the prelatic cheek.

[9] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 127

[10] J. C. Ryle, Five English Reformers (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 106.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 21 January 2012 at 20:03

Critical appreciation

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That [insert name here] was important and influential is beyond dispute; but we should not sentimentalise him because of that or ignore his faults or, worst of all, so praise him that those very faults might ultimately be baptized as virtues and continue to do damage long after his departure to glory. Our brains must be kept switched on; we must give credit where credit is due; but we must also remember that sometimes we learn most from great men when we look at the great mistakes they made.

There is nothing like death to exonerate a man of all his faults. Carl Trueman rightly pleads for a critical appreciation of great men.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 1 December 2011 at 08:38

Westminster Conference 2011: “Freedom, Courage and the Truth”

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The Westminster Conference is almost upon us once more, taking place this year on Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th December at the new venue of the Salvation Army’s Regent Hall on Oxford Street. The brochure (see picture link or here) can be downloaded, filled in and sent off to the Secretary (no online booking at present, I am afraid). This year’s papers are as follows, God willing:

  • Christian liberty and the Westminster Assembly (Robert Letham). The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) contains a ground-breaking declaration of Christian liberty. What forces thrust this to the forefront of its agenda? On what basis did the Assembly set it? How did it work out in practice? How does it relate to the gospel? Robert Letham’s address will seek answers to these questions, as well as considering what lessons can be learned for our own day.
  • The Covenanting experience (Knox Hyndman). Within a few years of taking the throne Charles II began subjecting the Scots to a twenty eight year period of persecution and terror. During this period it has been estimated that the authorities “killed, impoverished or banished” over eighteen thousand people. However, the response to this cruelty was not uniform and this address will consider the different reactions in the church and the subsequent effect on its life and witness.
  • Obadiah Holmes: pioneer of religious freedom (Stephen Rees). Obadiah Holmes left Lancashire in 1638, crossing the Atlantic in search of purity of worship and clear gospel preaching. In New England he found saving faith but also came to Baptist convictions and found himself at odds with church leaders and magistrates alike. He discovered that there were limits to the religious liberty permitted by the Puritan establishment. Holmes’ stand for freedom of conscience had greater consequences than anyone could have predicted.
  • The broad road from orthodoxy to heresy (Robert Strivens). Anti-trinitarian views gained considerable ground in Old Dissent during the first half of the 18th century. By the second half of that century significant numbers of congregations had lapsed into heresy. Why did this happen? What attempts were made to turn back the tide and why were they largely unsuccessful? What lessons are there for us in this story, faced as we are today with increasingly strong attacks on central evangelical doctrines?
  • Puritanism: where did it all go wrong? (Lewis Allen). Why, after they had made such strides in the churches and in national life, was there such a disintegration of Puritan principles? And what accounts for the doctrinal descent into Unitarianism in the first quarter of the 17th Century? This paper will give an overview of the period after 1662, considering the ‘downgrade’ of Puritan ideals during this time and giving salutary lessons for our day.
  • John Eliot: “Apostle to the Indians” (Hugh Collier). This remarkable man was one of the first to take the gospel to the Indians of North America. He learned their Algonquian language, and, as it had no written text, devised one. He then translated the whole bible into their tongue. He preached to them, cared for them and was loved by them. This was all on top of a 58 year pastorate! There is much for us to learn from this servant of God.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 13 September 2011 at 08:31

The inimitable Mr Delves

with 3 comments

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

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

Ministerial advice

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

Then a memory from his daughter, Christine:

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

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

A quote from John Berridge

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

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

 On unction

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

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

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

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

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

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

On steadfastness in the church

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

Quality over quantity is the rule here.

On the pressure of preaching

From a daughter:

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

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

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

On the weakness of the church

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

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

On dying well

Concerning the approach of death:

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 4 August 2011 at 12:50

Needed: a Bunyan for Bedford

with 6 comments

As part of our family holiday, we took a trip through Bunyan territory. The boys were excited by this. Caleb and I have read a large portion of Pilgrim’s Progress, and for family ‘Bible time’ we have been trading on the boys’ obsession with all things warlike and working our way through The Holy War, which they have been loving. Finding out a little more about where John Bunyan was born and lived, and where he was converted, seemed like the natural thing to do.

Taking the scenes in chronological order (for Bunyan), we begin in Harrowden, the hamlet close to which Bunyan was born. The road narrows down to a bridleway at a place called Bunyan Farm, and a quick stroll down the bridleway brings the interested pilgrim to a stream and an entrance to a corn field. A sign suggests that the monument at the site of the cottage where Bunyan was born is to be found within. I trolled in, expecting to find it fairly close at hand. Not seeing anything monumental, I gambolled on gazelle-like through the corn (OK, I ploughed on rhino-style) for about a quarter of a mile, before coming upon the slab of rock commemorating the site (the monument itself was erected for the Festival of Britain in 1951). It is an attractive if fairly ignominious spot, dignified mainly by association.

Moving on, we come to the village of Elstow, where Bunyan was baptized and where he lived with his first wife after he was married.

Now a pleasant, middle-class village, the village green and the church at Elstow are still easily found.

This church in Elstow is where he heard sufficient faithful preaching to stir his soul, and this green where Bunyan was playing tip-cat (an early version of rounders, apparently) when he came under a powerful conviction of sin on account of his disregard for the Lord’s day. A bell-ringer in the church, his sense of his sin made him afraid that the bell he rang would fall on him, so he stood under a beam. He became afraid that the beam too would fall (or be insufficient to protect him), so he took to standing in the doorway, but even that would not salve his conscience. Eventually, he gave up the practice altogether.

Both Elstow and Harrowden are not far from Bedford itself (indeed, are now barely separate from it). It is striking how much of Bunyan’s life was lived out within such a small parcel of land. Moving into Bedford, we come to St John’s church and rectory, where John Gifford pastored the independent church meeting in the building.

Gifford’s own story is remarkable: a hard-living Royalist officer, he narrowly avoided execution after being captured following a battle in Kent. Escaping from custody, he was eventually converted, and became a pastor of the independent church in Bedford. He was, under God, the ideal man to counsel the spiritually-tortured Bunyan. After Bunyan found peace for his soul through true faith in Christ, and not outward reformation and mere religiosity, it was not long before he became the vigorous preacher who “preached what I felt, what I smartingly did feel.” Of course, persecution followed swiftly afterward, and not far up the street from the church building is the bridge over the Great Ouse.

A stroll down the river side for a short distance brings you to the backwater where Bunyan was probably baptised, and a former iteration of the bridge contained a cell where Bunyan may have spent some time imprisoned.

Walking up Bedford High Street, one passes other sites of interest. There is the place where the main gaol was situated, now marked only by a plaque on the ground. Many historians now believe that this was the place in which Bunyan spent the bulk of his imprisonment. Not far away, down a side street, is the church building which sits in the same location as the one in which Bunyan pastored during his times of freedom, and a little further on one can see the place where the cottage stood in which Bunyan and his family came to live.

Finally, at the top of the High Street, stands the well-known statue of one of Bedfordshire’s most famous sons, now a little weathered. Bunyan stands in noble pose, his Bible in one hand and his other resting upon the Word of truth.

He looks out over a town which seems as much in need of the gospel as it did in his day, surveying the hair salons and nightclubs which pepper the town, faced as if challenged by a somewhat salubrious joint selling fake breasts and rubber sixpacks.

It struck me very much as a town which needs the gospel (I speak as a man from Crawley, and hope that I am doing no disservice to any churches in the town which are seeking to carry the good news to those who are dead in sin). Bedford needs a Bunyan again, a man who preaches the truth in Christ which he feels, which he smartingly does feel. Perhaps more accurately, Bedford needs a man powerfully indwelt by the Spirit of the Christ who saved John Bunyan, who trembles before the living God, who knows the horrors of sin and the wonders of grace, and who is prepared to preach those realities with the same fearless faith as Bunyan himself.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 30 July 2011 at 09:00

Snippets from Haykin

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 21 July 2011 at 12:47

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