The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Iain Murray

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.

Murray on expository preaching

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A simple and conversational yet forceful delivery commands both respect and response. Enthusiasm inspires. Logic is convincing, the illogical confusing. As preachers let us have a heart. Let us stop wearying our audiences. Let us make our preaching so absorbingly interesting that even the children would rather listen to us than draw pictures and will thus put to shame their paper-and-pencil supplying parents. But we may as well make up our minds that an absolute prerequisite of such preaching is the most painstaking preparation.

With this challenging quote from R. B. Kuiper, Iain Murray sums up another provocative article in the Banner of Truth Magazine.  What with Stuart Olyott’s toothsome contribution on mediate regeneration last month (which stirred up plenty of debate, although I think its central thrust was both accurate and helpful), it looks like the Banner magazine may be rediscovering its bite.

Murray’s argument is not for the abandonment of ‘expository preaching’ (by which he means systematic, consecutive exposition of a book or passage of Scripture), but a warning to take account of its weaknesses compared with what might be called the ‘topical’ or ‘textual’ sermon.

Of course, there is a danger in such terms.  Is a topical sermon expository?  Certainly it ought to be in the basic sense of an opening up of a given portion of the Word of God.  Consider Spurgeon, for example.  While Spurgeon is rarely held up as a model exegete, you can read almost any one of Spurgeon’s sermons and you will find a very thorough grasp of its context and meaning lying behind the form that he gives it.  In that sense, Spurgeon is thoroughly expository.  At the same time, Spurgeon knew himself, and was confident that both he and any congregation to which he preached would be bored to tears within weeks if he began to preach a consecutive expository series: his genius lay in another direction.  The preacher who would be a textual sermoniser must know his Bible and be willing and able to understand and, if necessary, situate the verse in its immediate and wider context.

Another consideration with the method Murray advocates is the need for wisdom and courage.  The expository series often hits issues that might not otherwise be addressed.  In the kindness of God, these are often particularly apposite.  Gossip or anger becomes a problem just as we reach James 3; financial commitment is fading as we arrive at 2 Corinthians 8; a legal spirit is cut down in working through Galatians; weak love for the brethren is addressed by John’s first epistle.  At the same time, there may be matters that need to be addressed but are not (or are not addressed well) because the passage in hand does not immediately deal with them.  Perhaps the saints need to be stirred up, reminded of their primary commitments, encouraged to preach the gospel to the unconverted, to minister to the poor, to address particular sins of faith or life.  If the preacher sets out to hit those notes he can be accused of harping on the same tune, riding a hobbyhorse, or targeting particular people.  Thus the preacher who would regularly preach the topical sermon must be wise to identify the particular needs that need to be addressed and how and when they should be addressed, spiritually sensitive to the work of the Spirit in his own heart and in the life of the church he serves, and courageous to hit the targets that need to be hit without a sinful regard for the opinions of men.

Anyway, Murray identifies disadvantages of the ‘expository’ method under five headings:

  • Know your gifts – different men have different capacities for different kinds of work.
  • What is preaching? – it is more than an agency of instruction: it must also be an agency of ignition, striking, awakening and rousing men and women.
  • Sermon or lecture? – understanding different purposes and functions of different approaches to sermons.
  • What helps the hearer most is best – what are the needs of the particular people before the preacher?  Does a running commentary result from the expository method?  If so, is that preaching, and/or is that of most benefit to believers and unbelievers?  Not all preachers are able to combine the expository and textual elements as could, say, Lloyd-Jones.
  • The best ‘fit’ for evangelistic preaching – bringing particular truths to bear on the souls of the unconverted with a prayerful view to their awakening is often best served by ‘topical’ or ‘textual’ sermons.  Again, Spurgeon used to refer to those passages and verses that seemed to have been designed by God for the specific purpose of bringing in his elect, without denying the power of God to work his saving purposes from any part of the truth.

I find myself in substantial agreement with Mr Murray on this, and hope that his exhortation to consider the advantages and disadvantages of various methods of public ministry, together with an honest assessment of a preacher’s own graces and gifts, will help me to pursue the right path, and churches to recover a vibrant and pointed pulpit ministry.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 22 January 2010 at 12:14

Pigs and prayer

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From Ray Ortlund:

“They saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.” Mark 5:15

There is no temperament Jesus cannot control. There is no madness he cannot soothe. There is no darkness he cannot illuminate. There is no chain he cannot break. There is no raving he cannot calm. There is no shame he cannot dignify. There is no nakedness he cannot clothe. There is no legion he cannot command.

And when he proved his power, restoring this dear man who had suffered so much for so long, sending the demons into the nearby herd of pigs, the people “began to beg Jesus to depart from their region” (Mark 5:17).

Jesus forced on them a choice — his transformation or their pigs? They preferred their pigs. Sure, their world was dysfunctional. But it was theirs. It was familiar. They preferred it undisturbed.

This passage in the Bible has nothing to say to us today.


Worldliness in the church is the number one enemy, and that comes in when we have unspiritual people, and we have unspiritual people too often because they are nominal Christians.  They have the language, they have the outward, but they don’t have the power.  So, Paul’s words: ‘The kingdom of God is not in word but in power.’  That whole school of Edwards and Alexander and so on — they believed in the power of religion.  You know, men candidating for the ministry, and the minister saying, ‘Can he pray down the Holy Spirit?’  Imagine that question today.  Can a man pray down the Holy Spirit?  It’s not perhaps exactly the sentence we would say is completely correct, but you know what they meant. . . . When those men prayed, the Holy Spirit did come down. (Rev. Iain Murray, in a recent 9Marks interview with Dr. Mark Dever)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 19 January 2010 at 07:30

Posted in Christian living, prayer

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“Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace”

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Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace by Iain H. Murray

Banner of Truth, 2008 (274pp, hbk)

Iain Murray is too careful an historian to indulge in thoughtless hagiography, so how does he approach the topic of the legacy of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (often ‘ML-J’ to Murray, which I shall sometimes adopt for the sake of brevity D Martyn Lloyd-Jones 3rather than familiarity), whom he knew so well and esteemed so highly?  We find swift relief in Murray’s gentle assertion that “some have spoken inadvisably of Dr Lloyd-Jones as though he was an all-sufficient model for others to follow” (xi).  Throughout the book it becomes apparent both that ML-J recognised particular shortcomings in his character and that Murray is not afraid graciously to disagree with his subject and to identify those shortcomings, as well as simply recognising that ‘the Doctor’ was an individual who is not to be aped, and could not be if one tried.

The author takes a topical approach, and the volume is divided into two.  The second part consists of a collection of titbits: a letter (with some notes) from Lloyd-Jones to Jim Packer regarding the end of the Puritan Conference; a catalogue of pithy quotations; an inventory of ML-J’s sermons; an analysis of the sermons on Ephesians; and, a deservedly unsympathetic review of Noll and Nystrom’s Is the Reformation Over? Included in this hardback edition is a CD of Lloyd-Jones preaching on John 8.21-24: here the interested reader/listener will find an example of that swelling tide of gospel rhetoric that seems to have characterised the preaching of the man, and will sense at least something of the power of his public ministry.

It is, nevertheless, the first part that will attract most interest.  This is an eclectic collection of more substantive essays treating issues held together by the character at the centre.  Chapter 1 is a fascinating survey of six legacies which ML-J left behind him, most of which are related to the church’s declaration of the abiding truth of the gospel.  Chapter 2 concerns “Preaching and the Holy Spirit” practically and theoretically, drawing from ML-J’s convictions and declarations and pointing to his example and demonstration.  It is a clear treatment of the matter, well-organised and warm.  Murray helpfully addresses the matter of unction as it relates both to the pulpit and the pew.

The third chapter takes up the evangelistic use of the Old Testament.  One of the constant correctives in this volume is that ML-J’s public preaching ministry is not reflected in his published works.  He was an evangelist, and his evangelistic preaching was often drawn from the first two-thirds of our Bibles.  ML-J recognised evangelistic preaching as a special category of preaching, and we are given the why and the how of his use of the Old Testament.  Chapter 4 carries us further into the realm of homiletics.  The mischievous title “Skeletons in the Cupboard” will disappoint those with a nose for conflict and scandal: the chapter is about the importance of a clear framework for a sermon, with reasons for that significance and several examples of ML-J’s own efforts.

Chapter 5 consists of notes on a Westminster Fellowship meeting which took place on October 9, 1968.  ML-J had recently returned to public preaching following recovery from a significant illness that led to his retirement from the pastorate at Westminster Chapel.  During the interim, he had unusual opportunity to hear others preaching, and this address was the result.  There is significant substantive commonality with the opening chapter.  ML-J considered what was missing that needs to be present, and what is present that needs to be missing in the preaching that he was hearing.  These observations need to be considered, not least by those who consider themselves as standing in the Lloyd-Jones tradition.

There follows a comparison between Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon.  The thrust is that these were two unusual individuals with some gifts in common, but essentially different men with different callings at different times and in different circumstances.  It is in these differences – bearing in mind that ML-J began to preach only thirty-five after the death of Spurgeon – that the most fascinating issues come to light.

Lloyd-Jones - Messenger of Grace (Murray)Chapter 7 addresses Lloyd-Jones’ doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the experience of the Christian, especially as it relates to the matter of assurance.  A few years after his death, sermons dealing with this matter (but preached in the mid-1960s) were published in two books, Joy Unspeakable and Prove All Things.  Taking up the first volume, Murray engages with ML-J’s teaching and followers.  This is one of the more controversial chapters in the book, and the author is likely to be sniped at from several sides.  Murray begins by putting the sermons in the context in which they were preached, specifically identifying that – at that time – there was no “charismatic movement” that existed to which Lloyd-Jones could have been sympathetic (this must be borne in mind by those on both sides of this divide).  In fact, ML-J’s attitude when that movement was coming to prominence was one of distinct concern (133-134).  There follows a review of the Biblical data, a survey of ML-J’s pronouncements on ‘the baptism of the Holy Spirit’ (the definite article is important), and a series of conclusions in which Murray recognises the shortcomings of ML-J’s approach, while appreciating that he was originally drawing attention to a vital topic.  Murray declares that

it was a mistake to make an issue of terminology that cannot be substantiated from Scripture.  A few have heavily criticised ML-J on this account, almost to the point of questioning the value of his work as a whole.  I think that is absurd.  If he went too far in his remedy for what he saw as the main need, the manner in which he drew attention to the need of the Holy Spirit did much good. . . . Many of the works of ML-J – especially those published in his own life time – have joined with those of the tradition to which he belonged as a permanent heritage for the Christian church.  To accept that there was a flaw in his presentation of assurance is not to question that he was drawing needed attention to a vital subject; and if he failed to prevent excess in some quarters, we may believe this episode in history will serve to make others more watchful in the future.  (162-163).

The last chapter asks whether ML-J was ‘the lost leader’ or ‘a prophetic voice’, referring to the most significant controversy that engulfed him during his lifetime: his call to separate from those who were unfaithful to Scripture.  (This topic is addressed at greater length in Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided.)  ML-J was heavily criticised at the time and subsequently, and Murray does not set out simply to exonerate him.  Rather, he puts the issue in its historical context and identifies its core: the nature and basis of Christian unity, on which ML-J differed significantly from other leaders such as John Stott and J. I. Packer (notably, both Anglicans).  In this respect, ML-J’s seminal address of 1966 (and Stott’s immediate rebuttal) was not the cause but the occasion of the division.  Murray sets out to make plain that the issue is bigger than the labels of evangelicalism or even Protestantism: it has to do with the gospel itself.  Related to this was the growing obsession among evangelicals with academic credibility that effectively resulted in a compromise of their principles.  Murray generally does not set out to apportion blame, but sincerely seeks to bring the matter to light.  In this respect, he defends ML-J from false and misinformed accusations while recognising certain shortcomings.  Murray points to what he believes many have missed: that ML-J was governed in this as in all else by “his profound faith in the truth and finality of the word of God” (198), and was concerned only to be faithful to the Saviour.  This was why he acted as he did, and it ought to be acknowledged whether or not one agrees with how he acted.  Indeed, it ought to lead to a more careful consideration of whether or not he was right.

This book might be properly considered a companion volume to Mr Murray’s two-volume biography of Lloyd-Jones.  It does not simply rehash the history, but highlights and assesses a series of important issues.  It ought to be read by all who consider themselves to have inherited anything from the Doctor, especially those who tend to pick and choose.  For those of us who did not know him immediately, and who might have picked up a second-hand opinion (either positively or negatively), it provides an opportunity to start making an independently intelligent assessment.  For those who were closer to the action, it will demand a careful consideration, especially if some have been inclined to react – or, indeed, over-react – to elements of ML-J’s legacy.

It is here that the book will be most useful.  Standing in this period’s slipstream, perhaps three groups can be identified among those with an interest in this man.  There are those who tend to have a slavish attachment to ‘the Doctor’ (which he would clearly have abhorred), and for whom the vital question in any debate remains, “What would the Doctor have said?”  In many respects, they are faithful to the bulk of his legacy, but perhaps struggle to move beyond it.  Then there are those who might consider ML-J not quite Reformed enough, perhaps suspicious of his Methodism and concerned about the excesses to which his doctrine of the Holy Spirit opened a door.  For some of them, everything about the man and his ministry is tainted by this.  Finally, there are those – especially among the so-called “Reformed Charismatics” – who hold him up as a key forerunner of the modern charismatic movement, quoting selectively from his works, or imbibing or promoting an anachronistic interpretation of his teaching on the Spirit.

Messenger of Grace panders to none of these groups, and demands something of each.  The first group must contend with ML-J’s feet of clay, and reckon seriously with the shortcomings of his thinking in significant areas, even while appreciating the wisdom and clarity of his legacy.  The second group must recognise that wisdom and clarity, and appreciate more fully some of the keynotes of his ministry, understanding him in his context and learning to value what he contributed, even while they might feel vindicated with regard to what they would leave behind from his legacies.  The third group need to appreciate that ML-J is not quite the poster-boy for their convictions that they hope him to be, and must consider tendencies to be gung-ho in their historical assessments and selective in their admiration.

Indeed, any who consider themselves heirs of ML-J in any degree need to understand what they are laying claim to, and – perhaps more importantly – what they can legitimately lay claim to.  The instinct to pick and choose to suit our own convictions is soundly rebuked by this book.  Stimulating in the best sense, controversial because of its clarity rather than its spirit, this is an outstanding treatment of its topic.  As personal testimony and historical treatments of the later 20th century are making clear, Lloyd-Jones is a man who must be reckoned with.  This book, fairly read, will be of great assistance in doing just that.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 14 May 2009 at 17:04

“Old Paths, New Shoes” (The Westminster Conference 2008: Wed 09 Dec 08)

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08-old-paths-new-shoes-smallerThe Westminster Conference took place at the new venue of the Whitefield Memorial Tabernacle, home of – and we were generously hosted by – the American Church in London (why Americans need their own church in London, we may never know).

As usual, there were three papers on the first day.

What can we learn from the Puritans?
Iain Murray

The first part of this paper was sadly marred by a steady stream of late arrivals walking through a door at the front of the hall and having to find chairs at the back. The point of entry was pretty firmly fixed, but surely approximately fifteen per cent of the attendees cannot have been providentially detained for anything up to forty five minutes?

Having identified the Puritans (at least for the purposes of this paper), Iain Murray focused on several key issues:

I They were a converting movement, recognising that saving conversion was fundamental to true Christianity.

II They recognised the place of discipline and structure in the Christian life. They recognised the necessary connection between the indicatives of grace and the imperatives of duty, and focused on sin as the great obstacle to usefulness in the Christian life. Scripture reading and meditation, secret prayer, praise in prayer and song, and watchfulness were central elements of this focus. There is no blessing without effort.

III The sanctification of the Lord’s day. They considered “Sabbath breaking” the mark of an unconverted man, and believed in the vital consequences of observing the Lord’s day with subsequent blessings or cursings.

IV They stressed the importance of true unity. They were themselves an example of it, and stressed the dangers of disunity.

V They perceived the dangers of Roman Catholicism. They knew it was not merely political and military, but a spiritual threat: its doctrine misdirects men with regard to salvation and a happy eternity. It is an often subtle spiritual peril.

VI They believed in the power of the Word of God preached. They preached in dependence on the power of God’s Spirit to convict, convert and cultivate grace. They aimed at the consciences and hearts of their hearers, seeking always to be “hissing hot.” They asked the question, “By what means can I best win souls?” (Traill).

The discussion focused primarily on the matter of Roman Catholicism and its dangers.

The recovery of the Reformed vision
John J Murray

This paper was substantially read, which – especially in the post lunch slot – did not make it always easy to concentrate. Nevertheless, the substance was excellent.

The ‘Reformed vision’ was likened to a thread of truth, a stream of truth, the fire of truth.

I What is the Reformed vision, and what is its origin? The answer involved tracing the triumph of the doctrines of grace from the struggles of immediately post-apostolic times through the centuries to the present day. Calvin gave it high (highest?) expression in his convictions, expressed powerfully and at length, making the Lord God the object of profound religious reverence. It is a vision with God in his glory at its heart.

II Why did it need to be recovered in the twentieth century? We were pointed primarily to the spread of Arminianism (semi-Pelagianism) on the one hand, and the advance of liberalism on the other as reasons why the Reformed vision was obscured.

III How was it recovered? From 1900-1950 most evangelicals had no clear-cut gospel and little sense of church history. From the 1950s, a prophetic note was struck under Lloyd-Jones: the problem lay not just in the world, but in the church. In this period the truths loved and preached in past days were rediscovered, the doctrine of God was made central once more, and momentum developed through key men – Westminster Chapel and the Puritan Conference became a rallying point. The movement was, though, met with opposition.

IV Lessons to be learned. We must go on recovering the doctrine of a glorious God who is to be glorified in all things. We must contend against doctrinal indifferentism – theological illiteracy opens the door to error. We must recover a Biblical and vigorous apologetic. We must recover and promote a commitment to true church reform. We must recover our confidence in the gospel, and show the stomach for the fight of faith.

Themes in the discussion included the focus on the church (John J. Murray made some pithy and helpful challenges here).

The life and legacy of E. F. Kevan
Paul Brown

It is difficult to summarise a biographical paper. We were treated to a sweep of Kevan’s life, getting a glimpse into his development as a Christian, a preacher, and a theologian. Gradual shifts in certain convictions (e.g. toward open communion) were evident.

The focus lay on his work at London Bible College, his high standards, evident love for his students, and his commitment to recognised academic qualifications (bringing him into some conflict with Lloyd-Jones for example). His work ethic was plain throughout. Some of his writing work was brought in, although his seminal work on The Grace of Law did not receive as much attention as I had hoped.

This paper was more of a report of his life than a critique. It is clear that he was a good and godly man, albeit with a mixed legacy. Of whom, though, can that not be said?

The discussion reflected the less-polemic nature of the paper, being more of a factual question-and-answer. The issue of antinomianism was raised for the third time in the day. Again, it is a shame that this was not developed, as it is a pressing matter.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 December 2008 at 10:09

The Westminster Conference 2008: “Old Paths, New Shoes”

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The Westminster Conference for 2008 – “Old Paths, New Shoes” – will take place later this year on Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th December at the new venue of Whitefield Memorial Church in Tottenham Court Road, London.  The brochure will be mailed out shortly, but you can download a pdf copy here (or click the picture on the right) which can be printed out.

The schedule for the conference is as follows, God willing:

  • “What can we learn from the Puritans?” by Iain H. Murray
  • “The recovery of the Reformed vision” by John J. Murray
  • “The life and legacy of E. F. Kevan” by Paul Brown
  • “Tradition – the Puritan and Reformed perspective” by Robert Godfrey
  • “Spiritual conflict” by Jonathan Watson
  • “William Grimshaw” by Faith Cook

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 29 September 2008 at 13:46

Westminster Conference 2008

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The Westminster Conference website has now been updated with details for this year’s conference on Tue 09 and Wed 10 Dec at the new venue of the Whitefield Memorial Chapel in Tottenham Court Road, London.  The current line up is as follows, under the title Old Paths, New Shoes:

  • “What can we learn from the Puritans?” by Iain H. Murray
  • “The Recovery of the Reformed Vision” by John J. Murray
  • “The life and legacy of E. F. Kevan” by Paul Brown
  • “Tradition – the Puritan and Reformed Perspective” by Robert Godfrey
  • “Spiritual Conflict” by Jonathan Watson
  • “William Grimshaw” by Faith Cook

Do keep the dates free, and come along if you are able.  Booking details are at the conference website.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 14 August 2008 at 13:51

“Catch the Vision: Roots of the Reformed Recovery”

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Catch the Vision: Roots of the Reformed Recovery – The Men and Movements in the Mid-20th Century by John J. Murray

Evangelical Press, 2007 (191 pp, pbk)

Reading enough books and blogs written by or referencing evangelical or Reformed preachers and authors eventually produces a list of key names – names of men, churches, seminaries, organisations – that were, under God, the seedbed of the recovery of Reformed doctrine and practice that took place in the middle of the 20th century.  John J. Murray organises, orders, and analyses those various strands of recent history, putting people individually and corporately in their context and relationships.  The book is in many respects a personal record.  The focus is substantially on the British scene, but those books and blogs mentioned above certainly demonstrate that much of the activity during this period was generated in and from the UK, although it could be argued that in many respects the baton has subsequently passed to the US.

Beginning with the loss of ‘the vision’, Mr Murray paints a bleak picture of post-Downgrade Britain, before identifying some of the forerunners of the recovery, men like E. J. Poole-Connor, A. W. Pink, Ernie Reisinger, W. J. Grier, and others.  The author then progresses to some of the movers and shakers of the recovery, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones prominent among them.  Others given their own chapters include Geoffrey Williams (architect of the Evangelical Library), James I. Packer, Iain Murray (founder of the Banner of Truth), and Professor John Murray.  The author’s affection and esteem for Professor Murray become increasingly evident as the book progresses.  This is not merely a Scotocentric peculiarity – it is a reflection of Professor Murray’s doctrinal and devotional profundity, and the impact that he clearly had both on the author and on many others.  Each of these key men receives a treatment selective in detail but nonetheless fairly comprehensive in scope, and – in the course of each life review – other more or less significant players swim into and out of focus.

The book closes with an assessment entitled “Maintaining the Vision.”  Murray deals first of all with the expectation of a coming revival among those who shared in the Reformed recovery.  He quotes a perceptive paragraph from Iain Murray, in which the latter suggested that the recovery was the prelude either to a revival or preparation for a flood of apostasy in which a few would be called to stand fast, being well grounded.  John J. Murray – apologies for the multiplicity of relevant Murrays! – suggests that the UK is closer now to the latter than the former condition.  He then offers a sensitive but nonetheless searching critique of where the recovery has succeeded and where it failed to advance sufficiently.  He suggests that the vision was fulfilled in that this period demonstrates again what God can do through a leader in the most difficult times, even in the face of widespread apathy and antipathy; Dr Lloyd-Jones is singled out as being, in many respects, God’s catalyst.  Then there is the abiding armoury of Reformed truth, an inheritance for the likes of which some of our predecessors would have given their eye-teeth.  Thirdly, there is the worldwide spread of Reformed theology, and its abiding impact on the faith and life of many.

However, he also demonstrates that the vision was, to some extent, unfulfilled.  The recovery faltered in certain key respects.  The author locates some of the difficulties in the late 1960s, in a series of what he calls ‘partings’ between men.  Three things are identified as being areas of weakness, and therefore vital to the continued recovery of the Reformed vision, and its further advance.  The first is the necessity of maintaining a full-orbed witness to the Reformed faith.  Here the author spells out the value of genuinely confessional Christianity, guarding against doctrinal indifferentism.  Distinct and distinctive truth is to be pursued and expressed, not to the disruption of genuine fellowship (though recognising where we differ from others), but especially to the exclusion of error.  Reformed truth gives the only ultimate guarantee of success – at the end, suggests A. A. Hodge, the conflict will be between multiform Atheism and uniform Calvinism.

The second issue is the necessity of maintaining zeal for church reform.  Here Murray identifies certain weaknesses and shortcomings with regard to the life of the body of Christ, the church, in its local expression.  Evangelical unity became a bigger issue than church health, with lamentable results.  Says Murray: “It is clear that the way of trying to unite evangelicals by common adherence to a minimum of essential scriptural truths has not been a success” (164).  Not just confessional Christianity but confessional churchmanship must be high on our agenda.

Thirdly, says Murray, we must recover the creation and covenant view of the family (whatever our view of baptism).  His point actually seems broader than this: the emphasis must be on a more than Reformed ministry: it must be on the reality of truth having a sweet and saving and sanctifying impact on the lives of the men and women, boys and girls, to whom that truth is ministered.  The truth must not merely be preached from the pulpit but must become embedded in the pew.  Murray locates (rightly) a vital, even central, ingredient of this process in the family, but goes beyond it.

There are dangers in writing a history of times from which key protagonists are still alive, or in which the acolytes of key protagonists stand ready to defend their man or men to the hilt, or to give alternative versions of events.  Doubtless many will seek to do so.  But it is also necessary to have such a history before these men and events are forgotten, or become further coloured by passing time, or even twisted in their interpretation by those with an agenda of their own (as has, indeed, already happened).  In this regard, it is worth remembering that the author himself was a protagonist (he joined the editorial department of the Banner of Truth in June 1960).  His perspective is as valid as any other man’s, and there is a weight of experience and wisdom with which he writes.  No doubt many will disagree, or see matters differently, but that by no means undermines the value of this contribution.

I would suggest that Catch the Vision is essential reading for all who consider themselves inheritors of this tradition.  It gives a vivid and intense flavour of the spirit of the times, and the eagerness and expectancy with which these various men of God came to deeper views of his glorious truths and felt the impact of those truths on their souls.  There was a freshness and liveliness that, sadly, many inheritors have lost, replaced by a dullness and smugness that ill becomes those who claim to be followers of the Most Holy One.  This volume will instruct, chasten, enlighten, and – I hope – stir up a fresh appetite not only for the Word of God but for the Spirit of God, not only for the truth of God but for its free course in our hearts and in the hearts of many others.

It should also be noted that John J. Murray will be one of the speakers at the 2008 Westminster Conference.  This will be held, God willing, at Whitefield’s Tabernacle (“The American Church in London”) on Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th December.  Mr Murray’s paper is entitled, “Recovery of the Reformed Vision,” and I would expect significant and profitable overlap.  If you are able, I would strongly recommend coming to hear Mr Murray, and enjoying what will no doubt be a fruity and compelling discussion to follow.

In my travels . . .

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This week has felt very busy so far, but I think that is the effects of physical weariness rather than unusual activity.  On Monday we said goodbye to our friends from Texas, and spent the day doing home projects.

On Tuesday I was up at 5am, doing some work before heading to London to collect Gary Brady from London Gateway Services near the bottom of the M1.  Gary has blogged the journey extensively here so I won’t replicate all his links, nor emphasise his grief that his new book is not yet in his hands.  We headed up to Stapleford for a planning meeting of the Westminster Conference, spent the day there, then enjoyed a meal with Paul & Faith Cook, before returning home late.

The 2008 conference (Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th December) is now fully lined up, God willing.  Hopefully the website will be updated shortly.  After moving from Westminster Chapel and spent a brief sojourn at the Friends House near Euston, this year the conference moves on again to Whitefield’s Tabernacle in Tottenham Court Road, home of the American Church in London.  Sessions and speakers are as follows:

  • What can we learn from the Puritans? (Iain Murray)
  • Recovery of the Reformed Vision (John J. Murray)
  • E F Kevan and the Grace of Law (Paul Brown)
  • Reformed and Puritan Views of Tradition (Robert Godfrey)
  • Thomas Brooks and Spiritual Conflict (Jonathan Watson)
  • William Grimshaw (Faith Cook)

I came away with a number of responsibilities, mainly on the practical and administrative side, some of which I have been able to address already, at least in part.  I would encourage everyone with an interest in church history to make an effort to attend.  The titles may not always sound inspiring, but the papers are generally of a high quality, followed by discussion that attendees can always make more stimulating!  Some of this year’s papers promise to be very rich and engaging.  If you are planning ahead, the 2009 conference is scheduled for 9th and 10th December 2009.

Wednesday I spent working on things for the Westminster Conference, planning for our prayer meeting (where I gave a more detailed report on my recent visit to Italy), making some important phone calls, and generally catching up.

Thursday we hosted a meeting called Listen & Dine at the church.  This is generally for senior citizens: a brief gospel message is preached, and then a meal is provided, when the members of the church who are there seek to discuss and drive home the things which have just been preached.  With ferrying people back and forth, lengthy discussions, serving food, and clearing up afterward, it can become a long day.  Several members of the church put their all into this for a few hours, and retire weary, bowed but unbroken!

Today I am preparing for the weekend.  Tomorrow (Saturday) we are providing refreshments at a community event in Maidenbower, and have been given an opportunity to distribute invitations to the church meetings.  We hope that this will help to introduce us and our Saviour to many in the community.  Then on Sunday I am due to preach at Alexandra Road Congregational Church in Hemel Hempstead.

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