The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘conversion

“Completely and unreservedly”

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I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee.

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea.
‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold,
As thou, dear Lord, on me.

I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee!
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul;
Always thou lovedst me.

Uncle Derek explains why he has belonged completely and unreservedly to the Lord Christ for the last forty years. In truth, the underlying reasons are the same for why anyone does.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 30 December 2011 at 21:53

Posted in Christian living

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Advancing Christ’s kingdom together #4

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IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

The previous sections of Andrew Fuller’s letter have seen this pastor-theologian begin by emphasising the principle of co-operation that ought to unite the whole body of Christ in holy endeavour, before going on to deal with two of the four groups of people to whom every pastor seeks to minister: “serious and humble Christians” and “disorderly walkers.” We have looked at Fuller’s counsels and sought to expand and apply them.

Now Fuller moves on to the third group he is considering: people “inquiring after the way of salvation.” This is the longest of the four treatments of these different groups, and the most developed. Fuller traces the declension of many churches to a lack of concern in the hearts of God’s people for the lost among them, and a lack of skill in “the world of righteousness.” He unpacks these twin concerns, and in doing so exposes an error that was prevalent in his own day, and may be prevalent in our own, especially in some churches.

While we will unpack some of the positive exhortations at the close of this post, it is worth noting that the error that Fuller is particularly keen to avoid is the tendency for counsellors of those awakened to their need of salvation to adopt some of the mistaken assumptions of those whom they are counselling. Specifically, Fuller says that many a one inquiring after salvation “is employed in searching for something in his religious experience which may amount to an evidence of his conversion; and in talking with you he expects you to assist him in the search.” Too many believers are ready to help in this quest, turning the eye of the seeker upon himself rather than upon Christ. Fuller is well aware of the fact that it is not wrong for someone to examine himself to see whether the evidences of true conversion are present in his life, but this is not his concern here. Rather, he is thinking of those who are seeking in their own experience some warrant to come to Jesus, some mark that they are ripe for salvation, or some indication from their own distresses or burdens that God is ready to receive them. Fuller’s point is that the gospel is all the warrant that is needed, and that those who look elsewhere are not looking in the right place, and do not in fact properly understand the gospel itself. What sinners need is Jesus as Saviour, and it is to him that we must point men.

Thirdly, In every church of Christ we may hope to find some persons inquiring after the way of salvation. – This may be the case much more at some periods than at others; but we may presume, from the promise of God to be with his servants, that the word of truth shall not be any length of time without effect. Our work in this case is to cherish conviction, and to direct the mind to the gospel remedy. But if, when men are inquiring the way to Zion, there be none but the minister to give them information, things must be low indeed. It might be expected that there should be many persons capable of giving direction on this subject as there are serious Christians; for who that has obtained mercy by believing in Jesus should be at a loss to recommend him to another? It is a matter of fact, however, that though, as in cases of bodily disease, advisers are seldom wanting; yet, either for want of being interested in the matter, or sufficiently skilful in the word of righteousness, there are but few, comparatively, whose advice is of any value; and this we apprehend to be one great cause of declension in many churches. Were we writing on ministerial defects, we should not scruple to acknowledge that much of the preaching of the present day is subject to the same censure; but in the present instance we must be allowed to suppose ourselves employed in teaching the good and the right way, and to solicit your assistance in the work. When the apostle tells the Hebrews that, considering the time, “they ought to have been teachers,” he does not mean that they ought all to have been ministers; but able to instruct any inquirer in the great principles of the gospel.

It has been already intimated that, to give advice to a person under concern about salvation, it is necessary, in the first place, that we be interested on his behalf, and treat him in a free and affectionate manner. Some members of churches act as if they thought such things did not concern them, and as if their whole duty consisted in sending the party to the minister. A church composed of such characters may be opulent and respectable; but they possess nothing inviting or winning to an awakened mind. To cherish conviction, and give a right direction to such a mind, we must be free and affectionate. When a sinner begins to think of his condition, such questions as the following will often cross his mind: – Was there ever such a case as mine? Are there any people in the world who have been what I am, and who are in the way to eternal life? If there be, who are they? Where are they? But if, while he is thinking what he must do to be saved, he neither sees nor hears any thing among you which renders it probable that such was ever your concern – if, as soon as a sermon is ended, he sees merely an exchange of civilities, and, on leaving the place, observes that all the congregation immediately fall into conversation about worldly things, what can he think? Either that there is nothing in religion, or, if there be, that he must seek elsewhere for it. The voice of a Christian church to those who attend upon their ministry should be that of Moses to Hobab: “We are journeying to the place of which the Lord hath said, I will give it you. Come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.”

It is of great consequence to the well-being of a church, that there be persons in particular in it who are accessible to characters of this description, and who would take a pleasure in introducing themselves to them. Barnabas, who, by a tender and affectionate spirit, was peculiarly fitted for this employment, was acquainted with Saul while the other disciples were afraid of him. It was he that introduced him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

Affection, however, is not the only qualification for this work: it requires that you be skilful in the word of righteousness; else you will administer false consolation, and may be instrumental in destroying, instead of saving souls. Not that it requires any extraordinary talents to give advice in such cases; the danger arises principally from inattention and erroneous views of the gospel.

If, brethren, you would assist us in this delightful work, allow us to caution you against one prevailing error, and to recommend one important rule. The error to which we allude is, Taking it for granted that the party has no doubts as to the gospel way of salvation, and no unwillingness to be saved, provided God were but willing to save him. Such are probably his thoughts of himself; and the only question with him is, whether he have an interest in Christ and spiritual blessings. Hence he is employed in searching for something in his religious experience which may amount to an evidence of his conversion; and in talking with you he expects you to assist him in the search. But do not take this account of things as being the true one: it is founded in self-deception. If he understood and believed the gospel way of salvation, he would know that God was willing to save any sinner who is willing to be saved by it. A willingness to relinquish every false confidence, every claim of preference before the most ungodly character, and every ground of hope save that which God has laid in the gospel, is all that is wanting. If he have this, there is nothing in heaven or earth in the way of his salvation. In conversing with such a character we should impress this truth upon him, assuring him that if he be straitened [hemmed in or restricted] it is not of God, but in his own bowels [inner being] – that the doubts which he entertains of the willingness of God, especially on account of his sinfulness and unworthiness, are no other than the workings of a self-righteous opposition to the gospel (as they imply an opinion, that if he were less sinful and more worthy, God might be induced to save him) – and that if he be not saved in the gospel way, while yet his very moans betray the contrary, we should labour to persuade him that he does not yet understand the deceit of his own heart – that if he were willing to come to Christ for life, there is no doubt of his being accepted; in short, that, whenever he is brought to be of this mind, he will not only ask after the good way, but walk in it, and will assuredly find rest unto his soul.

The rule we recommend is this: Point them directly to the Saviour. It may be thought that no Christian can misunderstand or misapply this important direction, which is every where taught in the New Testament. Yet if you steer not clear of the above error, you will be unable to keep to it. So long as you admit the obstruction to believing in Christ to consist in something distinct from disaffection to the gospel way of salvation, it will be next to impossible for you to exhort a sinner to it in the language of the New Testament. For how can you exhort a man to that which you think he desires with all his heart to comply with, but cannot? You must feel that such exhortations would be tantalizing and insulting him. You may, indeed, conceive of him as ignorant, and as such labour to instruct him; but your feelings will not suffer you to exhort him to any thing in which he is involuntary. Hence, you will content yourselves with directing him to wait at the pool of ordinances, and it may be to pray for grace to enable him to repent and believe, encouraging him to hope for a happy issue in God’s due time. But this is not pointing the sinner directly to Christ. On the contrary, it is furnishing him with a resting-place short of him, and giving him to imagine that duties performed while in unbelief are pleasing to God.

If you point the awakened sinner directly to the Saviour, after the manner of the New Testament, you will not be employed in assisting him to analyze the distresses of his mind, and administering consolation to him from the hope that they may contain some of the ingredients of true conversion, or at least the signs that he will be converted. Neither will you consider distress as ascertaining a happy issue, any otherwise than as it leads to Christ. If the question were, Do I believe in Jesus for salvation? then , indeed, you must inquire what effects have been produced. But it is very different where the inquiry is, What shall we do? or, What shall I do to be saved? The murderers of Christ were distressed; but Peter did not attempt to comfort them by alleging that this was a hopeful sign of their conversion, or by any way directing their attention to what was within them. On the contrary, he exhibited the Saviour, and exhorted them to repent and be baptized in his name. The same may be said of the Philippian jailer. He was in great distress, yet no comfort was administered to him from this quarter, nor any other, except the salvation of Christ. Him Paul and Silas exhibited, and in him directly exhorted him to believe. The promise of rest is not made to the weary and heavy laden, but to those who come to Christ under their burdens.

Once more, If you keep this rule, though you will labour to make the sinner sensible of his sin, (as till this case he will never come to the Saviour,) yet you will be far from holding up this his sensibility as affording any warrant, qualification, or title to believe in him, which he did not possess before. The gospel itself is the warrant, and not any thing in the state of the mind; though, till the mind is made sensible of the evil of sin, it will never comply with the gospel.

While in the first two categories of persons, our author was more concerned with the progress of the gospel intensively (that is, in the hearts of those converted, pursuing increasing godliness) here he turns to the progress of the kingdom extensively, in the conversion of sinners. Like Charles Spurgeon after him, Fuller wants the church to be a true ‘Salvation Army’: “We want, in the Church of Christ, a band of well-trained sharpshooters, who will pick the people out individually, and be always on the watch for all whom come into the place, not annoying them, but making sure that they do not go away without having had a personal warning, a personal invitation, and a personal exhortation to come to Christ” (Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994], 135). Are you ready to play your part? If so:

  • Consider whether or not you have played a part in the past. If not, then repent of your sins against men and God, particularly with regard to any lack of concern for the souls of men and any culpable failure to grasp the truth so as to be able to explain it to others. Pray God that – should you have the opportunity – you would be one who is willing and able to contribute in this way, and not merely ready to send the inquirer to the preacher, or someone else presumed to be competent in the matter.
  • Remember that the whole church ought to be concerned in the salvation of the lost. Consider that it is not solely the pastor’s responsibility, neither only the officers’ business, nor a matter for the keen and zealous, but rather the concern of the whole local body.
  • Then, pursue an affection for and accessibility to those burdened in soul. The former must spring from within, and must be nurtured with prayer for men. Pray for it generally, that God would give you a heart for the lost, and specifically, that God would bless this one or that one whom you know to be troubled in heart, and so stir up a holy regard and concern for the individuals who need Christ. Avoid all coldness, distance, pomposity, invasiveness, false joviality, and all the other boundaries to transparent and earnest conversation about things that matter. Seek the “tender and affectionate spirit” that characterised Barnabas, and made him such an encourager to Saul and countless others.
  • Further, do nothing to inhibit the seeker or to counteract his concerns, especially in the immediate context of the worship of God. I distinctly remember as a child my disgust – as I felt it then to be – with the church for professing to be concerned with high and holy things, and yet to see men and women turn to each other within moments of a service ending to begin talking about things that simply did not matter. Perhaps I was right to be disgusted. Might we not see more results if our first questions to each other were less along the lines of “How was your week?” and more akin to “How are things with your soul?” Labour to communicate to others that you are as much concerned about your soul and theirs as they are or should be about their own, and that the things of eternity press more upon your spirit than the things of time.
  • Remember that no special gifts or extraordinary talents are required for you to speak the good news about Jesus to a needy sinner. Do not be hindered by flawed and false expectations of yourself. Your primary qualification is your own experience of grace, “for who that has obtained mercy be believing in Jesus should be at a loss to recommend him to another?”
  • In this regard, do not be sucked into a man’s own mistaken notions of his warrant for believing (see above), but rather make it your errand to point sinners directly to Christ as Saviour. Do not, first and foremost, urge them to attend more sermons, come to more services, read more books, search their hearts more diligently, consider their sins more humbly, pray for grace to repent and believe, or tell them simply to wait upon God’s time for a blessing. Though some of these counsels may be appropriate in a legitimate context and their proper place, our primary business as believers is this: to urge sinners as lost and needy to flee to the Lord Christ, and to trust and take Jesus Messiah as their Redeemer and Lord.

IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 24 November 2010 at 11:41

Colchester: scene of Spurgeon’s conversion

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KelvedonStambourneColchesterLavenhamDedham ∙ Maldon

charles-haddon-spurgeon-10

By the time Spurgeon was fifteen years old, the family were living in Colchester, and Spurgeon was a student at Newmarket Academy, not too far away.  His father was the honorary pastor of the church in Tollesbury, about eleven miles from Colchester.  On the morning of Sunday 6th January, 1850, the weather was extremely bad.  Charles’ mother suggested that rather than risk the ride over to Tollesbury with his father, the boy should find a church in Colchester to attend.

By this time in his life, Charles Spurgeon was profoundly affected by a deep and accurate sense of his own sinfulness, and could find no rest.  He said of this period:

When I was for many a month in this state, I used to read the Bible through, and the threatenings were all printed in capitals, but the promises were in such small type I could not for a long time make them out; and when I did read them, I did not believe they were mine; but the threatenings were all my own. “There,” said I, “when it says, ‘He that believeth not shall be damned,’ that means me!” But when it said, “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him,” then I thought I was shut out. When I read, “He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears;” I thought, “Ah! that is myself again.” And when I read, “That which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing ; whose end is to be burned;” “Ah!” I said, “that describes me to the very letter.” And when I heard the Master say, “Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?” “Ah!” thought I, “that is my text; He will have me down before long, and not let me cumber the ground any more.” But when I read, “Ho! everyone that thirsteth ; come ye to the waters;” I said, “That does not belong to me, I am sure.” And when 1 read, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” I said, “That belongs to my brother, to my sister,” or those I knew round about me; for they were all “heavy laden,” I thought, but I was not; and though, God knoweth, I would weep, and cry, and lament till my heart was breaking within me, it any man had asked me whether I sorrowed for sin, I should have told him, “No, I never had any true sorrow for sin.” “Well, do you not feel the burden of sin?” “No!” “But you really are a convinced sinner?” “No,” I should have said, “I am not.” Is it not strange that poor sinners, when they are coming to Christ, are so much in the dark that they cannot see their own hands? They are so blind that they cannot see themselves; and though the Holy Spirit has been pleased to work in them, and give them godly fear and a tender conscience, they will stand up, and declare that they have not those blessings, and that in them there is not any good thing, and that God has not looked on them nor loved them.  (Autobiography, 1:85-86)

And again:

When I was in the hand of the Holy Spirit, under conviction of sin, I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden. It was not so much that I feared hell, as that I feared sin; and all the while, I had upon my mind a deep concern for the honour of God’s name, and the integrity of His moral government. I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if I could be forgiven unjustly. But then there came the question,—”How could God be just, and yet justify me who had been so guilty?” I was worried and wearied with this question; neither could I see any answer to it. Certainly, I could never have invented an answer which would have satisfied my conscience.  (Autobiography, 1:98)

Artillery StreetThe young man with his tortured soul set out into the snow, but the weather became rapidly worse.  Here it is good to recall that even the weather is in the hands of the sovereign God (Jb 37.6; 38.22), and a means of bringing his elect where he will, when he will.  Prevented from going much further, Charles turned into a side street, and came to the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Artillery Street.

We will let him give us the narrative, from his Autobiography (1:105-111).

Personally, I have to bless God for many good books; I thank Him for Dr. Doddridge’s Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul; for Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted; for Alleine’s Alarm to Sinners; and for James’s Anxious Enquirer; but my gratitude most of all is due to God, not for books, but for the preached Word,—and that too addressed to me by a poor, uneducated man, a man who had never received any training for the ministry, and probably will never be heard of in this life, a man engaged in business, no doubt of a humble kind, during the week, but who had just enough of grace to say on the Sabbath, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” The books were good, but the man was better. The revealed Word awakened me; but it was the preached Word that saved me; and I must ever attach peculiar value to the hearing of the truth, for by it I received the joy and peace in which my soul delights. While under concern of soul, I resolved that I would attend all the places of worship in the town where I lived, in order that I might find out the way of salvation. I was willing to do anything, and be anything, if God would only forgive my sin. I set off, determined to go round to all the chapels, and I did go to every place of worship; but for a long time I went in vain. I do not, however, blame the ministers. One man preached Divine Sovereignty; I could hear him with pleasure, but what was that sublime truth to a poor sinner who wished to know what he must do to be saved? There was another admirable man who always preached about the law; but what was the use of ploughing up ground that needed to be sown? Another was a practical preacher. I heard him, but it was very much like a commanding officer teaching the manoeuvres of war to a set of men without feet. What could I do? All his exhortations were lost on me. I knew it, was said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;” but I did not know what it was to believe on Christ. These good men all preached truths suited to many in their congregations who were spiritually-minded people; but what I wanted to know was,—”How can I get my sins forgiven?”—and they never told me that. I desired to hear how a poor sinner, under a sense of sin, might find peace with God; and when I went, I heard a sermon on “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” which cut me up still worse; but did not bring me into rest. I went again, another day, and the text was something about the glories of the righteous; nothing for poor me! I was like a dog under the table, not allowed to eat of the children’s food. I went time after time, and I can honestly say that I do not know that I ever went without prayer to God, and I am sure there was not a more attentive hearer than myself in all the place, for I panted and longed to understand how I might be saved.

Artillery Street Chapel

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was,—

“LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

Artillery Street Chapel (interior)

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus—”My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.'”

Then the good man followed up his text in this way:—”Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!”

Artillery Street Chapel (interior - plaque)

When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death,—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,—I did not take much notice of it,—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.” Yet it was, no doubt, all wisely ordered, and now I can say,—

Ever since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

I do from my soul confess that I never was satisfied till I came to Christ; when was yet a child, I had far more wretchedness than ever I have now; I will even add, more weariness, more care, more heart-ache than I know at this day. I may be singular in this confession, but I make it, and know it to be the truth. Since that dear hour when my soul cast itself on Jesus, I have found solid joy and peace; but before that, all those supposed gaieties of early youth, all the imagined ease and joy of boyhood, were but vanity and vexation of spirit to me. . That happy day, when I found the Saviour, and learned to cling to His dear feet, was a day never to be forgotten by me. An obscure child, unknown, unheard of, I listened to the Word of God; and that precious text led me to the cross of Christ. I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable. I could have leaped, I could have danced; there was no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of my spirit at that hour. Many days of Christian experience have passed since then, but there has never been one which has had the full exhilaration, the sparkling delight which that first day had. I thought I could have sprung from the seat on which I sat, and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren who were present, “I am forgiven! I am forgiven! A monument of grace! A sinner saved by blood! “My spirit saw its chains broken to pieces, I felt that I was an emancipated soul, an heir of Heaven, a forgiven one, accepted in Christ Jesus, plucked out of the miry clay and out of the horrible pit, with my feet set upon a rock, and my goings established. I thought I could dance all the way home. I could understand what John Bunyan meant, when he declared he wanted to tell the crows on the ploughed land all about his conversion. He was too full to hold, he felt he must tell somebody.

Artillery Street Chapel (big plaque)

It is not everyone who can remember the very day and hour of his, deliverance; but, as Richard Knill said, “At such a time of the day, clang went every harp in Heaven, for Richard Knill was born again,” it was e’en so with me. The clock of mercy struck in Heaven the hour and moment of my emancipation, for the time had come. Between half-past ten o’clock, when I entered that chapel, and half-past twelve o’clock, when I was back again at home, what a change had taken place in me! I had passed from darkness into marvellous light, from death to life. Simply by looking to Jesus, I had been delivered from despair, and I was brought into such a joyous state of mind that, when they saw me at home, they said to me, “Something wonderful has happened to you;” and I was eager to tell them all about it. Oh! there was joy in the household that day, when all heard that the eldest son had found the Saviour, and knew himself to be forgiven,—bliss compared with which all earth’s joys are less than nothing and vanity. Yes, I had looked to Jesus as I was, and found in Him my Saviour. Thus had the eternal purpose of Jehovah decreed it; and as, the moment before, there was none more wretched than I was, so, within that second, there was none more joyous. It took no longer time than does the lightning-flash; it was done, and never has it been undone. I looked, and lived, and leaped in joyful liberty as I beheld my sin punished upon the great Substitute, and put away for ever. I looked unto Him, as He bled upon that tree; His eyes darted a glance of love unutterable into my spirit, and in a moment, I was saved. Looking unto Him, the bruises that my soul had suffered were healed, the gaping wounds were cured, the broken bones rejoiced, the rags that had covered me were all removed, my spirit was white as the spotless snows of the far-off North; I had melody within my spirit, for I was saved, washed, cleansed, forgiven, through Him that did hang upon the tree. My Master, I cannot understand how Thou couldst stoop Thine awful head to such a death as the death of the cross,—how Thou couldst take from Thy brow the coronet of stars which from old eternity had shone resplendent there; but how Thou shouldst permit the thorn-crown to gird Thy temples, astonishes me far more. That Thou shouldst cast away the mantle of Thy glory, the azure of Thine everlasting empire, I cannot comprehend: but how Thou shouldst have become veiled in the ignominious purple for a while, and then be mocked by impious men, who bowed to Thee as a pretended king; and how Thou shouldst be stripped naked to Thy shame, without a single covering, and die a felon’s death;—this is still more incomprehensible. But the marvel is that Thou shouldst have suffered all this for me! Truly, Thy love to me is wonderful, passing the love of women! Was ever grief like Thine? Was ever love like Thine, that could open the flood-gates of such grief? Was ever love so mighty as to become the fount from which such an ocean of grief could come rolling down?

There was never anything so true to me as those bleeding hands, and that thorn-crowned head. Home, friends, health, wealth, comforts—all lost their lustre that day when He appeared, just as stars are hidden by the light of the sun. He was the only Lord and Giver of life’s best bliss, the one well of living water springing up unto everlasting life. As I saw Jesus on His cross before me, and as I mused upon His sufferings and death, methought I saw Him cast a look of love upon me; and then I looked at Him, and cried,—

Jesu, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly.

He said, “Come,” and I flew to Him, and clasped Him; and when He let me go again, I wondered where my burden was. It was gone! There, in the sepulchre, it lay, and I felt light as air; like a winged sylph, I could fly over mountains of trouble and despair; and oh! what liberty and joy I had! I could leap with ecstasy, for I had much forgiven, and I was freed from sin. With the spouse in the Canticles, I could say, “I found Him;” I, a lad, found the Lord of glory; I, a slave to sin, found the great Deliverer; I, the child of darkness, found the Light of life; I, the uttermost of the lost, found my Saviour and my God; I, widowed and desolate, found my Friend, my Beloved, my Husband. Oh, how I wondered that I should be pardoned! It was not the pardon that I wondered at so much; the wonder was that it should come to me. I marvelled that He should be able to pardon such sins as mine, such crimes, so numerous and so black; and that, after such an accusing conscience, He should have power to still every wave within my spirit, and make my soul like the surface of a river, undisturbed, quiet, and at ease. It mattered not to me whether the day itself was gloomy or bright, I had found Christ; that was enough for me. He was my Saviour, He was my all; and I can heartily say, that one day of pardoned sin was a sufficient recompense for the whole five years of conviction. I have to bless God for every terror that ever scared me by night, and for every foreboding that alarmed me by day. It has made me happier ever since; for now, if there be a trouble weighing upon my soul, I thank God it is not such a burden as that which bowed me to the very earth, and made me creep upon the ground, like a beast, by reason of heavy distress and affliction. I know I never can again suffer what I have suffered; I never can, except I be sent to hell, know more of agony than I have known; and now, that ease, that joy and peace in believing, that “no condemnation” which belongs to me as a child of God, is made doubly sweet and inexpressibly precious, by the recollection of my past days of sorrow and grief. Blessed be Thou, O God, for ever, who by those black days, like a dreary winter, bast made these summer days all the fairer and the sweeter! I need not walk through the earth fearful of every shadow, and afraid of every man I meet, for sin is washed away; my spirit is no more guilty; it is pure, it is holy. The frown of God no longer resteth upon me; but my Father smiles, I see His eyes,—they are glancing love; I hear His voice,—it is full of sweetness. I am forgiven, I am forgiven, I am forgiven!

When I look back upon it, I can see one reason why the Word was blessed to me as I heard it preached in that Primitive Methodist Chapel at Colchester; I had been up betimes crying to God for the blessing. As a lad, when I was seeking the Saviour, I used to rise with the sun, that I might get time to read gracious books, and to seek the Lord. I can recall the kind of pleas I used when I took my arguments, and came before the throne of grace: “Lord, save me; it will glorify Thy grace to save such a sinner as I am! Lord, save me, else I am lost to all eternity; do not let me perish, Lord! Save me, O Lord, for Jesus died! By His agony and bloody sweat, by His cross and passion, save me!” I often proved that the early morning was the best part of the day; I liked those prayers of which the psalmist said, “In the morning shall my prayer prevent Thee.”

Artillery Street Chapel (exterior)The church building at Colchester remains the home of an evangelical congregation.  It is still in a back street, tucked away where it is difficult to see.  Its best-known convert is commemorated without and within.  As I understand it, it is still the case that only a few of God’s faithful people meet within in order to hear the Word of God being preached.  But who is to say that in this, or some other congregation like it in one of the world’s back alleys, a young man will not turn in tomorrow with his soul burdened under a profound sense of sin, and the unknown preacher will stumblingly make known to him the gospel, and the Spirit of God will take that word and bless it to his sin-sick heart, and make him whole.  Who knows but that there are young men being captured by Christ, who – enraptured with his saving love – will make it their life’s work to proclaim Jesus to a needy world.  And it will ever be the work of the Spirit to bless that word, and to make it effectual in the hearts of all God’s elect.

Artillery Street Chapel (blue badge)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 6 June 2009 at 09:40

Trusting in Christ – past, present, future

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Yesterday morning I completed the current segment of our studies in the Christian family by wrapping up some issues of training our children with regard to their social and cultural development.  Beginning with Luke 7.36-50 we noted that our Lord criticizes Simon (a comparative criticism, contrasting him with “the woman of ill repute”) for being rude – he was a poor host, running contrary to God’s will, and so sinned.  The lack of social grace is an indicator of a much more substantial absence of grace.  While we recognise a difference between Scriptural absolutes and cultural standards (the holy kiss will not get you very far in the typical British congregation), there is an application of the absolutes taking into account the culture in which we live.

We therefore looked at some of the issues that social and cultural development must address, both in terms of our relationships to other people and our ability to contribute to the society and culture in which God puts us.  It was a very cursory glance, but an attempt to at least sketch out some of the issues.

I closed by urging parents not to miss the mark: we do not aim at our own reputation as ‘good parents’ with ‘good children’; not social acceptability by eradicating the worst excesses and expressions of sin; not good citizenship in terms of civic responsibility and awareness and contribution; not even good churchmanship, as if we should teach behaviours that get children under the radar of even thoughtful churches; but genuine conversion.  This is about Jesus, about pointing our children – even by means of these things – to the Saviour of sinners and model for righteousness.

In the morning service, we continued to look at the marks of a true Christian.  Having exposed some inconclusive indications of a genuine work of grace last Lord’s day, I dealt with the first two indispensable indicators of a genuine conversion – those things which, according to the apostle John, must be present for a man to know himself saved, even if they are not perfect.

The first is a humble and wholehearted embrace of the divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin.  A Christian man has an accurate view of himself as a sinning sinner.  He acknowledges God’s just judgments; Spirit-wrought conviction leads to genuine repentance; with repentance is joined faith in Jesus as presented in the gospel.

The second is a humble reverence for and joyful devotion to God and his glory.  A radical reversal of priority has occurred: the idol Self is toppled and God reigns in the heart.  Gratitude for grace received and delight in God himself issues in joyful service of the Lord of glory.  The testimony of such a man’s heart is “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73.25-26).  He believes it, knows it, pursues it, and repents afresh because he does not know and feel and prove it more.

Two more will follow, God willing.

In the evening, I sought to use our celebration of the Lord’s supper to point forward to Christ’s return, in accordance with Christ’s command and promise.  From 1 Peter 1.13 we considered Hoping in Christ’s revelation.

What should a Christian be expecting? Grace, as the complement and completion of grace already received: the crowning glories of God’s undeserved and unmerited goodness – the incorruptible inheritance received, perfected salvation enjoyed, total vindication granted, and incomparable glory bestowed.

When shall we receive it? Grace is not a distinct commodity, but is bound up in Jesus, and this grace is being brought to us at Christ Jesus’ revelation.  Our expectation is connected with the coming of Christ in glory.  All the grace we anticipate is in and with him, and our blessings are entirely tied up in the person of Jesus.

What should be out attitude? A settled and vigorous frame of spirit that rests entirely in God’s promised grace in the risen, reigning, returning Christ the Lord.  The command to rest our hope fully in this grace being brought to us at Christ’s unveiling is a call to a fixed perspective, a complete dependence, a certain assurance, a joyful expectation, a constant encouragement, and should issue in a childlike obedience.  Christ is coming, and we should live in the light of it.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 6 April 2009 at 09:25

An outline of the life of John Calvin #1 The early years

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(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)  (Listen here or a slightly developed version here)

It is 500 years since God brought John Calvin into this world. During 2009, many Reformed churches and Christians in particular are remembering with gratitude this gift of Christ to his church. Publishing houses are producing books at a rapid pace of knots, articles, papers, conferences, and website and blog postings proliferate. But who was he? Perhaps for some who would or should know about this man of God, he is little more than a name on the pages of history: we are aware of him, but we do not know him. This brief biography is intended to provide an outline of his life sufficient to provide men and women of the Reformed and other traditions with some notion and understanding of the man we are remembering.

john-calvin1John Calvin was born on 10 July 1509, in a place called Noyon (about sixty miles north-east of Paris) in the province of Picardy (the wide, flat region in which the First World War’s Battle of the Somme would later be fought).  His father – Gérard Cauvin – held legal office in the service of the bishops of Noyon, and wanted his son to enter the church, an environment that had seen its fair share of storms in past decades, and would soon grow far stormier still.  Martin Luther was 26 years old in 1509, and already teaching at Wittenberg; Ulrich Zwingli was only two months younger than Luther.  Philip Melancthon was twelve years older than Calvin.  Henry VIII ascended to the English throne in the year of his birth.  In 1517, when Calvin was only eight years old, Luther would post his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church.

Calvin’s father used his influence to obtain for his son a chaplaincy at Noyon Cathedral when Calvin was 11 (a far from rare practice), and the income helped to fund his education.  The brilliant young man was privately tutored, before being sent to Paris at the age of 14 to study theology at the University.  He first attended the Collège de la Marche, then the Collège de Montaigu, where he received the equivalent of his Master of Arts in 1528 at the unusually young age of 17.  In God’s kindness, some of Calvin’s fundamental instruction was given by the brilliant Latin scholar Mathurin Cordier, and he obtained a first-class education.

At about the same time as he received his M.A., Calvin’s father changed his mind about his son’s future, and directed him from theology to study law at the University of Orléans.  It was here that Calvin learned Greek, and developed his powers of analysis and rhetoric – not unhelpful skills for a man whom God was making a minister of the gospel.  Within a year, Calvin was sufficiently advanced to begin teaching incoming scholars.

He moved on to Bourges in about 1529, returning to Noyon for the burial of his father, who had died quite suddenly.  Released from his father’s seemingly quite heavy governance, Calvin spread his wings as a humanist, publishing his first and only humanist work at the age of 23, a commentary on the younger Seneca’s De Clementia (On Mercy).  There is little evidence there of any Christian thought, but much of a brilliant mind and a firm grasp on a wide range of classical and historical source material.  In the same year, 1532, he received his doctor of laws degree.  Calvin’s fierce dedication to study during these years was near-legendary, but almost certainly laid the foundation for his subsequent struggle with ill-health.

But this was a significant year for more reasons than these: Calvin had been exposed to some of Luther’s teachings, which were by then widely circulated.  His own cousin, Jean Pierre Olivétan, had been attracted to Lutheran teaching, and Calvin had studied alongside Olivétan for a period.  But where and when, in the midst of all this, did God give Calvin a heart of flesh?

There is no reference to a human agent nor to a definite moment in the only plain record of this event known to come from Calvin’s own pen, which I give in a translation furnished by Robert Reymond.  It comes from Calvin’s “Preface” to his Commentary on the Psalms:

I tried my best to work hard [in the study of law], yet God at last turned my course in another direction by the secret rein of his providence.  What happened first, since I was too obstinately addicted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, was that God by an unexpected [or ‘sudden’] conversion [subite conversione] subdued and reduced my mind to a teachable frame.  And so this taste of true godliness . . . set me on fire with such a desire to progress that I pursued the rest of my studies [in law] more coolly, although I did not give them up altogether.

Scholarly debate continues from all sides of the historical and religious spectrum as to the occasion, speed, and possible catalysts of Calvin’s conversion.  It does seem to have happened rapidly, although there are some evidences of and possible references to a longer preparatory period.  What we can say is that once it had occurred, there was no looking back.  With his customary tenacity and vigour of mind and heart, Calvin embraced the new teachings that accorded with the Word of the living God, and his life was never again the same.  So complete was the transformation that when his friend, Nicholas Cop, Rector of the University of Paris, delivered an address advocating reform of the church on All Saints’ Day of 1533, many thought that Calvin might be the true author of the piece (and it is possible that this was the case).  Not only did Cop have to flee, but Calvin himself was lowered by sheets from a window and escaped the city dressed as a manual labourer.

Calvin travelled on, finding rest where he could, and already being tracked down by friends (as well as hunted by foes) because of his gifts and understanding.  He studied the Scriptures, and by May 1534 had resigned his holdings in the Roman Catholic church.  By 1535 he was forced to leave France altogether, departing from the relative safety and scholarly enjoyments of a place called Angoulême, and heading to Basel in Switzerland.  There he wrote the preface for the French translation of the Bible made by his cousin Olivétan.  In France, some of Calvin’s dear friends were already dying in martyr’s fires at the hands of Francis I of France.  By 1536 Calvin had completed and published the first edition of what has become known as Protestantism’s magnum opus, his Institutio Christianae Religionis, or The Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Repeatedly revised and expanded to its final form, this was originally a fairly brief outline of the true Christian faith designed to demonstrate to the persecuting French monarch the realities of the belief and lives of the Protestants of France (it was, in fact, dedicated to Francis I, opening with an extensive letter to the king).  At the young age of 26, Calvin’s grasp on the fullness of God’s revelation, and his genius for precise statement and comprehensive organization and systematization of the truth, were becoming more publicly evident.

Later that year Calvin moved on again to Italy with a friend, du Tillet, whose home at Angoulême had provided a temporary French hiding place.  A brief return to Paris followed, before Calvin headed to Strasbourg in July of 1536, determined to live a life with his head among his beloved books.  Avoiding a raging war between Francis I and Charles V of Spain, he took a long detour south, arriving in Geneva for an overnight stay.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)  (Listen here or a slightly developed version here)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 19 January 2009 at 08:40

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