Does anyone out there, anywhere in the world, have a copy of a book or pamphlet called Touchstone, which has to do with the laying on of hands on baptized persons, published about the year 1653 by Edward Harrison, once vicar of Kensworth and by this time among the Particular Baptists in London? I have tried all the libraries and private collections I can think of, and this is among my last resorts. Thank you in advance!
Life has been (usually delightfully) busy in recent weeks. Part of that has been the fruition of a couple of writing projects. I hope you will be interested to know about them.
The first is called Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness from RHB. The blurb says:
As twenty-first-century Christians, we must relate to the world, but the question is, how do we relate to it? Some Christians are scared, others are simply bewildered, and still others capitulate to the spirit of the age. In Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness, Pastor Jeremy Walker presents the biblical perspective that Christians are pilgrims passing through this fallen world who must cultivate the spirit of holy separation alongside holy engagement as they serve Christ in all their interactions. Unless we embrace this identity, we will lose our way. Reminding us that we need “the Word of God as our map and the Spirit of Christ as our compass,” Pastor Walker clearly presents principles for holy engagement with the world and separation from it for pilgrims on their way home, seeking to glorify the God of their salvation every step of the way.
The other is a book published by Cruciform Press and is called Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith. Again, the blurb says:
The Bible delights to reveal the riches of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus toward sinners, to display his grace to the praise of his glory. These are the very realities upon which redemption hangs. When our expectation and enjoyment of salvation are not anchored in grace, God is robbed of his glory and we are deprived of hope, comfort, and happiness. Christians therefore need to grasp what the Bible says about these things. We need to know these sweet and substantial strands of revelation – to delve into, to delight in, and then to declare the exceeding riches of God’s grace in his kindness toward us in Christ. We need to learn and to love these bedrock truths in which spiritual life is grounded, the health of our souls is fostered, genuine humility is developed, and eager service is established.
Paul Washer, Joel Beeke, Conrad Mbewe, Geoff Thomas, Mez McConnell, Derek Thomas, and Brian Croft have all been kind enough to provide very warm endorsements. It too is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, but the publisher offers good deals, especially on multiple volumes.
If you have the opportunity, please drop a review at the various website. I appreciate knowing how people have interacted with the books, and am grateful for everyone who reads them, and delighted when someone profits by them. If you have a moment, please pray to that end. Thank you.
Two hundred years ago today, on the morning of Sunday 7th May 1815 dawned, the sixty one year old Andrew Fuller was grieved that he had not the strength to go and worship his God with his people. As his end approached, so his faith had increased. When his dear friend John Ryland Jr. heard that Fuller had testified to a brother minister, “My hope is such that I am not afraid to plunge into eternity,” he declared it the most characteristic expression his friend might have uttered.
Fuller spent his last half-hour seemingly engaged in prayer, though the only words which could be distinctly heard were, “Help me!” He died, said his friend Mr Toller, an Independent minister, “as a penitent sinner at the foot of the cross.”
Just a few days before going home, as Fuller considered his approaching death, he was able to write this to Ryland:
I know whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day. I am a poor guilty creature; but Christ is an almighty Saviour. I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace; but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope, than from salvation by mere sovereign, efficacious grace, through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour. With this hope, I can go into eternity with composure. Come, Lord Jesus! come when thou wilt! Here I am; let him do with me as seemeth him good!
On the morning of Tuesday 24th March 2015, 150 people – passengers and crew – boarded Germanwings flight 4U9525. They were travelling from Barcelona in Spain to Düsseldorf in Germany. The flight took off at 9.01am. The final contact with air traffic control was at 9.30am. At 9.30am the autopilot was switched on. By 9.31am the aircraft was in a controlled descent over the Alps. There was no response at 9.35am when air traffic control attempted to make further contact, but the flight recorders picked up the sound of some kind of pounding on the cabin door. The last radar contact was made at 9.40am, with the aircraft about 2000 feet above the mountains; screaming can be heard on the recordings. Within moments the aircraft struck the ground at 430 miles an hour. All 150 people on board were killed almost instantly.
How do you respond to these events? Perhaps with shock, grief, anger or fear? As we survey these things, we have seen courage and dignity, pride and vindictiveness, pain and sorrow, anguish and bewilderment. We are reminded that we do not know what is in the heart of man, and we may never know all that took place in the aeroplane.
But what should you make of it? What lessons can we learn from such a tragedy? In the Bible, a king called David was writing about some of the triumphs that he had enjoyed and the mercies he had obtained. And then he strikes a thoughtful, sober note: “Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:3–4).
In these words, mankind is seen to scale in a fallen world full of sin and sorrow. It puts my life and yours in perspective. These words remind us that life is a breath and a blessing.
Life is a breath
Why does the God of heaven have regard for mankind? These words suggest a comparison while they make a declaration. Breath is mere vapour, a puff of air, something that is empty. A passing shadow has no strength or substance – it is a shade that slips away. This is a picture of human life in a fallen world.
It speaks of frailty. Even a child knows that bubbles do not last and balloons do not endure. The life of a shadow depends on the passing clouds! When the aircraft struck the ground, humanly speaking, there was no chance of survival. The strongest, wisest, cleverest, fittest, richest, most gifted and talented people died just as suddenly as any others. King David enthroned in triumph acknowledges that his life is a breath. Assaults, accidents, diseases – all bring men and women to a quick end.
The language also communicates brevity, the shortness of life. Bubbles burst, breaths are exhaled. The longest lifespan of a shadow is a single day, and it leaves no trace behind. A man who lived to be 130 years old said, “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). There was a seven month old baby who died. Sixteen school children were killed. And yet the longest life on that plane was a relatively short one.
Then we learn of the uncertainty of life. Perhaps no-one boarded that plane – perhaps one person did – thinking that they were in the last hour of their life. Those school children sent texts of eager anticipation at being home. We have heard reports of the expectations and ambitions, the dreams and the schemes of some of those who died. Those grand plans and efforts have now come to nothing. You and I do not know when or how our life on earth will end. The Word of God warns us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). So many people are ushered unprepared into eternity, imagining a longer life and making no preparation for death and judgment.
Have you considered these painful realities of human life in a fallen world? Such events – especially such tragedies – force us to face the frailty, brevity and uncertainty of life, and the fact that afterward there is a judgement. The Lord Jesus himself reminded people, in the face of various sudden deaths, that the people who suffered them were no worse sinners than any others. He used the occasion to warn us that “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke’s Gospel 13:1–5).
These are painful lessons to us who remain. We are too often arrogant bubbles and proud shadows, quick to boast of our strength and to forget the fearful reality.
Life is a blessing
So what is our hope? If our lives are so frail, brief and uncertain, is there any prospect for us? Remember the words of King David: “Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:3–4).
Here is an astounding fact: the Lord God Almighty takes notice of mankind. It does not mean that God is aware of our existence and sends a passing glance in our direction. It means that he plans and purposes with mankind in mind, he designs and determines to take account of sinful creatures like you and me. God is mindful of mankind with regard to both our weakness and our wickedness.
With regard to our weakness, life is given and sustained. Perhaps we presume our entitlement to life. We ought to be grateful for the gift. God is described in the Bible as the one who “gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts17:25). The tragedy is that we often live like another king from history who lived as he pleased and worshipped what he wanted, but “the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified” (Daniel 5:23). God ought to be glorified by you and all his creatures, “for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever” (Romans 11:36). The gift of life is not to be used to pursue your sinful pleasures but to seek the glory of God who made you. Do you have any thought of God? Do you live with any regard for him? Do you serve him with your life or waste your hours on vanities? Our opportunities are so short, and our life is so unstable, and yet we live with no regard for God.
Furthermore, that life given is sustained. Though life in itself is frail, brief and uncertain, yet you are still alive to read these words! How many times have you been spared death? How many times has your life been preserved? Perhaps you can remember assaults, accidents or sicknesses when you almost lost your life. Perhaps there were risks and dangers about which you still have no idea. You owe to a merciful God not only the life you have but the fact that you still have it. That is true on the largest scale: God sustains this world and everything in it, all its reliability and stability in terms of days and seasons (Genesis 8-9). “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew’s Gospel 5:45). We all benefit from his kindnesses. It is true on the smallest scale, for our individual lives are all known to him. We can say that “in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:16). A Christian can say with confidence that not even the smallest bird “falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew’s Gospel 10:29–30).
But God is mindful not only of our weakness but also our wickedness. You see, the problem is not merely that we are creatures, but we are sinful creatures. Though we have been given life, breath and all things by a mighty and merciful God, we live as if we were gods, as if we called all the shots in our life. And yet God is still mindful of mankind. In the face of our rebellions and sins, life is offered and assured.
Not only has God given us what we might call common mercies, he also holds out saving mercies. He offers us eternal life in his kingdom, so that one writer can say that “even when we were dead in trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be our peace, to make it and to proclaim it to sinners like us. He “remembered us in our lowly state … and rescued us from our enemies, for His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:23–24). Those enemies include sin and death – the only way to be prepared for our entrance into eternity is through Jesus Christ, whom God sent in love so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life (John’s Gospel 3:16). This is God taking knowledge of sinners so as to hold out salvation to us. The Son of God became a man and died on the cross so that sinners like us might have everlasting love (Philippians 2:5–8). This is God’s mercy to and pity for sinners, offering life to us though we are lost and helpless in ourselves. He has thought upon us and held out life in Christ.
And this life is assured. When a sinner trusts in Jesus Christ they obtain a life which death itself cannot end, and are given “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4–5). Our present body can be likened to “our earthly house, this tent,” but if it is destroyed, a Christian can say that “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). There is nothing frail, brief or uncertain about that life! Your hope in life and in death hinges upon the saving mercies of God in Christ, grasped by faith. In the Old Testament, a prophet called Isaiah contrasted the person who trusts in empty things with the one who believes in God: “When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry them all away, a breath will take them. But he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, and shall inherit My holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13). So those who trust in Jesus, according to the promise of God, “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
Have you considered the frailty, brevity and uncertainty of your life? Let the dreadful events of recent days press these things home to your soul. And remember, in the face of all your weakness, and despite all your sin and your sinning, God has given and sustained the gift of natural life. Furthermore, in the face of all your wickedness, God has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, that you might have life in his name, and might have it more abundantly (John’s Gospel 10:10) – life everlasting!
The God of heaven and earth is marvellously, mercifully, mindful of mankind. This is your only hope in this world and for the next. The only answer to your frail, brief, uncertain life is the divine mercy and sufficiency.
I plead with you to think about the mercies you have already received in the face of your weakness and your wickedness. Your life is a gracious gift, and though it may hang by a thread, you still possess it. What thought – what gratitude, worship and service – have you given to the God who gives and sustains your life?
But think, too, of the mercies you are now offered in the face of your weakness and wickedness. Life is passing, but God has been mindful of you. Without Christ, you will die and go into judgement, and face the horrors of hell. But God has sent Christ as a Saviour, and has put this leaflet in your hand to warn you of eternal death and awful damnation and to hold out everlasting life in Christ. Christ says, “Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3).
I am delighted to get my hands on the first volume of a projected ten-volume set, The Works of William Perkins from Reformation Heritage Books. Perkins was one of those phenomenal proto-Puritans, in this instance a man often called “the father of Puritanism.” While for some that is reason for opprobrium of the nastiest sort, for others it is high praise indeed. And yet for years Perkins has wallowed in relative obscurity, his writings little known and not easily available, apart from one or two sterling efforts from a couple of publishers.
RHB is seeking to change all that with this set, which begins with the first of four volumes of exegetical works (to be followed by three volumes of doctrinal and polemical works and a further three of practical works), including A Digest of Harmony of the Old and New Testaments, Combat Between Christ and the Devil on Matthew 4.1-11 and a study of The Sermon on the Mount. J. Stephen Yuille, editor of this first volume, provides a brief but full biographical preface, introducing us to the man himself, before we plunge into the productions of his pen.
The Digest is a fascinating little outline of Scripture history, introduced by an essay in which Perkins surveys the various historical divisions he identifies with brief comments on each. The Combat is also fairly brief, but gives the reader an opportunity to get into the groove of Perkins’ style and structure – readers of the Puritans will quickly discern much that is familiar in the structure and priorities of Perkins’ writing. By far the most substantial element of volume one is The Sermon on the Mount, over 550 pages of closely-reasoned and closely-applied exposition of Matthew chapters 5 through 7. Here Perkins’ theological acumen and driving concern for genuine godliness are both evident, as he weaves profound instruction and penetrating insights into what is essentially a treatise on real righteousness.
The whole is newly typeset, and a careful modernisation of the text makes it more accessible to the average reader. It is available from the usual sources (Westminster / Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk) as well as direct from the publisher. In this connection, it should be noted that this volume is one of many RHB titles in ebook which are currently available through Westminster at ridiculous prices. The Perkins volume is currently $1.99 for Kindle, but only for another few hours.
May I draw your attention to three volumes, each relatively new, each stimulating in its own sphere? Each is written by a friend, and two received an endorsement from me, so please take that into account in what I write.
The first is from Brian Croft. The Pastor’s Ministry: Biblical Priorities for Faithful Shepherds is a basic introduction to the work of the ministry. It is a reflection of the failure of many churches and the paucity of much seminary instruction that these truths should seem so fresh, even novel, to many. It is also a reflection of the carelessness of our hearts that – though we may think we know them – we so often need to be reminded of them. This, then, would make an excellent gift for men entering or leaving any stripe of more or less formal ministerial training, as well as a good refresher for men already in the trenches. My endorsement read:
What my friend Brian Croft says in this book should be so obvious that it barely needs saying. Tragically, these are the very principles and practices that are so often unknown or neglected and so quickly lost or forgotten. Whether you need instruction or correction, learning or reminding, Brian’s gift for simple and clear communication of plain pastoral realities will clear your head, warm your heart, and strengthen your hands.
The second book is by David Murray, and is called The Happy Christian. In my endorsement, I wrote:
What does it mean to be happy? The light of nature allows us to observe, desire and appreciate the benefits of certain kinds of happiness. Only the light of Scripture enables us properly to define, obtain and cultivate true and lasting happiness. David Murray’s difficult task in this genuinely stimulating and sometimes provocative book is to accept and acknowledge the former source of illumination while being governed by and relying upon the latter. He has no appetite for the fixed grin and glassy stare of a carnally-manufactured positivity. Instead, David seeks to train our hearts in Christian cheerfulness, genuine gladness, and believing hopefulness, to enjoy and employ the “solid joys and lasting treasures” of the true children of God. Some might take issue with the balance of his foundations and the choice or proportion of his materials, but all Christians would do well to consider the structure and style of the building David erects. It is a good and bright place to live, and many of us need to start construction.
I hope that gives some sense of the excellent work that David has done. This is a book very carefully pitched. My sense is that it steps outside the typical circles of many Reformed and evangelical writers, and – without compromise – seeks to engage and to attract those who might otherwise look over or around that circle. In doing so, it draws on many of our wonderful resources of a genuinely Christian worldview, and reminds all of us of what we are so often missing in our walk as disciples of Christ. Again, you can get it at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, as well as Westminster.
The final book is by Stuart Olyott. This one is called Something Must Be Known & Felt: A Missing Note in Today’s Christianity. It is at once an exciting and unsettling book. It is a necessarily uncomfortable book. It is, at points, a contentious book. Some might consider it a dangerous book. It is, because of rather than despite all that, a good book. I agree with its primary thrust, even if I am presently left behind by some of its particular details.
Those who know Stuart Olyott as a preacher or author will know that he is not a man given to reckless flights of ungrounded fancy. That is important to recall in reading this book on the place of feeling in the life of the believer. His contention is that biblical Christianity is a holy compound of doctrine, ethics and experience, the last of these being often perverted or neglected today.
To correct this, he first gives a survey of emotion from the Scriptures then an overview of the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul. He applies these two matters in the spheres of assurance, Christ’s felt presence, guidance from God, asking and receiving, and waiting on the Lord (the latter two having to do particularly with prayer). In every instance he simultaneously discharges both barrels against the arid wastes of barren intellectualism and the dry expanses of mindless enthusiasm. Each chapter is a blend of scriptural evidences and personal and historical experiences. There is both a deliberate resistance to mysticism and an unembarrassed supernaturalism.
It is hard in a book so brief to give adequate attention to every point made. That means that there are some bold and bald assertions which need to be set in the context of Stuart’s wider ministry. This is not the writing of a man going soft, but of a man pressing on. He wishes to open our eyes and our hearts to elements of Christian experience of which we are ignorant, and ignorance here cannot be bliss.
On more debatable points the author is especially careful to add to scriptural arguments trustworthy witnesses both immediate and distant, including incidents from his own life. I struggled with some of his statements, especially regarding God’s ways of offering guidance or answering prayer. I also confess that this may be because of my own paucity of experience at this point. At each such point the author offers enough scriptural substance to make us tentatively positive, exercising a cautious care in debating his affirmations. Even those who would back away from some of the more striking assertions should take pains not casually to dismiss any part of the argument.
There is much here to which I can readily add a hearty “Amen!” At some points, I should be happy to find my minor concerns proved unfounded. In a very small number of cases, I should need more compelling evidence fully to embrace some of what is written. The fact that the untaught and unstable might abuse some of these things does not mean they should not be addressed. Neither should our reactions against various abuses blind us to what we ourselves might be missing.
Read it carefully and prayerfully; wrestle with it humbly and scripturally; respond to it righteously and earnestly. Buy it at Amazon.co.uk.
A few weeks ago I mentioned a CofE primary school in Crawley, West Sussex, called St Margaret’s, Ifield, that is in the process of seeking a new head teacher. The position has now been advertised. Perhaps you or someone you know might be interested? As you will see from the advert, the school is seeking a robust and faithful Christian who will be an excellent head teacher. Oh, and there happens to be a fine Reformed or Particular Baptist church not too far away …