The Wanderer

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . ."

Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Fuller

Reading Andrew Fuller

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andrew-fuller-2Michael Haykin provides a friend with some advice on reading Andrew Fuller.  It is good advice:

Without being self-serving, I hope, begin with the Armies of the Lamb. There is nothing like getting into a figure by reading his letters.

Then I would suggest his circular letters, those written for the Northamptonshire Association, in chronological order. These give you some idea of Fuller the churchman in the midst of connectional links and associational network of friends and fellow pastors.

Then read some of his sermons, especially the ones on the ministry, justification, and soteriological issues.

His Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation is his most important controversial work. After it, read his Letters on Sandemanianism.

Finally, read his Memoirs of Pearce. What he includes in that work says so much about his piety.

You can get Fuller’s Works here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 22 June 2009 at 20:06

Posted in General

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Preaching Christ

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What do some of the masters say?

Charles Spurgeon:

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”  “A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.  “A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.”  “Ay, no doubt of it.”  “Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”  “Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”  “Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon?  Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”  “Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”  “Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”  “Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”  “Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”  So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”  “Yes,” said the young man.  “Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ.  And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis – Christ.  And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”[1]

Bishop J. C. Ryle:

Let it be a settled principle in our minds, in reading the Bible, that Christ is the central sun of the whole book.  So long as we keep Him in view, we shall never greatly err in our search for spiritual knowledge.  Once losing sight of Christ, we shall find the whole Bible dark and full of difficulty.  The key of Bible knowledge is Jesus Christ.[2]

Alexander MacLaren:

A ministry of which the Christ who lived and died for us is manifestly the centre to which all converges and from which all is viewed, may sweep a wide circumference, and include many themes.  The requirement bars out no province of thought or experience, nor does it condemn the preacher to a parrot-like repetition of elementary truths, or a narrow round of commonplace.  It does demand that all themes shall lead up to Christ, and all teaching point to Him . . . . Preaching Christ does not exclude any theme, but prescribes the bearing and purpose of all; and the widest compass and richest variety are not only possible, but obligatory for him who would in any worthy sense take this for the motto of his ministry, “I determine not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”[3]

The Puritans, as reviewed by Joel Beeke:

The experimental preaching of the Reformers and Puritans focused on preaching Christ.  As Scripture clearly shows, evangelism must bear witness to the record God has given of his only begotten Son (Acts 2:3; 5:42; 8:35; Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:2; Galatians 3:1).  The Puritans thus taught that any preaching in which Christ does not have the pre-eminence is not valid experiential preaching.  William Perkins said that the heart of all preaching was to ‘preach [only] one Christ by Christ to the praise of Christ’.  According to Thomas Adams, ‘Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus’.  ‘Think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul, and scope of the whole Scriptures’, advised Isaac Ambrose.  In this Christ-centred context, Reformed and Puritan evangelism was marked by a discriminating application of truth to experience.[4]

William M. Taylor:

The Gospel, as Paul preached it, was far-reaching enough in its application to touch at every point the conduct and experiences of men.  The Cross, as he used it, was an instrument of the widest range and of the greatest power.  When, therefore, I insist that you like him should “preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” I do not mean to make the pulpit for you a battery, of such a nature that the guns upon it can strike only such vessels as happen to pass immediately in front of its embrasures.[5] On the contrary, I turn it for you into a tower, whereon is mounted a swivel-cannon, which can sweep the whole horizon of human life, and strike down all immorality, and ungodliness, and selfishness, and sin. . . . I do not mean that you should keep continually repeating the words of “the faithful saying” like a parrot-cry, until every particle of meaning has dropped out of them; but rather, that you should make application of the great principles that lie beneath the Cross, to the ever-varying circumstances and occurrences of life, and that in such a way as at once to succor the Christian and arrest and convert the sinner.[6]

Andrew Fuller:

If you preach Christ, you need not fear for want of matter.  His person and work are rich in fulness.  Every Divine attribute is seen in him.  All the types prefigure him.  The prophecies point to him.  Every truth bears relation to him.  The law itself must be so explained and enforced as to lead to him. . . . The preaching of Christ will answer every end of preaching.  This is the doctrine which God owns to conversion, to the leading of awakened sinners to peace, and to the comfort of true Christians.  If the doctrine of the cross be no comfort to us, it is a sign we have no right to comfort.  This doctrine is calculated to quicken the indolent, to draw forth every Christian grace, and to recover the backslider.  This is the universal remedy for all the moral diseases of all mankind.[7]

Thomas Foxcroft:

Ministers then must study to feed their flocks with a continual feast on the glorious fullness there is in Christ; they must gather fruits from the branch of righteousness, from the tree of life for those who hunger, not feeding them with the meat which perishes, but with that which endures to everlasting life.  They must open this fountain of living waters, the great mystery of godliness, into which all the doctrines of the gospel that are branched forth into so great a variety do, as so many rivulets or streams making glad the city of God, flow and concenter.

They must endeavor to set forth Christ in the dignity of His Person, as the brightness of His Father’s glory, God manifest in the flesh; in the reality, necessity, nature, and exercise of His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, in both His state of humiliation and exaltation; in the glorious benefits of His redemption, the justification of them who believe, the adoption of sons, sanctification, and an inheritance that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for the saints; in the wonderful methods and means in and by which we are called into the fellowship of the Son our Lord, and made partakers of the redemption by Christ; in the nature, and significance, the excellency and worth, of all the ordinances and institutions of Christ, with the obligations on all to attend upon them.

Whatever subject ministers are upon, it must somehow point to Christ.  All sin must be witnessed against and preached down as opposed to the holy nature, the wise and gracious designs, and the just government of Christ.  So all duty must be persuaded to and preached up with due regard unto Christ; to His authority commanding and to His Spirit of grace assisting, as well as to the merit of His blood commending – and this to dash the vain presumption that decoys so many into ruin, who will securely hang the weight of their hopes upon the horns of the altar without paying expected homage to the scepter of Christ.  All the arrows of sharp rebuke are to be steeped in the blood of Christ; and this to prevent those desponding fears and frights of guilt which sometimes awfully work to a fatal issue.  Dark and ignorant sinners are to be directed to Christ as the Sun of righteousness; convinced sinners are to be led to Christ as the Great Atonement and the only City of Refuge.  Christ is to be lifted up on high for the wounded in spirit to look to, as the bitten Israelites looked to the brazen serpent of old.  The sick, the lame, and the diseased are to be carried to Christ as the great Physician, the Lord our Healer; the disconsolate and timorous are to be guided to Christ as the Consolation of Israel, and in us the hope of glory.  Every comfort administered is to be sweetened with pure water from this Well of salvation, which only can quench the fiery darts of the evil one.  The promises of the gospel are to be applied as being in Christ “yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor. 1:20).  So the threatenings of the law are to light and flash in the eyes of sinners as the terrors of the Lord and sparks of the holy resentment of an incensed Savior, which hover now over the children of disobedience and will one day unite and fall heavy upon them.  The love of Christ for us is to be held forth as the great constraining motive to religion, and the life of Christ as the bright, engaging pattern of it.  Progress and increase in holiness are to be represented under the notion of abiding in Christ and growing up into Him who is the Head, even Christ.  Perfection in grace is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and eternal life is a being forever with the Lord where He is, beholding His glory and dwelling in our Master’s joy.

Thus, in imitation of the apostolic way of preaching, there must be a beautiful texture of references to Christ, a golden thread twisted into every discourse to leaven and perfume it so as to make it express a savor of the knowledge of Christ.  Thus every mite cast into the treasure of the temple must bear this inscription upon it which was once the humble language of a pious martyr in the flames, “None but Christ, none but Christ,” so that everyone, beholding in the Word preached as in a glass the glory of the Lord, may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory.[8]

 


[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, “Christ Precious to Believers,” sermon no. 242 in The New Park Street Pulpit (1860; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 5:140.  Also told, in slightly different form, in The Soul Winner (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 106-107.

 

[2] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke 11-24 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 501.

[3] Alexander MacLaren, Old Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, date not known) 204.

[4] Joel Beeke, What is Reformed Experimental Preaching? (Grace Online Library), http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/articles/full.asp?id=42|42|394 accessed 14 May 09.

[5] Embrasures are the openings in battlements.

[6] William M Taylor, The Ministry of the Word (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2003), 102-03.  This whole chapter on “The Theme and Range of the Pulpit” would bear close reading in this regard.

[7] Andrew Fuller, “Preaching Christ” in Complete Works (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 1:503-504.

[8] Thomas Foxcroft, The Gospel Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Soli Deo Gloria, 2008), 8-11.

A learned ministry

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From Michael Haykin:

Historically, one of the key differences between Baptists and Presbyterians-fellow Kingdom-sojourners for much of their respective histories (one thinks of the friendship of Andrew Fuller and Thomas Chalmers, for example)-is an area that is rarely discussed, namely, the concept of a learned ministry.

Far more Baptists than Presbyterians have recognized that God can and does call to pastoral ministry men who have not had formal theological education. In Baptist history, one thinks of John Bunyan, for example, or John Gill, that indefatigable commentator, or Fuller, the theological father of the modern missionary movement, or William Carey or those remarkable preachers C.H. Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones (yes, the “Doctor” was a Baptist-read his lecture on baptism in his three-volume study of Christian doctrine). To be sure, these men read and studied and were self-educated, but they lacked formal credentials.

Having spent twenty-seven years in formal theological education, I am more than ever conscious that while such an education is extremely desirable for an effective ministry, it is not indispensable. And I am ever so glad that my Baptist forebears made room for men like those listed above, some of whom are among my theological mentors as a Christian. To think that because a man lacks formal credentials, he cannot reason and write with powerful acumen and insight is simply a species of arrogance.

Andrew Fuller, by trade a farmer, by calling one of the profoundest theologians of the Baptist profession, surely had it right when he said:

“As to academical education, the far greater part of our ministers have it not. [William] Carey was a shoemaker years after he engaged in the ministry, and I was a farmer. I have sometimes however regretted my want of learning. On the other hand, brother [John] Sutcliff, and brother [Samuel] Pearce, have both been at Bristol [Baptist Academy]. We all live in love, without any distinction in these matters. We do not consider an academy as any qualification for membership or preaching, any further than as a person may there improve his talents. Those who go to our academics must be members of a church, and recommended to them as possessing gifts adapted to the ministry. They preach about the neighbourhood all the time, and their going is considered in no other light than as a young minister might apply to an aged one for improvement. Since brother [John] Ryland has been at Bristol, I think he has been a great blessing in forming the principles and spirit of the young men. I allow, however, that the contrary is often the case in academies, and that when it is so they prove very injurious to the churches of Christ.” ["Discipline of the English and Scottish Baptist Churches", Works (Sprinkle Publications, 1988), III, 481].

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 4 May 2009 at 09:45

On reading Andrew Fuller

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Michael Haykin provides us with a brief overview of Andrew Fuller’s oeuvre over at Crawford Gribben’s blog.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 28 February 2009 at 09:29

Posted in While wandering . . .

Tagged with

Revival and reformation

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In two posts, linked in theme but not by design, Jeff Smith and Michael Haykin both engage with issues of Baptistic attitudes to church polity, purity, and the progress of the gospel, taking in issues of tradition and catholicity.

Jeff Smith, continuing his series of lessons from 18th century Particular Baptist history, points to Baptist negativity toward the 18th century revival because of their suspicions about those at its forefront: Whitefield and the Wesleys, and the Calvinistic Methodists, for example.  Many of those concerns had to do with church polity:

They had a hard time accepting that anything good could come out of a denomination they refused to consider as a true church. This was partly related to what was a commendable and faithful commitment of the Baptists to the importance of biblical church order. In some instances, however, this commitment went wrong by swinging over to the extreme of failing to have a proper spirit of catholicity toward all true Christians.

He draws out some important and challenging questions:

What is the lesson for us as Reformed Baptists as we enter into the 21st century? Well here we are reminded of how important it is to have a catholic spirit toward all true Christians, though they may not be part of our circle of churches. Though some may have difficulty accepting this, God in his sovereignty sometimes greatly blesses and uses men who are not Reformed Baptists; men who don’t have everything right in their ecclesiology, or even men who are wrong in other areas of their theology. They have the gospel and they preach the gospel, but they are lacking in some areas. May I dare to say it, they may even be confused Arminians. Yet God uses them, and He may even use them in ways He’s not using any of us. We need to be able to rejoice in that. We need to ask ourselves, if God raised up some men in our day full of the Holy Spirit; men who are preaching the gospel and whose preaching God is mightily blessing with every biblical evidence of true conversions (not merely decisions, but real conversions), and those men are Methodists or Episcopalians, or Assembly of God or some other denomination, or some other kind of Baptist, other than Reformed Baptist, could we rejoice in that and be thankful for it? Could we even consider those men as our friends and brothers and even work together with them insofar far as we can? Or is our almost immediate knee jerk reaction to be critical and to pick at any and every fault we can find to try to discredit any one God is using who is not one of us?

And again:

Related to this, there’s a common mistake we need to be aware of. It’s the error of thinking that there can be no revival without thorough reformation first. It’s true that reformation sometimes precedes revival. Likewise it’s true that we must always be pursuing more and more thorough reformation. If we are not seeking to reform our lives and our churches by the scriptures, it is presumption to expect revival. But in God’s sovereignty it is simply a fact of history that sometimes revival precedes reformation. Some of the Particular Baptists thought there could be no church renewal if there was a neglect of believer’s baptism and the principles of Baptist church government. They were wrong, and because they felt that way, they renounced the revival when it came.

Michael Haykin has been making some similar points:

Take the revival among English and Welsh Calvinistic Baptists at the close of the “long” eighteenth century. In the wake of this dramatic renewal came a fresh evaluation of what constituted the parameters of the Calvinistic Baptist community. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries these parameters had been oriented around the concept of the church as a congregation of baptized believers and any missional component largely lost. Revival came to be linked to Baptist polity. This focus among Calvinistic Baptists on ecclesiological issues and their linking of spiritual vitality to church order, however, received a direct challenge from the Evangelical Revival. The participants of this revival, who knew themselves to be part of a genuine movement of the Spirit of God, were mainly interested in issues relating to salvation. Ecclesial matters often engendered unnecessary strife and, in the eyes of key individuals like George Whitefield, robbed those who disputed about them of God’s blessing.

By the end of the century many Calvinistic Baptists agreed. While they were not at all prepared to deny their commitment to Baptist polity, they were not willing to remain fettered by traditional patterns of Baptist thought about their identity. Retaining the basic structure of Baptist thinking about the church they added one critical ingredient drawn from the experience of the Evangelical Revival: the vital need for local Baptist churches to be centres of vigorous evangelism. There is no doubt that this amounted to a re-thinking of Baptist identity. From the perspective of these Baptists, Baptist congregations and their pastors were first of all Christians who needed to be concerned about the spread of the Gospel at home and abroad.

Haykin also draws some positive and challenging conclusions:

May we, the spiritual descendants of those brethren-oh what a joy to have men and women like Andrew Fuller and John Sutcliff, Samuel Pearce and Anne Steele, Benjamin Beddome and Benjamin Francis as our forebears!-not fail to learn the lessons they learned so well!

Oh to treasure the traditions these brothers and sisters have handed on to us, but a pox on traditionalism! This is not a contradiction: to love our traditions, but to want nothing to do with traditionalism. The latter loves the past because it is simply the past and thinks that things were always done better then. The former loves the traditions of the past for they are bearers of truth and we dare not lose that treasure.

Oh to be found faithful to the end of our days to the faith once for all delivered to the saints and which these brethren have handed on to us. But oh to avoid like the plague the aridity of traditionalism in second- and third-order theological truth, not daring to think new thoughts in these areas. Fuller and his friends were not so fearful.

These are important points, and need to be borne in mind.  But let us also look forward a little distance from the time my brothers are writing about.

In 1813 the Baptist Union was established, on the back of such endeavours as the Baptist Missionary Society.  At the time, it was a distinctively Calvinistic body.  It was then restructured in the early 1830s to include General Baptists.  That re-establishment was on the broad and undefined basis of “the sentiments generally denominated evangelical.”[1] Those involved seemed to think that they knew what those sentiments were, and they were substantially convinced that such a foundation was sufficient to bear the weight of what would be built upon it.

Fast forward just a few years, and into the heritage of truth that the Particular Baptists of the 18th century passed down steps C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).  He – if you study his life and read his writings carefully – was as much a reformer as he was anything else.  God used him mightily in the middle of the 19th century to bring the gospel to countless thousands and to establish a multitude of churches.  True catholicity reigned in Spurgeon’s heart alongside a blood-earnest attachment to Jesus and the truth as it is in him.  There was no contradiction.

Toward the end of his life, Spurgeon knew that he had expended his energies in the cause of Christ.  In March 1891, a preacher from the College called E. H. Ellis left for Australia.  Spurgeon bade him farewell: “Good bye, Ellis; you will never see me again, this fight is killing me.”[2]

What was the fight?  It was that which church history calls the Downgrade Controversy.  Those sentiments usually denominated evangelical – being largely assumed and undefined – had not held back the tide of error sweeping in “the New Theology.”  Spurgeon averred that the Baptist Union as he knew it had been founded “without form and void” and remained so.

I am not drawing direct parallels between the Higher Criticism against which Spurgeon contended and some of the men implicitly referenced in the work of Jeff Smith and Michael Haykin, but I do think that the period after the 18th century provides us with salutary warnings and necessary exhortations.

The best men are always genuinely catholic in spirit.  They love all those who love Jesus in truth, even when they disagree with them over matters that they mutually confess to be of genuine and significant importance (e.g. church polity).  Men like John Owen, Jeremiah Burroughs, George Whitefield, and Charles Spurgeon were able to see across and attempt to reach across certain divides.  It does us well to cultivate the same spiritual wisdom.

However, in so doing, let us not lose sight of gospel distinctives (even more than ecclesiological ones, though not ignoring that the former feeds and defines the latter).  The truth is too high a price to pay for peace and unity (even in the short term).  We must not breed a suspicious and judgemental spirit, but we must maintain a discerning and distinguishing one.  We would be fools if we allowed catholicity of spirit to blind us to issues of truth and error.  I accuse neither of the men referenced of this, but I know that wise men make judicious and righteous statements, and the foolish apply them in muddle-headed and dangerous ways, and that there are more of the latter men than there are of the former, with obvious consequences.

What a tragedy it would be if, on the one hand, we failed to recognise a genuine work of the Spirit of God, even if “God in his sovereignty sometimes greatly blesses and uses men who are not Reformed Baptists.”  We should rejoice wherever Christ’s kingdom advances, and yearn to be useful and fruitful in that work, alongside all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity.  But, on the other hand, what a tragedy it would be if the inheritance we bequeathed to a generation to come was one of theological fuzziness, of pie-eyed and ungrounded optimism and well-meaning indistinctness that sold them into decades of unanchored drifting or bloody contention for the truth, or both.  In this regard, we have to say that – in surveying the broad theological landscape, not least among the “young, restless and reformed” and those to whom they look up – there are issues of which we must be aware, matters of pith and moment that are all too easily dismissed or overlooked.  Too little catholicity, and we may miss the boat.  Too much, and we sink it for future generations.

Some truth matters more, some truth matters less, but all truth matters.  We need wisdom to judge where the lines are drawn, and to recognise where they exist, even while we accept that some are scored more deeply than others.  Some are barely visible to the naked eye, although they exist and are worth knowing and appreciating.  Some we can reach across at certain times and in certain places even while we will never erase them.  Some we must maintain, even with sorrow.  Some are inviolable boundaries: our only efforts in those regards are to defend them with all we have and are, reaching out only to pull people across them from error and danger into truth and safety.

Let us be content, then, to be thought broad or narrow (as the spirit of the age dictates and the tenor of our own time and place in it require), so long as we are walking closely with Jesus, in spirit and in truth.  Conflict is miserable, and we must not allow times of conflict to determine all our conduct in times of peace.  At the same time, let us remember that our conduct in peace will determine our conduct in war.  The crisis will not form our character, it will only reveal it.  Taking this into account, consider that Spurgeon was fighting because he would not see Christ dishonoured, and that became a fight to the death.  In the midst of the battle, speaking to College students on the preacher’s power, he remarked

trimming [the gospel] now, and debasing doctrine now, will affect children yet unborn, generation after generation.  Posterity must be considered.  I do not look so much at what is to happen to-day, for these things relate to eternity.  For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me.  I have dealt honestly before the living God.  My brother, do the same.[3]

There are lots of dogs, and they will eat us: let the dogs of liberalism eat us for our convictions, and the dogs of the blinkered hyper-orthodox for our catholicity, and the dogs of broad evangelicalism for our narrowness, and the dogs of the world for our exclusivity.  There are lots of dogs.  But let us content to be sheep of Christ’s flock, in company with other true sheep.  Let us pray for and pursue both revival and reformation, personally and corporately: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

If I may be permitted to reach across, while holding firm (the point will be clear if you look up the original!), let me end with a hymn from Charles Wesley:

A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
And let me ne’er my trust betray,
But press to realms on high.


[1] Ernest A. Payne, The Baptist Union: A Short History (London: Baptist Union, 1959), 61.

[2] Autobiography, 3:152.

[3] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Preacher’s Power, and the Conditions of Obtaining it,” in An All-round Ministry, pp.361-2.

Spiritual declension

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Jeff Smith is drawing lessons from the history of Particular Baptists to identify the dangers of and guard against spiritual declension.  He has introduced his topic and considered the danger of an excessively inward focus already.  Andrew Fuller provided some remedies for this problem.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 10 January 2009 at 18:52

Seeking substance

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This week has been odd.  I am still snatching at that strange beast called paternity leave, while trying to cover a few bases.  My firstborn son has been having more issues at night than my newborn son, which leaves me with very broken sleep and a fair amount of weariness.  I am also trying to get ahead of the game with some tasks around the house (so the fence that got kicked in last weekend has now been fully replaced, which is nice – it’s actually a vast improvement on the old situation).

puritan-galleryAnyway, the long and short of it is that I have been feeling weary and dull this week.  I have felt the need to have my soul fed on good food.  When I am feeling flat, there is not always a great deal modern that appeals to me.  When I am looking for something to do me good, I look not for something light and quick, but substantial and solid.  I suppose it is like feeling a real hunger, when the spiritual equivalent of McDonalds or Burger King won’t cut it, neither will the new-fangled theological counterparts of an alfalfa, guava and bean-curd wrap from some recent high-street start-up.  I want meat – real spiritual steak, nourishing and dense.  It does not need to be easy to ingest and digest, but rather substantial and profitable once ingested and digested.  I do not need tonnes of the stuff, either – but enough to satisfy my heart and mind and soul.

I want something careful, reasoned, solid.  I want the truth, extensively and pithily, well-ordered and engaging, assured and enjoyed, known and felt.  I want high views of God the Father, ardent views of God the Son, devoted views of God the Ghost.  I want the overwhelming simplicities of the truth and I want its entrancing intricacies.  I want the uplifting and humbling of true worship.  I want my head in the clouds and my feet upon earth.  I want sure guides with clear eyes and warm, pastoral hearts.  I want Jesus Christ applied to my soul in the power of God’s Spirit.  I want my mind touched and my heart fired.  I want my sins exposed and rebuked, my graces cultivated and catalysed, my thoughts directed and instructed, my feelings trained and raised, my Saviour exalted and made glorious in my eyes.

Where do I turn?  Generally, to the Puritans.  I might occasionally head for their forebears – Calvin, Knox, Luther, and the like will sometimes do it for me.  I might seek out their successors – men like Fuller, Spurgeon, Thornwell, or Warfield.  But I will most usually turn to those men of God who represent, in many ways, a high water mark for Biblical Christianity in the United Kingdom.  A few pages of their Scripture-saturated prose will generally give me something to walk away with, however weary and dull I might have been.

This week, it was Stephen Charnock on regeneration with a few propositions explaining the necessity of the new birth.  Nothing staggering, but all soaked in Scripture, pressed down and running over with the realities of God himself.

When my soul desires something of God, after the Bible, I look for someone who will bring the Bible to bear on my soul.  These men of God do so time after time.  Oh, for more of their kind, and more of their spirit.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 November 2008 at 18:29

Samuel Pearce and John Ryland Jr.

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Michael Haykin directs us to a new blog devoted to the writings of John Ryland Jr. and gives us a tasty morsel from the seraphic Pearce, the young preacher so highly esteemed by Ryland, Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliff, William Carey, et al.  Pearce, when dying, wrote to Fuller and asked, “How can I be a Christian, and not submit to God?”  This is the spirit we need to be faithful and fruitful in our day.

On the Ryland site is a sermon on the indwelling of the Spirit from Romans 8.9.  You can catch something of the flavour of Ryland’s ministry from the following section, in which, having distinguished between “the flesh” and “the Spirit”, he begins to delve into what it means to be indwelt by the Spirit, and how we can know whether or not he truly dwells in our hearts:

The best evidences that we have the Spirit of Christ, which I can mention, are such as follow:

A spiritual and endearing discovery of Christ to the soul. producing an abiding sense of his excellence and glory, so that the way of salvation by him appears divinely excellent and worthy of all acceptation.

A spiritual conviction of the reality and certainty of the divine testimony concerning Christ and the gospel. John vi. 69. 1 John i. 1-3.

A union of heart with the Redeemer, acquiescing in the glorious ends of his mediation; entering into his views of the controversy between God and man, resting satisfied with his decision; glad that God is justified, his law magnified, justice secured, and grace delightfully displayed.

An habitual regard to Christ in our daily walk with God; not only acknowledging our need of his mediation at our first return to God, but from day to day looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto eternal life; loving to draw nigh unto God by him, through the assistance of the Spirit of grace.

A true conformity of temper and disposition to our blessed Lord, and to the genuine tendency of his gospel. How Iovely was the whole of his temper and conduct! How impossible it is, we should discern its beauty, and not be concerned to imbibe and imitate it.

A spirit of love, ardent zeal, genuine philanthropy, activity for God, and resignation to God, meekness, gentleness, self-denial, and love to enemies. He could not, indeed, set us an example of repentance. But his gospel tends to inspire and increase it, all through life, and to promote tenderness of conscience.

It is a strong evidence that we have the Spirit of Christ, when we have a proportionate regard to the different branches of evangelical religion, both towards God and man: having respect to all his commandments, and not being partial in his law. Christ’s was an obedient spirit.

The continual tendency of all discoveries from the Holy Spirit will be to strengthen us in holy practice and to excite an irreconcilable hatred of all sin, and an insatiable thirst after perfect conformity to the Saviour.

If we have the Spirit of Christ, we shall love his cause, delight in his image, seek the welfare of his people, long to promote his kingdom, and rejoice to see others called. We shall set our affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. We shall live here as strangers and pilgrims, who seek a better country, that is, an heavenly one.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 10 October 2008 at 10:18

Book delight

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I received today one of the most magnificently postage-stamped parcels it has ever been my privilege to accept.

This puppy (pictured left) is a thing of postal glory if ever there was one!  The sheer number and splendidly free arrangement of stamps, together with that superb little pink departure along the top, almost overwhelmed me.

However, I was more delighted with the contents.  The first and greatest treasure – and the one personal, ‘vanity’ purchase in the whole order – was a first edition of John Ryland Jr’s The Work of Faith, the Labour of Love, and the Patience of Hope illustrated in the Life and Death of the Reverend Andrew Fuller.  One always hopes when making such an order (not least knowing that the gentleman from whom I ordered is usually besieged when he sends out his list) that the book will be available and that it will be in good nick.  This is a truly splendid volume, with a few light pencil markings, but tight and clean in a fine half-leather binding.  A genuine delight, especially when my only copy for the last ten years or so has been a fairly dog-eared photocopy.

Also in the package were a substantial number of volumes worthy of earnest recommendation.  Readers might have heard of William M. Taylor (1829-1895), a pastor and author who began his ministry in Scotland before transferring to the Broadway Tabernacle, New York City (where he served from 1872 to 1892).  He was twice a Lyman Beecher Lecturer, and one of those series became the outstanding volume of pastoral theology, The Ministry of the Word.  Although Taylor also wrote excellent treatments of the miracles and the parables of our Lord, the package that arrived this morning almost completed my collection of his ‘Bible Biographies.’  These are treatments of Bible characters – David, Moses, Elijah, Paul, Ruth, Esther, Daniel – which are models of their kind, giving profound insights into the faith and life of these men and women of God.  At the risk of increasing competition for available volumes (I am aware of only one or two that have recently been republished), I would suggest that, if you can get your hands on any of these volumes, you do so as a means of doing much good to your souls.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 30 September 2008 at 13:59

“The English Baptists of the 17th Century”

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, my esteemed father, Austin Walker, has been away, and was one of the featured speakers at a conference on The English Baptists of the 17th Century at the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies on the campus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The audio recordings of the conference are now online at the Andrew Fuller Conference website and blog, and doutbless there will be much of interest to historians and general scholars, especially of a Baptist persuasion.  In an act of shameless nepotism, may I draw your attention to my father’s paper on “Benjamin Keach and the Protestant Cause Under Persecution”?  You will find it on the page above (where it can be downloaded), or can go to it directly here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 29 August 2008 at 19:44

Searching the Scriptures

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Andrew Fuller wrote the following on divine truth and human instruction:

Many religious people appear to be contented with seeing truth in the light in which some great and good man has placed it; but if ever we enter into the gospel to purpose, it must be by reading the word of God for ourselves, and by praying and meditating upon its sacred contents. It is “in God’s light that we must see light” [cf. Psalm 36:9]… The writings of great and good men are not to be despised, any more than their preaching: only let them not be treated as oracular. The best of men, in this imperfect state, view things partially, and therefore are in danger of laying an improper stress upon some parts of Scripture, to the neglect of other parts of equal, and sometimes of superior importance…. If we adopt the principles of fallible men, without searching the Scriptures for ourselves, and inquiring whether or not these things be so, they will not, even allowing them to be on the side of truth, avail us, as if we had learned them from a higher authority. Our faith, in this case, will stand in the wisdom of man, and not in the power of God…. Truth learned only at second-hand will be to us what Saul’s armour was to David; we shall be at a loss how to use it in the day of trial.[1]


[1] Nature and Importance of an Intimate Knowledge of Divine Truth in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, revised Joseph Belcher (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 1:164.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 14 August 2008 at 12:52

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A feast of Fuller

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Steve Weaver informs us that the latest issue of Eusebeia: The Bulletin of the Andrew Fuller Center is on its way to the printer and should be ready for distribution by the end of August.  This particular issue focuses on Andrew Fuller himself.  The theme is “Reading Andrew Fuller.”  The journal features nine scholarly articles by the likes of Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin, Dr. Carl R. Trueman, and Dr. Thomas J. Nettles.  Most of the articles were originally papers presented at last year’s Andrew Fuller Center conference.  The table of contents, together with free access to the editorial and an article by Dr. Haykin, is available here.  Subscription information, as well as limited access to past issues, is available here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 13 August 2008 at 23:56

Critiques

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A neat little post from Michael Haykin here provides some helpful counsel for those who feel themselves conscience bound to offer a critique of another: this is the spirit in which to go about the work.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 28 July 2008 at 11:41

Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #5 What shall we do?

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In this fifth and final section of Andrew Fuller’s challenging letter (see section 1, section 2, section 3 and section 4), the author moves on from the causes of declension that he has identified (contentment with a superficial acquaintance with the gospel;contentment with present attainments without aspiring after eminence in grace and holiness; making the religion of others rather than the Word of God our standard;failure to consider the consequences of our own good and evil conduct) to address some of the means of their removal, and the pursuit of a more wholehearted and entire religion, a more vital and earnest Christianity.

These, brethren, we apprehend, are some of the causes, among many others, which have produced those declensions which you and we lament.  But what do we say?  Do we indeed lament them?  If we do, it will be natural for us to inquire, “What shall we do?  What means can be used towards their removal, and a happy revival?”  If this be now indeed the object of our inquiry, we cannot do better than attend to the advice of the great Head of the church to a backsliding people: “Remember . . . from whence thou art fallen, . . . and do thy first works.”  “Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain that are ready to die. . . . Remember . . . how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent!” (Rev 2.5; 3.2-3).  Particularly,

First, let us recollect the best periods of the Christian church, and compare them with the present; and the best parts of our own life, if we know when they were, and compare them with what we are now.  A recollection of the disinterestedness, zeal and godliness of the primitive Christians, and their successors in after-ages, millions of whom, in Christ’s cause, loved not their lives unto death, would surely make us loathe ourselves for our detestable lukewarmness!  As Protestants, let us think of the fervent zeal and holy piety of our Reformers – think what objects they grasped, what difficulties they encountered, and what ends they obtained!  As Protestant Dissenters, let us reflect on the spirit and conduct of our Puritan and non-conforming ancestors.  Think how they served God at the expense of all that was dear to them in this world, and laid the foundation of our churches in woods, and dens, and caves of the earth!  Say, too, was their love more than need be?  Is the importance of things abated since their death?  Might not they have pleaded the anger and cruelty of the times in excuse for a non-appearance for God, with much more seeming plausibility than we can excuse our spirit of hateful indifference?  O let us remember whence we are fallen, and repent!

As to our own lives, if we are real Christians, probably we can remember times wherein the great concerns of salvation seemed to eclipse all other objects.  We covenanted with God.  We resigned over all to him.  We loved to be his, wholly his, rather than our own.  We were willing to do any thing, or become any thing, that should glorify his name.  And is it so now?  No!  But why not?  What iniquity have we found in him, that we are gone away backward?  “O my people,” saith the Lord, “what have I done unto thee?  . . . Wherein have I wearied thee?  Testify against me!”  Have I been a hard master, or a churlish father, or a faithless friend?  Have I not been patient enough with you, or generous enough towards you?  Could I have done any thing more for you that I have not done?  Was the covenant you made with me a hard bargain?  Was it hard on your side for me to be made sin, who knew no sins, that you might be made the righteousness of God in me?  Were the rewards of my service such as you could not live upon?  Is it better with you now than then?  O Christian reader! pause awhile.  Lay aside the paper, and retire before God!  Reflect, and pour out thy soul before him.  Say unto him, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face!”  Thus, thus, “remember . . . whence thou art fallen, and repent”!

But do not stop here.  Think it not sufficient that we lament and mourn over our departures from God.  We must return to him with full purpose of heart.  “Strengthen the things that remain which are ready to die.”  Cherish a greater love to the truths of God – pay an invariable regard to the discipline of his house – cultivate love to one another – frequently mingle souls by frequently assembling yourselves together – encourage a meek, humble, and savoury spirit, rather than a curious one.  These are some of the things among us that are “ready to die!”  To this it is added,

“Do thy first works.”  Fill up your places in God’s worship with that earnestness and constancy as when you were first seeking after the salvation of your souls.  Flee from those things which conscience, in its most tender and best informed state, durst not meddle with, though since perhaps they may have become trifling in your eyes.  Walk in your family, in the world, and in the church, with God always before you.  Live in love, meekness, and forbearance with one another.  Whatever your hands find you to do, “do it with all your might,” seeking to promote, by all means, the present and eternal welfare of all around you.

Finally, brethren, let us not forget to intermingle prayer with all we do.  Our need of God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to do any thing, and everything, truly good, should excite us to this.  Without his blessing all means are without efficacy, and every effort for revival will be in vain.  Constantly and earnestly, therefore, let us approach his throne.  Take all occasions especially for closet prayer.  Here, if anywhere, we shall get fresh strength, and maintain a life of communion with God.  Our Lord Jesus used frequently to retire into a mountain alone for prayer.  He, therefore, that is a follower of Christ, must follow him in this important duty.

Dearly beloved brethren, farewell!  “Unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.  Amen.”

(work through the whole letter: section 1, section 2, section 3, section 4, section 5)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 27 June 2008 at 10:45

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Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #4 Failure to consider the consequences of our own good and evil conduct

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I have previously posted section 1, section 2 and section 3 of Andrew Fuller’s powerful letter concerning declension and revival.  This is the fourth section, addressing the effects even of an individual contribution (or lack of it) to the cause of the kingdom.  Fuller highlights the potent positive effects and devastating negative effects of just one person either embracing their duties and opportunities or entertaining sin or indulging in laziness.

Once more, the want of considering the consequences of our own good and evil conduct is, we apprehend, another great cause of declension in many people.  It is common for people on many occasions to think within themselves in some such manner as this: “What signify my faults, or my efforts?  They can weigh but little for or against the public good.  What will my prayers avail?  And what great loss will be sustained by an individual occasionally omitting the duty of prayer, or attendance on a church meeting, or it may be the public worship and ordinances of God?  And what consequences will follow if one be a little now and then off one’s watch – nobody is perfect,” etc, etc.  This, and a great deal more such horrid atheism, it is to be feared, if a thorough search were made, would be found to lie at the bottom of our common departures from God.

If, when an army goes forth to engage the enemy, every soldier were to reason with himself thus, “Of what great consequences will my services be?  It is but little execution that I can do; it will make but very little difference, therefore, if I desert or stand neuter.  There are enow to fight without me,” what would be the consequence?  Would such reasoning be admitted?  Was it admitted in the case of the Reubenites, who cowardly abode by their sheepfolds while their brethren jeoparded their lives upon the high places in the field?  Was not Meroz cursed with a bitter curse because its inhabitants came not forth to the help of the Lord in the day of the mighty (Jgs 5.15-16, 23)?  If an army would hope to obtain the victory, every man should act as if the whole issue of the battle depended upon his conduct.  So, if ever things go well in a religious view, it will be when every one is concerned to act as if he were the only one that remained on God’s side.

We may think the efforts of an individual to be trifling; but, dear brethren, let not this atheistical spirit prevail over us.  It is the same spawn with that cast forth in the days of Job, when they asked concerning the Almighty, “What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?”  At this rate Abraham might have forborne interceding for Sodom, and Daniel for his brethren of the captivity.  James also must be mistaken in saying that the prayer of a single, individual righteous man availeth much.  Ah, brethren, this spirit is not from above, but cometh of an evil heart of unbelief departing from the living God!  Have done with all that bastard humility, that teaches you such a sort of thinking low of your own prayers and exertions for God as to make you decline them, or at least to be slack and indifferent in them!  Great things frequently rise from small beginnings.  Some of the greatest good that has ever been done in the world has been set a going by the efforts of an individual.  Witness the Christianizing of a great part of the heathen world by the labours of a Paul, and the glorious Reformation from popery began by the struggles of a Luther.

It is impossible to tell what good may result from one earnest wrestling with God, from one hearty exertion in his cause or from one instance of a meek and lowly spirit, overcoming evil with good.  Though there is nothing in our doings from which we could look for such great things, yet God is pleased frequently to crown our poor services with infinite reward.  Such conduct may be, and often has been, the means of the conversion and eternal salvation of souls; and who that has any Christianity in him would not reckon this reward enough?  A realizing sense of these things would stir us all up: ministers to preach the gospel to every creature, private Christians, situated in this or that dark town or village, to use all means to have it preached, and both to recommend it to all around by a meek and unblemished conversation.

Again, we may think the faults of an individual to be trifling, but they are not so.  For the crime of Achan the army of Israel suffered a defeat, and the whole camp could not go forward.  Let us tremble at the thought of being a dead weight to the society of which we are members!  Besides, the awful tendency of such conduct is seen in its contagious influence.  If people continue to be governed by example, as they certainly will in a great degree, then there is no knowing what the consequences will be, nor where they will end.  A single defeat or slip, of which we may think but little at the time, may be copied by our children, servants, neighbours, or friends, over and over again; yea, it may be transmitted to posterity, and pleaded as a precedent for evil when we are no more!  Thus it may kindle a fire which, if we ourselves are saved from it, may nevertheless burn to the lowest hell, and aggravate the everlasting misery of many around us, who are flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone!

(work through the whole letter: section 1, section 2, section 3, section 4, section 5)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 26 June 2008 at 08:08

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Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #3 Making the religion of others rather than the Word of God our standard

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I previously posted section 1 and section 2 of Andrew Fuller’s circular letter identifying reasons for spiritual dullness and coolness, and suggesting some remedies.  This third section considers something of the power – for good or ill – of example, and the dangers of taking the example of others as our standard for godliness, rather than measuring ourselves by God’s golden ruler.

Another cause of declension, we apprehend, is making the religion of others our standard, instead of the Word of God.  The Word of God is the only safe rule we have to go by, either in judging what is real religion, or what exertion and services for God are incumbent upon us.  As it is unsafe to conclude ourselves real Christians because we may have such feelings as we have heard spoken of by some whom we account good men, so it is unjust to conclude that we have religion enough because we may suppose ourselves to be equal to the generality of those that now bear that character.  What if they be good men?  They are not our standard.  And what if their conversation in general be such as gives them a reputation in the religious world?  Christ did not say “Learn of them,” but, “Learn of me.”  Or if in a measure we are allowed to follow them “who through faith and patience inherit the promises,” still it is with this restriction, as far as they are followers of Christ.

Alas, how much is the professing part of mankind governed by evil example!  If the question turns upon religious diligence, as “How often shall I attend at the house of God – once or twice on the Lord’s day?” or “How frequently shall I give my company at church meetings, opportunities for prayer, and such like?” is not the answer commonly governed by what others do in these cases, rather than by what is right in itself?  So, if it turns on liberality, the question is not, “What am I able to spare in this case, consistent with all other obligations?” but, “What does Mr. Such a one give?  I shall do the same as he does.”  Something of this kind may not be wrong, as a degree of proportion among friends is desirable; but if carried to too great lengths, we must beware lest our attention to precedent should so far exclude principle in the affair as to render even what we do unacceptable in the sight of God.  So if the question turns on any particular piece of conduct, whether it be defensible or not, instead of searching the Bible, and praying to be led in the narrow way of truth and righteousness, how common is it to hear such language as this: “Such and such good men do so; surely, therefore, there can be no great harm in it!”  In short, great numbers appear to be quite satisfied if they are about as strict and as holy as other people with whom they are concerned.

Many ill effects appear evidently to arise from this quarter.  Hence it is that, for the want of bringing our religion and religious life to the test of God’s holy Word, we are in general so wretchedly deficient in a sense of our vast and constant defects, have no spirit to press forward, but go on and on, without repentance for them, or so much as a thought of doing otherwise.  Hence also there is so much vanity and spiritual pride among us.  While we content ourselves with barely keeping pace with one another, we may all become wretched idlers, and loose walkers; and yet, as one is about as good as another, each may think highly of himself; whereas, bring him and his companions with him to the glass of God’s holy Word, and if they have any sensibility left, they must see their odious picture, abhor themselves, and feel their former conduct as but too much resembling that of a company of evil conspirators who keep each other in countenance.

Finally, to this it may be ascribed in part that so many are constantly waxing worse and worse, more and more loose and careless in their spirit and conduct.  For those who are contented not to do better than other people, generally allow themselves to do a little worse.  An imitator is scarcely ever known to equal an original in the good, but generally exceeds him in the bad; not only in imitating his feelings, but adding others to their number.  If we would resemble any great and good man, we must do as he does, and that is, keep our eye upon the mark, and follow Christ as our model.  It is by this means that he has attained to be what he is.  Here we shall be in no danger of learning anything amiss; and truly we have failings now of our own, in not conforming to the model, without deriving any more from the imperfections of the model itself.

(work through the whole letter: section 1, section 2, section 3, section 4, section 5)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 25 June 2008 at 09:47

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Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #2 Contentment with present attainments without aspiring after eminence in grace and holiness

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Following on from section 1 of Andrew Fuller’s letter, section 2 is below.  Here Fuller weighs in against a too-ready satisfaction with where we are at.  He puts to us a challenge that sticks in my mind: am I inclined to ask “What must I do for God?” or “What can I do for God?”

Another thing which we apprehend to be a great cause of declension is, a contentedness with present attainments, without aspiring after eminence in grace and holiness.  If we may judge of people’s thoughts and aims by the general tenor of their conduct, there seems to be much of a contentment with about so much religion as is thought necessary to constitute them good men, and that will just suffice to carry them to heaven; without aiming by a course of more than ordinary services to glorify God in their day and generation.  We profess to do what we do with a view to glorify God, and not to be saved by it; but is it so indeed?  Do these things look like it?  How is it, too, that the positive institutions of Christ are treated with so little regard?  Whence is it that we hear such language as this so often as we do.  “Such a duty, and such an ordinance, is not essential to salvation – we may never be baptized in water, or become church members, and yet go to heaven as well as they that are”?

It is to be feared the old puritanical way of devoting ourselves wholly to be the Lord’s, resigning up our bodies, souls, gifts, time, property, with all we have and are to serve him, and frequently renewing these covenants before him, is now awfully neglected.  This was to make a business of religion, a life’s work, and not merely an accidental affair, occurring but now and then, and what must be attended to only when we can spare time from other engagements.  Few seem to aim, pray, and strive after eminent love to God and one another.  Many appear to be contented if they can but remember the time when they had such love in exercise, and then, tacking to it the notion of perseverance without the thing, they go on and on, satisfied, it seems, if they do but make shift just to get to heaven at last, without much caring how.  If we were in a proper spirit, the question with us would not so much be, “What must I do for God?” as, “What can I do for God?”  A servant that heartily loves his master counts it a privilege to be employed by him, yea, an honour to be entrusted with any of his concerns.

If it is to be inquired, “What then is to be done?  Wherein in particular can we glorify God more than we have done?”  We answer by asking, “Is there no room for amendment?  Have we been sufficiently earnest and constant in private prayer?  Are there none of us that have opportunities to set apart particular times to pray for the effusion of the Holy Spirit?  Can we do no more than we have done in instructing our families?  Are there none of our dependants, workmen, or neighbours that we might speak to, at least so far as to ask them to go and hear the gospel?  Can we rectify nothing in our tempers and behaviour in the world, so as better to recommend religion?  Cannot we watch more?  Cannot we save a little more of our substance to give to the poor?  In a word, is there no room or possibility left for our being more meek, loving, and resembling the blessed Jesus than we have been?”

To glorify God, and recommend by our example the religion of the meek and lowly Jesus, are the chief ends for which it is worth while to live; but do we sufficiently pursue these ends?  Even these chief ends of our existence, are they in any good degree so much as kept in view?  Ah, what have we done for God in the towns, villages, and families where we reside?  Christians are said to be the light of the world, and the salt of the earth – do we answer these characters?  Is the world enlightened by us?  Does a savour of Christ accompany our spirit and conversation?  Our business, as Christians, is practically to be holding forth the word of life.  Have we, by our earnestness, sufficiently held forth its importance, or by our chaste conversation, coupled with fear, its holy tendency?  Have we all along, by a becoming firmness of spirit, made it evident that religion is no low, mean or dastardly business?  Have we by a cheerful complacency in God’s service, gospel, and providence sufficiently held forth the excellency of his government and the happy tendency of his holy religion?  Doubtless, the most holy and upright Christians in these matters will find great cause for reflection, and room for amendment; but are there not many who scarcely ever think about them, or if they do, it only amounts to this, to sigh, and go backward, resting satisfied with a few lifeless complaints, without any real and abiding efforts to have things otherwise?

(work through the whole letter: section 1, section 2, section 3, section 4, section 5)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 June 2008 at 11:08

Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #1 Contentment with a superficial acquaintance with the gospel

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One of the most effective and penetrating pieces of writing I can remember reading is a circular letter written by the Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller to the churches of an association to which he belonged.  This responsibility was occasionally assigned to Fuller, and one of the results was the letter which follows.  I still recall the impact of reading this for the first time in Fuller’s Works (a nice three volume edition available from Sprinkle Publications, or a new one volume set from Banner of Truth, but see also here).  Even relative to the quality of much of his writing, this still leapt up and bit me.  That doesn’t mean that it is necessarily so much better than everything else, but it might speak volumes of my spiritual condition.  It is a letter to which I periodically return as a means of self-examination.  As it is quite lengthy, I will post it in sections, beginning below.

Dearly beloved brethren,

Through the good hand of our God upon us we met together according to appointment, and enjoyed the pleasure of an agreeable interview with several of our dear friends and brethren in the Lord.  We trust also that our God was with us in the different stages of the opportunity.  The letters from the several churches, which were attended to the first evening of our meeting together, afforded us matter for pain and pleasure.  Two of the association churches continue destitute of the stated means of grace, others are tried with things of an uncomfortable nature, and most complain of the want of a spirit of fervour and constancy in the ways of God.  Yet, on the other hand, we met with some things which afforded us pleasure.  Many of our congregations are well attended; a spirit of desire after the Word is, we think, upon the increase; nor are our labours, we hope, altogether in vain, as the work of the Lord, in a way of conversion, appears to be carrying on, though not in instances very remarkable.

‘Tis true we have reason to bewail our own and others’ declensions, yet we are not, upon the whole, discouraged.  It affords us no little satisfaction to hear in what manner the monthly prayer meetings which were proposed in our letter of last year have been carried on, and how God has been evidently present in those meetings, stirring up the hearts of his people to wrestle hard with him for the revival of his blessed cause [note: this was the prayer call based on the original Humble Attempt].  Though as to the number of members there is no increase this year, but something of the contrary; yet a spirit of prayer in some measure being poured out more than balances in our account for this defect.  We cannot but hope, wherever we see a spirit of earnest prayer generally and perseveringly prevail, that God has some good in reserve, which in his own time he will graciously bestow.

But while we rejoice to see such a spirit of united prayer, we must not stop here brethren, lest in so doing we stop short.  If we would hope for the blessing of God upon us, there must be added to this a spirit of earnest inquiry into the causes of our declensions, and a heart desire and endeavour for their removal.  When Israel could not go forward, but were smitten by the men of Ai, Joshua and the elders of the people prostrated themselves before the Lord.  In this they did well; but this was not sufficient – “Get thee up,” said the Lord to his servant – “wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?  Israel hath sinned” – “Up, sanctify the people” – and search for the accursed thing!  This, it is apprehended, is the case with us, as well as it was with Israel; and this must be our employment as well as theirs.  With a view to assist you, brethren, and ourselves with you, in this very necessary inquiry, we appropriate the present letter to the pointing out of some of those evils which we apprehend to be causes of that declension of which so many complain, and the means of their removal.

The first thing that we shall request you to make inquiry about is, whether there is not a great degree of contentedness with a mere superficial acquaintance with the gospel, without entering into its spirit and end; and whether this be nor one great cause of the declension complained of.  In the apostles’ time, and in all times, grace and peace have ever been multiplied by the knowledge of God; and, in proportion as this has been neglected, those have always declined.  If we are sanctified by the word of truth, then, as this word is received or disrelished, the work of sanctification must be supposed to rise or fall.  We may give a sort of idle assent to the truths of God, which amounts to little more than taking it for granted that they are true, and thinking no more about them, unless somebody opposes us; but this will not influence the heart and life, and yet it seems to be nearly the whole of what many attain to, or seek after.

We maintain the doctrine of one infinitely glorious God; but do we realize the amiableness of his character?  If we did, we could not avoid loving him with our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.  We hold the doctrine of the universal depravity of mankind; but do we enter into its evil nature and awful tendency?  If we did the one, how much lower would we lie before God, and how much more should we be filled with a self-loathing spirit!  If the other, how should we feel for our fellow sinners!  How earnest should we be to use all means, and have all means used, if it might please God thereby to pluck them as brands out of the burning!

We hold the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead; but do we cordially enter into the glorious economy of redemption, wherein the conduct of the sacred Three is most gloriously displayed?  Surely if we did, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost would be with us more than it is.

We avow the doctrines of free, sovereign, and efficacious grace; but do we generally feel the grace therein discovered?  If we did, how low should we live!  How grateful should we be!  We should seldom think of their sovereign and discriminating nature, without considering how justly God might have left us all to have had our own will, and followed our own ways; to have continued to increase our malady, and despise the only remedy!  Did we properly enter into these subjects, we could not think of a great Saviour, and a great salvation, without loathing ourselves for being such great sinners; nor of what God has done for and given to us, without longing to give him our little all, and feeling an habitual desire to do something for him.

If we realised our redemption by the blood of Christ, it would be natural for us to consider ourselves as bought with a price, and therefore not our own, “a price, all price beyond!”  O, could we enter into this, we should readily discern the force and propriety of our body and spirit being his, his indeed! dearly bought, and justly due!

Finally, we all profess to believe the vanity of this life and its enjoyments, and the infinitely superior value of that above; but do we indeed enter into these things?  If we did, surely we should have more of heavenly-mindedness, and less of criminal attachment to the world.

It is owing in a great degree to this contentment with a superficial knowledge of things, without entering into the spirit of them, that we so often hear the truths of the gospel spoken of with a tone of disgust, calling them “dry doctrines!”  Whereas gospel truths, if preached in their native simplicity, and received with understanding and cordiality, are the grand source of all well-grounded consolation.  We know of no consolation worth receiving but what arises from the influence of truth upon the mind.  Christ’s words are spirit and life to them who hunger and thirst after them, or have a heart to live upon them; and could we but more thoroughly enter into this way of living, we should find the doctrines of the gospel, instead of being dry, to be what they were in the days of Moses, who declared, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (Dt 32.2).  O brethren, may it be our and your concern not to float upon the surface of Christianity, but to enter into the spirit of it!  “For this cause” the apostle bowed his knees “to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that we might “comprehend . . . the breadth, the length, and depth, and height” of things; and for this cause we also wish to bow our knees, knowing that it is by this, if at all, that we are “filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3.14-19).

(work through the whole letter: section 1, section 2, section 3, section 4, section 5)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 21 June 2008 at 18:26

“The soul of Britain is dying”

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Al Mohler has summarised and reacted to recent reports projecting the death throes of Christianity in the UK. Christianity, according to the statistics, is very rapidly becoming a minority religion.

It is always a desperately sad thing to see true religion in decline. However, this report – while it contains matters of deep concern even for smaller and faithful denominations, and may reflect the widespread erosion of common grace in our society – is not necessarily a record of the decline of true religion. What it may be exposing is the formalism and nominalism which often passes for Christianity in this country.

One of the reasons why Christianity gets such a bad press is that all manner of carelessness and carnality masquerades under its name. There are times when one only wishes that we were at least assaulted for the right things, for genuine Biblicism and committed godliness, rather than the faux-Christianity, the Christianity-lite, that most see when they think of the followers of Christ.

The subtle, social persecutions to which we have been subject in the UK for so many decades are taking their toll. There may be worse to follow – William Gurnall somewhere makes plain that where men strike with words, they will soon after strike with swords. The effects of this are now being seen. But, will it be such a bad thing for formalism and nominalism to be sloughed off, for the dead wood to be pruned? No one wishes for persecution, but is the persecuted church not in many instances a purer church? It is often composed primarily of genuine disciples, in whom the Lord Christ is truly dwelling. It knows its own identity, and of necessity walks closely with its Saviour. We do not need a hair-shirt mentality. There is nothing inherently holy about apparent failure and smallness, any more than there is in apparent triumph and growth. What is holy is likeness to Christ, and the principled obedience of his disciples to all his words.

Furthermore, the rise and fall of true religion in any place, measured in merely human terms, does not and cannot take account of the work of the Spirit of God. Reports such as these identify and then extrapolate a trend. What they cannot predict is the activity of God Almighty. Whitefield’s England hardly called the statisticians to project the rise of vital truth. The Wales of Howell Harris begged for the condemnation of the social scientist. Gross sin and national abandonment to ungodliness are fearful evils and much to be mourned over. Yet they also plead for divine intervention, for what greater platform for the display of divine grace could there be? Would the Lord our God not be honoured in the overturning of all statistical predictions, in a movement of true religion that flew in the face of all human expectations, in a mercy that reaches to those who can be reached by nothing and no one else? That is grace, is it not?

Let these statistics warn us, but not overwhelm us. The Lord our God is in heaven, and he does whatever he pleases (Ps 115.3). Let them also stir us – let them act as a call to arms. The Lord, through Ezekiel, laments the absence of an intercessor: “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ex 22.30). Should we let that be true of us? The field for endeavour is vast. Are we praying the Lord of the harvest to thrust out labourers into the harvest field? Do we cry with Isaiah, “Here am I; send me?” We can respond in fear or in faith; with despondency over men or in dependence upon God; we can rise to the challenge or we can react with dismay. The great Baptist theologian, Andrew Fuller, in writing to his fellow saints, exhorted them in this way:

We may think the efforts of an individual to be trifling; but, dear brethren, let not this atheistical spirit prevail over us. It is the same spawn with that cast forth in the days of Job, when they asked concerning the Almighty, “What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?” At this rate Abraham might have forborne interceding for Sodom, and Daniel for his brethren of the captivity. James also must be mistaken in saying that the prayer of a single, individual righteous man availeth much. Ah, brethren, this spirit is not from above, but cometh of an evil heart of unbelief departing from the living God! Have done with all that bastard humility, that teaches you such a sort of thinking low of your own prayers and exertions for God as to make you decline them, or at least to be slack and indifferent in them! Great things frequently rise from small beginnings. Some of the greatest good that has ever been done in the world has been set a going by the efforts of an individual. Witness the Christianizing of a great part of the heathen world by the labours of a Paul, and the glorious Reformation from popery began by the struggles of a Luther.

It is impossible to tell what good may result from one earnest wrestling with God, from one hearty exertion in his cause or from one instance of a meek and lowly spirit, overcoming evil with good. Though there is nothing in our doings from which we could look for such great things, yet God is pleased frequently to crown our poor services with infinite reward. Such conduct may be, and often has been, the means of the conversion and eternal salvation of souls; and who that has any Christianity in him would not reckon this reward enough? A realizing sense of these things would stir us all up: ministers to preach the gospel to every creature, private Christians, situated in this or that dark town or village, to use all means to have it preached, and both to recommend it to all around by a meek and unblemished conversation.

We need to hear these same warnings and stirrings. Institutionalised religion may come and go, but vital Christianity can and will remain. Let us undertake that, while God grants us breath, he shall have a faithful witness in the land.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 9 May 2008 at 11:35

“The armies of the Lamb: the spirituality of Andrew Fuller”

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The armies of the Lamb: the spirituality of Andrew Fuller edited and introduced by Michael A. G. Haykin

Joshua Press, 2002 (302 pp, pbk)

The letters collected in this volume provide an insight into the heart and mind of a great man of God. Andrew Fuller was at the vanguard of the recovery of balanced, Biblical Christianity – what he called ‘strict Calvinism,’ the ‘Calvinism’ of Calvin, as opposed to the hyper-Calvinism and antinomianism that infected so many churches of the time – among the Baptist churches of the eighteenth century. Best known as one of William Carey’s ‘rope-holders’ during the missionary’s rightly famed labours in India, we should remember that Fuller’s labours laid much of the foundation for Carey’s evangelistic zeal and work.

The letters in this volume reveal various facets of Fuller’s life, and the spectrum of his labours. Furthermore, Michael Haykin’s helpful biographical introduction (and the two appendices) provides a more comprehensive framework which fills out the picture of Fuller that develops as one reads. Distinctively Baptistic, yet always irenic, Fuller was ‘not fond of fighting.’ Nevertheless, the gifts the Lord bestowed upon him often found him in the front line of the fight for gospel truth.

His letters are marked by tenderness, honesty and courage, built on Scriptural conviction. They rebuke, correct, exhort, encourage, and instruct in righteousness. There is something here for every reader – for young and old, for pew and pulpit, for churches and individuals, believer and otherwise. Fuller’s language is simple, earthy, and colourful. His sentences are pithy, and his pages abound in gems of practical godliness (letter #12 being a particularly fine example). He is determined always to be thoroughly Biblical, and his evangelistic zeal is constantly evident, particularly in the combination of honesty and tenderness he shows in dealing with unbelievers.

The picture that develops is of a man centred on Christ, whose love for the Lord and his church was his motivating force. There was a robust and manly vigour about everything that Fuller did. One of his motto texts was Ecclesiastes 9.10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” He is always passionate and wholehearted, whether tender and weeping, or standing in defence of the faith. However, that vigour and passion do not merely excite our admiration – they challenge our own laxity.

Of such letters in this collection, one stands out. Letter #7 is a circular addressed to the churches of the Northamptonshire Baptist Association. With searing honesty Fuller unpacks the causes of spiritual declension of the churches and sets forth a Scriptural remedy. Here Fuller unfurls the banner of Biblical Christianity. He challenges those who think in terms of what they ‘must do for God’ rather than what they ‘can do for God.’ Fuller stirs up in others the same holy dissatisfaction he felt with his own attainments. He toiled at his Christianity physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually – it demanded and joyfully received all the strength of his redeemed humanity. Scripture is his standard and Christ his model as he calls on every Christian to aspire after ‘eminence in grace and holiness’ and stirs up a concern ‘not to float on the surface of Christianity, but to enter into the spirit of it!’

The poignancy and faith of his later letters, written with his approaching death in mind, will not fail to leave the reader both moved and inspired. Fuller’s life provides an example of the active, practical godliness so lacking in our own age, and his letters give a glimpse into the privileges and responsibilities of being a Christian, a member of ‘the armies of the Lamb, the grand object of whose existence is to extend the Redeemer’s kingdom.’

This volume is a rallying call to the armies of Christ, rebuking our lethargy and encouraging us to live to the glory of God, and preach a full-orbed Christ to a needy world. I trust it will inspire readers not only to search out more of Fuller’s own works (which are eminently worthy of study), but also to seek after his God-centred, Scriptural spirituality, to aspire to eminence of grace and holiness, and to pursue the vigorous and balanced Christianity that the age in which we live demands.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 2 May 2008 at 12:40

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