The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘gospel

Pandemics, panic and peace

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[On Wednesday 5th August 2009 I wrote a piece with the title above. It was based on a sermon preached during the swine flu epidemic. Having had my attention drawn to it again recently, I hope that the substance of the article, reproduced below, will stand the test of the years passed and the new pressures.]

In a climate of fear and uncertainty, of panic and ignorance, how should a Christian respond? God’s voice cuts through the white noise of conflicting cries for attention and tells us how to think clearly and prepare properly.

Think clearly.

Firstly, remember that the Lord God remains in control of all things (Eph 1.11; Heb 1.3; Ps 135.6). This may be general and basic, but it is still true and needful. God’s knowledge and power are absolute on the grandest and most minute scales. Isaiah 40 is true in every regard even when – like Jeremiah when ordered to buy a field in the face of the advancing armies of Chaldea (Jer 32.16-25) – we remain ignorant and confused. Even unbelievers who would never bless God when receiving mercies are quick to blame him when trouble comes (Rev 16.9, 21) – their fallen hearts still know that someone is in charge. God’s absolute control includes all disease and plague (Ps 39.10). He remains the sovereign, gracious, merciful and compassionate God of Jonah 4.10-11: nothing is an aberration from his plan, there are no surprises to him, and he makes no mistakes.

coronavirusSecondly, know that the Lord God has sovereignly determined the spread, effect and toll of this disease. Scriptures often show the Lord employing disease to accomplish his purposes. The common thread running through every instance is his absolute control over it (see Ex 6.6-7; 7.5; 9.16; Num 16.41-50; 25.1-9; Dt 28.21, 61; 2Sam 24.13-25). Whether among peoples or with regard to individuals (Jb 2.1-10), God sets the bounds always. His actings and permissions are absolute. His knowledge of and control over all aspects of life is total (Ps 139.15-16). All the days of our lives, and all their experiences, are appointed for us. Disease is God’s creature, and he holds the reins.

Thirdly, rejoice that the Lord God in mercy and goodness has provided means to promote and secure the health of his creatures. It is a demonstration of God’s fatherly care (Mt 5.44-45). It is an instance of common grace. God has put certain means of health within our hands to be gratefully received and trustingly employed. So, in Isaiah 38 we find Hezekiah granted fifteen extra years of life, but the divinely-appointed ends are accomplished by divinely-appointed means (v21). Had Hezekiah despised or ignored the means of securing his health, it would not have been restored to him. Christians sometimes demonstrate what is imagined to be a super-spirituality. In doing so, some neglect God’s means: “This is all in the providence of God!” True, but so are the physicians who have concocted medicines, and so is its availability to you, and so may be the fact that your life will be secured by the use of them. Others despise God’s means: “God can heal or preserve me without resorting to medicines!” Yes, he can, but he also often uses regular means for the accomplishing of his sovereign purposes, and you will be the sadder for despising them. Without overreaction to, obsession with, or idolisation of the means God provides, use them soberly, seriously, wisely, diligently and appropriately as the divinely-appointed route, in most instances, to the promotion and securing of health.

Fourthly, consider that the Lord God has particular regard for his people, and is able to preserve and protect them by any means he chooses. Our use of means is never a reliance on men, but must be joined with trust in God alone. It is God who provides and blesses those means, and apart from him the doctors can accomplish nothing in us (2Chr 16.12). God cares for his own (Ex 12.13; Ps 91.10). Our times are appointed by him (Ps 31.15). To the Lord belong escapes from death (Ps 68.19-20) whether those escapes are immediate and vivid or slow and unremarkable. This is no guarantee of health or healing to all or any of God’s children (2Cor 12.8-10; 2Tim 4.20). It may require the believing and responsible use of less usual means (Jas 5.14-15). It certainly is not a call to a foolish fanaticism that tests God by demanding his care for an irresponsible and unrighteous walk (Mt 4.6-7). It simply means that, in the believing, trusting, wise, careful and legitimate use of means for securing our health, we can go about our God’s appointed business without crippling fear. Our times are in his hands, our days appointed by him, and our end secure with him: our present and final confidence lies in the God of our salvation (Rom 14.8). In the Black Death that devastated Europe during the 1660s it was a noticeable fact that when many others fled London, many faithful preachers remained to serve the sick and dying, and some enjoyed a preservation of life and health inexplicable apart from God’s superintendence of them.

Finally, remember that the Lord God will glorify his name in this, whether or not we ever understand how. Who can trace his intricate designs and multiplied purposes? Who can counsel God as to the warnings, punishments, callings, testings and proving that this pandemic will accomplish? When we can answer God’s questions in Job 38-41 then we can challenge his wisdom in governing the world he has made. We do know this: that whether in life or death, mercy or judgment, sickness or health, gratitude or anger, God will be glorified. His power will be demonstrated (Ex 19.6); his love will be proved (Dt 4.37); his sovereignty will be manifest (1Chr 29.11); his people will be stirred up (Ps 78.34-25); his enemies will be cast down (Ex 11.6-8). His name will be made known. One way in which that will occur is through the gracious living and believing dying of his saints (Mt 5.16; Is 43.2-3, 21).

Think clearly, then, and – in the light of these things – prepare properly.

Prepare to live. Be ready to serve (Eph 2.10), especially those who may be lonely and needy in the face of sickness (see Ps 38.11). Whom others neglect, the Christian remembers. When others run from danger, the Christian runs to the endangered, not taking our life in our hands, but putting it in God’s hands. Like Christ, we are to go about doing good. It is an opportunity to demonstrate true discipleship (Gal 6.10). Be ready to preach. Let your deeds be matched and explained by words. Be unashamedly Christian as you care for others, and do not deny God even when you cannot explain all his ways. Many may be on the brink of eternity, many might listen now when otherwise they would have scorned: declare Christ as the only one who can secure life forever. Speak of Jesus as the one name under heaven, given among men, by which sinners like us can be saved. Be ready to pray. Begin now. Pray for God’s glory, man’s blessing, and your own faith of body and soul. Come to God for the grace and strength you will need to serve him in these days. Ask that he might be honoured in your life and in your death. Pray for the salvation of many. Be ready to shine: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16). Plan for, pray for, prepare for, and pursue God’s honour in all these things.

church bellPrepare to die. John Donne wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Take these things as intimations of your own mortality. Heed them as a call to readiness. Your time may be at hand; your days are expiring: learn to number them, that you may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90.12). The wise man will turn to and walk with Jesus as the Christ of God when he considers these things. There is no other sure preparation for death (Ps 49.5-15). Sooner or later all will die and afterward face judgment (Heb 9.27). If not today, perhaps tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then soon. If not this disease, then something else will quickly snatch you away. Life is brief, and eternity beckons. That eternity will be spent by every one of us either in the hell where all sufferings here will appear light by comparison with those imposed there, or in the heaven where all sufferings here will be past, and no sorrow, pain nor tears can come, where Christ is its light, and where the exceeding weight of glory will far surpass whatever trials and tribulations the world has laid on us.

The gospel writers tell us of a woman who came sick and full of suffering to the Lord Jesus. She reached out a trembling hand and merely touched the hem of his garment. When Jesus turned and spoke with her, he assured her of this: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” There is an affliction far worse than any disease, the affliction of sin. The one who touches the Lord Christ’s garment in faith shall indeed be made well. That is preparation both for life and for death.

Listen to a sermon on this topic here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 March 2020 at 18:15

Beauty from Booth

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 9 December 2016 at 13:02

Posted in Good news

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Not quite Charlie Hebdo

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It is not particularly surprising but it is disappointing. Furthermore, it is dangerous. It is in some respects the typical kneejerk reaction to current events (by which I mean events over the last few months, even years, rather than merely weeks), and the typical danger that you can never be entirely sure in which direction the knee will jerk and the foot will strike. It is the continued assault on freedom in the name of freedom.

In the last week or so school inspectors in the UK gave an unseemly grilling to primary school pupils at Grindon Hall Christian School, where the impression was clearly given (even if not intended) of a real hostility – in the name of promoting “British values” – to the school’s distinctive Christian ethos.

Quite apart from the inappropriateness and intrusiveness of some of the questions asked by almost-complete strangers to young children (questions which, in any other context, might have been taken in an altogether distasteful way), it rather opened a window into the attitudes of some of those who are appointed guardians of freedom.

But time marches on, and new challenges are already arising. The government is now rapidly pushing forward legislation that will preserve our “British values” and combat anti-extremism. Among the consequences of this legislation would be the opportunity – even the requirement – for university authorities to vet the addresses and materials of visiting speakers. That is the context in which I first saw the warning given, but the consultation document is pushing it across the public sector at the very least, with a variety of services and spheres impacted. Effectively, a proactive and preventative demand for censorship would be imposed in a variety of key public settings and environments.

I am sure that the opportunities for those who believe that “British values” demand, or provide the opportunity to pursue, a sort of amorphous atheistic amorality will not be slow to use the weapon put in their hands. As so often, the latest two-edged Excalibur, offered as the key to defending freedom, may become the very means by which freedoms are curtailed.

Naturally, the government provides all manner of assurances about how such things are enforced. With regard to school inspections, for example, Department for Education guidance makes very clear that in advancing our ill-defined “British values” schools are not required to promote “other beliefs” or “alternative lifestyles.” However, this seems to be precisely the point at which pressure was applied to the school in question not only corporately but individually and inappropriately with regard to particular students. We can expect that the same will happen with these new powers, should they come into law.

So, while our politicians line up with their pens and pencils aloft to trumpet their allegiance to free speech, they are simultaneously – and in the name of freedom – preparing to crack down on freedom of speech. It is, it seems, OK to be Charlie Hebdo (not personally, one understands, that would be a little dangerous, but it’s fine for other people to be Charlie Hebdo), and be able to poke fun at the fundies of all stripes. That must be defended. But I suggest that it must be made clear that such swipes and skewerings are not the only expressions of freedom of speech.

Generally speaking, and despite media attempts to push us into the first of the following categories, true Christians are neither violent extremists (dogmatic conviction need not translate into militant physical aggression) nor extravagant satirists (willing and able to undermine and offend for the mere sake of it, and call it wit and art – never having read Charlie Hebdo, I cannot comment on whether or not or to what extent they fall into this category). The Christian’s only real offense should be the offense of the cross, though the rugged edges and sharp points of that cross have a habit of puncturing pride and pomposity wherever it is found, and pride is of the essence of fallen man’s sense of himself. The weapons of our spiritual warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds. The armoury of God’s kingdom bears little relation to those of the kingdoms of the world. However, those without spiritual discernment are quite prepared to lump true Christians in with the violent extremists and deny them any of the privileges of the extravagant satirists. Indeed, the very nature of our message indicates that the gospel will be among the first and most aggressively pursued targets of those who – in the name of freedom – wish to silence dissent.

Only a fool would deny the difficulty of ensuring genuine freedom of speech and expression while at the same time preserving a measure of social order and cultural decency. But the response to terrorism, even Islam’s militarised religious supremacism, should not be to diminish all freedoms. That will not halt the terrorists, not least those driven by religionised hatred. In some respects, it will simply simplify their task.

But watch this space, for this is the brave new world. As mentioned in a previous post, to the humanist unbeliever who denies that he or she exists in their own tightly woven cocoon of a certain kind of ‘faith’, the Christian is just one of a range of dangerously nutty voices in the gallery of the fruitcakes. Indeed, the offense of the cross means that our gospel words will prove the pre-eminent spiritual red rag to the bulls of mere human reason and religion. But, if we are true to our convictions, we know that we echo the one voice of true reason, the single declaration of spiritual sanity, the alone hope of salvation, in an otherwise unstable and disordered world, wrecked by sin and riddled with its consequences. Unbelieving humanism is one among the range of rotten systematised alternatives to the truth as it is in Jesus. To whom else should we go? Christ has the words of eternal life.

We should expect that our freedom to make known the hope of the world will be deliberately (whether incrementally or more abruptly) assaulted and where possible eroded and removed by the very world that needs to hear it. The patients will assault the envoys of the only doctor with a cure for their condition. We must therefore ensure that our declarations and their accompanying actions are entirely consistent, that we bring with us everywhere the savour of Christ. As citizens of earthly kingdoms, we are entitled graciously yet firmly to assert our rights as citizens. But as citizens of heaven, we do not expect to find the warmest of welcomes in a hostile world. So let us brace ourselves against the storm, hold fast to the Christ who holds fast to us, speak the truth in love, call sinners to repent and believe, love our enemies, serve our Redeemer, and press on toward glory.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 January 2015 at 12:08

The preacher’s anticipation

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St Paul expected his hearers to be moved. He so believed in his preaching that he knew that it was “the power of God unto salvation” [Rom. 1:16]. This expectation is a very real part of the presentation of the Gospel. It is a form of faith. A mere preaching which is not accompanied by the expectation of faith, is not a true preaching of the Gospel, because faith is a part of the Gospel. Simply to scatter the seed, with a sort of vague hope that some of it may come up somewhere, is not preaching the gospel. It is indeed a misrepresentation of the gospel. To preach the Gospel requires that the preacher should believe that he is sent to those whom he is addressing at the moment, because God has among them those whom He is at the moment calling: it requires that the speaker should expect a response.

Roland Allen, Missionary Methods—St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), 74.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 23 June 2012 at 12:20

Review: “What is the Gospel?”

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What is the Gospel?

Greg Gilbert

Crossway, 2010, 128pp., casebound, $12.99 / £8.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-1500-2

The question of the title, for all its apparent simplicity, is by no means one that can be easily answered winsomely, directly, and clearly. That our author manages it so well here is a great credit to him. He does so by calling us back to the authority of the Bible and setting out some of the foundational realities of the human condition. Those established, he very warmly depicts Christ Jesus as the answer to man’s sin in accordance with God’s holiness, before driving home the urgent necessity of both faith and repentance in response to the gospel as the God-appointed route of entering the kingdom. Taking a little time to clear away well-meaning but flawed alternatives to Christ and him crucified, he concludes with some applications to various classes of reader. Intelligent without being highbrow, simple without being overly simplistic, and clear without being shallow, this is an excellent resource both for the people of God in knowing their Saviour and his salvation, and as a gift for those asking sincere and pointed questions about what this good news is, and what it means to be saved.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 22 November 2011 at 16:57

Posted in Reviews

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The right instrument

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“But,” says someone, “there are certain districts where you cannot do any good if you try to preach the gospel. You must fiddle to the people, and drum to them; and then you must have amusements and entertainments for them, you must have penny readings and concerts.” Very well, convert sinners that way if you can, dear friends; I do not object to any method that results in the winning of souls. Stand on your head if that will save the people; but still, it seems to me that if God’s Word is like a fire, there is nothing like it for burning its way; and if God’s Word is like a hammer, there can be nothing like that Word for hammering down everything that stands in the way of Jesus Christ. Why, then, should we not continually try the gospel, and nothing but the gospel?

From a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon, “God’s Fire and Hammer,” on Jeremiah 23.29

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 18 November 2011 at 11:09

A summary of the gospel

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The gospel of Christ in general is this; It is the good tidings that God has revealed concerning Christ. More largely it is this: As all mankind was lost in Adam and became the children of wrath, put under the sentence of death, God, though He left His fallen angels and has reserved them in the chains of eternal darkness, yet He has thought upon the children of men and has provided a way of atonement to reconcile them to Himself again.  Namely, the second Person in the Trinity takes  man’s nature upon Himself, and becomes the head of a second covenant, standing charged with sin. He answers for it by suffering what the law and divine justice required, and by making satisfaction for keeping the law perfectly, which satisfaction and righteousness he tenders up to the Father as a sweet savor of rest for the souls that are given to Him. And now this mediation of Christ is, by the appointment of the Father, preached to the children of men, of whatever nation or rank, freely offering this atonement unto sinners for atonement, requiring them to believe in Him and, upon believing promising not only a discharge of all their former sins, but that they shall not enter into condemnation, that none of their sins or unworthiness shall ever hinder the peace of God with them, but that they shall through Him be received into the number of those who shall have the image of God again to be renewed unto them, and that they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

Jeremiah Burroughs, Gospel Conversation, 3-4.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 14 September 2011 at 10:37

Gospel eloquence

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Justin Taylor offers this section from Institutes 3.16.19, where Calvin explains that “We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ [Acts 4:12]. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else,” as an example of appropriately beautiful language for Christ and his salvation:

If we seek salvation

we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.”

If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit,

they will be found in his anointing.

If we seek strength,

it lies in his dominion;

if purity,

in his conception;

if gentleness,

it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects that he might learn to feel our pain.

If we seek redemption,

it lies in his passion;

if acquittal,

in his condemnation;

if remission of the curse,

in his cross;

if satisfaction,

in his sacrifice;

if purification,

in his blood;

if reconciliation,

in his descent into hell;

if mortification of the flesh,

in his tomb;

in newness of life,

in his resurrection;

if immortality,

in the same;

if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom,

in his entrance into heaven;

if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings,

in his Kingdom;

if untroubled expectation of judgment,

in the power given to him to judge.

In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 24 August 2011 at 08:43

Gospel delight

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John Flavel (1630-1691):

Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification. We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God. The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers. By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer, we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Because the Lord has made himself accessible to us in the means of grace, it is our duty and privilege to seek this experience from Him in these means till we are made the joyful partakers of it.

HT Justin Taylor‘s replacement (!)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 8 August 2011 at 17:14

Posted in Christian living

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Carey’s commandments

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Ray Ortlund passes along William Carey’s directives for missionary labour. You may be interested to read the longer version, which casts more light on the men who wrote it.

1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.

2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”

3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.

4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.

5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.

6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.

7. Build up the souls that are gathered.

8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.

9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.

10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”

11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

Listed in Christian History, Issue 36, page 34.

It does not take much to translate these as principles into any time and place. It takes a vast amount of love and humility to translate them as our practice into every time and place.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 12 February 2011 at 21:54

A holy life

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 12 February 2011 at 09:37

Posted in Christian living

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Reading the Gospels

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How do you read the Gospels? What do you expect? What do you look for? Perhaps more accurately, in what spirit do you read the Gospels? Does it bear any resemblance to the spirit manifest in some of the opening and in the closing words of John Brown’s commentary on The Four Gospels?

The Fourfold Gospel is the central portion of Divine Revelation. Into it, as a Reservoir, all the foregoing revelations pour their full tide, and out of it, as a Fountain, flow all subsequent revelations. In other parts of Scripture we hear Christ by the hearing of the ear; but here our eye seeth Him. Elsewhere we see Him through a glass darkly; but here, face to face. The orthodox Fathers of the Church well understood this peculiar feature of the Gospels, and expressed it emphatically by their usages – some of them questionable, others almost childish. Nor did the heretical sects differ from them in this; the best proof of which is, that nearly all the heresies of the first four or five centuries turned upon the Person of Christ as represented in the Gospels. As to the heathen enemies of Christianity, their determined opposition was directed against the facts regarding Christ recorded in the Gospels. And it is the same still. The battle of Christianity, and with it of all Revealed Religion, must be fought on the field of the Fourfold Gospel. If its Credibility and Divine Authority cannot be made good – if we must give way to some who would despoil us of its miracles, or to others who, under the insidious name of ‘the higher criticism,’ would weaken its historical claims – all Christianity is undermined, and will sooner or later dissolve in our hands. But so long as the Gospels maintain their place in the enlightened convictions of the Church, as the Divine record of God manifest in the flesh, believers, reassured, will put to flight the armies of the aliens.

David Brown, The Four Gospels (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1969, repr. 1993), iii-iv.

Thus end these peerless Histories – this Fourfold Gospel. And who that has walked with us through this Garden of the Lord, these ‘beds of spices,’ has not often said, with Peter on the mount of transfiguration, It is good to be here here! Who that has reverentially and lovingly bent over the sacred text has not found himself in the presence of the Word made flesh – has not beheld the glory of the Only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth – has not felt His warm, tender hand upon him, and heard that voice saying to himself, as so often to the disciples of old, “Fear not!” Well, dear reader, “Abide in Him,” and let “His words” – as here recorded – “abide in thee.” This Fourfold Gospel is the Sun of the Scripture, from which all the rest derives its light. It is, as observed in the Introduction, the serenest spot in the paradise of God; it is the four rivers of the water of life, the streams whereof make glad the City of God. Into it, as a Reservoir, all the foregoing revelations pour their full tide, and out of it, as a Fountain, flow all subsequent revelations. Till the day dawn, then, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to this mountain of myrrh, this hill of frankincense! (Song iv. 6.)

David Brown, The Four Gospels (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1969, repr. 1993), 486.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 January 2011 at 14:36

God’s gospel gift

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Cast your mind back into the depths of the allegedly-festive season. For many, it would be a time for the giving of gifts. Typically, with the person in mind for whom you desire a gift, you set out to find something that fits the template. Indeed, sitting in the Christmas carnage and tracing back from the gift to the perceived needs, desires or expectations of the intended recipient can be a little disconcerting. The socks and chutney imply a frozen-toed cheese eater; the DIY [home improvement] manual and the alarm clock hint at someone both incompetent and lazy; the sweater and make up suggest someone cold and ugly to boot. There is a lot to get wrong in such mind games: our foolishness, sensitivity (or utter lack of it) and ignorance might leave us muddled and misguided. Furthermore, if there is no appropriate and appreciated match between what is given and the one to whom it is given, those gifts lie quickly forgotten and largely neglected, unworn, uneaten, unused.

But what if a gifted, wise and insightful physician who knew us accurately and intimately sent to us a box of pills with instructions to begin a life-saving course of medication immediately? Might you not be entitled to presume that he had correctly diagnosed a deadly condition and has kindly provided the cure? In such an instance, you might accurately match the recipient and the gift, connecting the condition and circumstances of the former with the nature of the latter. And would you not be relying on it still? Would not that gift remain unspeakably precious to you?

So it is with God’s gospel gift: an unbreakable, inexhaustible, unforgettable, incalculably precious saving gift. The eternal God was neither ignorant nor whimsical, was not foolish or misguided, in sending his Son to save men. Here we have a gift precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, circumstances and condition of fallen mankind, calling forth perpetual reliance and overwhelming thankfulness. In Romans 5.6-11 the apostle Paul makes some of the connections between the recipients and the gift, describing sinful men in the light of the saving Christ:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Firstly, Paul says that we are powerless. We are utterly without strength (Rom 5.6). The word Paul employs here is used in Matthew 25.31-46, Luke 10.9 and Acts 5.15-16 of those helplessly sick; in Acts 4.9 it describes the impotence of a man who was lame; in 1 Corinthians 12.22 it speaks of weakness and feebleness. It is a word describing comprehensive helplessness, and in Romans 5.6 it is used of our natural state, having no power in ourselves to do good, able neither to resist sin nor to pursue righteousness. We had no strength to restore our relationship with God nor to maintain one if it could be restored. Paul pictures a man utterly lacking in spiritual vitality, without any of the functions of life: it is a sketch of entire, ongoing, sinful incapacity, of a man beyond human help.

It was to men in such a state as this that Christ was given. We need someone who is truly strong, able not only to act on his own behalf but on behalf of others also, not only to secure good for himself but for others too. According to Isaiah, Jesus is just such a mighty Deliverer: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength” (Is 40.29).

Secondly, we are by nature ungodly. Paul uses the same word in Romans 4.5. He means one who is thoroughly lost, wicked, having nothing to offer God. To be such a person means that we can never take God’s favour for granted because we positively fail to deserve any good; we have no entitlement to blessing. Romans 5.6 tells us that ungodly people needed someone to die for them: we required a ransom to be paid, someone to come at the proper time, the appointed hour, to take our place. The seventh verse makes plain that this is, by any account, the rarest of gifts. How much more when it is to men considered not as good and righteous but as ungodly that God sent the Son of his love? It was to men lost entirely and wicked throughout that Jesus came to do nothing less than die: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).

Again, we are sinners. We are those who miss the mark at which we aim, who fall short of our target. It is the tragedy of fallen men that we not only fall short of the target which we truly desire and earnestly pursue – our own happiness – but that we also fall short of that at which we should aim: the glory and honour of God, which we rarely consider and usually despise. In short, we are both personally wretched and morally polluted. As such, there is nothing in us to evoke blessing but much to demand cursing. It is a condition that leaves us entirely exposed to the divine displeasure and righteous judgment.

Paul would have us understand that to secure the life of sinners by any gift would be unspeakable love, the very pinnacle of grace, and such love and grace are displayed in a God who gives nothing less than his beloved Son for us, and in a Christ who willingly lays down his life to secure blessing for such men.

Fourthly, we are guilty. This is the clear implication of the language of sin and of justification (Rom 5.8-9). We need to be justified, to be declared righteous in the sight of a holy God. As sinners, we have deserved nothing but condemnation, and we abide under wrath. We have no righteousness of our own to plead, no goodness to parade. Justice demands vengeance, and what can provide satisfaction apart from fearful and just judgments falling upon the head of the guilty sinner? Where can such a sinner find a putting away of sin and a grant of righteousness, so propitiating the wrath of an offended God? How can we come to have that happy testimony, “You have forgiven the iniquity of your people; you have covered all their sin. You have taken away all your wrath; you have turned from the fierceness of your anger” (Ps 85.2-3)?

It requires blood. We are justified by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, who gave his life, so paying the debt, removing the guilt, providing a credit that was acceptable in saving transaction with a holy God.

Furthermore, we are enemies. Sin becomes habitual, habitual rebellion produces a deepening aversion to the Righteous One, that aversion develops into a settled enmity, and enmity breaks out into open hostility. Every sinner is on that way of rooted adversity to God in some form and degree, and is therefore subject to his wrath. We were rebelliously opposed to God and God was fearfully opposed to us. We were both antagonistic toward him and alienated from him, being without God and without hope in the world. Our relationship to God by nature is not one of neutrality, but of war. Men rage impotently against God and God sets himself implacably against all iniquity. Where, then, can a man find peace with God? Where is God reconciled, enmity removed, harmony established, justice vindicated, and holiness honoured?

God himself supplies the means. The offended God is himself the one who addresses the grounds of separation and provides for reconciliation. It is and must be a fruit of astonishing love, profound pity, and incalculable grace to design and execute such a plan, but what again almost beggars belief is that this reconciliation required nothing less than the giving of God’s own beloved Son. It was not accomplished at any lesser price.

But there is more still. For supposing that all this is carried out on our behalf – the powerless find a champion, the ungodly find a sacrifice, sinners find a saving life, the guilty find a righteousness, enemies find a reconciliation.  It leaves us still and always utterly dependent. Saved men need saving. This does not for one instant mean that there is something lacking in the life and death of Jesus that yet remains to be made up, but rather speaks of our continual need for his grace and strength, our perpetual reliance upon him, finding all our security for the present and future in him alone. Paul speaks of our being saved from wrath through him, by his life (Rom 5.9-10). Our abiding union with our crucified but risen Redeemer ensures that we remain protected to the end and into eternity. We are reconciled by his death and saved by his life, having nothing to fear in the day of wrath, for he both secures our standing by his acceptance with God and is living to intercede for us. He is our Good Shepherd, guiding his sheep safely to the eternal fold; our Great Priest who stands before God on our behalf; he is securing and will secure our final happiness.

Thus we have in these verses two portraits, intimately connected to each other, reflective of each other in the way that a negative reflects the original. Here is the light of Christ and the corresponding distorted shadow cast by sinful man. The portrait of ourselves is unflatteringly honest, depicting us ruined and lost. The portrait of the Lord Jesus shows him as the gift of God, piercingly beautiful, precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, condition and circumstances of those he came to save. He is displayed as One mighty to deliver, by his life, death and resurrection supplying the reconciling righteousness and the cleansing blood that we could never obtain for ourselves, and this he provided by taking our place and dying on our behalf.

Do we accept the testimony of the gospel gift of Jesus Christ about our character, condition and circumstances? It may not be flattering, but it is painfully accurate. Look at the portrait: do you not see your own face staring back at you? Do you find your own wretchedness and neediness written in these things? God was not ignorant or whimsical, not foolish or mistaken when he sent his Son for sinners. The gift was given because the state of the intended recipients demanded nothing less.

Do you accept the gift? It is one thing to acknowledge the need, but another to accept the gift? Salvation is entirely from without. Martin Luther used to speak of the natural man as turned in upon himself. Grace shows the emptiness within, and makes us lift our eyes outward and upward to where we find our only help. Let us be honest: if the portrait of sinful man is a portrait of my own soul, where will I find salvation in myself? If I am powerless, ungodly, sinning, guilty and opposed to God, what will I offer to secure my salvation? There is nothing else left but to look elsewhere. Helpless sinners need a mighty Helper if they are to be delivered from sin and death and hell. God offers the priceless gift of his incarnate Son, and nothing more is required than to cast one’s soul for time and for eternity upon him, to accept the gospel gift as the one and sole answer to the damnable misery of separation from God.

Let us note here – especially those of us who preach – that any message that offers hope but fails to take account of these particular needs and the gift given to address them is a false gospel. To paint the soul of sinners in brighter colours than these does not shut people up to the only remedy, but gives man a falsely elevated view of his own capacity and a correspondingly low view of the saving excellence of the Lord Christ. To offer any alternative remedy is to offer a placebo that, at best, will float men gently and peacefully into the Pit. However, God’s gospel gift of his gracious and glorious Son delivers men from sin and death and hell when it is received with repentant faith.

Should we not, then, humbly receive, gratefully remember and ardently rejoice in such a gift? Only love and mercy would offer such an unparallelable kindness to people such as us; only a fool would reject him; only a gross ingrate could possibly forget the greatest of all possible gifts; only a hard heart would fail to rejoice in the Giver and his glorious Gift. This is where Paul brings us and leaves us: “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Rom 5.11). The focus is not on ourselves, not even so much on what we receive in Christ, but on the Christ whom we receive by faith, and the God who sent him to be received. Paul leaves us exulting in God in Christ. We boast not in ourselves, but in the saving God through whom the utterly unworthy receive reconciliation, made secure for life and in death and through eternity by his Son – Jesus the Ransomer, God’s gospel gift.

This article first appeared at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 January 2011 at 12:11

Mustard and yeast

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Some encouragements from a past Bishop of Liverpool, commenting on the two parables of the mustard seed and the yeast from Luke’s Gospel, chapter 13, verses 18 to 21. You might have a different exegesis to offer, but you will nevertheless appreciate Ryle’s sound Biblical sense:

There is a peculiar interest belonging to the two parables contained in these verses. We find them twice delivered by our Lord, and at two distinct periods in His ministry. This fact alone should make us give the more earnest heed to the lessons which the parables convey. They will be found rich both in prophetical and experimental truths.

The parable of the mustard seed is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the world.

The beginnings of the Gospel were exceedingly small. It was like “the grain of seed cast into the garden.” It was a religion which seemed at first so feeble, and helpless, and powerless, that it could not live. Its first founder was One who was poor in this world, and ended His life by dying the death of a malefactor on the cross. –Its first adherents were a little company, whose number probably did not exceed a thousand when the Lord Jesus left the world. –Its first preachers were a few fishermen and publicans, who were, most of them, unlearned and ignorant men. –Its first starting point was a despised corner of the earth, called Judea, a petty tributary province of the vast empire of Rome. –Its first doctrine was eminently calculated to call forth the enmity of the natural heart. Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. –Its first movements brought down on its friends persecution from all quarters. Pharisees and Sadducees, Jews and Gentiles, ignorant idolaters and self-conceited philosophers, all agreed in hating and opposing Christianity. It was a sect everywhere spoken against. –These are no empty assertions. They are simple historical facts, which no one can deny. If ever there was a religion which was a little grain of seed at its beginning, that religion was the Gospel.

But the progress of the Gospel, after the seed was once cast into the earth, was great, steady and continuous. The grain of mustard seed “grew and waxed a great tree.” In spite of persecution, opposition, and violence, Christianity gradually spread and increased. Year after year its adherents became more numerous. Year after year idolatry withered away before it. City after city, and country after country, received the new faith. Church after church was formed in almost every quarter of the earth then known. Preacher after preacher rose up, and missionary after missionary came forward to fill the place of those who died. Roman emperors and heathen philosophers, sometimes by force and sometimes by argument, tried in vain to check the progress of Christianity. They might as well have tried to stop the tide from flowing, or the sun from rising. In a few hundred years, the religion of the despised Nazarene, –the religion which began in the upper chamber at Jerusalem,–had overrun the civilized world. It was professed by nearly all Europe, by a great part of Asia, and by the whole northern part of Africa. The prophetic words of the parable before us were literally fulfilled. The grain of mustard seed “waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.” The Lord Jesus said it would be so. And so it came to pass.

Let us learn from this parable never to despair of any work for Christ, because its first beginnings are feeble and small. A single minister in some large neglected town-district, –a single missionary amid myriads of savage heathen,–a single reformer in the midst of a fallen and corrupt church,–each and all of these may seem at first sight utterly unlikely to do any good. To the eye of man, the work may appear too great, and the instrument employed quite unequal to it. Let us never give way to such thoughts. Let us remember the parable before us and take courage. When the line of duty is plain, we should not begin to count numbers, and confer with flesh and blood. We should believe that one man with the living seed of God’s truth on his side, like Luther or Knox, may turn a nation upside down. If God is with him, none shall stand against him. In spite of men and devils, the seed that he sows shall become a great tree.

The parable of the leaven is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the heart of a believer.

The first beginnings of the work of grace in a sinner are generally exceedingly small. It is like the mixture of leaven with a lump of dough. A single sentence of a sermon, or a single verse of Holy Scripture,–a word of rebuke from a friend, or a casual religious remark overheard,–a tract given by a stranger, or a trifling act of kindness received from a Christian,–some one of these things is often the starting-point in the life of a soul. The first actings of the spiritual life are often small in the extreme–so small, that for a long time they are not known except by him who is the subject of them, and even by him not fully understood. A few serious thoughts and prickings of conscience,–a desire to pray really and not formally,–a determination to begin reading the Bible in private,–a gradual drawing towards means of grace,–an increasing interest in the subject of religion,–a growing distaste for evil habits and bad companions, these, or some of them, are often the first symptoms of grace beginning to move the heart of man. They are symptoms which worldly men may not perceive, and ignorant believers may despise, and even old Christians may mistake. Yet they are often the first steps in the mighty business of conversion. They are often the “leaven” of grace working in a heart.

The work of grace once begun in the soul will never stand still. It will gradually “leaven the whole lump.” Like leaven once introduced, it can never be separated from that with which it is mingled. Little by little it will influence the conscience, the affections, the mind, and the will, until the whole man is affected by its power, and a thorough conversion to God takes place. In some cases no doubt the progress is far quicker than in others. In some cases the result is far more clearly marked and decided than in others. But wherever a real work of the Holy Spirit begins in the heart, the whole character is sooner or later leavened and changed. The tastes of the man are altered. The whole bias of his mind becomes different. “Old things pass away, and all things become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17.) The Lord Jesus said that it would be so, and all experience shows that so it is.

Let us learn from this parable never to “despise the day of small things” in religion. (Zec. 4:10.) The soul must creep before it can walk, and walk before it can run. If we see any sign of grace beginning in a brother, however feeble, let us thank God and be hopeful. The leaven of grace once planted in his heart, shall yet leaven the whole lump. “He that begins the work, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6.)

Let us ask ourselves whether there is any work of grace in our own hearts. Are we resting satisfied with a few vague wishes and convictions? Or do we know anything of a gradual, growing, spreading, increasing, leavening process going on in our inward man? Let nothing short of this content us. The true work of the Holy Spirit will never stand still. It will leaven the whole lump.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 14 January 2011 at 08:08

Advancing Christ’s kingdom together #5

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IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

So far in this series on Andrew Fuller’s letter seeking the assistance of his Christian hearers in promoting the interest of Christ we have considered the introduction, in which Fuller establishes the principle of cooperation upon which he will proceed. Following on from that, we have looked at the first three groups of people that pastors address and to which they minister: “serious and humble Christians”, “disorderly walkers”, and those “inquiring after the way of salvation”.

The final category in which Fuller pleads for the assistance of the saints is that of those “living in their sins” and unconcerned about salvation. Again, here he is dealing with the progress of the kingdom in an absolute sense, in the bringing of those who are in darkness into God’s marvellous light.

Alongside the second category of “disorderly walkers” this is the group with which most believers will struggle. It might be considered a relatively easy thing to encourage a healthy child of God; if someone is seeking Christ, then they might at least be inclined to hear a Christian’s efforts to point them to Jesus. However, backslidden Christians and unbelievers careless about their souls are both more likely, at least initially, to resent and resist the believer’s overtures. In both instances, a degree of courage for potential confrontation about sin is required.

Let us hear Fuller on the matter:

Fourthly, There is in all congregations and neighbourhoods a considerable number of people who are living in their sins, and in a state of unconcernedness about salvation. – Our work in respect of them is, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, to declare unto them their true character, to exhibit the Saviour as the only refuge, and to warn them to flee to him from the wrath to come. In this also there are various ways in which you may greatly assist us. If, as heads of families, you were to inquire of your children and servants what they have heard and noticed on the Lord’s day, you would often find occasion to second the impressions made by our labours. It is also of great consequence to be endued with that wisdom from above which dictates a word in season to men in our ordinary concerns with them. Far be it from us to recommend the fulsome practice of some professors, who are so full of what they call religion as to introduce it on all occasions, and that in a most offensive manner. Yet there is a way of dropping a hint to a good purpose. It is admirable to observe the easy and inoffensive manner in which a patriarch introduced some of the most important truths to a heathen prince, merely in answer to the question, How old are thou? “The days of the years of my pilgrimage,” said he, “are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimage.” This was insinuating to Pharaoh that he and his fathers before him were strangers and pilgrims upon the earth – that their portion was not in this world but in another – that the life of man, though it extended to a hundred and thirty years, was but a few days – and that those few days were mixed with evil – all which, if the king reflected on it, would teach him to set light by the earthly glory with which he was loaded, and to seek a crown which fadeth not away.

You are acquainted with many who do not attend the preaching of the word. If, by inviting them to go with you, an individual only should be caught, as we say, in the gospel net, you would save a soul from death. Such examples have frequently occurred. It is an established law in the Divine administration, that men, both in good and evil, should in a very great way draw and be drawn by each other. The ordinary way in which the knowledge of God is spread in the world is, by every man saying to his neighbour and to his brother, Know the Lord. It is a character of gospel times, that “Many people shall go and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Add to this, by visiting your neighbours under affliction you would be furnished with many an opportunity of conversing with them to advantage. Men’s consciences are commonly awake at such seasons, whatever they have been at others. It is as the month to the wild ass, in which they that seek her may find her.

Finally, Enable us to use strong language when recommending the gospel by its holy and happy effects. – Unbelievers constantly object to the doctrine of grace as licentious; and if they can refer to your unworthy conduct, they will be confirmed, and we shall find it impossible to vindicate the truth of God without disowning such conduct, and it may be you on account of it: but if we can appeal to the upright, the temperate, the peaceable, the benevolent, the holy lives of those among whom we labour, it will be of more weight than a volume of reasonings, and have a greater influence on the consciences of men. A congregation composed of kind and generous masters, diligent and faithful servants, affectionate husbands, obedient wives, tender parents, dutiful children, and loyal subjects, will be to a minister what children of the youth are said to be to a parent: As arrows in the hand of a mighty man: – “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed , but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.”

These, brethren, are some of the principal ways in which we affectionately solicit your assistance in promoting the interest of Christ. In doing this, we virtually pledge ourselves to be ready on all occasions to engage in it. We feel the weight of this implication. Let each have the other’s prayer, that we may both be assisted from above, without which all the assistance we can render each other will be unavailing. Should this address fall into the hands of one who is yet in his sins, let him consider that the object of it is his salvation; let him reflect on the case of a man whom many are endeavouring to save, but he himself, with hardened unconcern, is pressing forward to destruction; and finally, should he bethink himself, and desire to escape the wrath to come, let him beware of false refuges, and flee to Jesus the hope set before him in the gospel.

  • We need to pray for wisdom and courage to serve Christ in this endeavour. Pray for those whose primary responsibility it is to preach the truth to men, and pray for yourselves, that you might be willing and able to play your part, whatever the opposition.
  • We must be ready to follow up with those under our care or influence the public ministry of God’s word. We may not have many servants in the UK these days – but then, I don’t know where you are reading this, so perhaps you do – but there may be children and others for whom you have some responsibility or obtain some influence, and pressing home the truths that have been proclaimed from the pulpit may drive something into the soul that would otherwise have remained on the surface.
  • Do not be obnoxious, supercilious, or overbearing in the name of piety, but rather seek the wisdom that speaks a word in season to those without Christ. At the same time, do not use the ploy that you are waiting for the right season to cover your cowardice.
  • Find ways to bring the gospel to those who do not normally hear the Word of God, or to bring them under the sound of the word. This may be by taking opportunities to invite them to hear the Scriptures preached, or by taking the gospel to them when you have opportunities. Do not neglect times of distress, hardship and affliction: these may be very appropriate occasions to speak of Jesus, especially if your good neighbourliness as a matter of course has made a way into their affections and assured them of your good intentions.
  • Live in such a way as to complement to the gospel preached from the pulpit, so as to make your life a second sermon. If your own life adorns the gospel, and demonstrates and endorses the truth preached, then you make yourself every true preacher’s ally. If your life is a contradiction of the truth you or your pastors proclaim, if you have the name of a saint but fall short in the life, then you not only offend Christ but you put an obstacle in the path of every man who can discern the gap between Christian testimony and your practice.

    So, are you in?

    Remember Fuller’s opening description of the early church:

    The primitive churches were not mere assemblies of men who agreed to meet together once or twice a week, and to subscribe for the support of an accomplished men who should on those occasions deliver lectures on religion. They were men gathered out of the world by the preaching of the cross, and formed into society for the promotion of Christ’s kingdom in their own souls and in the world around them. It was not the concern of the ministers or elders only; the body of the people were interested in all that was done, and, according to their several abilities and stations, took part in it. Neither were they assemblies of heady, high-minded, contentious people, meeting together to argue on points of doctrine or discipline, and converting the worship of God into scenes of strife. They spoke the truth; but it was in love; they observed discipline; but, like an army of chosen men, it was that they might attack the kingdom of Satan to greater advantage. Happy were it for our churches if we could come to a closer imitation of this model!

    As much as ever, the church needs her people to speak the truth in love, and observe that holy discipline that will enable her to march as an army with banners, and overcome the world, the flesh and the devil, and be the means in God’s hands of plucking brands from the burning and building up the church of Christ.

    To this end, the whole church must be engaged. If your pastors “virtually pledge ourselves to be ready on all occasions to engage in” this work of promoting the cause of Christ, will you pledge yourself to stand with them, pray for them, labour alongside them, pouring yourself out as opportunity and calling provide for the glory of Christ on the earth, seen in the salvation of the lost and the strengthening of the family of God?

    IntroductionFirst groupSecond groupThird groupFourth group

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Thursday 25 November 2010 at 21:05

    Easy to sing, harder to live

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    John Cennick, a faithful preacher and bold evangelist, wrote a hymn, the last verse of which is powerful:

    Now will I tell to sinners round
    What a dear Saviour I have found!
    I’ll point to Thy redeeming blood,
    And say, ‘Behold the way to God!’

    They are indeed stirring words, and it is easy to sing them fervently and earnestly within the safe confines of the walls of a home or church building.  But when Cennick wrote them he meant them, and he lived them.  Having obtained salvation and the assurance of it, he was bold and quick to point others to the same Saviour who had delivered him.  May we know the same joy of salvation, and the same boldness to make known our Saviour.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Friday 20 August 2010 at 17:34

    Ministering in the metacities

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    Al Mohler gives us some statistics and challenges for the cities of the future now becoming the cities of the present:

    The history of humanity traces the flow of the earth’s inhabitants into cities. For thousands of years, that flow was slow, but still traceable. In 1800, only 3 percent of the human population lived in cities. By 1900, cities held 14 percent of the population. By 2000, fully half of all human beings lived in urban areas. We are fast becoming an urban species. . . .

    These new metacities will shape the future and, by extension, all of us. The Financial Times produced this important report with primary concern for the future of the cities as engines of economic development and political innovation. Christians must look to this report with a sober acknowledgment that the church is falling further behind in the challenge of reaching the cities. The emergence of these vast new metacities will call for a revolution in missiology and ministry.

    This much is clear — the cities are where the people are. In the course of less than 300 years, our world will have shifted from one in which only 3 percent of people live in cities, to one in which 80 percent are resident in urban areas.

    If the Christian church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must call a new generation of committed Christians into these teeming cities. As these new numbers make clear, there really is no choice.

    Read it all.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Friday 23 April 2010 at 13:28

    Doing and not doing

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    A few weeks ago I preached on the righteousness of God in Christ.  Some people struggle to submit to the righteousness of God, and – in the matter of their standing with God – need to stop doing and start believing.  Encouragingly, Walter Marshall, in The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, makes the same point against both neonomianism and outright legalism, without giving any grounds for antinomianism:

    The difference between the law and gospel does not at all consist in this, that the one requires perfect doing, the other only sincere doing, but in this, that the one requires doing, the other not doing but believing for life and salvation. Their terms are different, not only in degree, but in their whole nature.

    HT: Ray Ortlund.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Tuesday 9 February 2010 at 15:31

    Posted in Christian living

    Tagged with , ,

    “Gospel Intimacy in a Godly Marriage”

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    Gospel Intimacy in a Godly Marriage by Alan Dunn

    Pillar & Ground Publications, 2009 (168pp, pbk)

    The greatest threat to genuine intimacy in marriage, even when two redeemed sinners become one flesh, is sin.  Alan Dunn’s book on gospel intimacy is intended to help identify and overcome those barriers and hindrances to genuine closeness.

    The author navigates the journey in the light of the doctrines of God, creation, fall and redemption.  He then addresses the grace of gospel love, and it is here that facing sin in a relationship comes to the fore.  Only the gospel can teach us to love our spouse in the face of remaining sin.  Realistically facing our sins, cultivating a disposition of forgiveness and forbearance, and the nature of those ‘gospel transactions’ that enable married sinners to press on together are all helpfully explained.  In the third part, the specific challenges of headship and submission, selfishness, unbiblical communication, and unavoidable death are assessed in the light of Scripture, with instruction, counsel and encouragement wisely and graciously offered.  The author’s experience as a pastor and husband is helpfully evident.

    Clearly, the book is directed primarily to Christian couples (married or contemplating marriage).  Slightly unusually, but rightly, the weight of application is toward husbands as those called to set the tone of gospel love in a marriage (the section on headship brings out the nuances of this).  At the same time, Christians in various situations will find rich principles that will guide them not just with regard to marriage, but in understanding their environment, their hearts, their relationships with others, and the gospel realities which underpin peace and unity not just in marriage but in friendships, in the family more broadly, and in the church.

    There are many books on marriage, but few that deal with the heart of the matter – in terms of sin and the gospel grace in Christ that overcomes it – with the brevity, clarity and profundity of this volume.  Practical on the deepest level, it is warmly recommended as a gospel recipe for repairing damage and developing and maintaining true intimacy in a godly marriage.

    in a Godly Marriage

    Alan Dunn

    Pillar & Ground Publications, 2009

    168pp, pbk, $10.95

    ISBN 978 1 932481 19 8

    The greatest threat to genuine intimacy in marriage, even when two redeemed sinners become one flesh, is sin.  Alan Dunn’s book on gospel intimacy is intended to help identify and overcome those barriers and hindrances to genuine closeness.

    The author navigates the journey in the light of the doctrines of God, creation, fall and redemption.  He then addresses the grace of gospel love, and it is here that facing sin in a relationship comes to the fore.  Only the gospel can teach us to love our spouse in the face of remaining sin.  Realistically facing our sins, cultivating a disposition of forgiveness and forbearance, and the nature of those ‘gospel transactions’ that enable married sinners to press on together are all helpfully explained.  In the third part, the specific challenges of headship and submission, selfishness, unbiblical communication, and unavoidable death are assessed in the light of Scripture, with instruction, counsel and encouragement wisely and graciously offered.  The author’s experience as a pastor and husband is helpfully evident.

    Clearly, the book is directed primarily to Christian couples (married or contemplating marriage).  Slightly unusually, but rightly, the weight of application is toward husbands as those called to set the tone of gospel love in a marriage (the section on headship brings out the nuances of this).  At the same time, Christians in various situations will find rich principles that will guide them not just with regard to marriage, but in understanding their environment, their hearts, their relationships with others, and the gospel realities which underpin peace and unity not just in marriage but in friendships, in the family more broadly, and in the church.

    There are many books on marriage, but few that deal with the heart of the matter – in terms of sin and the gospel grace in Christ that overcomes it – with the brevity, clarity and profundity of this volume.  Practical on the deepest level, it is warmly recommended as a gospel recipe for repairing damage and developing and maintaining true intimacy in a godly marriage.

    Jeremy Walker

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Saturday 19 December 2009 at 10:25

    Posted in Reviews

    Tagged with , , ,

    “Gospel intimacy” competition results

    with 4 comments

    OK: the results are in.  Again, thank you to all those who entered.  I shall be contacting you shortly to obtain a mailing address for your prize.  Alan Dunn, who wrote Gospel Intimacy in a Godly Marriage, has perused and pondered over the entries, and here is his response:

    I’d like to thank all who took the time to read Jeremy’s interview.  I thought his questions were very good and I hope my answers were helpful.  I especially thank those of you who took the time to write responses to the competition question.  I enjoyed reading each response and have had to settle on the winners who will receive a copy of Gospel Intimacy. Most of the responses tended toward “sacrificial love,” as stated in several of the essays.  Such sacrificial love was profiled against the backdrop of extended affliction – especially the failing health of one spouse who was ministered to with Christlike sacrificial love.  Certainly such love is a display of forbearance and patience, all of which are integral to giving each other the kind of love we’ve received in Jesus.  However, I was looking more particularly for “gospel love,” a love that contends with the emergence of sin and overcomes it with the grace of forgiveness and then through the power of the gospel, works to bring spiritual change and maturation in both spouses.

    So having said that, here are the results of the competition.  I’ve awarded four books.  I identified the four winners but found that three of the other essays each equally focused on “sacrificial love” in the midst of protracted affliction, and I was therefore unable to distinguish fairly between them.  Since the other four more closely approximated the matter of the gospel overcoming sin, they were selected as winners.

    In fourth place: Dan.  His response concerned a sacrificial love that overcame the challenge of post-natal depression.  Although he doesn’t specifically state it, I would think that the husband in his account was faced with temptations to sin as he dealt, not with physical sickness per se, but the emotional distress of his wife.  The need to forgive sin rather than to forebear under suffering would be that much more likely.

    In third place: Sarah.  She describes the gospel’s power to overcome class distinctions and social barriers.  Again, although contending with sin was not prominent between William Carey and Charlotte, they certainly were faced with the need to forgive others of their prejudice against them.

    In second place: Guy Davies, if only because his response was eight pages long!  Guy brought out the fruit of the gospel evidenced in Jonathan and Sarah Edward’s marriage.  Their harmony and peaceable dynamics were the result of their mutual resolve to overcome sin with the gospel tools of repentance and forgiveness.

    And finally – in first place: Cath, whose second submission specifically targeted “gospel intimacy” and “gospel love.”  Cath gave an account of the martyrdom of John Brown of Priesthill.  She then reflected on how his marriage to Isobel evidenced the harmony and unity borne of the gospel and that the couple’s love for Jesus was the supreme impetus in their lives and marriage.  Cath’s essay specifically enlarged upon “gospel intimacy” and “gospel love.”  Congratulations Cath!

    Let me conclude with a submission of my own, and since I already have a book, it will not be considered as a contender in the competition.  It’s an example of gospel love from a marriage that I know about.  When the couple first married, both were professing Christians, albeit young and somewhat untaught.  It was not too long, however, before the husband started to drink and soon departed from any association with the things of God.  The wife however, continued to persevere in her love for Christ and faithfulness to the worship of God among the Lord’s people.  She took a stand for Christ and with her husband’s acquiescence, took her two boys to church as they grew into young manhood.  Over the years there were tumultuous times.  On a couple occasions, divorce was not out of the range of possibility and, some would say, even justified.  But the wife/mother persevered as a woman of faith and prayer, demonstrating obedience to 1 Peter 3:1-6.  In the midst of it all, she owned his conscience, and the consciences and love of her two sons.  In her early sixties, she was diagnosed with cancer.  She grew strong in the Lord as she drew near to death, while her husband became increasingly frantic with the fear of facing life without her.  In his desperation, he remembered the God of his youth who his wife had served all her life, and in his mid sixties, he repented and sought the Lord.  Before she went to be with Christ, she saw her husband saved, her marriage brought into alignment with the gospel, and both her sons in the pastoral ministry, having married godly women.  The power the gospel triumphed through a lifetime of gospel love.  The sin that would have otherwise destroyed her marriage and her sons was conquered by her faithful loving adherence to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  My brother and I are eternally grateful to the Lord for having given her to us as our mother and using her to bring us into God’s eternal family where we, with Dad, are now eternally brothers and sister in Christ. I didn’t use my Mom as an illustration in my book, but the Lord used her to teach me the power of gospel love in a marriage.

    Perhaps this exercise has confirmed for me that the book could very well meet a real need among believers.  We need to make the gospel itself much more effective in our marriages.  We need to purposefully, intentionally, conscientiously bring the gospel to bear upon our dealings with each other’s sin.  We need to believe and expect that, as we give each other gospel love, the Spirit will work effectively in and through us to conform us to Christ and use our marriages to display the gospel and bring glory to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    Thank you, Alan, for your careful and thoughtful response, and for the book as a whole.  To summarise:

    The winners:

    Cath ~ Guy ~ Sarah ~ Dan

    Congratulations!

    The others: thanks and commiserations, and I hope you will not be put off trying again next time.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Monday 7 December 2009 at 12:37

    Posted in Competitions

    Tagged with , ,

    Competition update

    with one comment

    I am running a competition to win one of five signed copies of Alan Dunn’s book, Gospel Intimacy in a Godly Marriage.  So far, it has failed to rouse much in the way of sporting blood.

    Friends, this is a first rate book.  Is it profound?  Yes.  Does it demand thought?  Yes.  Will it let you quickly off the hook?  No.  Will it call you to prayer in repentance over sin and for grace to press on?  Yes.  Will it bring a savour of Christian grace to the marriage of anyone prepared to pray it in and work it out?  Assuredly.  Is it worth having?  Indubitably.

    So, please, head over to THE COMPETITION and get your well-oiled typing fingers moving at blistering speeds.  If you want to get thinking immediately, here is the challenge:

    Please identify a particular marriage – either in your own experience or one from church history – which you believe demonstrates true gospel intimacy.  Please briefly explain how this is manifested in the marriage, and what you have learned (e.g. of Christ and his church, the nature of gospel love, how to demonstrate a genuinely Christlike love, etc.) as a result of learning about or observing this marriage.

    So yoicks and tally-ho, etc.  The deadline is Monday 30 November.  Please leave answers in the comments.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Monday 23 November 2009 at 13:07

    Posted in Competitions

    Tagged with , ,

    “Gospel Intimacy in a Godly Marriage”: an interview with Alan Dunn

    with 18 comments

    Gospel Intimacy in a Godly Marriage (Dunn)Please read to the end of this interview for an opportunity to win one of five signed copies of Alan Dunn’s book.

    Alan Dunn is a good friend, and one of the pastors of the Grace Covenant Baptist Church, Flemington, New Jersey, and has been since the church’s inception in 1985.  He is married to Patricia, and they have three sons and one daughter.  He has recently authored the book Gospel Intimacy in a Godly Marriage: A Pursuit of Godly Romance (Pillar & Ground Publications).  He has previously written a book on masculinity and femininity called Headship in Marriage: In Light of Creation and the Fall.

    impressive clergyman
    Alan Dunn in full flow . . . or not?

    Gospel intimacy . . . hmmm.  To borrow a phrase: “Is this a kissing book?”

    No, and yes.  It is a “wuv, twue wuv” book.  I use the term “intimacy” to speak of the all-inclusive nature of the one-flesh relationship.  Marital intimacy entails a profound knitting of soul.  As we pursue soul intimacy with our spouse, we will inevitably foster physical intimacy as both kinds of intimacy feed into each other.  The book focuses on relational intimacy.  However, sexual intimacy, which is integral to marriage, will emerge from a wholesome relational intimacy.  If you’re asking, “Is this a book about sex?” I would say, “Yes, but it will improve that area of a relationship only as a result of cultivating a deeper intimacy of soul.”

    Thank you for the explanation.  That being so, please can you give us a précis of the book?  What can we expect to find?

    I’ve attempted to look at marriage in the light of who we are as men and women created in the image of God and as those redeemed by Christ and indwelt by His Spirit.  I consider marriage against the backdrop of the Bible’s large emphases on God, Creation, the Fall, and Redemption.  After I define the couple in terms of creation and redemption, I then consider the greatest challenge to marital intimacy: our sin.  Only the gospel can address the threat that sin poses to our marital intimacy, so we need to learn how to give each other “gospel love.”  We face other challenges to intimacy as well, such as who will take the lead, how to overcome our innate selfishness, how to cultivate wholesome communication patterns, and how to grow more intimate as we age and face the prospect of death.

    For whom is this book written?

    I believe that couples at every stage of their relationship would benefit from this book.  Since marriage is treated in the context of theology and the issues addressed are fundamental, it will speak to couples of all ages.  The concern of applying the gospel to our marriages is perennial.  When do we outgrow the liability of sinning against each other?  We need to gain competence in giving each other “gospel love” throughout the course of our marriages.  Each stage along the way confronts us with persistent and unprecedented challenges that can only be met by a believing application of the gospel.  So, couples who are contemplating marriage, young, middle-aged and seasoned couples will find help and gain perspective from the book.

    Alan Dunn
    The real, well-seasoned Pastor Dunn

    I like the idea of a well-seasoned couple – a little salt and pepper, with a few mixed herbs, perhaps?  But, moving on, could or should a single Christian bother with this book?

    Admittedly, I wrote the book for Christian couples, but that is not to say that our single brethren would not benefit from it.  Let marriage be held in honour by all (Heb 13:4).  I endeavour to profile marriage with biblical honour which is a concern for all Christians, married or single.  Also, the crux of the book deals with the practical matter of how to love with gospel love.  All of our relationships in the family, the church and elsewhere, are to express gospel dynamics.  Christian singles will find encouragement to love others by seeing how the gospel is to operate within a marriage relationship.

    With many books on marriage in the marketplace, even from a Christian perspective, what does yours add that others lack?

    I make no claim to know the state of “the marketplace” or what might be the dominant emphases prevalent in books about marriage.  Gospel Intimacy emphasizes the theology of marriage as well as the practical importance of conditioning the marriage relationship with the gospel.  Rather than a “kissing book,” it is more a “thinking book.”  It lays foundations in creation and the gospel and then asks the reader to think through such issues as marital leadership and communication between two believing sinners living in a fallen world.

    What does your lovely and longsuffering wife think of the book?

    She is lovely, isn’t she?  And, as you well know, she is longsuffering having put up with me for these thirty-two years.  As for the book . . . she appreciates the biblical instruction that undergirds the book, but she is less than enthusiastic about those occasions when I make explicit reference to our marriage.  Yet she understands that it would be unrealistic for a married man to write about marriage and not refer to his own marriage or to his own wife.  She’s longsuffering and realistic – which makes her all the more lovely to me.

    Are there particular ways in which discovering and applying these principles has affected you and your marriage?

    As many of us, Tricia and I entered marriage with naive expectations, few commendable examples, in a time of rampant confusion regarding gender and marital roles.  The confusion has only gotten worse since we married.  We were forced to delve into our Bibles to ascertain who we were to be as male and female, husband and wife.  We’ve had to make sober assessments of our own upbringing and come to terms with our own sins which have obstructed our growth in intimacy.  Gaining the skills necessary to be honest and to communicate is invaluable.  We have come to know each other more intimately over the years, and we’re still learning how to apply the gospel to our relationship.  Each stage in life presents its own challenges and set of temptations.  But as we learn to live by gospel principles, we are hopeful that, by God’s grace, we can face what is in store for us and find Christ to be ever faithful.

    In your experience, are women more likely to read books on marriage?  Given that this book is primarily addressed to husbands, why would you particularly encourage a man to read this book, and what counsel would you give him as he does so?

    I think it is true that women are more likely to read books on marriage.  Certainly they are welcome to read this one as well.  I mention in the preface that I write from the vantage point of a man and, in many ways, address male readers.  My approach is “masculine,” if I can be so bold as to assume that there is such a thing as masculinity and femininity.  A godly man is responsible to know and apply biblical definitions to his life and relationships.  As I said, this is a “thinking book,” which considers biblical definitions and seeks to apply them in a number of areas.  I think this approach has biblical warrant since the husband is given the responsibility to lead by loving and by communicating truth.  If the marriage is going to be a demonstration of the gospel, the husband must lead the relationship to that end.  It will not happen by accident.  It will not just happen.  Godly marriages are shaped by couples who are intentionally determined to work together to make their marriage serve Kingdom priorities.  The leadership of the man, his prayers, his example, especially his communication of the truth in love, is indispensible.   It is not surprising to discover that our distinctive masculine sins are those which render us either negligent or abusive as domestic leaders.  It is not surprising to discover that the enticements of our culture align with our vulnerabilities as men and debilitate us as godly leaders.  The only solution is for us to rise up and be men of God and lead our families biblically.  I hope my book will stimulate men to be godly leaders in their homes.

    Why gospel intimacy?  Does it have to be a godly marriage?  Could you remove either or both of those adjectives and still have a book to write?

    The enemy of relational intimacy is sin.  Only the gospel can rectify the damage sin does to our relationships.  Hence, my advocacy of gospel intimacy: the intimacy obtained by the benefits of the gospel believed and holding-handsapplied to the marriage.  In advocating gospel intimacy I of necessity advocate godly marriages because the gospel is God’s gospel.  The gospel not only brings intimacy with our spouse, but primarily with God, so that in fellowship with Him we and our marriages become godly.  It is only as we learn to love each other with God’s gospel that we protect our relationships from the offensive, deadening, and severing effects of sin.  Sadly, we all know couples and families who live at an emotional distance from each other, who do not respect each other’s integrity, who have little if any spiritual commonality and little if any affectionate delight in each other, in spite of being married and living in the same house.  Were it not for the gospel and the blessings God gives to the godly, I really wouldn’t have a book to write.

    You root a right understanding of true marital intimacy in the doctrines of God, creation, the fall and redemption.  How important is this doctrinal foundation to practical godliness in marriage?

    These crucial doctrines give us our essential definitions.  God is the foundational essence of reality.  In the beginning, God . . . This is God’s creation.  We are made in His image.  We are fallen sinners.  We have fallen through sin, into death.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  If we fail to define ourselves in relation to all of these biblical truths, we will deceive ourselves and discover that our myths are not sufficient to endure the realities of life and the inevitability of death.  These doctrines form the structure of a biblical worldview.  They answer the big questions of who we are, why we’re here, what is wrong with us, and how things can be made right.  All men have a worldview, a set of values which issue forth from what is supreme in their life: their god.  Their god determines their values, and their values determine their choices, and their choices determine how their lives are lived in practical ways.  If a man serves mammon, then he will lead his family according to the values of mammon and he will make choices designed to get as much money as he can.  He will find his identity in his possessions.  His solution to what he senses is wrong in life is to get more money.  He thinks that more wealth will fix his problems.  He will then lead his family into the service of money.  They will learn to make commitments and sacrifices, to form habits and find enjoyment in terms of Dad’s value system of amassing wealth.  His wife and children will follow him as he does what is practically necessary to make as much money as he can.  So too, if Dad’s God is Jesus Christ, then the family will learn the values of the Kingdom and take the practical steps required to uphold the worship of Jesus, to learn the truth as it is in Jesus, to serve others in Jesus’ strength, and to give gospel love to all in Jesus’ name.  Such a life will require the practice of godliness, the devotion of time and money, and the sacrifice of self – for Jesus’ sake.

    What do you think are the particular pressures that the Western culture (or, indeed, other cultures) is placing upon gospel intimacy in a godly marriage?  Does your book address these?

    When men fail to assume their place as husbands giving loving leadership, two perverse results ensue, and one appears dominant in the West while the other is more evident in the East, although these are only generalizations and both perversions are rampant in both hemispheres.  The first is what I call “the wedding handsperversion of inversion.”  This twisting of the God-ordained order inverts the roles of the husband and the wife and puts her into the role of leader and puts him into the role of helper.  The result is a marriage that resembles the mother-son relationship.  She inevitably leads as a mother and discovers that she has married her son.  Both soon come to resent the unnatural dynamics of this perversion.  Bitterness and estrangement choke intimacy.  This perversion pervades Western culture.  The other marital deformity, often found in Eastern cultures, is what I call “the perversion of extremes.”  Here the man takes his role as leader to an extreme and becomes a tyrant while the wife takes her duty to submit to an extreme and virtually effaces herself and assumes a diminished role in the home, in some cases even lower than the children.  Against both deformities stands the morally beautiful marriage of two believers who, in the integrity of their respective masculinity and femininity, display and adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.  A godly marriage is a powerful witness to the gospel in the midst of the perversions evident in both the East and the West.

    What particular individual sins and shortcomings does your book expose and address?

    The central concern addressed by the book is our unbelieving reluctance to put the gospel into practice in our marriages.  If we would triumph over the sin that so easily besets us, we have to exercise a courageous faith that believes that the Spirit can and will actually change us and conform us more and more to Christ.  We must believe that the power of the God who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us to enable us to break away from past sins, character flaws, deficient parental influences, cultural assumptions and whatever else would prevent us from learning how to replicate Jesus’ relationship to His church in our marriages.   As Christians, our expertise is the gospel.  We should be the best repenters, forgivers, believers, and lovers on the planet.  These are the rudiments of the gospel and our failure to practice these gospel essentials exposes our shameful sin of unbelief.

    Does your book have anything to say to a couple in which one or the other party was unconverted, or both were unsaved?  In the light of what you have written, what would you say to them?

    Certainly a believer who is married to an unbeliever can find help and encouragement in Gospel Intimacy if only by gaining a more cogent biblical perspective on who they are as married Christians.  The unbelieving spouse may be oblivious to the gospel that is being communicated by the believing spouse, but the Lord may also work through “gospel love” to bring the unbeliever into saving union with Christ.  If an unbelieving couple were to read the book, I would hope that the foundational perspectives on God, Creation and the Fall would draw them to the beauty of what is presented to us in Genesis 2:24-25 and that they would be enabled by the Spirit to see there a picture of Jesus and His Bride, the Church.  Were an unbelieving couple to read the book, I hope they would appreciate my attempts to be honest with the realities of married life and, recognizing that measure of honesty, they would then be receptive to my witness to Christ and the gospel as the only provision for us as sinners.

    You make much of genuine forgiveness and repentance in an atmosphere of love as a means of maintaining and restoring a relationship.  Can you briefly spell out the issues for us?  Why is it so important to understand and apply these things in marriage?

    If we are going to become intimate with our spouse, we will inevitably encounter our remaining sin.  The sins which we might otherwise conceal in our more superficial relationships will surface in the intimate realism of married life.  Who we truly are becomes evident, and although we truly are believers, we are yet sinners as well.  The more intimate we become with our spouse, the more opportunities there are for sin to erupt and threaten our love.  As married couples, we are always together.  We see each other in ways others don’t.  The true moral quality of our core character becomes obvious.  Both our capacity to love and our capacity to sin are discovered in the crucible of marital intimacy.  We are confronted with our own personal defects and relational weaknesses as the pressure of intimacy brings our remaining sin to the surface.  If we are committed to love our spouse deeply from the heart, we will be compelled to address our own deep-seated heart sins which inevitably emerge from the pressure of intimacy.  A Christian couple must be equipped to address the eruption of sin and not be naive to it.  They must be committed beforehand to love each other with the gospel and to stand together against each other’s sin.  They must be resolved that they will remove the intrusion of sin with gospel tools: repentance, confession, faith in Christ, forgiveness, restoration and maturation in grace.  With a commitment to Christ, our marriages can be used by the Spirit to sanctify us and to display the gospel.

    What changes would you hope to see in the marriage of two Christians who began to understand and apply the truths of your book?  What might that look like within the marriage, or to those outside it?

    I think we all can sense when we are with a couple whose marriage is vital and loving.  Their love is comforting, pleasant, refreshing.  They generate a climate of peace and joy.  We also know the discomfort of being with a couple who are sniping at each other, being critical and circling around each other at an intimacyemotional distance.  You feel as though you’ve entered a place where you do not belong, certainly where you do not want to stay.  The couple are not comfortable with each other and their diseased intimacy makes you uncomfortable as well.  Such a deformed display of love is unattractive, discomforting, and even repulsive.  You’d just rather not be with such couples.  It is unpleasant to be with a couple who are not pleasant with each other.  But when you’re with a couple who love each other, their love emanates and envelops you and your soul is refreshed and renewed by their love.  Back in the eighties, I remember reading about a serial killer, Charles Sobhraj (Serpentine, by Thomas Thompson).  Sobhraj murdered and robbed wealthy travellers in Europe and Asia in the seventies.  At one point, he met an American couple and was seducing them with his charismatic charm, having a meal with them and planning to get himself invited to their hotel room where he would then, as usual, murder and rob them.  But this particular couple in their sixties (I wonder if they were Christians) were so obviously in love, that during the meal, they won the respect of this most hardened killer.  They didn’t have a clue that the “The Serpent” was coiling about them, but in the innocence and beauty of their love, they fended off incarnate evil as Sobhraj uncharacteristically saw them to their room and bade them goodnight.  There is spiritual power in gospel love that does more good than we can ever know this side of Final Judgment.

    The last chapter of your book is about death.  Why?

    We’re dying.  As a couple moves through the stages of life, encroaching death becomes more evident.  The outer man decays.  My doctor tells me that I’m deteriorating right on schedule.  You confront weakness, sickness and the inevitable separation of death.  One of you will stand next to the graveside of the other.  There is only one thing more powerful than death: our risen Lord Jesus and His conquering love for us.  If we live together, giving His love to each other, sanctifying each other with gospel grace, we are already overcoming death which threatens to sever us because of our sin.  As we experience the victory of the gospel over sin in this life, we taste of the good things to come and fortify our faith to face the inevitable onslaught of death when one of us will be taken to be with Christ and the other will remain in this life for a time.  The life of love and faith will enable us to continue to believe in the victory of the gospel and have an undying hope that, although separated for a time, we will forever be together with the Lord.  We will discover in the resurrection that our godly marriage was used by the Lord to prepare us to take our place in the glorified society of eternal love.  We will discover that our marriage was a preliminary practice for life as the Bride of Christ in a glorified society in which our relationships to all the redeemed will exceed anything we can merely approximate in this age even in the best of marriages.  A godly marriage given to gospel love is an eschatological phenomenon, already tasting of the good things to come and pointing men to eternal glory.  The more we enjoy such love, the more we triumph over death.

    Are there any other resources that you would particularly recommend to a couple trying to develop gospel intimacy in a godly marriage?

    Over the years I’ve read some very helpful things from Wayne Mack, R. C. Sproul, Jay Adams, Tremper Longman, Martha Peace, and others.  Many people have much to say about marriage and many voices are seeking to fend off the numerous attacks being made on marriage in our culture.  We can certainly benefit from exposing ourselves to the counsel of the wise.  I would urge, however, that we verify that they are, in fact, wise.  I am more receptive to those writers who are determined to instil biblical truth and anchor my mind and practice to Scriptural counsel than those who present arguments based on psychology, sociology, and pragmatism.  I’m confident that biblical doctrine is profoundly practical when it is embraced and pursued in faith and obedience.

    How can we get your book?  I looked on Amazon, and – unless you have a lucrative sideline in making sugarcraft flowers – the fruit of your labours is not there.

    I just looked on Amazon to verify that I am, in fact, in the sugarcraft flower business.  I was unaware of that and I have no idea what “sugarcraft” might be.  I imagine that that Alan Dunn would be surprised to discover that he has written a book about the gospel and marriage.  It might be just as well for his peace of mind that the book is not listed on Amazon – yet.   Meanwhile the book can be obtained through the publisher: Pillar and Ground Publications, 5510 Tonnelle Ave., North Bergen, NJ, USA 07047-3029 (cris.hist@verizon.net).  The book is also available here from the Trinity Book Service.

    Thank you, my friend, for taking the time to write these careful and insightful answers.  I hope that your labours will be a means of investing in multiple marriages for the blessing of godly men and women and all those in connection with them, and the advance of the gospel in every sense.

    COMPETITION

    I have five signed copies of Alan Dunn’s Gospel Intimacy in a Godly Marriage to give away.  The competition is open to all readers from Europe only.  (Sorry, others – the book is currently more easily available in the US, and the books were given for a competition on this side o‘ the pond.)

    I did think of asking why you need this book, with the most persuasive answers obtaining a copy, but then I thought that – under those circumstances – ‘desperate’ would easily become a synonym of ‘persuasive’, and things could get messy, so I canned that idea.

    The actual competition is as follows:

    Please identify a particular marriage – either in your own experience or one from church history – which you believe demonstrates true gospel intimacy.  Please briefly explain how this is manifested in the marriage, and what you have learned (e.g. of Christ and his church, the nature of gospel love, how to demonstrate a genuinely Christlike love, etc.) as a result of learning about or observing this marriage.

    Please leave your suggestions in the comments section of the blog (as they might be a means of encouragement, edification and stimulation to other readers, even if you are geographically ineligible for the competition itself [just put in a line to that effect]).  Although the comment thread will be left open, competition entries must be posted within two calendar weeks of the date of this post (i.e. no later than Monday 30th November 2009).  Please make sure you enter a valid and current email address with your comment, as I will need this to track you down and obtain your address for posting if you win.

    I will then ask Pastor Dunn to read through the comments/entries, and to select five enlightening and encouraging entries that he believes chime with the spirit and intent of his book.  I will send the books out as soon as the selection has been made, and hopefully get them to you in time for Christmas (this would be an excellent book, for example, for couples to read together as the new year begins).

    Thank you in advance for your contributions.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Monday 16 November 2009 at 12:27

    This day of God’s power

    leave a comment »

    From Ray Ortlund:

    Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap and be faithful even unto death? Where are those who will lose their lives for Christ’s sake — flinging them away for love of him? Where are those who will live dangerously and be reckless in his service? Where are his lovers — those who love him and the souls of men more than their own reputations or comfort or very life?

    Where are the men who say ‘no’ to self, who take up Christ’s cross to bear it after him, who are willing to be nailed to it in college or office, home or mission field, who are willing, if need be, to bleed, to suffer and to die on it?

    Where are the adventurers, the explorers, the buccaneers for God, who count one human soul of far greater value than the rise or fall of an empire? Where are the men who are willing to pay the price of vision?

    Where are the men of prayer?

    Where are God’s men in this day of God’s power?

    Howard Guinness, Sacrifice, 59-60

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Friday 4 September 2009 at 20:06

    Posted in Christian living

    Tagged with ,

    Making a connection

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    Reformissionary offers some suggestions for making gospel connections with strangers:

    1. Invitation cards (I keep planning this myself, but never quite get to sorting out the details).
    2. Tennis ball.
    3. Extra (stuff).
    4. Camera.
    5. Courage.

    Feel free to add more in the comments if you can think of any.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Wednesday 5 August 2009 at 11:30

    Posted in Missiology and evangelism

    Tagged with

    Pandemics, panic and peace

    with 2 comments

    Death is in the headlines.  Michael Jackson seemed to think he was God.  Bobby Robson was, in his time, as much the Geordie Messiah as Kevin Keegan.  At a Swiss clinic, Dignitas clients play God with their own lives.  And, up and down the UK, and in many other countries (some far less equipped to deal with the problem), disease runs rampant, and men panic over the pursuit or lack of God-like control over their health.

    swine flu (samples)In a culture increasingly obsessed, at least in popular media, with doomsday scenarios, the swine flu statistics and reaction can be bewildering.  The country is generally described as “unprepared” (sometimes the adjective “woefully” is thrown in for good cheer).  The government seems to veer between crying “We’re coping” on the one hand, and “We’re doomed” on the other: the net effect is the agitated cry of a frantic Corporal Jones: “Don’t panic!”

    In a climate of fear and uncertainty, of panic and ignorance, how should a Christian respond?  God’s voice cuts through the white noise of conflicting cries for attention and tells us how to think clearly and prepare properly.

    Think clearly.

    Firstly, remember that the Lord God remains in control of all things (Eph 1.11; Heb 1.3; Ps 135.6).  This may be general and basic, but it is still true and needful.  God’s knowledge and power are absolute on the grandest and most minute scales.  Isaiah 40 is true in every regard even when – like Jeremiah when ordered to buy a field in the face of the advancing armies of Chaldea (Jer 32.16-25) – we remain ignorant and confused.  Even unbelievers who would never bless God when receiving mercies are quick to blame him when trouble comes (Rev 16.9, 21) – their fallen hearts still know that someone is in charge.  God’s absolute control includes all disease and plague (Ps 39.10).  He remains the sovereign, gracious, merciful and compassionate God of Jonah 4.10-11: nothing is an aberration from his plan, there are no surprises to him, and he makes no mistakes.

    swine flu (close up)Secondly, know that the Lord God has sovereignly determined the spread, effect and toll of this disease.  Scriptures often show the Lord employing disease to accomplish his purposes.  The common thread running through every instance is his absolute control over it (see Ex 6.6-7; 7.5; 9.16; Num 16.41-50; 25.1-9; Dt 28.21, 61; 2Sam 24.13-25).  Whether among peoples or with regard to individuals (Jb 2.1-10), God sets the bounds always.  His actings and permissions are absolute.  His knowledge of and control over all aspects of life is total (Ps 139.15-16).  All the days of our lives, and all their experiences, are appointed for us.  Disease is God’s creature, and he holds the reins.

    Thirdly, rejoice that the Lord God in mercy and goodness has provided means to promote and secure the health of his creatures.  It is a demonstration of God’s fatherly care (Mt 5.44-45).  It is an instance of common grace.  God has put certain means of health within our hands to be gratefully received swine flu (child and pig)and trustingly employed.  So, in Isaiah 38 we find Hezekiah granted fifteen extra years of life, but the divinely-appointed ends are accomplished by divinely-appointed means (v21).  Had Hezekiah despised or ignored the means of securing his health, it would not have been restored to him.  Christians sometimes demonstrate what is imagined to be a super-spirituality.  In doing so, some neglect God’s means: “This is all in the providence of God!”  True, but so are the physicians who have concocted medicines, and so is its availability to you, and so may be the fact that your life will be secured by the use of them.  Others despise God’s means: “God can heal or preserve me without resorting to medicines!”  Yes, he can, but he also often uses regular means for the accomplishing of his sovereign purposes, and you will be the sadder for despising them.  Without overreaction to, obsession with, or idolisation of the means God provides, use them soberly, seriously, wisely, diligently and appropriately as the divinely-appointed route, in most instances, to the promotion and securing of health.

    Fourthly, consider that the Lord God has particular regard for his people, and is able to preserve and protect them by any means he chooses.  Our use of means is never a reliance on men, but must be joined with trust in God alone.  It is God who provides and blesses those means, and apart from him the doctors can accomplish nothing in us (2Chr 16.12).  God cares for his own (Ex 12.13; Ps 91.10).  Our times are appointed by him (Ps 31.15).  To the Lord belong escapes from death (Ps 68.19-20) whether those escapes are immediate and vivid or slow and unremarkable.  This is no guarantee of health or healing to all or any of God’s children (2Cor 12.8-10; 2Tim 4.20).  It may require the believing and responsible use of less usual means (Jas 5.14-15).  It certainly is not a call to a foolish fanaticism that tests God by demanding his care for an irresponsible and unrighteous walk (Mt 4.6-7).  It simply means that, in the believing, trusting, wise, careful and legitimate use of means for securing our health, we can go about our God’s appointed business without crippling fear.  Our times are in his hands, our days appointed by him, and our end secure with him: our present and final confidence lies in the God of our salvation (Rom 14.8).  In the Black Death that devastated Europe during the 1660s it was a noticeable fact that when many others fled London, many faithful preachers remained to serve the sick and dying, and some enjoyed a preservation of life and health inexplicable apart from God’s superintendence of them.

    Finally, remember that the Lord God will glorify his name in this, whether or not we ever understand how.  Who can trace his intricate designs and multiplied purposes?  Who can counsel God as to the warnings, punishments, callings, testings and proving that this pandemic will accomplish?  When we can answer God’s questions in Job 38-41 then we can challenge his wisdom in governing the world he has made.  We do know this: that whether in life or death, mercy or judgment, sickness or health, gratitude or anger, God will be glorified.  His power will be demonstrated (Ex 19.6); his love will be proved (Dt 4.37); his sovereignty will be manifest (1Chr 29.11); his people will be stirred up (Ps 78.34-25); his enemies will be cast down (Ex 11.6-8).  His name will be made known.  One way in which that will occur is through the gracious living and believing dying of his saints (Mt 5.16; Is 43.2-3, 21).

    Think clearly, then, and – in the light of these things – prepare properly.

    Prepare to live.  Be ready to serve (Eph 2.10), especially those who may be lonely and needy in the face of sickness (see Ps 38.11).  Whom others neglect, the Christian remembers.  When others run from danger, the Christian runs to the endangered, not taking our life in our hands, but putting it in God’s hands.  Like Christ, we are to go about doing good.  It is an opportunity to demonstrate true discipleship (Gal 6.10).  Be ready to preach.  Let your deeds be matched and explained by words.  Be unashamedly Christian as you care for others, and do not deny God even when you cannot explain all his ways.  Many may be on the brink of eternity, many might listen now when otherwise they would have scorned: declare Christ as the only one who can secure life forever.  Speak of Jesus as the one name under heaven, given among men, by which sinners like us can be saved.  Be ready to pray.  Begin now.  Pray for God’s glory, man’s blessing, and your own faith of body and soul.  Come to God for the grace and strength you will need to serve him in these days.  Ask that he might be honoured in your life and in your death.  Pray for the salvation of many.  Be ready to shine: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16).  Plan for, pray for, prepare for, and pursue God’s honour in all these things.

    church bellPrepare to die.  John Donne wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  Take these things as intimations of your own mortality.  Heed them as a call to readiness.  Your time may be at hand; your days are expiring: learn to number them, that you may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90.12).  The wise man will turn to and walk with Jesus as the Christ of God when he considers these things.  There is no other sure preparation for death (Ps 49.5-15).  Sooner or later all will die and afterward face judgment (Heb 9.27).  If not today, perhaps tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then soon.  If not this disease, then something else will quickly snatch you away.  Life is brief, and eternity beckons.  That eternity will be spent by every one of us either in the hell where all sufferings here will appear light by comparison with those imposed there, or in the heaven where all sufferings here will be past, and no sorrow, pain nor tears can come, where Christ is its light, and where the exceeding weight of glory will far surpass whatever trials and tribulations the world has laid on us.

    The gospel writers tell us of a woman who came sick and full of suffering to the Lord Jesus.  She reached out a trembling hand and merely touched the hem of his garment.  When Jesus turned and spoke with her, he assured her of this: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”  There is an affliction far worse than any disease, the affliction of sin.  The one who touches the Lord Christ’s garment in faith shall indeed be made well.  That is preparation both for life and for death.

    Listen to a sermon on this topic here.

    Written by Jeremy Walker

    Wednesday 5 August 2009 at 09:32

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