The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘heaven

“Respect the Authorities”: Scriptural Framework #5 ~ Our Heavenly Hope

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Our Heavenly Hope

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. (Phil. 3:20–4:1)

The governing power of the saints is a heavenly one. The church takes her identity, her sense of privilege and priority, her direction for behavior, and her enduring hope from her heavenly King and the realities of citizenship in His kingdom. This conditions all our relationships with the authorities here. The men of the world set their minds on earthly things, but the citizens of Zion set their minds on heavenly things. The saints operate here as belonging there. Our character, conduct, and convictions are conditioned by the world to come rather than by the world that is passing away. Paul is probably quite deliberately employing the language that would be used of Caesar to ascribe to him semidivine functions in order to emphasize that the saints have a Savior and a Lord who is most certainly not Caesar. Caesar is a lord and a deliverer by the Lord and Deliverer’s appointment. Commentator G. Walter Hansen explains: “Their hope for the future is not fixed on Caesar, the savior and Lord of the Roman Empire, but on Jesus Christ, the heavenly Lord and Savior…. The power of earthly tyrants to humiliate the followers of Christ will be overcome by Christ when he subjects all things to himself and transforms our bodies of humiliation to be like his glorious body” [The Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 270, 275].

Not only will the saints themselves be transformed at the coming of Christ but all things will be subdued under Him—all things, including all those who stand over and against the church, which is His body. Our home is heaven, and we are here only for a little while. All too often our problem is that we are reaching into the future and trying to bring our hopes and expectations into this world rather than anticipating them in the next. We try to build our empires here. We see things in terms of time, and we lose sight of eternity. But we are Christ’s heavenly kingdom, and our citizenship is in heaven. Our King is in heaven.

This ought to be a transforming realization. If my hope is heavenly, then I know who and what I am in relation to the things of this passing world. I show proper honor to my earthly rulers but am not bound to this world as if it were the only thing that matters. With this confidence, the church is able to stand fast in the Lord. Her convictions, character, and conduct are conditioned by her relationship with her heavenly King establishing a heavenly citizenship and providing a heavenly hope.

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 3 July 2015 at 10:40

David Platt: “Do we really believe what we’re saying?”

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 2 April 2011 at 08:21

Broken-hearted evangelists

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I have been listening to the latest Connected Kingdom podcast from “the odd couple,” David Murray and Tim Challies. I was intrigued to hear them discussing the fall-out from Rob Bell’s new book, and asking whether or not the wider church really believes in hell anyway. Surely, they reason, if we really believed in hell we would be doing more to take the gospel to the lost?

Over the last few days I have been putting the finishing touches to the manuscript of what I hope will be my next book, with the working title The Broken-Hearted Evangelist. I finally submitted that manuscript to the publisher yesterday, and – though I have no idea how long it will be before it is available – it is intended, at least in part, to address the issue of a right response to the realities of judgement and salvation.

As a taster, here is the draft preface of the current manuscript. Not sure how much of it will survive the editing process, but hopefully it will give a sense of the nature and scope and direction of the book. I will keep you posted on progress, God willing.

There is nothing that more glorifies God than the accomplishment of His saving purposes in His Son, Jesus Christ. Do you know and believe that? There is nothing more important to a man than the destiny of his immortal soul. Do you know and believe that? There is a heaven to be gained and there is a hell from which to flee, and our relationship to the Lord Jesus is the difference between the two. Do you know and believe that? Only those who repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. Do you know and believe that? The saints of God are sent by God into the world in order to preach that gospel by which sinners are saved. Do you know and believe that?

It is easy to answer such questions with a gutless orthodoxy. Lively faith in Christ grasps spiritual realities in a way that galvanizes the believer. All truth – whether of God’s grace to us or of our duty to God – bears fruit in us only insofar as we are connected to Christ by faith. This being so, says John Owen,

he alone understands divine truth who doeth it: John vii.17. There is not, therefore, any one text of Scripture which presseth our duty unto God, that we can so understand as to perform that duty in an acceptable manner, without an actual regard unto Christ, from whom alone we receive ability for the performance of it, and in or through whom alone it is accepted with God.

John Owen, Christologia in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965), 1:82.

We cannot pretend that we have understood divine truth unless we are living it. We cannot pretend that we know and believe the truth about men and souls and heaven and hell and salvation unless it is making a difference to the way in which we think and feel and pray and speak and act.

A vigorous and practical concern for the lost, growing out of a desire for God’s glory in man’s salvation, is an eminently Christlike thing and a hallmark of healthy Christianity. By such a standard, there are many unhealthy churches and unhealthy Christians; by such a standard, and to my great grief, I am not well myself.

While I accept that there can be an unbalanced and crippling expectation and even unbiblical obsession with some aspects of evangelism and “mission” (as the portentous modern singular would have it!), there is an opposite and perhaps, in our day, greater danger that believers and churches enjoying possession of a great deposit of truth nevertheless do not know it. If they did, they would be doing something.

It is very easy to be up in arms, for example, about current assaults on what can so calmly be described as the doctrine of hell. “Of course there is a hell!” we protest, offended and disturbed that someone could deny what is so plainly written in the Word of God. Is there a hell? What difference has it made? What have you done differently because there is a hell? Is its reality driving our thoughts, words and deeds? Many of us who have entered the kingdom have come perilously close to the flames of the pit. We have felt its fire, and yet we have, perhaps, forgotten that from which we have been delivered. The urgency with which we fled to Christ ourselves has perhaps been replaced with a casual awareness of spiritual reality that never energizes us to do anything for those who are themselves in danger of eternal punishment.

The same could be said of heaven, of Christ’s atonement for sinners, of God’s grace and mercy, of the freeness of the gospel, of the excellence of salvation. “Yes, yes, yes,” the monotonous ticking off of doctrines received continues. But what difference does it make to you and to me?

It is my heartfelt contention that the truths we believe ought to make the people of God broken-hearted evangelists. My prayer for this book is that the Lord Christ would make its author and its readers truly to understand the gospel duty which God has laid upon His church, and therefore to make us willing to perform the work we have been given to do, and by His strength to make us able to do it, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 11 March 2011 at 12:12

Playing with fire?

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It is hard not to notice the Bell-shaped brouhaha brewing on the other side of the Atlantic (see Taylor, DeYoung and Johnson) and probably intending to blow east at some point. In terms of accessible Biblical resources for thinking through the issues of heaven and hell and the false teachings of universalism and annihilationism, I could not recommend a better beginning than Ted Donnelly’s Heaven and Hell (Banner of Truth, buy at Westminster Bookstore/Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com): it really is outstanding as a clear and straightforward introduction to the realities, issues and applications.

But this is not about Bell or the brouhaha, though prompted by it. While I was unwell over the last few days, one of the things I read was From Death Into Life by William Haslam, an autobiographical volume of a 19th century High Churchman who came under powerful conviction of sin and was converted in the act of preaching a sermon in which his nascent grasp of evangelical truth was beginning to show.

There is no doubt that Haslam was quirky, and had some interesting notions and practices. Nevertheless, he was a man who came to know and feel the awful weight of a condemnation that could be escaped only through fleeing in faith to Jesus. It is was in the context of the building storm about the eternal destiny of souls that I read this powerful passage in which Haslam has an interview with a man who believes the truth about the absolute necessity of true conversion but is not prepared to state it plainly:

“Well,” he said, “but think of all the good men you condemn if you take that position so absolutely.”

Seeing that I hesitated, he went on to say that he “knew many very good men, in and out of the Church of England, who did not think much of conversion, or believe in the necessity of it.”

“I am very sorry for them,” I replied; “but I cannot go back from the position into which, I thank God, He has brought me. It is burned into me that, except a man is converted, he will and must be lost for ever.”

“Come, come, my young friend,” he said, shifting his chair, and then sitting down to another onslaught, “do you mean to say that a man will go to hell if he is not converted, as you call it?”

“Yes, I do; and I am quite sure that if I had died in an unconverted state I should have gone there; and this compels me to believe, also, that what the Scripture says about it is true for every one.”

“But what does the Scripture say?” he interposed. “It says that ‘he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed’ (John 3:18); and in another place, he that believeth not shall be damned’ (Mark 16:16). As surely as the believer is saved and goes to heaven, as surely the unbeliever is lost and must go to hell.”

“Do you mean Gehenna, the place of torment?”

“Yes, I do.”

“This is very dreadful.”

“More dreadful still.” I said, “must be the solemn reality; and therefore, instead of shrinking from the thought and putting it off, I rather let it stir and rouse me to warn unbelievers, so that I may, by any means, stop them on their dangerous path. I think this is the only true and faithful way of showing kindness; and that, on the other hand, it is the most selfish, heartless, and cruel unkindness to let sinners, whether they are religious, moral, reformed, or otherwise, to go on in an unconverted state, and perish.”

“Do you believe, then,” said my visitor, “in the fire of hell? Do you think it is a material fire?”

“I do not know; I do not wish to know anything about it. I suppose material fire, like every other material thing, is but a shadow of something real. Is it not a fire which shall burn the soul – a fire that never will be quenched – where the worm will never die?”

“Do you really believe all this?”

“Yes,” I said, “and I have reason to do so.” I remembered the anguish of soul I passed through when I was under conviction, and the terrible distress I felt for others whom I had misled.

“When our blessed Lord was speaking to the Jews, and warning them against their unbelief and its fearful consequences, He did not allow any ‘charitable hopes’ to hinder Him from speaking the whole truth. He told them of Lazarus, who died, and went to Paradise, or Abraham’s bosom; and of Dives, who died, and went to Hell, the place of torment” (Luke 16).

“But,” he said, interrupting me, “that is only a parable, or figure of speech.”

“Figure of speech!” I repeated. “Is it a figure of speech that the rich man fared sumptuously, that he died, that he was buried? Is not that literal? Why, then, is it a figure of speech that he lifted up his eyes in torment, and said, ‘I am tormented in this flame’(Luke 16:24). My dear friend, be sure that there is an awful reality in that story – a most solemn reality in the fact of the impassable gulf. If here we do not believe in this gulf, we shall have to know of it hereafter. I never saw and felt,” I continued, “as I do now, that every man is lost, even while on earth, until he is saved, and that if he dies in that unsaved state he will be lost for ever.”

My unknown visitor remained silent for a little time, and I could see that he was in tears. At last he burst out and said, “I am sure you are right. I came to try you upon the three great “R’s” – ‘Ruin,’ ‘Redemption,’ and ‘Regeneration,’ and to see if you really meant what you preached. Now I feel more confirmed in the truth and reality of the Scriptures.”

I thought I had been contending with an unbeliever all along, but instead of this I found that he was a man who scarcely ventured to think out what he believed to its ultimate result – he believed God’s Word, but, like too many, alas! held it loosely.

William Haslam, From Death Into Life (London: Morgan and Scott, n.d.), 74-77.

Holding loosely the Word of God with regard to ruin, redemption and regeneration will cut the nerve of true gospel endeavour. It will remove our urgency, enervate our efforts, and dilute our message. If there is no hell, then there is no need for men to be saved, and the death of Jesus was a monstrous waste. Whoever believes otherwise, and however many ‘good men’ may seem to be condemned, we must cling to and proclaim – with tears – God’s glorious and terrible truths concerning eternity, and concerning the Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1Thes 1.10), if we are to be faithful both to the Lord whose people we are and to the lost whose souls we seek.

Let us believe God’s Word and hold it fast. No one can afford to play with this fire.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 3 March 2011 at 15:24

Review: “The Happiness of Heaven”

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The Happiness of Heaven

Maurice Roberts

Reformation Heritage Books/Evangelical Press, 2009, 129pp., paperback, $10 / £7.99

ISBN 978-1-60178-081-2

The author of this volume is unlikely to be a stranger to some readers of this blog, and he brings his customary simplicity, clarity and warmth to this delightful topic. This gospel-flavoured treatment of the topic begins with an earnest warning about the need to take eternal realities seriously, before dealing with the matter of heaven under a series of headings. While there is some treatment of glorification, Mr Roberts’ treatment focuses more on the intermediate state and the simple and delightful fact of being with Jesus. Along the way he addresses some common questions and concerns (heaven’s creation, the coming of Christ, the qualities of heaven, and the death of children, which he answers robustly – as one would expect – with robustly paedobaptistic reasoning). Here, graciously, carefully and profoundly, our author gives us a prospective tour of the world to come: he makes a good guide, and we would do well to make time to explore with him, by faith, the happiness of heaven, which he so winsomely presents.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 3 March 2011 at 12:35

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That Sunday feeling

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J. C. Ryle, in his straightforward style:

Let us never forget that our feelings about Sundays are sure tests of the state of our souls. The person who can find no pleasure in giving God one day in the week, is manifestly unfit for heaven. Heaven itself is nothing but an eternal Sabbath. If we cannot enjoy a few hours in God’s service once a week in this world, it is plain that we could not enjoy an eternity in His service in the world to come. Happy are those who walk in the steps of her of whom we read today! They shall find Christ and a blessing while they live, and Christ and glory when they die.

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke, 2:120 (comments on Luke 13:10-17)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 2 February 2011 at 11:51

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Book blizzard

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Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation (Volume 2: 1552-1566) compiled and introduced by James T. Dennison (Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), is the second volume in this excellent series.  Here, each with a lucid and brief introduction, are a further 35 confessions, including both the Forty-Two and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, the Heidelberg Catechism, and such lesser-known works as the Geneva Students’ Confession (1559), Beza’s Confession (1560), productions from Tarcal and Torda and Enyedi, and the delightfully named Synod of Gönc (1566).  Particularly fascinating are those truths which our forefathers thought primary (and therefore worthy of confessing), and which today are often discounted as secondary (and vice versa).  One of the values of such a study is to send us back to our Bibles to recalibrate our sensitivities, informed both by the necessities of the present and the instruction of the past.  Well-bound and clearly printed, this series provides an excellent resource for those interested in examining and learning from the Reformed confessional heritage.

James M. Renihan puts 1 Corinthians 13 firmly in its context to explore True Love: Understanding the Real Meaning of Christian Love (Evangelical Press, 2010).  Beginning with God’s love for us in Christ, and the law and gospel of love, Renihan also situates chapter 13 in the epistle as a whole and then – without dealing with other contentious issues – focuses on this love, its importance and its outworking.  Given how misunderstood and abused the whole notion of love is both within and without the church, and how often abused and sentimentalized this chapter can be, this is a powerful corrective to shallow and errant views, providing us with a solid, careful, and challenging study of this most vital Christian grace and duty.

Along the lines of Banner’s ‘Puritan Paperbacks’ series, Reformation Heritage Books has begun a ‘Puritan Treasures for Today’ line.  First up is George Swinnock with The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith (Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).  The aim of the series is to provide an easy way in to Puritan writings by making available a briefer work in updated English.  In this volume Swinnock expounds Psalm 73.26, demonstrating and applying the fact that man must die, and must therefore prepare to die, and that the immortal God is man’s only true happiness, and so the best preparation for the soul is to take God as its chief treasure.  With holy warnings and enticements, Swinnock addresses both believers and unbelievers with that warm exhortation and vivid illustration characteristic of Puritan preaching at its best.  Well-edited and well-presented, this volume (and the projected series) would provide a helpful gateway to the riches of the Puritans.

In this volume, we are Heading for Heaven (Evangelical Press, 2009) under the safe guidance of that Greatheart, J. C. Ryle.  A previously published and nicely redesigned (but not reset) selection from Ryle’s sermons on The Christian Race, here we see Ryle as a preacher rather than an essayist.  Leaving behind all the finery of eloquence, Ryle deals with the heart to urge the reader to ensure that they are on the right path, and then to pursue that path to the end.  Homely and earnest, these sermons on various texts will serve to stir and warm the heart, and any reader would be well-served by investing the time to digest these addresses.

In Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Crossway, 2008), John Piper wades carefully into murky water to address the thorny issue of God’s sovereignty over and in the very worst events that have taken place and will take place in this world.  Familiar Piper themes and phrases pepper the book as the author spends time establishing the absolute supremacy of the Godhead over all things, including sin, and then begins to look at concrete examples that demonstrate both God’s sovereign power and his sovereign and good purposes even in the most grim events.  Satan’s existence, Adam’s fall, Babel’s rise, Joseph’s slavery, Israel’s monarchy, and Judas’ betrayal all provide opportunity to demonstrate how such apparent catastrophes served God’s purposes to glorify his Son and save his people.  Walking and sometimes wobbling along a tightrope between seeking to bring Scripture light to bear on the darkest matters and the danger of peering into things which God has intentionally left dark, Piper’s purpose is to equip the saints for the hard times that always come.  Given the nature of the case, it is invariably hard to bring the general lessons down to the particulars when one is overwhelmed with pain and grief, but this is nevertheless a clear and courageous reminder that God is never absent nor ignorant, but actively working all things together for good.

Part of the continued fall-out from the Calvin quincentennial is Calvin: Theologian and Reformer (Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), a collection of papers from the John Owen Centre conference at London Theological Seminary, edited by Joel Beeke and Garry Williams.  The collection is divided into three sections – Calvin’s life and work, then doctrine and experience, and finally Christian living and ministry – and include contributions from Sinclair Ferguson, Ian Hamilton, and Joel Beeke.  Maintaining something of the style and sense of conference addresses, those who attended will enter again into the spirit of the meetings, and those who did not will get a taste of it.  As a brief introduction to Calvin’s life with God, thought of God, and pursuit of godliness, this is very helpful.

God’s sovereignty and God’s grace walk hand in hand through A Long Line of Godly Men (Volume 1, 1400BC – AD100): Foundations of Grace by Steven J. Lawson (Reformation Trust, 2006).  That complex title points to the structure of this projected five-volume series in which our author intends to survey history from a divinely-appointed perspective.  This first volume lays the foundation with a canter through the entire Bible seeking to establish, from first to last, the coherent and consistent and credible testimony of Scripture to God’s saving purposes.  From Moses to John, Genesis to Revelation, Dr Lawson traces his theme with penetrating insight and profound understanding.  With helpfully-flagged ‘Doctrine in Focus’ sections littered through the pages and a series of study questions at the end of each chapter, this is a book intended to address the whole man.  Sympathetic readers might query certain details while enjoying the very broad sweep of this thematic study as Lawson skips across the high hills of our Bibles in an attempt to link up and light up the peaks by firing the beacons of God’s grace at each point.  Do not misinterpret the title: this book is not about men but about their God and his glorious dealings with sinful men.  With an extended introduction by John MacArthur, this is no light read but it should prove an immensely profitable one.

In 2009, Joel Beeke was the main preacher at the Aberystwyth Conference, and addressed the theme of Contagious Christian Living, which sermons are now gathered into this slim volume (Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).  Desiring that the people of God will learn to live lives of godliness that have a profound and lasting impact on the people around them, Beeke presents four lives and their lessons: Jephthah’s daughter teaches us sacrificial submission (the author takes the line that she was consecrated to God and not sacrificed); Bartimaeus instructs us in Christ-centredness; Jacob, in contagious blessing; and, Daniel, consistent integrity.  The teaching is simple, earnest, and pastoral, and the spirit of it is the very one which Beeke wants to encourage others to cultivate.  There is vigorous challenge here, to be certain, but also direction and encouragement which will benefit every humble believer ready to learn contagious Christian living.

John D. Currid portrays for us The Expectant Prophet: Habakkuk Simply Explained (Evangelical Press, 2009).  Presenting the dialogue between the bewildered prophet and his all-seeing, all-knowing, all-guiding God, he guides us to and through the prophet’s closing psalm in which his expectant dependence upon the Lord comes gloriously to the fore.  Currid directs us sensitively, simply and wisely through this short but too-often-neglected portion of God’s Word, his often stimulating perspectives and insights making Habakkuk a truly profitable prophet for readers who, in the face of similar challenges and questions, need to find and rest in Habakkuk’s answers.

Amazing Conversions: John Ashworth and His Strange Tales (Tentmaker Publications, 2009) is a book for weeping over.  There will be tears of shame, that we are not more persuaded of and acting upon the saving mercies of God; tears of pity, for the fearful condition of the lost; and, tears of joy, for God’s goodness in bringing those under the power of darkness into his Son’s kingdom.  A brief biography of Ashworth, founder of the “Chapel for the Desitute” gives way to his records of God’s gracious dealings with needy sinners.  While all conversions are amazing, Ashworth – not neglecting to tell of difficulties and disappointments – nevertheless focuses on some of the more distinctive and unlikely (humanly speaking) regenerations he saw, accomplished by ordinary means, applied faithfully, prayerfully, winsomely and patiently.  This is a book to stir the soul, give confidence in God, and set the Christian, and especially the preacher, about his regular business with zeal and hope.  I commend it vigorously.

Perhaps concerned at being undersold, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne give us The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything (Matthias Media, 2009).  The book is built around the metaphor of the relationship – and often the imbalance – between the trellis (the structures and supports of church life) and the vine (the conversion and growth in grace of the people who make up the church).  In essence, it is a plea to focus on the growing of the vine and not the building of the trellis, investing in people rather than structures.  There is much to appreciate, especially the concern to see Christian maturity that enables them to invest in the lives of others.  At the same time, the authors occasionally present some false dichotomies in trying to distinguish their approach from others, and run into self-contradictions on several occasions.  In attempting to encourage the saints to employ their gifts, there is a danger of flattening out Christ’s own structures in the church, especially when the notion of vocation (pastoral or otherwise) is fairly swiftly dismissed.  Certain assumptions evidently lie behind some of the teaching here.  A very worthy and entirely laudable aim, together with some helpful and insightful suggestions, can still leave one feeling that, for a book that wants to be about vines, there is an awful lot of trellis being constructed, not least in the sustained advertisement of other programmes and materials available from the same publisher.

Wayne Grudem’s Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business (Crossway, 2003) is a kidney-punch of a book: 91 pages of to-the-point striking.  Developed from an address at a conference for entrepreneurs, it is an unapologetic hymn to the positive moral goodness of ownership, productivity, employment, commercial transactions, profit, money, inequality of possessions, competition, and borrowing and lending.  Grudem is not blind to the temptations in and potential abuses of these things, and seeks to address them, albeit briefly.  He also has short sections on heart attitudes and world poverty.  Concerned to encourage those in business to use their calling to glorify God, it is less about doing business in a godly way, and more about the inherent goodness of business in itself.  Loaded with assumptions, pithy rather than profound in its employment of Scripture, and provocative in its absoluteness, some will be tempted to wonder if this book could have come out of anywhere but 21st century America.  Businessmen and women will find every encouragement to continue in and pursue their callings here.  However, the claim for fundamental and inherent goodness in some of these aspects of our culture raises questions that the book itself does not answer.  A vigorous book to be read vigorously, and requiring determined engagement.

Rest in God & A Calamity in Contemporary Christianity (Banner of Truth, 2010) is a pithy contribution to debates over the Lord’s day by Iain Murray.  Beginning in Genesis 2.3 and working through the ceremonial law, with a brief excursus on the earlier and later Calvin’s thoughts on the matter, we arrive at length in the New Testament and then take a short survey of post-apostolic church history.  Five terse conclusions draw this booklet (35 pages) to a close.  There is nothing new here, but a simple and earnest rehearsal and representation of the Scriptural and historical orthodoxy of the Lord’s day.  The subtitle and the tone of the book make plain that this is no take-it-or-leave-it matter, but a battle of vital importance for the present and future health of Christ’s church.  Many will no doubt dismiss or despise Murray’s assessment, but many more will join with him in recognising an area in which contemporary Christianity badly needs to set its house in order.

In The Breeze of the Centuries: Introducing Great Theologians from the Apostolic Fathers to Aquinas (IVP, 2010), Michael Reeves provides us with the first book of an intended two-volume set giving an overview of major contributors to theology during the first thirteen post-apostolic centuries.  He surveys the apostolic fathers, moves on through Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, before spending some time on Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas.  The aim is to provide a straight report – with a good smattering of original material, and surveys of major works –though our author occasionally breaks cover to add a little spice of his own.  Helpful recommendations and timelines add usefulness, although the lack of an index is a problem with a book that many would find a handy ready-reference.  Written with verve and respect, this should prove a very helpful introduction to novices and a good overview for more experienced readers.

If ever I reach heaven . . .

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John Newton: “If ever I reach heaven I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had expected to see there; and third — the greatest wonder of all — to find myself there.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 11 May 2010 at 22:50

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Longing for heaven

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An excellent post from David Murray:

Why does heaven feel so far away? Why does Jesus seem so distant?

Recent research* by Emily Balcetis and David Dunning indicates that the desirability of an object influences its perceived distance. Thirsty students fed with pretzels perceived a water bottle to be nearer than those who had had their thirst quenched. Other students placed in front of a $100 bill they could win for themselves perceived it to be closer than those who were told that the bill belonged to the scientist conducting the test. A third set of students had their sense of humor graded and clipped to a stand in front of them. Those given positive feedback estimated the stand to be closer than those who could see their feedback was negative. Other similar experiments confirmed the finding that desire reduces the perception of distance.

Is this why heaven often seems so far away? We don’t desire it enough?

Is this why Jesus sometimes seems so distant? We don’t desire Him enough?

But if desire reduces the distance, “Lord Jesus, give the desire and reduce the distance.”

*Balcetis, E., & Dunning, D. (2009). “Wishful Seeing: More Desired Objects Are Seen as Closer.” Psychological Science.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 19 January 2010 at 07:45

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A monetary metaphor

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My son just fell downstairs.  He was at the top with his hands full when he slipped and rolled to the bottom.  I heard the heavy thuds as he dropped and made it to the bottom of the stairs pretty much as he did.  He was, naturally, shocked and upset, but mercifully unhurt, as far as we can tell.  A few cuddles and an eventual biscuit dried his tears, and he recovered his equanimity (and the cuddly toy that had made the descent with him).  We checked Knuckles (the dog) for bumps, bruises and breaks, and fed him a little biscuit, and found that he was also OK.

moneyIt was at this point that I wondered why he was struggling to use his right hand.  Had he, after all, injured himself?  No, one of the reasons why he had fallen was because he was clutching a few copper coins: he could not grab the bar that he usually holds on to properly.  But notice, he made it all the way to the bottom, and through the recovery, without once relinquishing his grip on that which, had he only held it more lightly, might have prevent him falling in the first place.  He was holding it through his descent, and kept his grip upon it to the very end.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mk 8:36-37).

Many men fall with their hands full, and suffer far worse than a few bruises and tears.  There is a fall from which no man recovers, and many descend because they are grasping after the things of this life.  When they reach the bottom, that which they held on to so fiercely is found to be worth nothing at all.  In the final analysis, and counted in the light of eternity, untold millions would be no more than a few coppers if for the sake of holding them we fall, descend and eventually land in hell.  There is a time to let go of the stuff of this life, and get hold of Jesus Christ.

For more counsel on the use of money, Gary Brady posts an excellent review of John Wesley’s attitude to and employment of his wealth.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 November 2009 at 10:00

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“One swift glimpse of heavenly things”

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Hart’s  7 7. 7 7

One swift glimpse of heavenly things
Fills the soul with joy divine.
Think of Christ who reigns above;
Think: “By grace, this Christ is mine.”

One sweet taste of joys to come
Fills the mind and fires the heart.
Blood of Christ, so freely shed,
Washes sin from every part.

Glorious thoughts of heaven above
Rouse us to attain our goal.
Flesh of Christ, so freely given,
Wins God’s smile, and makes us whole.

Here we taste the wine and bread,
Symbols of the Christ we love.
Sweet they are, but sweeter still
Are those joys to come above.

When we reach our glorious home,
Bought by Christ’s atoning blood,
Clothed in righteousness divine,
We at last shall dwell with God.

©JRW

Lord's supper

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 15 September 2009 at 09:00

Heavenly instructions and mutations

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Paul Helm blogs about “the domestication of heaven” and the propounding of what he calls “a geo-heaven” – there are some stimulating and suggestive comments here, but it’s more a survey and critique of issues arising than a positive discussion.

For an outstanding survey of the Biblical data on both heaven and hell – simple, non-histrionic, warmly applied – I strongly recommend Ted Donnelly’s Heaven and Hell.  Reading it, you will be instructed, moved, exalted, humbled, challenged and directed.

On a slightly different tack, David Anderson has a good survey of the scriptural teaching on rewards at the final judgement.  There are some helpful principles enunciated here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 20 January 2009 at 09:19

“Matchless blessings we possess”

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Dix 7 7. 7 7. 7 7

Matchless blessings we possess
In the Saviour we confess;
Countless joys attend each day
As we walk the narrow way:
Let my tongue for ever sing
Hymns of praise to Christ my King.

For the joy of sin put down;
For the promise of a crown;
For the strength to run the race;
For the might of saving grace:
Let my mind and heart rejoice,
And thanksgiving find its voice.

When on bended knee we plead,
Wisdom measures every need;
Perfect knowledge, joined with power,
Meets the need of every hour:
For the mercies given in love
Let my song resound above.

Boundless grace attends our way
Even in life’s darkest day;
Guardian angels from above
Minister God’s perfect love:
Let my song return on high,
And my Saviour magnify.

When we come to heaven’s height,
Entering glory’s purer light;
When we bow before the throne,
Taken up with God alone:
Oh, how then I will explore
God’s great love forevermore!

©JRW

light-through-clouds

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 20 December 2008 at 12:20

Perpetually pilgrims

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A few days ago Carl Trueman drew attention to an article in the London Review of Books about Neil Entwistle, recently convicted of the murder of his American wife and their infant daughter.  Trueman draws attention to the description and analysis of the strange psychological dislocation felt by the English when they emigrate to the US; to the concise but illuminating insights into the English class system, alleging that all you really need to know about an Englishman is what class he belongs to and where he went to school (acknowledging with a degree of tongue-in-cheekitude that as “a lower middle class midlander who went to a state grammar school,” all his insecurities and prejudices are thus explained); and, to the subversion of reality by the internet, giving scope for immaturity, lunacy and all points in between.

I have a number of interests here, particularly with regard to the first point.  First of all, I am married to an American myself.  Secondly, I have for several years been nipping back and forth across the Atlantic as part of my responsibilities both before and after I entered the pastorate, and like to think that these two things give me some insight into that dislocation (though not of the same degree as Mr Trueman), not least through the reverse experience of my wife.  Thirdly, when I came to the end of my university degree I was considering pursuing research in the field of postmodern literature.  I was fascinated by the sense of displacement in so much of postmodernity (a sense of distance and unreality only heightened by the ubiquitous and all-encompassing interweb).  I wanted to ask the question, “Who has a home in a postmodern world: everyone or no-one?”  I decided against the Ph.D. route, for which I am not ungrateful.  I also know that I would have got into trouble (again) for a Christian perspective: I had been ticked off once or twice during my degree for writing sermons rather than essays (ah, the inglorious day I tried to explain to a kindly but godless Bunyan specialist that because she was not a Christian she could not properly understand The Pilgrim’s Progress!).

This morning, while out jogging, I was running over some of these thoughts in my mind.  It was the issue of displacement and dislocation that most stirred me, as it often does.  Where is the Christian at home?

I am not denying for one moment that there is a reasonable degree of familiarity with the place to which we are most accustomed, and that this is ordained by a God who divided a world by languages, and has established and governs nations and states.  I am not denying or defying the attachment to one’s own country and people we naturally feel.

But where is the Christian at home?

The Biblical answer is that the child of God is a stranger in the earth – anywhere in the earth.  One of the early and defining declarations of Psalm 119 is the cry, “I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide your commandments from me.”  It is as a pilgrim that the Christian looks to his God, seeking to be instructed and guided in the manner of his life as he makes his way through an often hostile environment.

Abraham’s experience in Canaan, the Israelites in Egypt, their wanderings in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, and then their exile from their homeland – the land of God, and particularly the temple, where God was particularly pleased to make himself known and reveal his glory – are prominent Old Testament motifs which point forward to the reality of the people of God under the new covenant.  When Daniel, in his upper room with his windows open toward Jerusalem, got down on his knees and prayed, he was an alien, geographically and spiritually, looking toward home, the place where God dwelt (the same God, note, who appeared to Ezekiel in demonstration that he was not tied to Jerusalem).

This sense of pilgrimage and its accompanying displacement and dislocation are emphasised in the New Testament.  No-one was more a pilgrim than our Lord Jesus: come from heaven, even in this world he had nowhere to lay his head (Mt 8.20).  He himself warned his disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6.19-21).

Writing to the Philippians, Paul speaks to Roman citizens – with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities attendant upon it – who were nevertheless at a distance from Rome, using that experience to emphasise a far higher one: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself” (Phil 3.20-21).  The message: you may live here, but you belong there.

Consider the writer to the Hebrews, speaking of the faith of Abraham and his descendants: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11.13-16).  Of Moses he writes: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.  By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb 11.24-27).  The application: like them and countless others, run with endurance the race that is set before you.  We are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, and should serve God accordingly.  Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come .

Peter begs his readers “as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1Pt 2.11-12).  Our lives are to be marked by heavenliness precisely because we are sojourners and pilgrims, and that heavenliness is its own potent apologetic.

Does not mean that we despise the good things that we have been given to enjoy (cf.1Tim 6.17)?  By no means!  But it does most assuredly mean that we must cultivate a sense of pilgrimage.  We are strangers in the earth: we do not belong here, and that is not the anguished wail of confusion and loss that so often comes from the throats of bewildered men and women, but the triumphant declaration of a people who have a heavenly home to which they are travelling.

As a Christian, I am displaced; I am perpetually dislocated.  I will be until I cross the river and join my family in the presence of God.  I will be until the return of Christ, when – glorified with him – I shall find my eternal home in the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Do I have a sense of that?  Do I cultivate a sense of that?  I may be more or less comfortable in various places.  I may be more attuned to certain cultures.  I may have an abundance or a pittance of this world’s goods.  But my heart and my treasure, my aspirations and expectations, belong where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Those are the things I am to seek, and those the things on which I am to set my mind (Col 3.1-2).  When I look at what this world has to offer, I am to see the world as a thing created by God, in which I am to have dominion and to exercise a stewardship while I am here.  But I am also to see it as ‘the world,’ ethically designated as opposed to God and all that he has revealed himself to be in Christ, a world which has been crucified to me, and to which I am crucified, through the cross of Jesus Christ (Gal 6.14).  Holding this world lightly, I should be always ready to leave it.

Christ went to the cross to prepare many mansions for us in his Father’s house: let us not dishonour him by building and clinging to our mansions here.  I am a pilgrim here, but I shall be forever at home there.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 20 August 2008 at 12:53

“A mighty host of angels stands”

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Constance 8 7. 8 7. D (iambic)

A mighty host of angels stands
Around Christ’s throne in heaven;
Their sinless tongues extol his worth,
All praise to him is given;
With awe recount his mighty works,
His face behold with wonder,
Lift up their voice to hymn the Lord
With a celestial thunder.

A countless host of blood-bought souls
Adds its triumphant measure;
In robes of white they sing with joy,
Their hearts now with their treasure.
This happy throng could quickly tell
Ten thousand grace-filled stories,
But sooner are their lips and hearts
Filled with his radiant glories.

And shall my stumbling tongue on earth
Disrupt this happy chorus?
No – all I am shall glorify
The One who suffered for us!
Though fearsome foes and grievous woes
Our joys are now assailing,
A life safe hid with Christ in God
Calls forth a song unfailing.

So, called by grace and kept by love,
Protected by his power,
Our timeless glories with our God
Draw nearer every hour.
With eyes fixed fast on Christ above,
Unmoved by scorn or pity,
We travel on to where he dwells,
In God’s abiding city.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 11 July 2008 at 17:23

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