The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Your own self

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 26 November 2016 at 14:20

Praying in four directions

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praying-hands[The introductory paragraph was originally posted in an unfinished form. Mea culpa. I have not changed the sentiment and substance, but have adapted and I hope improved the tone and the direction. I do not have the original piece, but what follows is close to the original intention. Other clarifications are here.]

At this time of year, we may see provided a variety of what I shall call scripted prayers. Some of them are entirely personal productions and some are woven together from other sources. Some are occasional pieces and some are habitual constructions. Such offerings and collections may have some value, when used and not abused. I stand pretty much with Bunyan on the matter of formally scripted and read prayers. I consider them close to an abomination. I appreciate the personal reading of thoughtful and careful prayers that were offered extemporaneously and recorded as they came (such as Spurgeon’s pulpit prayers [e.g. Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster] or those which conclude many of Calvin’s sermons [e.g. Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster]). I value prayers that were written as part of a longer project and were not intended to be recited as some kind of intercessory ritual, but into the spirit of which we might enter as a means of priming the pump of the soul (e.g. The Valley of Vision [Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster]). But such reading does not and cannot replace our own praying. The idea of taking those words, reciting the script, and calling it heart prayer is not something I can countenance. I do not doubt the sincerity of some who pursue such a course, but the thing is so dangerous in its practice (inviting us to a mere performance) and deadly in its tendency (replacing the form for the substance) that I would advise anyone to steer well clear (and I am fully aware that more extemporaneous prayer can fall into the same traps, but I do not think it has the same measure of inherent weakness at this point). Do not misunderstand me, it is a rare privilege to listen – either really or at a distance – to a true man of God pleading with his heavenly Father, and there is much to learn from so doing. But the mere recitation or repetition of such words – even if they are our own – is not, in itself, prayer. Carefully used, such examples can be, in measure, spiritual springboards. Carelessly abused, they become spiritual shackles and militate against a true spirit of prayer.

So, by all means use some of these examples, but do not abuse them. Employ them, if need be, to prime the pump. And then, pray! The new year provides one of those natural turning points that gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect. The instinct to pray is entirely right and proper, but we must ourselves bow the knee and engage the heart, however carefully we ponder and prepare beforehand. With that in mind, let me suggest that we should pray in four directions.

Pray back. As you ponder where you have come from, remember who has brought you to where you are. Every child of God, whatever the gloom that seems presently to surround us, has the gospel light shining in our soul. Whatever your heavenly Father has seen fit to give you, it is as your Father in heaven that he gave it. Wherever the good Shepherd has led you, it is as the Shepherd that he led you there and through there. If you are Christ’s, and Christ is yours, then all things are yours. Every step of the past year, let alone every day of every year of your life, have been governed by divine love and gracious compassion. All has been intended to bring you to God and keep you with God, and to develop likeness to Christ in you, in accordance with God’s design. So look back, and lift up your Ebenezer, for till now, the Lord has helped us (1Sam 7:12).

Pray around. Remember your present circumstances and blessings, frailties and responsibilities. On the one hand, the Christian is the most privileged and the richest person on earth:

“All things are ours;” the gift of God,
And purchas’d with our Saviour’s blood;
While the good Spirit shows us how
To use and to improve them too.

Like the Kingswood colliers of whom Wesley wrote, on all the kings of earth, with pity we look down, and claim – in virtue of our birth – a never-fading crown. We are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, and for that we should sing with joy and gladness. We stand in grace, and yet the world moves on around us. Week by week I prepare a sheet for the church where I serve, each one numbered as the year turns. It is often very unsettling to see the speed at which the weeks pass by, those days swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. It is not morbid or maudlin to consider that we do not know how many more of those days we shall be granted, to remember that you may not see another new year, that you are a creature of the dust, and to assess how we shall live in the days allotted to us. So we look around, and pray, asking the Lord to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12). It is what we need for every moment as we wrestle with the demands of this day, and then the next, each day having enough trouble of its own, and supplies of grace to meet every trouble that comes.

Pray forwards. There are before each one of God’s children countless opportunities and responsibilities, many of which we have not yet seen. They may come with minutes or it may take months. For the days to come we need wisdom, and it is wisdom which the Lord himself has undertaken to provide, and commanded us to seek: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jas 1:5). This, and every other good thing, is promised to those who ask, seek and knock. It is the Father’s delight to provide those needful things for kingdom life that his beloved children request. We never need to be ashamed of our asking, if we are asking in accordance with his will and our character as trusting children. We do not need to twist his arm, bargain with him, or fear a harsh response. He is ready to provide every needful blessing, through his Spirit, that we need to secure his certain glory and enjoy his promised good.

And so, pray upwards. Every prayer must be directed to heaven. The greatest abominations in prayer are those self-referential or performed prayers that have more regard for the approval of men than concern to be heard by God. Far too many prayers are like damp fireworks; they may splutter a little with a few sparks, but they barely get off the ground. True prayer is, in essence, an expression of dependence upon God. If we do not pray, it is a practical atheism. But the saints pray to the Lord for what we can only receive from the Lord. We look to him, and – anxious for nothing – in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, we let our requests be made known to God. Thus the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil 3.6-7). May the new year, in its beginning, continuing and ending, prove that so.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 2 January 2015 at 13:16

“Through the Eyes of Spurgeon”

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 18 December 2014 at 09:05

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“Through the Eyes of Spurgeon”

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 December 2014 at 09:34

Sore Spurgeonic eyes and feet

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

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 17 September 2014 at 23:04

“Through the Eyes of Spurgeon”

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

Stephen has sent out an update through the Facebook page:

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 31 July 2014 at 20:02

Review: “The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon”

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The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon

Steven J. Lawson

Reformation Trust, 2012, 175pp., cloth, $16

ISBN 978-1-56769-280-8

This slim volume comes from the ‘Long Line of Godly Men’ Profiles series which accompanies a larger series of books (other volumes include Calvin, Edwards and Knox). Unashamedly partisan, the fact that this is a slightly gilded version of ‘the Prince of Preachers’ should not detract from this volume, because the aim is to show Spurgeon at his best and as a model for others. With the series’ perpetual focus on sovereign grace front and centre, Lawson here shows how Spurgeon’s robust Calvinism married his evangelistic fervour. It is, in essence, a warm-hearted introduction to Spurgeon as a man and a minister, with many helpful emphases. This would be a good gift for new preachers (or old ones!) as a reminder of the points of theology and practice that can be and need to be grasped by a gospel minister – not to remake Spurgeon, if that were possible, but to help form the convictions and qualities that made Spurgeon what he was, and which remain so much in need.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 22 February 2014 at 15:25

Spurgeon’s standards for conversion and membership

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Perhaps, in our day, we are not always sure what we should be looking for in the heart and life of men and women who profess faith in the Lord Jesus. Far too many churches, perhaps feeling the pressure of numbers or some other force, are inclined to drop their standards or blur their distinctions, if they have them in the first place. In the face of that, these standards seem to me to be thoroughly biblical, genuinely gracious, and appropriately robust. They combine doctrinal understanding, experimental religion, and principled obedience – a religion of head, heart and hand, if you will. If more congregations embraced a righteous assessment of this sort with regard to professing converts and applicants for membership, I am persuaded that they would be spiritually healthier places than they too often are.

See what those standards were at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 27 January 2014 at 08:00

Ruin, redemption and regeneration

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 6 November 2013 at 13:47

Review: “Communion with Christ and His People: The Spirituality of C.H. Spurgeon”

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Morden’s often excellent work must be considered in any further Spurgeon studies, and sheds genuine light at many key points. His marshalling of the data and thoroughness of the treatment cannot for one moment be denied, and are to be applauded. However, those who are either less shackled by the conventions of this way of doing history, or, perhaps, share more of Spurgeon’s convictions more openly, may conclude with me that something is missing, and that Spurgeon’s constraining intention to be governed by Christ speaking in his Word by his Spirit is bypassed when it might have provided a far more complete and satisfying key to the life of this servant of God.

Read the whole review at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 16 May 2013 at 15:50

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Review: “Lectures to my Students”

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So, let me urge you, if you have not already done so (and even if you have), to get to grips (perhaps, again) with Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students. To open the pages is to walk into a family gathering, and to listen to a spiritual father among his labouring sons, an older pastor among his younger brothers. It will not be long, I hope, before you are made to feel thoroughly at home, and – listening in to that rich voice from a warm and full heart – start to obtain a blessing.

A review of “Lectures to my Students” at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 2 January 2013 at 16:34

“Search this book”

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O my brethren, what can be better for informing the understanding than the Word of God? Would you know God? Would you know yourself? Then search this Book. Would you know time, and how to spend it? Would you know eternity, and how to be prepared for it? Then, search ye this Book. Would you know the evil of sin, and how to be delivered from it? Would you know the plan of salvation, and how you can have a share in it? This is the Book which will instruct you in all these matters. There is nothing which a man needs to know for the affairs of his soul, between here and heaven, of which this Book will not tell him. Blessed are they that read it both day and night; and especially blessed are they who read it with their eyes opened and illuminated by the Divine Spirit. If you want to be wise unto salvation, select the Word of God, and especially the Spirit of God, as your Teacher. There is nothing else that is equal to the Bible for inflaming, sanctifying, and turning in the right direction, all the passions of the soul.

A little more of the good stuff from Spurgeon at the Pyromaniacs.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 6 October 2012 at 23:34

“Mad-caps and semi-lunatics”

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If Spurgeon were alive today, we would obviously need to ask him just to be clear on this matter, to tell us what he really thinks:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, honor the Spirit of God as you would honor Jesus Christ if He were present! If Jesus Christ not there! Do not ignore the Presence of the Holy Spirit in your soul! I beseech you, do not live as if you had not heard whether there were a Holy Spirit. To Him pay your constant adorations. Reverence the august Guest who has been pleased to make your body His sacred abode. Love Him, obey Him, worship Him!

Take care never to impute the vain imaginings of your fancy to Him. I have seen the Spirit of God shamefully dishonored by persons—I hope they were insane—who have said that they have had this and that revealed to them. There has not, for some years, passed over my head a single week in which I have not been pestered with the revelations of hypocrites or maniacs. Semi-lunatics are very fond of coming with messages from the Lord to me and it may save them some trouble if I tell them once and for all that I will have none of their stupid messages. When my Lord and Master has any message to me He knows where I am and He will send it to me direct, and not by mad-caps!

Never dream that events are revealed to you by Heaven, or you may come to be like those idiots who dare impute their blatant follies to the Holy Spirit. If you feel your tongue itch to talk nonsense, trace it to the devil, not to the Spirit of God! Whatever is to be revealed by the Spirit to any of us is in the Word of God already—He adds nothing to the Bible, and never will. Let persons who have revelations of this, that, and the other, go to bed and wake up in their senses.

I only wish they would follow the advice and no longer insult the Holy Spirit by laying their nonsense at His door. At the same time, since the Holy Spirit is with you, Beloved, in all your learning ask Him to teach you. In all your suffering ask Him to sustain you. In all your teaching ask Him to give you the right words. In all your witness-bearing ask Him to give you constant wisdom and in all service depend upon Him for His help. Believingly reckon upon the Holy Spirit. We do not continually take Him into our calculations as we should. We reckon up so many missionaries, so much money and so many schools—and so conclude the list of our forces. The Holy Spirit is our great need, not learning or culture! Little knowledge or great knowledge shall answer almost as well if the Spirit of God is there—but all your knowledge shall be worthless without Him.

Let but the Spirit of God come and all shall be right. I would we took the power of the Spirit into our calculations always. You have a class at school and do not feel fit to teach it—ask Him to help you and you do not know how well you will teach! You are called to preach, but you feel you cannot—you are dull and your talk will be flat, stale, unprofitable. Bring the Holy Spirit into it and if He fires you, you shall find even the slender materials you have collected will set the people on a blaze! We ought to reckon upon the Spirit—He is our main force—what if I say He is our only force and we grieve Him exceedingly when we do not reckon upon Him?

Love the Spirit. Worship the Spirit. Trust the Spirit. Obey the Spirit, and, as a Church, cry mightily to the Spirit! Beseech Him to let His mighty power be known and felt among you. The Lord fire your hearts with this sacred flame, for as this made Pentecost stand out from all other days, may it make the close of this year stand out in our history from all other years. Come, Holy Spirit, now! You are with us, but come with power and let us feel Your sacred might!

via Challies.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 September 2012 at 22:34

Counsels for the admonished

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“Few are tired of talking, but many are wearied with hearing.” So says Spurgeon, encouraging us to receive the exhortations of those appointed and equipped to give them:

The text itself says, “Exhort one another daily”; from which I gather two lessons. First, hear exhortation from others; and, secondly, practise exhortation to others. I have known people of this kind, that if a word is spoken to them, however gently, as to a wrong which they are doing, their temper is up in a moment. Who are they that they should be spoken to? Dear friend, who are you that you should not be spoken to? Are you such an off-cast and such an outcast that your Christian brethren must give you up? Surely you do not want to bear that character. I have even known persons take offence because the word has been spoken from the pulpit too pointedly. This is to take offence where we ought to show gratitude.

“Oh,” says one, “I will never hear that man again! He is too personal.” What kind of a man would you like to hear? Will you give your ear to one who will please you to your ruin, and flatter you to your destruction? Surely, you are not so foolish? Do you choose that kind of doctor who never tells you the truth about your bodily health? Do you trust one who falsely assured you that there was nothing the matter with you when all the while a terrible disease was folding its cruel arms about you? Your doctor would not hurt your feelings. He washes his hands with invisible soap, and gives you a portion of the same. He will send you just a little pill, and you will be all right. He would not have you think of that painful operation which a certain surgeon has suggested to you. He smirks and smiles, until, after a little while of him and his pills, you say to yourself, “I am getting worse and worse, and yet he smiles, and smiles, and flatters and soothes me. I will have done with him and his little pills, and go to one who will examine me honestly, and treat me properly. He may take his soap and his smile elsewhere.” O sirs, believe me, I would think it a waste of time, nay, a crime like that of murder, to stand here and prophesy smooth things to you. We must all learn to hear what we do not like. The question is not, “Is it pleasant?” but, “Is it true?”

via Pyromaniacs.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 4 September 2012 at 17:06

Advice for everyone who writes

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Every author – of books, articles, blog posts, comments, notes, letters, emails – should read this and consider:

Good men there have been and are who could do far more service for God and his church by their pens if they would write less and write better. They flood our second-rate magazines with torrents of very watery matter; their style is slipshod to a slovenly degree; their thoughts are superficial; their illustrations hackneyed; they weary where they mean to win. Let such brethren take time to mend their pens, the world will continue to rotate upon its own axis if we do not see their names next month at the head of an article. Work must be put into papers if they are to last. Easy writing is usually hard reading. The common reader may not observe the absence of honest work in a poem, sermon, or magazine article, but he manifestly feels the influence of it, for he finds the page uninteresting, and either goes to sleep over it or lays it down. Young man, earnest in spirit, if you have any power with the pen, make up your mind to cultivate it. Do your best every time you compose. Never offer to God that which has cost you nothing. Do not believe that good writing is natural to you, and that you need not revise; articles will not leap out of your brain in perfect condition as the fabled Minerva sprang from the head of Jove. Read the great authors, that you may know what English is; you will find it to be a language very rarely written nowadays, and yet the grandest of all human tongues. Write in transparent words, such as bear your meaning upon their forefront, and let them be well chosen, correctly arranged, and attractively ordered. Make up your mind to excel. Aim high, and evermore push on, believing that your best efforts should only be stepping stones to something better. The very best style you can attain will be none too good for the glorious themes upon which you write.

But, remember, there is a more material business than mere excellence of composition. Your manner is important, but your matter is far more so. Tell us something well worth knowing when you write. It is folly to open your mouth merely to show your teeth; have something to say, or speak not at all: ink is better in the bottle than on the paper if you have nothing to communicate. Instruct us, impress us, interest and improve us, or at least try to do so. It is a poor achievement to have concocted a book in which there is neither good nor hurt, a chip in the porridge, a correctly composed nothing; but to have pleaded with men affectionately, or to have taught them efficiently, is a result worthy of a life of effort. Try, brother, not because it is easy, but because it is worth doing. Write until you can write; burn half a ton of paper in the attempt, it will be fare better in the flames than at the printer’s; but labour on till you succeed. To be a soul-winner by your books when your bones have mouldered is an ambition worthy of the noblest genius, and even to have brought hearts to Jesus by an ephemeral paper in a halfpenny periodical is an honour which a cherub might envy.

Do not be thin-skinned, but accept severe criticism as a genuine kindness. Write legibly if you expect your article to be accepted by an editor: he cannot waste time in deciphering your hieroglyphics. Condense as much as possible, for space is precious, and verbiage is wearisome. Put as much fact as you can into every essay, it is always more interesting than opinion; narratives will be read when sentiments are slighted. Keep the main end in view, but aim at it prudently; do not worry readers with ill-timed moralisings and forced reflections. Ask a blessing on what you compose, and never pen a sentence you will on your dying-bed desire to blot. If you attend to these things, we shall not repent of having said to you, “Use the pen.”

Considering that Spurgeon said this, and he was a reasonably competent and somewhat popular writer, it may be worth bearing in mind.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 3 September 2012 at 17:02

Spurgeon’s opening shot

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From the first page of Lectures to my Students:

Every workman knows the necessity of keeping his tools in a good state of repair, for ‘if the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength.’ If the workman lose the edge from his adze, he knows that there will be a greater draught upon his energies, or his work will be badly done. Michael Angelo, the elect of the fine arts, understood so well the importance of his tools, that he always made his own brushes with his own hands, and in this he gives us and illustration of the God of grace, who with special care fashions for himself all true ministers. It is true that the Lord, like Quintin Matsys in the story of the Antwerp well-cover, can work with the faultiest kind of instrumentality, as he does when he occasionally makes very foolish preaching to be useful in conversion; and he can even work without agents, as he does when he saves men without a preacher at all, applying the word directly by his Holy Spirit; but we cannot regard God’s absolutely sovereign acts as a rule for our action. He may, in his own absoluteness, do as pleases him best, but we must act as his plainer dispensations instruct us; and one of the facts which is clear enough is this, that the Lord usually adapts means to ends, from which the plain lesson is, that we shall be likely to accomplish most when we are in the best spiritual condition; or in other words, we shall usually do our Lord’s work best when our gifts and graces are in good order, and we shall do worst when they are most out of trim.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 21 July 2012 at 12:52

Despised and effective preachers

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Stirring sanity from Spurgeon:

It is thought nowadays that a man must not try to proclaim the gospel, unless he has had a good education. To try and preach Christ, and yet to commit grammatical blunders, is looked upon as a grave offence. People are mightly offended at the idea of the gospel being properly preached by an uneducated man. This I believe to be a very injurious mistake.

There is nothing whatsoever in the whole compass of Scripture to excuse any mouth from speaking for Jesus when the heart is really acquainted with His salvation. We are not all called to “preach,” in the new sense of the term, but we are all called to make Jesus known if we know Him.

Has the gospel ever been spread to any extent by men of high literary power? Look through the whole line of history, and see if it is so. Have the men of splendid eloquence been remarkable for winning souls? I could quote names that stand first in the roll of oratory, which are low down in the roll of soul-winners. Those whom God has most honoured have been men who, whatever their gifts, have consecrated them to God, and have earnestly declared the great truths of God’s Word. Men who have been terribly in earnest, and have faithfully described man’s ruin by sin, and God’s remedy of grace—men who have warned sinners to escape from the wrath to come by believing in the Lord Jesus—these have been useful. If they had great gifts, they were no detriment to them; if they had few talents, this did not disqualify them.

It has pleased God to use the base things of this world, and things that are despised, for the accomplishment of His great purposes of love. Paul declared that he proclaimed the gospel, “not with wisdom of words.” He feared what might happen if he used wordly rhetoric, and therefore he refused the wisdom of words. We have need to do so now with emphasis. Let us trust in the divine energy of the Holy Ghost, and speak the truth in reliance upon His might, whether we can speak fluently with Apollos, or are slow of speech, like Moses.

via Pyromaniacs.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 July 2012 at 12:40

A withering work

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Many are inclined to say that we long for a revival, but I often wonder if we know what we are asking. I do not say that we should not pray for more profound and intense operations of the Holy Spirit, but let us not forget that – given where so many of us are as churches – if the Holy Spirit does draw near, there is likely to be much weeping before there is rejoicing:

But mark, wherever the Spirit of God comes, He destroys the goodliness and flower of the flesh. That is to say, our righteousness withers as our sinfulness. Before the Spirit comes we think ourselves as good as the best. We say, “All these commandments have I kept from my youth up,” and we superciliously ask, “What do I lack?” Have we not been moral? No, have we not even been religious? We confess that we may have committed faults, but we think them very venial, and we venture, in our wicked pride, to imagine that, after all, we are not so vile as the Word of God would lead us to think.

Ah, my dear hearer, when the Spirit of God blows on the comeliness of your flesh, its beauty will fade as a leaf, and you will have quite another idea of yourself. You will then find no language too severe in which to describe your past character. Searching deep into your motives, and investigating that which moved you to your actions, you will see so much of evil that you will cry with the publican, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”

via Charles Spurgeon @ The Old Guys.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 1 June 2012 at 16:20

Know what you know

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Spurgeon offers an antidote to the epidemic of haziness in the allegedly-evangelical would-be mind:

Know what you know, and, knowing it cling to it. Hold fast the form of sound doctrine. Do not be as some are, of doubtful mind, who know nothing, and even dare to say that nothing can be known. To such the highest wisdom is to suspect the truth of everything they once knew, and to hang in doubt as to whether there are any fundamentals at all. I should like an answer from the Broad Church divines to one short and plain question. What truth is so certain and important as to justify a man in sacrificing his life to maintain it? Is there any doctrine for which a wise man should yield his body to be burned? According to all that I can understand of modern liberalism, religion is a mere matter of opinion, and no opinion is of sufficient importance to be worth contending for. The martyrs might have saved themselves a world of loss and pain if they had been of this school, and the Reformers might have spared the world all this din about Popery and Protestantism. I deplore the spread of this infidel spirit, it will eat as doth a canker. Where is the strength of a church when its faith is held in such low esteem? Where is conscience? Where is love of truth? Where soon will be common honesty? In these days with some men, in religious matters, black is white, and all things are whichever colour may happen to be in your own eye, the colour being nowhere but in your eye, theology being only a set of opinions, a bundle of views and persuasions. The Bible to these gentry is a nose of wax which everybody may shape just as he pleases. Beloved, beware of falling into this state of mind; for if you do so I boldly assert that you are not Christian at all, for the Spirit which dwells in believers hates falsehood, and clings firmly to the truth. Our great Lord and Master taught mankind certain great truths plainly and definitely, stamping them with his “Verily, verily;” and as to the marrow of them he did not hesitate to say, “He that believeth shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned;” a sentence very abhorrent to modern charity, but infallible nevertheless. Jesus never gave countenance to the baseborn charity which teaches that it is no injury to a man’s nature to believe a lie. Beloved, be firm, be stedfast, be positive. There are certain things which are true; find them out, grapple them to you as with hooks of steel. Buy the truth at any price and sell it at no price.

HT: Pyros.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 1 June 2012 at 15:32

Particular preaching

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Although Spurgeon doesn’t quite make this point in the extract below (from Pyromaniacs), the demand left hanging here is that – if men love generalities and acquiesce to them without really being touched by them – it not only becomes every one of us to look to our own selves, but it demands that every preacher preach to the individual. In a church with faithful preaching it is all too easy to commend oneself for hearing faithful preaching without ever (or rarely) making a proper response to faithful preaching, to rest satisfied with the fact that you have heard the truth without considering whether or not you have acted upon the truth. Part of this truth was brought home to me many moons ago when I read some Puritan exhorting me to “repent particularly of particular sins.” We must so preach as, under God, to secure this effect, to promote particular repentance, personal faith, particular joys, personal conviction, and we must ensure that both we who are pastors, and those to whom we preach, are not so allowing the Word to wash around us (rather than through us):

In religion men love far rather to believe abstract doctrines, and to talk of general truths, than the searching inquiries which examine their own personal interest in it. You will hear many men admire the preacher who deals in generalities, but when he comes to press home searching questions, by-and-by they are offended.

If we stand and declare general facts, such as the universal sinnership of mankind, or the need of a Saviour, they will give an assent to our doctrine, and possibly they may retire greatly delighted with the discourse, because it has not affected them; but how often will our audience gnash their teeth, and go away in a rage, because, like the Pharisees with Jesus, they perceive, concerning a faithful minister, that he spoke of them.

And yet, my brethren, how foolish this is. If in all other matters we like personalities—if in everything else we look to our own concerns, how much more should we do so in religion? for, surely, every man must give an account for himself, at the day of judgment. We must die alone; we must rise at the day of resurrection one by one, and each one for himself must appear before the bar of God; and each one must either have said to him, as an individual, “Come ye blessed;” or else, he must be appalled with the thundering sentence, “Depart, ye cursed.”

If there were such a thing as national salvation; if it could be possible that we could be saved in the gross and in the bulk, that so, like the sheaves of corn, the few weeds that may grow with the stubble, would be gathered in for the sake of the wheat, then, indeed, it might not be so foolish for us to neglect our own personal interests; but if the sheep must, every one of them, pass under the hand of him that telleth them, if every man must stand in his own person before God, to be tried for his own acts—by everything that is rational, by everything that conscience would dictate, and self-interest would command, let us each of us look to our own selves, that we be not deceived, and that we find not ourselves, at last, miserably cast away.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 30 May 2012 at 07:53

When “casting visions”

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Many visions have led to the most disastrous results. When Napoleon had a vision of a universal monarchy over which he should preside, with the French eagle for his ensign, he drenched the lands in blood.

Many visions have been wretchedly delusive. Men have dreamed of finding the fairy pleasure in the dark forest of sin. Carnal joys have danced before their eyes as temptingly as the mirage in the desert, and they have pursued the phantom forms to their misery in this world, and to their eternal ruin in the next. Mistaking license for liberty, and madness for mirth, they have dreamed themselves into hell.

Many dreams have been enervating—sucking the life-blood out of men as vampires do. Men have passed from stern reality into dreamland, and while seemingly awakened, have continued like somnambulists to do all things in their sleep.

Many pass all their days in one perpetual daydream, speculating, building castles in the air, thinking of what they would do—if, and vowing how they would behave themselves—suppose. With fine capacities they have driveled away existence: as their theory of life was born of smoke, so the result of their lives has been a cloud. The luxurious indolence of mere resolve, the useless tossings of regret—these have been all their sluggard life.

Spurgeon via Pyromaniacs.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 22 May 2012 at 12:17

The pulpit and the cross

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This I also liked:

The pulpit is intended to be a pedestal for the cross, though, alas! even the cross itself, it is to be feared, is sometimes used as a mere pedestal for the preacher’s fame.

We may roll the thunders of eloquence, we may dart the coruscations of genius, we may scatter the flowers of poetry, we may diffuse the light of science, we may enforce the precepts of morality, from the pulpit; but if we do not make Christ the great subject of our preaching, we have forgotten our errand, and shall do no good.

Satan trembles at nothing but the cross: at this he does tremble; and if we would destroy his power, and extend that holy and benevolent kingdom, which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, it must be by means of the cross.

John Angell James, quoted in Spurgeon’s Feathers for Arrows

via Pyromaniacs.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 1 May 2012 at 22:25

The shepherd’s soul

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At the recent “The Call” Conference, I was preaching on the shepherd’s concern for his own soul. For the main thrust of that address – the need for elders to take heed to their own souls if they are to be truly profitable in serving God and men – I had a number of quotes from the great and the good, as well as a number of examples, which – for the sake of time – I was obliged to leave out. However, for those who are interested, here are the quotes I had at my disposal (I think I used about two or three during the sermon). Here is the truth of Scripture confirmed by men of God.

John Bunyan (describing the true pastor): “It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.”

Wilhelmus à Brakel: “He must have the heart of a preacher; that is, he must stand in awe of the God in whose Name he preaches, and with love seek the welfare of the souls to whom he preaches. He must know himself to be entirely undone in himself and have a lively impression of his own inability, so that he will not trust too much in having studied properly. He ought to pray much beforehand, not so much to get through the sermon, but for a sanctified heart, for a continual sense of the presence of God, for suitable expressions, and for a blessing upon his preaching to the conversion, comfort, and edification of souls. His concern ought not to be whether the congregation will be pleased with him and will praise the sermon, but his motive must rather be a love for the welfare of the congregation.” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 2:138)

William Arnot: “The more that the teacher absorbs for himself of Christ’s love, the more benefit will others obtain from him. . . . Those who drink in most of the Master’s spirit are most useful in the world. Those who first take heed to themselves will be most effective in caring for the spiritual weal of those who look up to them.” (Studies in Acts, 380)

Charles Bridges: “Upon the whole, therefore, our personal character must be admitted to have weighty influence upon our Ministrations. ‘Simplicity and godly sincerity,’ disinterestedness, humility, and general integrity of profession – are an ‘epistle known and read of all men.’ Indeed character is power. The lack of it must therefore blast our success, by bringing the genuineness of our own religion, and the practical efficacy of the Gospel, under suspicion. Apart also from the natural effect of our public consistency, there is also a secret but penetrating influence diffused by the habitual exercise of our principles. Who will deny, that – had he been a more spiritual Christian – he would probably have been a more useful Minister? Will not he, who is most fervent and abundant in secret prayer, most constant in his studies, most imbued with his Master’s spirit, most single in his object, most upright and persevering in the pursuit of it – be most honoured in his work? For is not he likely to be filled with an extraordinary unction? Will not he speak most ‘of the abundance of his heart?’ And will not his flock ‘take knowledge of him,’ as living in the presence of his God; and ‘receive him’ in his pastoral visits and pulpit addresses, ‘as an angel of God – even as Christ Jesus?’” (The Christian Ministry, 164-165)

John Owen: “Sundry things are required unto this work and duty of pastoral preaching; as, . . . . (2.) Experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls. Without this they will themselves be lifeless and heartless in their own work, and their labour for the most part will be unprofitable towards others. It is, to such men, attended unto as a task for their advantage, or as that which carries some satisfaction in it from ostentation and supposed reputation wherewith it is accompanied. But a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually. The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words and dead as to power, instead of preaching the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit. And let any say what they please, it is evident that some men’s preaching, as well as others’ not-preaching, hath lost the credit of their ministry.” (The True Nature of a Gospel Church, 76)

Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “. . . do not forget the culture of the inner man, – I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, – His instrument, – I trust a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” (To the Rev. Dan Edwards, in Memoir and Remains, 282)

Attr. Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”

Robert Traill: “What use the Lord may make of the gifts (for great gifts he gives to the worst of men) of ungodly men, even in the ministry of the gospel, is one of his deep paths. But no man can reasonably imagine, that a walker in the way to hell can be a fit and useful guide to them that mind to go to heaven. If a man would have peace in his conscience, and success in his work of the ministry, let him take good heed to this, that he be a sound Christian. . . . It is found by experience, that as it fares with a minister in the frame of his heart, and thriving of the work of God in his soul, so doth it fare with his ministry both in its vigour and effects. A carnal frame, a dead heart, and a loose walk, make cold and unprofitable preaching. And how common is it for ministers to neglect their own vineyard? . . . Your work is full of danger, full of duty, and full of mercy, You are called to the winning of souls; an employment near a-kin unto our Lord’s work, the saving of souls; and the nearer your spirits be in conformity to his holy temper and frame, the fitter you are for, and the more fruitful you shall be in your work.” (Works, 1:239, 241, 250)

Charles H. Spurgeon: “Moreover, when a preacher is poor in grace, any lasting good which may be the result of his ministry, will usually be feeble and utterly out of proportion with what might have been expected. Much sowing will be followed by little reaping; the interest upon the talents will be inappreciably small. In two of three of the battles which were lost in the late American war, the result is said to have been due to the bad gunpowder which was served out by certain ‘shoddy’ contractors to the army, so that the due effect of a cannonade was not produced. So it may be with us. We may miss our mark, lose our end and aim, and waste. our time, through not possessing true vital force within ourselves, or not possessing it in such a degree that God could consistently bless us. Beware of being ‘shoddy’ preachers. . . . Recollect, as ministers, that your whole life, your whole pastoral life especially, will be affected by the vigour of your piety. If your zeal grows dull, you will not pray well in the pulpit; you will pray worse in the family, and worst in the study alone. When your soul becomes lean, your hearers, without knowing how or why, will find that your prayers in public have little savour for them; they will feel your barrenness, perhaps, before you perceive it yourself. Your discourses will next betray your declension. You may utter as well chosen words, and as fitly-ordered sentences, as aforetime; but there will be a perceptible loss of spiritual force. You will shake yourselves as at other times, even as Samson did, but you will find that your great strength has departed. In your daily communion with your people, they will not be slow to mark the all-pervading decline of your graces. Sharp eyes will see the grey hairs here and there long before you do. Let a man be afflicted with a disease of the heart, and all evils are wrapped up in that one stomach, lungs, viscera, muscles, and nerves will all suffer; and so, let a man have his heart weakened in spiritual things, and very soon his entire life will feel the withering influence. Moreover, as the result of your own decline, everyone of your hearers will suffer more or less; the vigorous amongst them will overcome the depressing tendency, but the weaker sort will be seriously damaged. It is with us and our hearers as it is with watches and the public clock; if our watch be wrong, very few will be misled by it but ourselves; but if the Horse Guards or Greenwich Observatory should go amiss, half London would lose its reckoning. So is it with the minister; he is the parish-clock, many take their time from him, and if he be incorrect, then they all go wrongly, more or less, and he is in great measure accountable for all the sin which he occasions.” (Lectures to my Students, 3, 10)

Thomas Murphy: “It is beyond all question that this eminent piety is before everything else in preparation for the duties of the sacred office. It is before talents, or learning, or study, or favorable circumstances, or skill in working, or power in sermonizing. It is needed to give character and tone and strength to all these, and to every other part of the work. Without this elevated spirituality nothing else will be of much account in producing a permanent and satisfactory ministry. All else will be like erecting a building without a foundation. This is the true foundation upon which to build – the idea which is to give character to all the superstructure. Oh that at the very beginning this could be deeply impressed upon the hearts of young ministers! Oh that they would take and weigh well the testimony of the most devoted and successful of those who have served God in his gospel! A man with this high tone of piety is sure to be a good pastor; without it success in the holy office is not to be expected.” (Pastoral Theology, 38)

While it is day . . .

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A friend of mine with a grim affliction is feeling the progress of the disease in his body. He writes with this stirring reminder from Charles Spurgeon:

If I have any message to give from my own bed of sickness it would be this—if you do not wish to be full of regrets when you are obliged to lie still, work while you can. If you desire to make a sick bed as soft as it can be, do not stuff it with the mournful reflection that you wasted time while you were in health and strength. People said to me years ago, “You will break your constitution down with preaching ten times a week,” and the like. Well, if I have done so, I am glad of it. I would do the same again. If I had fifty constitutions I would rejoice to break them down in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. You young men that are strong, overcome the wicked one and fight for the Lord while you can. You will never regret having done all that lies in you for our blessed Lord and Master. Crowd as much as you can into every day, and postpone no work till to-morrow. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecc 9:10).

I don’t think Spurgeon is recommending a foolish lack of stewardship of the body (and should not be read as if he were) but rather an undaunted and sacrificial spirit in the service of God.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 7 February 2012 at 09:38

Dispatches from Blighty: the Don and Driscoll

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Don Carson has weighed in on his friend Mark Driscoll’s recent comments (see also the craven follow up) about pastoral ministry in Great Britain; Phil Johnson chips in with his two-penn’orth here (pointing out the irony of the fact that the Gospel Coalition can overlook claims of divinely-inspired pornography in Driscoll’s mental cinema, can ignore his crass book on marriage, can sweep under the carpet his validation of a false-gospel preaching modalist, but is not prepared to allow the man to get away with casting nasturtiums on the manly vigour of us allegedly beardless Brits).

Anyway, Mr Carson has a longer history of significant connection with the UK than Mr Driscoll, and offers an alternative perspective. At the same time, Mr Carson is no more a native of the UK than is Mr Driscoll, and his perspective raises the quizzical eyebrow at one or two points, reflecting as it does his distinctive convictions. So, to use Mr Carson’s own language, “you might be interested in hearing another perspective,” while we are about sharing them. I include below Carson’s six observations, and offer some comments.

(1) Mark correctly observes the low state of genuine Christian confessionalism in the UK. Still, it varies considerably (as it does in the United States, though with lower figures over there). There’s a ring around London in which close to 10 percent of the people go to church, many of them evangelicals; the percentage in Northern Ireland is higher, though falling. By contrast, in Yorkshire the percentage that goes to church once a month or more is 0.9 percent; evangelicals account for only 0.4 percent. Both figures are still falling. This is comparable to the state of affairs in, say, Japan.

I am not sure that Mark had much at all to say about “genuine Christian confessionalism in the UK.” I am not sure what Mr Carson means by “genuine Christian confessionalism” but if he is referring to a genuine adherence to one of the classic statements of Reformed doctrine among Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists, he is seriously overstating his case. I mentioned the claim that there is “a ring around London in which close to 10 percent of people go to church” – perhaps we might call it ‘the ring of choir’? – to a group of mainly London pastors yesterday, and – subject to queries about how wide the ring is, where it might be placed, what sort of church is involved, when these people go and how often – the claim was substantially laughed out of court. I should be fascinated to know where these statistics come from, and what lies behind them, but they painted an overly rosy picture for the men I asked.

(2) The phenomenon of the state church colors much of what is going on. Whether we like it or not, in England itself (the situation is different in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) the Church of England is the source of most heterodoxy and of much of the orthodoxy, as well as of everything in between. It has produced men like Don Cupitt and men like Dick Lucas. Exactly what courage looks like for the most orthodox evangelicals in that world is a bit different from what courage looks like in the leadership of the independent churches: their temptations are different, their sufferings are different. Although I have found cowardice in both circles, I have found remarkable courage in both circles, and the proportion of each has not been very different from what I’ve found on this side of the Atlantic.

Mr Carson correctly identifies the phenomenon of the state church as a real issue. However, I would seriously contend with his assertion that “the Church of England is the source of most heterodoxy and of much of the orthodoxy” in England. In my experience, there is far more heterodoxy and theological blancmange than anything else coming out of the Church of England, despite the existence in it of men of the calibre of Dick Lucas; to call it the source of “much of the orthodoxy” in England is over-egging it more than a little. He makes the good point that courage may look different in different spheres, although I think that a bit more readiness to walk away from the culture of compromise in the national church would do some good to all involved.

(3) As for young men with both courage and national reach: I suppose I’d start with Richard Cunningham, currently director of UCCF. He has preached fearlessly in most of the universities and colleges in the UK, and is training others to do so; he has been lampooned in the press, faced court cases over the UCCF stance on homosexuality, and attracted newspaper headlines. Then there’s Vaughan Roberts, rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, in constant demand for his Bible teaching around the country. I could name many more. In Scotland one thinks of men like Willie Philip (and he’s not the only one). Similar names could be mentioned in Wales and Northern Ireland.

I am curious as to the Don’s circle of contacts if the men he mentions in England are all associated with the national church. I could mention a good number of young and older men of real courage and conviction among the Independents, but some of them – precisely because they are men of courage and conviction – may not be moving in the circles in which Mr Carson moves, or which might receive his blessing.

(4) More important yet, the last few years in England have seen the invention and growth of the regional Gospel Partnerships. In my view, these are among the most exciting things going on in England at the moment. They bring together Church of England ministers and Independent ministers who are passionate about the gospel, who see the decline, and who are crossing many kinds of denominational and cultural divides to plant churches (regardless of whether the new churches turn out to be Anglican or Free), and raise up a new generation of preachers. They are broadly Reformed. They are annoying the mere traditionalists on both sides of the denominational divide; they are certainly angering some bishops; but they press on. In the North West Partnership, for example, they’ve planted about 30 churches in the last eight years, and the pace is accelerating. That may seem a day of small things, but compared with what was there ten years ago, this is pretty significant, especially as their efforts are beginning to multiply. Elsewhere, one church in London has about 17 plants currently underway, all led by young men. The minister at St Helen’s-Bishopsgate, William Taylor, was formerly an officer in the British Army: there is not a wimpy bone in his body. The amount of flak he takes on is remarkable.

This is, for me, Mr Carson’s most contentious statement. These Gospel Partnerships are all the rage at the moment, and here we are asked to applaud those who “who are crossing many kinds of denominational and cultural divides to plant churches (regardless of whether the new churches turn out to be Anglican or Free).” But such applause must deliberately overlook the definite and even definitive differences between national or state and free church ecclesiology. These differences become even more pronounced when a Baptist considers the national or state church model. Perhaps I fall under the condemnation of Carson’s withering dismissal of “the mere traditionalists;” perhaps I simultaneously escape the watery label of “broadly Reformed,” which may be a fair trade-off. Let’s be clear: to know that churches where the gospel is being preached are being planted is no small joy. Furthermore, there are many Anglicans whom we esteem and admire for their courage of heart and clarity of thought on a variety of issues. But the idea that a principled Dissenter can overlook the inbuilt rottenness of Anglicanism as a system is a nonsense: the state church is, by its very nature, flawed. The nature of the church (its very constitution, including issues to do with the manner and reality of one’s entrance into and continuing participation in the visible body of Christ) is no insignificant matter, and the fact that it is too often treated as a moot point is dangerous. Here again, if I may also nod to the American scene, we may be dealing with those for whom “Coalition” or “Partnership” sometimes seems a weightier word than “Gospel,” and for whom the reality of the church is, if not overlooked, then perhaps underdeveloped. These may seem to be gains, but I fear that they are short-term gains which will leave long-term confusion and even damage.

Let me again be clear: I do appreciate true gospel preachers among the Anglicans, and my contention is not with people first, but with systems. I am properly impressed at the zeal and wisdom that my brothers show in evangelising and teaching and church-planting, and I acknowledge that it puts too many Independents to shame. But I do not think it any accident that now, as in the past, the most faithful and fruitful men in Anglicanism tend to be criticised, marginalised and even excluded; how I wish more of them would simply walk away and be free indeed! So I am willing to learn from the character and competence of such men; I am ready to benefit from their preaching and writing; there are times and places when I cheerfully congregate and cooperate with specific men; but I cannot abandon what I think is at stake: the very principle of the church and its nature, my concern over the generic credibility of national or state church in itself (qua church, you might say), and the specific incredibility of the Church of England.

I found something from Charles Spurgeon the other day. When I read it to my wife, she sighed in the way that only a wife can, commenting that she had not realised how mild my convictions really are. Said Spurgeon, at a prayer meeting in November 1868, on the eve of a General Election in which the establishment of the Church in Ireland was a live issue:

But there are some of us whose tongues will wax more eloquent because we are obliged to wait; and if this matter of the Church in Ireland be kept in hand for many a day, we shall be thankful, for it will come to the turn of the Church of England all the sooner: for we do not conceal our purpose,– we shall never rest until in England the Church is free, and until this spiritual adultery,– for it is nothing else,– by which the Kingdom of Christ is defiled, shall be for ever put away, and be remembered only as the darkest blot that ever disfigured the Church’s face. Pray earnestly for this blessing! I pray for it as devoutly as I ever asked for salvation. If I might but live to see the day when there shall be a free church in a free nation, and all this State-churchism done away, I could almost say with Simeon, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.’

C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Forgotten Prayer Meeting Addresses (Leominster: DayOne, 2011), 24.

It does matter whether the churches we plant are Anglican or Free, because the issues are of pith and moment, especially considering the long-term purity and fidelity of God’s people.

(5) But there is a bigger issue. We must not equate courage with success, or even youth with success. We must avoid ever leaving the impression that these equations are valid. I have spent too much time in places like Japan, or in parts of the Muslim world, where courage is not measured on the world stage, where a single convert is reckoned a mighty trophy of grace. I am grateful beyond words for the multiplication of churches in Acts 29, but I am no less grateful for Baptist ministers like my Dad, men who labored very hard and saw very little fruit for decades in French Canada, many of whom went to prison (their sentences totaled eight years between 1950 and 1952). I find no ground for concluding that the missionaries in Japan in the 20th century were less godly, less courageous, less faithful, than the missionaries in (what became) South Korea, with its congregations of tens of thousands. At the final Great Assize, God will take into account not only all that was and is, but also what might have been under different circumstances (Matt 11:20ff). Just as the widow who gave her mite may be reckoned to have given more than many multi-millionaires, so, I suspect, some ministers in Japan, or Yorkshire, will receive greater praise on that last day than those who served faithfully in a corner of the world where there was more fruit. Moreover, the measure of faithful service is sometimes explicitly tied in Scripture not to the quantity of fruit, measured in numbers, but to such virtues as self-control, measured by the use of one’s tongue (James 3:1-6).

Agreed: there are dark places where a single glimmer of light is, in some senses, a greater demonstration of God’s saving power than it might appear in those places where the church has a relatively greater degree of freedom, however that freedom may be used or abused. This assessing on the basis of numbers is a modern and Western disease which reflects a far too commercial spirit in Christ’s church.

(6) Even where some ministries are wavering, it takes rare discernment to sort out when there should be sharp rebuke and when there should be encouragement. Probably there needs to be more of whichever of these two polarities we are least comfortable with! But I would not want to forget that the Jesus who can denounce hypocritical religious leaders in Matthew 22 is also the one of whom it is said, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope” (Matt 12:19-21)—in fulfillment of one of the suffering servant passages. My read is that in some of the most challenging places of the world for gospel advance, godly encouragement is part of the great need of the day.

And, insofar as Mr Carson’s words are intended as such, we gladly accept them where we can, settling down as we do so to a lovely cup of tea.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 31 January 2012 at 19:47

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