The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

The deal

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“I’m just not being fed,” s/he said. “This is not a very friendly church. No one really speaks to me. I am not the only one who feels this way. There are lots of people who are struggling. I’m just not sure that this is the right place for me. Why can’t we be more like Broadstreet Evangelical? I really think that I would be better off there.”

“I am very sorry to hear that,” said the pastor. “Might I suggest a deal? I recommend that you go to Broadstreet Evangelical for six months, but on the following conditions:

  • You must not arrive more than two minutes before any service begins. If possible, slip in just afterwards. You should leave as soon as it is over, or – ideally – just before it is properly finished.
  • Please do not attend more than one service a week, certainly not more than once on any given day. When you are able, miss occasional days altogether.
  • Please minimise all contact with others who attend the church. Avoid face-to-face communication at all costs, but – if possible – filter out any notes, cards, texts, emails, or any other such interaction. Cut right down on meaningful conversation.
  • You should not go to anyone’s home, nor invite anyone to yours.
  • Under no circumstances must you engage with the elders. Don’t call them or answer the phone if they call. If you can, wait until they are looking the other way or engaged with someone else before you leave. If necessary, find an alternative exit. Make all conversation as perfunctory as possible. Do not come to them for counsel, consult with them in difficulty, seek them out when distressed, or listen to their advice.
  • Cultivate a healthy sense of resentment (passive-aggressive behaviour is fine) toward anyone who might even begin to suggest that you could make some sort of contribution to the life of the church. Maintain the stance that your occasional presence is quite sacrifice enough.
  • If you must engage with others, seek out the least spiritually healthy in the church. As soon as possible, steer the conversation round to the faults of the church, her members, and her elders.
  • Maintain a healthy circle of worldly friends. Spend as much time with them as possible, going to all the places they attend, engaging in all the chatter they pursue, indulging in all the activities they embrace. Keep up a lively social media engagement with such.
  • Put the advice of friends, family, doctors, self-help books, and anything else really, above and before the advice of any spiritually mature Christian.
  • Should anyone seek to reach out to you to minister to you, cultivate unreliability: assure them of your best intentions, but evade, postpone, or cancel all such interaction with varying degrees of notice. Train them to expect you to seem vaguely positive but never actually available.
  • Sleep through some sermons.
  • Don’t read. Just don’t.
  • Don’t push yourself. You’re worth it!
  • Minimise private devotion, especially private prayer. Make sure that you are at least as busy with other significant demands as you have been for the last couple of years. Don’t read any ‘tricky bits’ from the Bible, and don’t overdose on the obvious stuff.
  • Take long holidays, and give yourself plenty of time on your return to ‘get back into the swing of things.’
  • Never volunteer. Avoid being nominated.
  • Under no circumstances make meaningful eye contact.
  • Look out for others now at Broadstreet who left this congregation for the same reasons as you are giving. If they are speaking, you might want to listen.
  • Also, if anyone at Broadstreet tries to pin you down, I would recommend an occasional visit to Gaping Lane Community Church. By all means be subtle, but make clear that if Broadstreet is becoming a little narrow, the open-minded congregation over at Gaping Lane might be the place for you.

“There’s some other stuff,” said the pastor, “but that should do for starters. It should not take a great deal of investment – no new skills to learn, no additional duties to embrace. Perhaps if you would be willing to give it a go for six months, and then come back and let me know how your soul has prospered and your walk with the Lord has developed? Then we can chat again. Deal?”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 25 January 2018 at 17:21

The corrective power of an old exposition

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Though it was not his idea, many readers will be well aware of the problem that C. S. Lewis famously identified as “chronological snobbery.” This is, in essence, the thoughtless assumption that our own conclusions are inherently superior to those of a previous age. It shows itself in various ways, perhaps in the simple failure to reckon with the conclusions of a previous intellectual or cultural climate, or even in the implicit or explicit rejection of them as necessarily discredited.

Such snobbery is as much a problem in theology as in anything else. We might exercise it simply by selecting or reading only modern texts, as if the modern age and our place in it have a monopoly on insight. We might excuse it by looking at everything through the lens of the moment and calling it contextualisation. We might embrace it by working on the assumption that our age and its big names has, by definition, a clearer view that the outmoded thinkers of yesteryear. Such attitudes, even in their more careless rather than arrogantly crass variety, can cripple our explanation and application of God’s word. This is as much an issue in the pulpit of the local church as it is in the classroom of the local seminary. It is primarily the former with which I am concerned, but the problem may begin, in many cases, in the latter. The solution applies to both.

There is great value, in all our thinking and preparing, in reading materials which might reveal a substantially or even radically different agenda. I do not necessarily mean opinions against ours (though there is value in those, too), simply opinions that are properly apart from ours. The resources we need might not be readily available to us, but they are worth tracking down and using. We need to duck out of our own age and dip into others as we are preparing our sermons and processing our theological convictions.

Let me offer a couple of practical examples. The first puts me in mind of an interesting experience at university. It concerns a colleague who cultivated an appearance and attitude that corresponded to his vampire-festooned leather jacket and appetite in death metal. He came in one day complaining about the fact that a mate had crashed at this place for a few days and had then disappeared just as quickly, leaving a puppy behind. Not knowing what to do with the unexpected canine, he called his grandma, who I think had a significant role in his upbringing. She was apparently as sweet and cute as he was brash and ugly. She recommended drowning the dog. My colleague was horrified. The disconnect was over only a couple of generations. She was, by nature and nurture, an early twentieth century country lass. To her, animals were animals. He was, by nature and nurture, a late twentieth century city boy. To him, despite the facade, animals were Bambified.

The same sort of disconnect comes when reading, for example, J. L. Dagg on the essential goodness of God. Consider, for example, this little gem:

Brute animals have, on the whole, a happy existence. Free from anxiety, remorse, and the fear of death, they enjoy, with high relish, the pleasures which their Creator has given them; and it is not the less a gift of his infinite goodness, because it is limited in quantity, or abated by some mixture of pain.1

Does that not raise a whole heap of problems? I mean, how could someone – even someone from as benighted a period as the nineteenth century – dismiss animals as part of brute creation? And how could anyone suggest that God’s goodness could be anything other than his intent to maximise happiness? Dagg goes on:

It is a favorite theory with some, that God aims at the greatest possible amount of happiness in the universe; and that he admits evil, only because the admission of evil produces in the end a greater amount of happiness than its exclusion would have done.2

It sounds rather familiar, does it not? But, says, Dagg,

It may be, that God’s goodness is not mere love of happiness. In his view, happiness may not be the only good, or even the chief good. He is himself perfectly happy; yet this perfection of his nature is not presented to us, in his word, as the only ground, or even the chief ground, on which his claim to divine honor and worship rests. The hosts of heaven ascribe holiness to him, and worship him because of it; but not because of his happiness. If we could contemplate him as supremely happy, but deriving his happiness from cruelty, falsehood, and injustice, we should need a different nature from that with which he has endowed us, and a different Bible to direct us from that which he has given, before we could render him sincere and heart-felt adoration. In the regulation of our conduct, when pleasure and duty conflict with each other, we are required to choose the latter; and this is often made the test of our obedience. On the same principle, if a whole life of duty and a whole life of enjoyment were set before us, that we might choose between them, we should be required to prefer holiness to happiness. It therefore accords with the judgment of God not to regard happiness as the chief good; and the production of the greatest possible amount of happiness could not have been his prime object in the creation of the world. We may conclude that his goodness is not a weak fondness which indulges his creatures, and administers to their enjoyment, regardless of their conduct and moral character. It aims at their happiness, but in subordination to a higher and nobler purpose. According to the order of things which he has established, it is rendered impossible for an unholy being to be happy, and this order accords with the goodness of God, which aims, not at the mere happiness of his universe, but at its well-being, in the best possible sense.3

It doesn’t really fit with our nice, early twenty first century idea that happiness really lies at the core of healthy theology. Not only are we jolted out of the idea that animals can expect happiness of the same order that humans enjoy, measured on the same scale that we might use for ourselves, but we are even denied the happy modern assumption that happiness should be considered the be-all-and-end-all of our existence.

Or, for a more psychological, more immediately internal concern (and don’t those very words remind us of just how modern we really are?), how about John 21? There we find Peter, affirming his love for Christ and informed that his future holds service and suffering, even to death, after the pattern of his Lord. Peter immediately asks concerning John, “But Lord, what about this man?”

Most sermons on the text explore the spirit of competition or curiosity that might seem to possess Peter’s soul at this point. Almost every modern commentary, and all the more the closer you get to the present day, make this an occasion for delving into the psyche of Peter. Why does he ask this question? Is it an inexcusable attitude of rivalry? Is it an inappropriate spirit of inquiry? I think those are fair questions. In our self-obsessed and social-media-drenched age, it is an appropriate application to ask whether or not we are more caught up in the lives of others than we ought to be.

However, go back a little further, and Augustine barely touches on that matter. As far as he is concerned, the really pressing question of the passage is this:

Which of the two disciples is the better, he that loveth Christ less than his fellow-disciple, and is loved more than his fellow-disciple by Christ? or he who is loved less than his fellow-disciple by Christ, while he, more than his fellow-disciple, loveth Christ? Here it is that the answer plainly halts, and the question grows in magnitude. As far, however, as my own wisdom goes, I might easily reply, that he is the better who loveth Christ the more, but he the happier who is loved the more by Christ; if only I could thoroughly see how to defend the justice of our Deliverer in loving him the less by whom He is loved the more, and him the more by whom He is loved the less.4

I would suggest that, without Augustine to prompt us, this question might not even enter our modern consciousness. I am not necessarily saying it is the only question, still less the only right question, but it is clearly a question that could and should be asked. And yet how many of us would have thought to ask it? We are so wrapped up in our obsessive internalisation of issues, that we may not even step far enough outside to ask the question about Christ and his love. We are tempted to make the passage all about us. Augustine is ready to make it much more about Christ.

My point is not that these are spectacular examples, or even spectacularly insightful examples. If anything, it is their ordinariness which appeals. A fairly constant and fairly careful checking against the standard of another time and possibly another place, in the regular course of pastoral ministry, prevents us from assuming what we assume is the obvious answer. It stretches our exegetical approach and challenges our applicatory instinct. We might still reach the same conclusions and make the same applications, but we do so having tested those conclusions and applications against the wisdom of the ages. We are consulting with those who made very different assumptions to us, even if they are working the same channels as us. We are confessing that we have no monopoly on wisdom, no iron grip on insight. Even if we might not have got it all wrong, it forces us to ask if we can get it more right.

  1. J. L. Dagg, Manual of Theology, First Part: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine (Charleston, SC; Richmond, VA; Macon, GA; Selma, AL; New Orleans: Southern Baptist Publication Society; S. S. & Publication Board; B. B. & Colporteur Society; B. B. & Book Depository; B. B. Depository, 1859), 80.
  2. J. L. Dagg, Manual of Theology, First Part: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine (Charleston, SC; Richmond, VA; Macon, GA; Selma, AL; New Orleans: Southern Baptist Publication Society; S. S. & Publication Board; B. B. & Colporteur Society; B. B. & Book Depository; B. B. Depository, 1859), 80.
  3. J. L. Dagg, Manual of Theology, First Part: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine (Charleston, SC; Richmond, VA; Macon, GA; Selma, AL; New Orleans: Southern Baptist Publication Society; S. S. & Publication Board; B. B. & Colporteur Society; B. B. & Book Depository; B. B. Depository, 1859), 80–81.
  4. Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. John Gibb and James Innes, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 449.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 22 January 2018 at 23:06

The turn of the year

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The turn of the year is a good time to look back and to look ahead. In times past, many healthy Christians would use significant seasons – the new year, for example, or a birthday, or the anniversary of one’s conversion (if known) – to pause and to ponder the course of their lives. It was for them, and could be for us, a season of searching self-examination. It was a means of doing their souls much good. There are sermons and books by men like Stephen Charnock, Henry Scudder and Jonathan Edwards, designed to prompt and assist in this process.

It is unlikely that you will simply find the time to engage in such activity. You will have to make the time. You will need deliberately to think about your ways and turn your feet back to God’s testimonies (Ps 119.59). I would encourage you to make and take the time necessary, to invest the energy required, in such a season. The following outline might help.

To begin with, there must be review. Those who keep a diary or journal might find that flicking through the entries helps refresh the memory. For others, it might be as simple as looking back over a year of calendar entries. We ought to look beyond a mere record of activity, and think about the ebbs and flows of the year, the spiritual realities that underpin the outward engagement. Where was I? What was I doing? How was I doing? What battles did I fight? What defeats did I suffer or what victories did I win? In what service did I engage? But there are also plans for the future. What lies ahead? Perhaps more of a preview, this, or at least a review of your intentions and expectations. What are the opportunities before you? What distinct challenges or particular privileges do you anticipate? What battles must you fight? Where have you been beaten back but intend to forge ahead?

This element is not mere rehearsal. We must also reflect on our life. We must think over those questions. We must ponder carefully the manner and motives of our walking through this fallen world. What are the high points and the low points? Have we made progress? Are there patterns of sin that have been entrenched or besieged? Will you, in future days, assault such sins? If so, when and how? Are there habits of righteousness that have been strengthened or undermined? Will you, in the coming year, pursue such habits? If so, by what means and with what strength? Like John Newton, we have come through many dangers, toils and snares, and many more lie ahead. What has been and what will be the overall tenor of my life? How has the Lord dealt with me, and how have I dealt with the Lord? How could or should that change, from my side, in the days ahead. Consider that you are a year closer to death, and every day carries you closer to the giving of an account and, for the saints, a reward. Are you stepping, day by day, closer to glory?

With such substance in your heart, you will find much in which to rejoice. It is vitally important that you do so. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thes 5.16-18). Perhaps it has been a year of serious trials. If so, Christian, God has never left you or forsaken you. You have never been separated from him; you have not fallen out of his hands; he has made all things work together for good for you. Perhaps there have been painful chastisements. If so, believer, it is because God loves you and treats you like a son. If you have been wise, you will have learned God’s statutes through your affliction. No doubt there have been incalculable blessings, measured first against your true deservings. As creatures, you have been given life and breath and all things. As sinners, God has not removed his grace from us. As sons, he has lavished good things upon us in measures that the most generous earthly father cannot begin to match. How good God has been to us! What mercies has he shown to you? What blessings have been poured out? How much pain and sorrow has been withheld from you, how much of pleasure and profit has been dispensed? If you are not a believer, you have been spared death and hell, and – even by virtue of reading such an article as this – have been reminded that the Lord is patient and longsuffering, and now calls all men everywhere to repent, holding out Christ to the repenting sinner.

And we must repent. The finest saint you know is a mass of corruption. Whatever progress you have made this year, you have not attained perfection. Far from it! Your reflective review, if honest, must reveal a host of sins of omission and a horde of sins of commission. By the first, we refer to all those things that you should have done but have failed to do. By the second, we mean all those things you ought not to have done but nevertheless have done. What a fearful catalogue of transgression is the best life! Now is a time to heap up all your sins and iniquities and transgressions and come again to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, to the cleansing flood which makes the foulest clean. We must come to the God who says that though our sins are scarlet, he can make them as white as snow. It is the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all trangression. Now is a good time for deep and honest soul-searching, to examine ourselves in the mirror of the Word and come humbly and honestly before the Lord, seeking mercy and forgiveness. Such a spirit is itself a test of our spiritual state: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1Jn 1.8–10)

It is also a good season to reorient ourselves. We are fools if we imagine that our sense of eternity is not constantly being eroded in a world which lives for the here and now. A flood of distractions and diversions constantly demands our attention, and we lose sight of the things which are eternal. We hear, each day, countless carnal sermons. The world is badgering us to think, speak and act in a way acceptable to the unconverted crowd. Now is a good time to draw back a little from that rushing tide, to slip into an eddy and ask about the direction of our lives. What principles guide us? What precepts govern us? What patterns do we follow? Again, the psalmist thought about his ways and turned his feet back to God’s testimonies. There was a sense not only that he had, at points, departed from the way, but that he intended to get back into the way. Have you been listening to much to the voices that charm but deceive? By what standards will you now judge and by what system will you now travel?

Then, with all this in mind, resolve to walk with God and work for God. This cannot be a matter of mere human strength. It must be a dependent determination. Think again of how often the poet of Psalm 119 weaves together his absolute dependence on God and his absolute determination in God. Consider some sample statements: “With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!” (v10); “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (v32); “Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth” (v88). Will you blend such elements in your heart and life? Will you cry out to the Lord to make his Word a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (v105), and commit to restrain your feet from every evil way, that you may keep his word (v101)? Too many will enter upon the new year with vague desires that perhaps the Lord will make things better. Many are marked by a pietistic passivity that wishes to be holy but will not work for holiness. The true child of God recognises that without Christ he can do nothing, but that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. We must abide in Christ to bear fruit. We must seek the fruit of the Spirit as we abide in Christ.

You can see that such a process is not the matter of a moment. We need to set aside time for such an engagement, to review from our Bibles our way in and through this world. We must wrestle to look at time – past, present and future – through the lens of eternity. We must be rigorously honest, however painful such honesty might be. We must be profoundly humble, however troubling such humility might be. We must turn again to God in Christ, and gaze upon him until we see things as they are, and not as we or others might wish them to be. If we do this, we should not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2Cor 4.16-18). With such a perspective, we can sing with the old poet, Augustus Toplady,

Kind Author, and Ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defence Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Sunday 31 December 2017 at 09:43

Posted in Christian living

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Selfies at Niagara

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 14 October 2017 at 11:04

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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

The Westminster Conference 2017: “God With Us and For Us”

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The Westminster Conference meets for two days each year, usually in December. During the conference, six papers are presented, three on each day, examining the history, doctrine and practice of people, events and churches associated with the Puritans, their forebears and successors. The perspective is that of evangelical and reformed Biblical Christianity, focusing on central gospel themes such as grace, faith, atonement and justification and the outworking of the gospel in the lives of believers.

The title of the conference this year is God With Us and For Us. If you are interested in attending, you can download the booking form or book online directly.

The speakers and their papers are as follows.

Tuesday 5th December

THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE HUMAN HEART (STEPHEN CLARK)
To understand the work of the Spirit in the heart of man is to start to become a true physician of the soul. But the work of the Holy Spirit is intertwined with the ministry of the Word of God. How, then, does the Holy Spirit work in and through the Word? Is he bound to the Scriptures in some way? If so, how? Such questions, and their answers, provide us with both challenges and comforts as we seek to be ministers of the Word and Spirit.

A CHILD OF LIGHT WALKING IN DARKNESS: THE FELT PRESENCE OF GOD (GUY DAVIES)
What does it mean to know the presence of God with us? Should we expect it? Can we lose it? How can we regain it? Concentrating on key works of Thomas Goodwin and John Owen, this paper will look particularly at the loss and recovery of such a sense of divine sweetness, comparing and contrasting the convictions, explanations and applications of these two theologians of the Holy Spirit.

CALVIN – WORSHIP AND PREACHING (ANDREW YOUNG)
The way or ways in which we worship the Lord so as to honour and glorify him remains a topic of vigorous and often heated debate. This is no new thing. Andrew Young will consider Calvin’s approach to this topic, including his doctrine of worship, his approach to liturgy, and his preaching and teaching ministry. Such assessments should assist us to ask the right questions in the right spirit as we move toward answers grounded in something more than preference.

Wednesday 6th December

JACOB ARMINIUS (1560-1609) (PHIL ARTHUR)
Theological labels are quick to apply, and provide us with easy targets. Particular theologians are relatively easy to demonise. Jacob Arminius has given his name to a theological system that is defended by supporters and assaulted by opponents with equal ardour. It is profitable for us to understand who Arminius was, what he believed, and how his name became connected to this system. Phil Arthur will introduce us to this man, and guide us through his life and thought.

THE SYNOD OF DORT (1618-1619) (BENEDICT BIRD)
In November 1618 the Dutch Reformed Church convened a synod at Dordrecht in the Netherlands. With representatives of Reformed churches from around Europe, the synod debated the tenets of the Remonstrants, who disputed the Calvinistic understanding of the plan of redemption. Politics and theology intertwined as they wrestled to address the controversy over Arminianism. This paper will help us understand this critical event and its relevance today.

WILLIAM WILLIAMS, PANTYCELYN (1717-1791) (MARK THOMAS)
William Williams is best known among evangelicals as ‘the sweet singer of Wales’ on account of his hymnody, combining a rigorous commitment to truth and a profound experimental sense. However, he is also recognised as a towering figure in the literary and spiritual spheres of his native Wales. Mark Thomas will help us to understand the character and context of this man, and how the Lord used him during and after his lifetime.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 31 August 2017 at 22:10

The social means of grace

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John Ashworth on the blessing of the various gatherings of the saints of God, not least the midweek meetings:

In all churches a love for the social means of grace is one sign of spiritual health in either rich or poor; and those that are the most anxious to increase their spiritual strength will esteem these most highly. When we try to find arguments against class meetings, church meetings, prayer meetings, &c., it is an indication that we are not very fast growing in grace: we need these helps by the way. The world daily rolls in uponus, and we need a strong arm to roll it back, to keep it in its proper place. Means are required, and the week-day means are often a powerful check.

So, will you make a happy priority of church attendance tomorrow?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 12 August 2017 at 18:31

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William Perkins Conference media

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A few weeks ago I mentioned the William Perkins Conference on 19 and 20 May at the Round Church in Cambridge. Said conference went ahead as planned. The first address by Sinclair Ferguson on Perkins as “a plain preacher” is online, and the others are due to follow shortly:

The first four volumes of Perkins’ collected works (the exegetical works) are available for a substantial discount at heritagebooks.org.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 8 June 2017 at 14:58

Family Conference 2017 in Louisville

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 5 May 2017 at 08:43

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Perkins the Magnificent

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

william-perkins-conference

 

 

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 22 February 2017 at 07:45

Posted in General

The appeal

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Image result for image offering boxIf you have not heard it yet, you have probably not been online for a few weeks. If you have heard it once, you have probably heard it many times. For many organisations, institutions and associations, it is the time of year for the appeal. You know how it goes – something like this:

“The end of the year is fast approaching. The beginning of the next one is going to arrive a second later. For us, it is also the end of the financial year. And this is all the good we have done or tried to do, and this is all the good we plan or intend to accomplish. And yet … money is tight. With just a few pounds or dollars from many of you, or a good bundle of them from even a few of you, Ministry X can keep moving forward and can accomplish so much more in the coming months. Might I suggest a concrete sum or a specific goal to give you a sense of definition and accomplishment? Thank you! So, please, consider whether or not this is a cause to which you can donate. And, by the way, this is your last chance … for now!”

Before you respond to such appeals, I would also like to draw attention to an institution very much in need of your financial support. It is a longstanding institution in which you should have a personal investment on multiple levels, if you do not already do so. It generally stands in need of support, and does untold good, with the capacity for yet more good than can be imagined. It ought to have the first claim on your money.

I hope you know that I am speaking of the local church. This, my friends, is the one institution with direct divine sanction. It is the the one missionary organisation with a heavenly mandate. It is the one establishment with a celestial constitution. Its work is defined by divine fiat. It is the one body with a guarantee of perpetual existence and unending profitable service. And it is the one organisation which has the legitimate and primary claim on our financial contributions to the kingdom of God.

Please do not misunderstand me. There are many institutions and organisations which are doing fine work. Many of them are doing work that lies outside the remit of the church, and they deserve your time, attention and support. Some of them do not have the capacity or desire to clamour for your probably hard-earned cash. Some of them are known to thousands, some to few. Some of them are eminently worthy, others debatably so. You should consider supporting them financially, if you are able. I also understand that there are some avenues of service that are difficult to define in terms of the role of the church either as the direct instigator or overseer.

But that is not the point. The point is that the first call on your financial investment ought to be the church to which you belong for the work which the church is called to do. Beyond that, I would suggest that the second call ought to be the local church to which you belong for the work which that church is called to do. If you trust the elders and the deacons (one presumes that you do, if you belong to the church), and if they have a sincere and wise desire for kingdom investment (and I hope that they do), and if you have a little more that you wish to do (and most of us do), why not give a little more to that church of which you are a part? Most church officers and the congregations they serve already know where and how and why they might invest any further funds made available.

It is clear from the Scriptures that Christians should support the work of the Lord by systematic and proportionate giving made through the local church (Mal 3.8-10; 1Cor 16.1-2; 2Cor 8 and 9). Whether or not you take tithing as helpful principle, it is certainly indicative of the attitude of God’s people concerning giving to God’s kingdom. And what of gifts and offerings made according to one’s ability and willingness of heart (Gen 14.18-20; 2Cor 8.1-5; Ex 36.2-7)? Has there been no blessing from God, perhaps directly through the church and its ministry, for which a thank offering might not form part of an appropriate response?

And what of other churches? Do you know of congregations that are seeking to support missionaries or plant churches or erect or purchase buildings? Are there churches that struggle to support their pastors? If you have given all that you might and all that you could to your own congregation, might you suggest to the deacons that this could be a worthwhile investment? If your church is already involved in such support, and you have more in your pocket, why not pass it along independently and anonymously?

If, after that, you have discretionary funds or wish to make further sacrifices, then by all means go ahead. Might I suggest that you save those shekels for work that lies outside the remit of the church, rather than investing it in something that is replicating or replacing that work without a divine mandate? And, unless and until you find such a need, then look nearer at hand and, I hope, nearer at heart. Christ loves his church. It was to a church that Paul wrote concerning the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich (2Cor 8.9). It is in and through the local church that the first response to this example ought to be made.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 30 December 2016 at 16:25

Posted in Ecclesiology

Tagged with , ,

Keeping our commitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t have a choice.”

“But none of the kids like me!”

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

“All the teachers hate me!”

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

“But I don’t WANNA go!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 19 December 2016 at 15:44

Posted in General

“Grace Alone” – a Sicilian report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 12 December 2016 at 14:38

Chrysostom on the gospel

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

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

Good news indeed!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 9 December 2016 at 13:02

Posted in General

Beauty from Booth

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Early in Abraham Booth’s Glad Tidings to Perishing Sinners he has one of those delightful summaries of Scripture phrasing that some authors do so well. In this case, he’s trying to demonstrate the way in which the word “gospel” is used and understood in the Word of God. Here is a beautiful blizzard of phrases emphasising that this is joyful news indeed:

The Gospel, then, is glad tidings, as will more fully appear, by the following induction of particulars. For it is that most interesting part of sacred Scripture which is denominated, by Evangelists and Apostles, the truth—the truth of Christ—the truth as it is in Jesus—the truth which is according to godliness—the faithful word—the word of the kingdom, or of the reign—the word (ο λογος) of the cross—the word of the Lord’s grace—the word of God’s grace—the word of reconciliation—the word of righteousness—the word of life—the word of salvation—The doctrine of Christ—the doctrine of God our Saviour—The gospel of the kingdom, or the glad tidings of the reign—the glad tidings of Christ—the glad tidings of the Son of God—the glad tidings of God—The glorious glad tidings of Christ—the glorious glad tidings of the blessed God—The glad tidings of the grace of God—the glad tidings of peace—the glad tidings of salvation—The grace of God—the grace that bringeth salvation—and, the salvation of God. The gospel is also denominated, The word of faith—the faith—the common faith—the faith in Christ—the faith once delivered to the saints—the mystery of the faith—and, the most holy faith.

The publication of the gospel is called, The ministry of reconciliation—the ministry of righteousness—and, the ministry of the Spirit—Preaching the Son of God—teaching and preaching Jesus Christ—preaching the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ—preaching peace by Jesus Christ—preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ—and preaching the faith—Proclaiming (κηρυσσειν) the kingdom, or the reign, of heaven—proclaiming the glad tidings of the reign—proclaiming deliverance to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, and the acceptable year of the Lord—proclaiming Christ—proclaiming Christ crucified—Bringing glad tidings of good things—and, sending the salvation of God to the Gentiles.—Such is the gospel, and such the nature of evangelical preaching, as represented by the inspired writers: all which unite in the general notion of joyful news.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 9 December 2016 at 13:02

Posted in Good news

Tagged with , ,

Your own self

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In a sermon on 1 Peter 2.24, focused on the fact that Christ “his own self” bore our sins, Spurgeon makes this potent application. Having made clear at first that the death of Christ is not just an example, he is not slow to emphasize that it is also an example. We too should take personal responsibilty for what is given into our hands. We would do well to consider Spurgeon’s words:

Let me remind you of our text: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” There is a poor Christian woman lying bedridden; she very seldom has a visitor, do you know her? “Yes, I know her, and I got a city missionary to call upon her.” But the text says, “Who his own self bare our sins.” Poor Mary is in great need. “Yes, I know, sir, and I asked somebody to give me something to give to her.” Listen: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” There is your sister, who is unconverted. “Yes, air, I know it; and I—I—I have asked Mrs. So-and-so to speak to her.” “Who his own self bare our sins.” Can you not get to that point, and do something your own self? “But I might do it badly.” Have you ever tried to do it at all? I do believe that personal service for Christ, even when it is far from perfect, is generally much more efficient than that sort of substituted service which so many prefer. Oh, if we could but get all those who are members of our churches personally to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, what a powerful church we should have! Would not the whole South of London soon feel the power of this church of more than 5,000 members, if you all went to this holy war,—each man, each woman, by himself or herself? But it is not so; many of you just talk about it, or propose to do something, or try to get other people to do something. “Well, but really, sir,” says one, “what could I do?” My dear friend, I do not know exactly what you could do, but I know that you could do something. “Oh, but I have no abilities; I could not do anything!” Now, suppose I were to call to see you, and, meeting you in your parlour, I were to say, “Now, my dear friend, you are no good to us; you have no abilities; you cannot do anything.” I am afraid that you would be offended with me, do you not think that you would? Now, it is not true, is it? You can do something; there never yet was a Christian who had not some niche to occupy,—at least one talent to lay out in his Master’s service. You young people, who have lately joined the church,—little more than boys and girls,—begin personally to serve Christ while you are yet young, or else I am afraid that we shall not be able to get you into harness in after life. And even those who are encumbered with large families and great businesses, or with old age and infirmities, yet say, nevertheless, “We must not sit still; we must not be idle, we must do something for our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we must serve him who, his own self, bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” In the spirit of this text, go forth, and, even before you go to bed, do something to prove your love to Jesus; and unto his name be glory for ever and ever! Amen and Amen.

C. H. Spurgeon, “Our Lord’s Substitution,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 48 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1902), 370–371.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 26 November 2016 at 14:20

Rutherford’s regrets

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

I have been much challenged,

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. That my charity was cold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. That death hath not been often meditated upon.

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 21 November 2016 at 15:55

Posted in Christian living, General

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Preparing sermons with John Owen

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After a cracking day on Monday at the Evangelical Library in London on “Reading John Owen” (opening, it has to be said, with Nigel Graham giving what may be one of the finest popular introductions to the life of Owen that it has been my privilege to hear – lively, careful, engaging, insightful) I want to do more reading and re-reading of John Owen. I was reminded, by my own efforts and those of others, why I do and may and must enjoy the privilege of reading such profound theology.

One of the works that piqued my fancy afresh was Owen on The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually-Minded (in volume 7 of the collected works). This was in Robert Strivens’ section of the works, and what prompted me to turn there again was the warning that preachers, accustomed to handling and speaking God’s Word, can develop a facade of spirituality which masks a spiritual dryness. Conscious that one can do much apparent working for God without much genuine walking with God, I thought it would be good to dip again into this work.

Re-reading can be as fascinating as reading. I am sometimes struck by what struck me the first time, or what failed to strike. The passage of time and the expansion of experience makes one wish, perhaps, that one could be as freshly excited as one was before, and one must learn to be more deeply excited than one was. Or, perhaps, some things have simply become more relevant because of the reader’s different circumstances while reading. On this occasion, I was struck by something in the preface to the work.

Owen, as you may know, had been unwell before preaching and preparing this material. He was so sick that not only was he unable to serve others, but he feared he might be taken by death and never able to serve again. Under such circumstances, he began to meditate on the grace and duty of spiritual-mindedness from Romans 8.6, where the apostle says that “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Later, Owen took the fruit of his sickbed meditations and turned them into sermons. “And this I did,” he says,

partly out of a sense of the advantage I had received myself by being conversant in them, and partly from an apprehension that the duties directed and pressed unto in the whole discourse wore seasonable, from all sorts of present circumstances, to be declared and urged on the minds and consciences of professors: for, leaving others unto the choice of their own methods and designs, I acknowledge that those are the two things whereby I regulate my work in the whole course of my ministry. (7:263)

I am, I confess, sometimes amused by the homiletical handbooks that pass for pastoral theology in our day. Some of the guidance given for the preparation of sermons seems entirely out of touch with the life of local churches. I am amused when I hear the big cheeses of the evangelical world assure congregations that they prepare their sermons, or perhaps know what they will be preaching on on any given Sunday, a year or so in advance. As the pastor of a small congregation, preaching and teaching several times a week, that seems to me to be ludicrous, even dangerous. I do not think I could do that even if I were in circumstances that seemed to allow it.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that pastors preach on a whim or without a plan. I am not against systematic, sequential expository preaching. But I do wonder how much even Owen’s aside might teach us here. This work of his springs from what I would call a topical expository series. But how did Owen come to it? And why did he choose to preach it?

He has those two answers: first, because it did much good to his own soul when he had considered it for himself; and, second, because he perceived that the same truths which had helped him would, with the blessing of God, prove a timely and profitable study for other believers under his care.

However, he goes on to confess that those two principles are the “things whereby I regulate my work in the whole course of my ministry.” That, in itself, is fascinating. Here is the great theologian and the profound scholar, sitting down as a pastor of God’s people, and asking, first and foremost, what has blessed me, and will it bless others also?

If you are a preacher and teacher, however far you are willing and able to plan ahead, do such considerations have a place in your own preparation? Are you so soaking in God’s truth that you can assess what has been of particular blessing to your own soul? Are you so attuned to and concerned for the saints that you can discern what would prove particularly timely and profitable for them? Are you visiting the congregation regularly and getting to know their lives and their needs so as to be able to make such a judgment? Are you prayerfully thinking of the particular congregation before whom you will stand, converted and unconverted, more and less mature, more or less wounded and wearied, more or less hale and hearty? Are you willing to put in the effort to invest in such ministry? Are you willing to get off the treadmill of your regular or scheduled course of exposition, perhaps to plough fields that would otherwise have remained unbroken, to invest in hours of composition that you had not scheduled into your work patterns? Are you improving your own studies and sufferings to this end?

Such an approach might require that you prepare far in advance a particular course of systematic and sequential exposition, compelled by the fact that this book or section of Scripture will serve those to whom you preach. It might keep you from changing to other, apparently easier or more palatable potions of the Bible, held fast by a sense of responsibility. It might demand that you drop such a long course of sermons and preach for a few weeks on a particular portion of God’s Word. It might compel you to preach a single sermon on a single text. It might prompt you to develop what you thought was a one-off into a shorter or longer series. Again, it is no excuse for a pastor-preacher simply riding his hobby-horses to death. You will note that Owen does not manipulate his hearers by the claim that the Spirit imposed the duty upon him, though I do not think anyone can fail to see the hand of God at work in the matter. This is a man who is sensitive to the truth, sensitive to the operations of the Spirit of God, sensitive to the circumstances and needs of the saints, sensitive to the spirit of the age, sensitive to the demands of a particular place and people, and deeply concerned to be a means of blessing to those to whom he speaks.

This, I would suggest, is pastoral preaching of the highest order – ministry of God’s truth that flows from the heart of a true shepherd of souls, a man who has drunk deeply of the sweet waters of the gospel, and is persuaded from the depths of his being that others need to taste and see that the Lord is good, and to obtain the blessing designed for those who trust in him.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 25 October 2016 at 18:41

Review: “1966 And All That”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 21 October 2016 at 10:05

Posted in General

Masculinity and the priority of love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 October 2016 at 18:15

Posted in General

Ministerial magpies

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

The Wanderer

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

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

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

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2016 at 16:27

Posted in General

Sinful speech and the Holy Spirit

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Sound words from John Eadie in his commentary on Ephesians (355):

If Christians shall persist in falsehood and deviation from the truth — if they shall indulge in fitful rage, or cherish sullen and malignant dislikes — if they shall be characterized by dishonesty, or insipid and corrupt language, then do they grieve the Holy Spirit of God; for all this perverse insubordination is in utter antagonism to the essence and operations of Him who is the Spirit of truth; and inspires the love of it; who assumed, as a fitting symbol, the form of a dove, and creates meekness and forbearance; and who, as the Spirit of holiness, leads to the appreciation of all that is just in action, noble in sentiment, and healthful and edifying in speech. What can be more grieving to the Holy Ghost than our thwarting the very purpose for which He dwells within us, and contravening all the promptings and suggestions with which He warns and instructs us?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2016 at 15:10

Posted in Christian living

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Westminster Conference 2016

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 7 July 2016 at 18:23

Posted in General

And now …

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That was interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 24 June 2016 at 08:50

Posted in General

Review: “For the Glory”

with 2 comments

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

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

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 30 May 2016 at 05:00

Posted in General

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