The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘J. C. Ryle

Christian greatness

leave a comment »

J. C. Ryle, as so often, has the knack of speaking plainly, even painfully, to our hearts, in these comments on Luke’s Gospel, chapter 22, verses 24-30:

Usefulness in the world and the Christian church, a humble readiness to do anything, a cheerful willingness to fill any post, however lowly, are the true tests of Christian greatness. The hero in Christ’s army is not the man who has rank and title and dignity and chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. It is the man who is not concerned about himself but about other people. It is the man who is kind to everyone, tender to everyone, thoughtful toward everyone, ever helpful and sympathetic. It is the man who spends his time binding up the brokenhearted, befriending the friendless, comforting the sorrowful, and enlightening the ignorant. This is the truly great man in God’s sight. The world may ridicule his efforts and deny the sincerity of his motives, but while the world is sneering, God is pleased. This is the man who is walking most closely in the steps of Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 7 March 2016 at 18:42

Posted in Christian living, General

Tagged with ,

Ryle’s writings

with 11 comments

This morning I received a packet of books in the post. I wish to recommend them.

The Banner of Truth has finally succumbed to the pressure/made a wise decision on their own initiative and produced a reset, hardbound edition of J. C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospel. Now, I admit that there’s one font used – sparingly – that I would probably not have chosen, but this is a cracking set of volumes. No longer will your paperback copies start to unbind after a couple of readings; no longer will the spines crack when you try to hold them open on your desk; no longer will you strain your eyes to read the often fainter text of other hardbound editions.

These are beautiful to behold, excellent in their quality, and outstanding in their substance. Although the later volumes in the series have more in the way of exegetical notes, to none of these books will the technical exegete turn in order to find his exhaustive and exhausting way. There will be times when the good Bishop’s Anglicanism will skew his interpretations, and others at which his Amyraldism raises its head, but these are relatively easily negotiated. What you will get, by and large, are pastorally sound, eminently practical, thoroughly Christ-centred, happily straightforward expository thoughts, ideal for private or family worship, stimulating for preachers, instructive for pastors, models of earnest simplicity.

In short, then, this is a set which could and perhaps should replace any other more modern edition (and many older editions) of Ryle’s Expository Thoughts. What is more, the seven volumes are currently being sold for £45 (or $65) , reduced to £15 ($25) for ministers. In other words, there is no better time to bag these puppies.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 15 August 2012 at 12:56

Posted in Book notices

Tagged with ,

Bearing fruit

with one comment

From J. C. Ryle:

The Christianity which I call fruit-bearing, that which shows its Divine origin by its blessed effects on mankind – the Christianity which you may safely defy unbelievers to explain away – that Christianity is a very different thing. Let me show you some of its leading marks and features.

(1) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught the inspiration, sufficiency, and supremacy of Holy Scripture. It has told people that God’s Word written is the only trustworthy rule of faith and practice in religion, that God requires nothing to be believed that is not in this Word, and that nothing is right which contradicts it. It has never allowed reason, a person’s mind, or the voice of the Church, to be placed above, or on a level with Scripture. It has steadily maintained that, however imperfectly we may understand it, the Old Book is meant to be the only standard of life and doctrine.

(2) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught fully the sinfulness, guilt and corruption of human nature. It has told people that they are born in sin, deserve God’s wrath and condemnation, and are naturally inclined to do evil. It has never allowed that men and women are only weak and pitiable creatures, who can become good when they please, and make their own peace with God. On the contrary, it has steadily declared a person’s danger and vileness, and their pressing need of a Divine forgiveness and satisfaction for their sins, a new birth or conversion, and an entire change of heart.

(3) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always set before people the Lord Jesus Christ as the chief object of faith and hope in religion, as the Divine Mediator between God and humanity, the only source of peace of conscience, and the root of all spiritual life. It has never been content to teach that He is merely our Prophet, our Example, and our Judge. The main things it has ever insisted on about Christ are the atonement for sin He made by His death, His sacrifice on the cross, the complete redemption from guilt and condemnation by His blood, His victory over the grave by His resurrection, His active life of intercession at God’s right hand, and the absolute necessity of simple faith in Him. In short, it has made Christ the Alpha and the Omega in Christian theology.

(4) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always honored the Person of God the Holy Spirit, and magnified His work. It has never taught that all professing Christians have the grace of the Spirit in their hearts, as a matter of course, because they are baptized, or because they belong to the Church, or because they partake of Holy communion. It has steadily maintained that the fruits of the Spirit are the only evidence of having the Spirit, and that those fruits must be seen, – that we must be born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, sanctified by the Spirit, and feel the operations of the Spirit, – and that a close walk with God in the path of His commandments, a life of holiness, charity, self-denial, purity, and zeal to do good, are the only satisfactory marks of the Holy Spirit.

Summary ► Such is true fruit-bearing Christianity. Well would it have been for the world if there had been more of it during the last nineteen centuries! Too often, and in too many parts of Christendom, there has been so little of it, that Christ’s religion has seemed extinct, and has fallen into utter contempt. But just in proportion as such Christianity as I have described has prevailed, the world has benefited, the unbeliever has been silenced, and the truth of Divine revelation been acknowledged. The tree has been known by its fruit.

via J.C. Ryle Quotes.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 23 May 2012 at 17:04

Old light on fresh battles

leave a comment »

I ask whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do nowadays in handling the doctrine of sanctification. Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do that the holiness of converted people is by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.

The Cripplegate points us to the wisdom of J. C. Ryle on the realities of sanctification, Biblically understood.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 March 2012 at 12:15

Posted in Christian living

Tagged with ,

Hugh Latimer: the preaching prelate #1 Introduction

with 3 comments

Part one ∙ Part twoPart three

Hugh Latimer speaks best for himself:

For preaching of the gospel is one of God’s plough-works, and the preacher is one of God’s ploughmen. . . . Ye may not then, I say, be offended with my similitude, for because I liken preaching to a ploughman’s labour, and a prelate to a ploughman. But now you will ask me, whom I call a prelate? A prelate is that man, whatsoever he be, that hath a flock to be taught of him; whosoever hath any spiritual charge in the faithful congregation, and whosoever he be that hath cure of souls. And well may the preacher and the ploughman be likened together: first, for their labour of all seasons of the year; for there is no time of the year in which the ploughman hath not some special work to do as in my country in Leicestershire, the ploughman hath a time to set forth, and to assay his plough, and other times for other necessary works to be done. And then they also may be likened together for the diversity of works and variety of offices that they have to do. For as the ploughman first setteth forth his plough, and then tilleth his land, and breaketh it in furrows, and sometime ridgeth it up again; and at another time harroweth it and clotteth it, and sometime dungeth it and hedgeth it, diggeth it and weedeth it, purgeth and maketh it clean: so the prelate, the preacher, hath many diverse offices to do. He hath first a busy work to bring his parishioners to a right faith, as Paul calleth it, and not a swerving faith; but to a faith that embraceth Christ, and trusteth to his merits; a lively faith, a justifying faith; a faith that maketh a man righteous, without respect of works: as ye have it very well declared and set forth in the Homily. He hath then a busy work, I say, to bring his flock to a right faith, and then to confirm them in the same faith: now casting them down with the law, and with threatenings of God for sin; now ridging them up again with the gospel, and with the promises of God’s favour: now weeding them, by telling them their faults, and making them forsake sin; now clotting them, by breaking their stony hearts, and by making them supplehearted, and making them to have hearts of flesh; that is, soft hearts, and apt for doctrine to enter in: now teaching to know God rightly, and to know their duty to God and their neighbours: now exhorting them, when they know their duty, that they do it, and be diligent in it; so that they have a continual work to do. Great is their business, and therefore great should be their hire. They have great labours, and therefore they ought to have good livings, that they may commodiously feed their flock; for the preaching of the word of God unto the people is called meat: scripture calleth it meat; not strawberries, that come but once a year, and tarry not long, but are soon gone: but it is meat, it is no dainties. The people must have meat that must be familiar and continual, and daily given unto them to feed upon. Many make a strawberry of it, ministering it but once a year; but such do not the office of good prelates.[1]

But now for the fault of unpreaching prelates, methink I could guess what might be said for excusing of them. They are so troubled with lordly living, they be so placed in palaces, couched in courts, ruffling in their rents, dancing in their dominions, burdened with ambassages, pampering of their paunches, like a monk that maketh his jubilee; munching in their mangers, and moiling in their gay manors and mansions, and so troubled with loitering in their lordships, that they cannot attend it.[2]

And now I would ask a strange question: who is the most diligentest bishop and prelate in all England, that passeth all the rest in doing his office? I can tell, for I know him who it is; I know him well. But now I think I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him. There is one that passeth all the other, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And will ye know who it is? I will tell you: it is the devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all other; he is never out of his diocess; he is never from his cure; ye shall never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish; he keepeth residence at all times; ye shall never find him out of the way, call for him when you will he is ever at home; the diligentest preacher in all the realm; he is ever at his plough: no lording nor loitering can hinder him; he is ever applying his business, ye shall never find him idle, I warrant you. And his office is to hinder religion, to maintain superstition, to set up idolatry, to teach all kind of popery. He is ready as he can be wished for to set forth his plough; to devise as many ways as can be to deface and obscure God’s glory. Where the devil is resident, and hath his plough going, there away with books, and up with candles; away with bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel, and up with the light of candles, yea, at noon-days. Where the devil is resident, that he may prevail, up with all superstition and idolatry; tensing, painting of images, candles, palms, ashes, holy water, and new service of men’s inventing; as though man could invent a better way to honour God with than God himself hath appointed. Down with Christ’s cross, up with purgatory pickpurse, up with him, the popish purgatory, I mean. Away with clothing the naked, the poor and impotent; up with decking of images, and gay garnishing of stocks and stones: up with man’s traditions and his laws, down with God’s traditions and his most holy word. Down with the old honour due to God, and up with the new god’s honour. Let all things be done in Latin: there must be nothing but Latin, not so much as Memento, homo, quod cinis es, et in cinerem reverteris: “Remember, man, that thou art ashes, and into ashes thou shalt return:” which be the words that the minister speaketh unto the ignorant people, when he giveth them ashes upon Ash-Wednesday; but it must be spoken in Latin: God’s word may in no wise be translated into English.

Oh that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel! [3]

These rich passages are taken from perhaps the most famous of Hugh Latimer’s sermons, the “Sermon of the Plough,” and are truly representative of this preaching prelate.

Hugh Latimer lived from about 1490 (the birth date is sometimes given as late as 1492) until 16th October 1555, when he was martyred with Nicholas Ridley (c. 1500-1555) at Oxford. His sermons are in the two volumes of his Sermons & Remains.[4] The first volume is almost entirely sermons (thirty-three in all); the second contains fifteen sermons and some miscellaneous remains. With regret, our focus on the sermons means that we must pick up what we can of the person from our study of the preacher. Neither can we dwell much on his history as person or preacher, or the theology of his sermons, except incidentally.

The sermons span a period of about twenty-five years and three monarchs (1529 through to 1553 – two years before his death – and Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I). They are often grouped by time, occasion or place of preaching (e.g. “Seven Sermons preached before King Edward the Sixth, 1549” or “Sermons preached in Lincolnshire, 1552”) or by their matter (“Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, 1552”). They are the productions of Latimer’s heart and mouth but not necessarily of his pen, nor were they revised by their author (with the possible exception of the “Sermon[s] before the Convocation”). Rather, they were gathered by Latimer’s friend and attendant, and one who himself became a gospel preacher, Augustine Bernher, “albeit not so fully and perfectly gathered as they were uttered; yet nevertheless truly.”[5] We must take into account that we have, in the language of the introduction to one, “the effect and tenor”[6] of the sermon, more a full and careful sense of the substance than a transcription of every word. So we must exercise care in making absolute judgements while confident that we get our material from one who knew the preacher well, was sympathetic to his theology, was concerned to preserve his teaching accurately, and learned to preach – at least in part – from hearing Latimer. And, we might ask, who can capture the thunder and the lightning anyway?

Latimer is a man of his time, not least in his theology (it being more of a developing Lutheranism and therefore sometimes lacking the clarity of his reforming successors, and sometimes being simply inaccurate) and his sociology. As a preacher, he can ramble with the best (or worst!): one finds either a telling phrase of pith and moment, or must resort to a paragraph or two to get the sense and flow of some holy harangue.

His capacity for the unexpected excursus (or, to be more frank, the rabbit trail) is close to unparalleled. In one sermon, speaking of Jairus’ daughter, he gives some pointed counsel on how to make sure that someone is genuinely dead before burying them, concluding, “Therefore, I admonish you not to be too hasty with dead corses: as long as they be warm, keep them in the bed; for when a man is dead indeed, he will soon be cold.”[7] One might defend this on the grounds of pastoral or practical necessity while questioning whether or not it is entirely germane. Neither could we describe Latimer as an exegetical nonesuch (at least in the commendatory sense): we do not turn to him for a robust demonstration of the grammatico-historical approach. In terms of sermonic structure, he has a variety of approaches, none of them regular. We might kindly describe him as exegetically and homiletically untrammelled, with a style that is essentially natural and conversational.

He is not unaware of his idiosyncrasies. Some are deliberate, a part of his convictions concerning the pulpit and his concern for the people who hear him:

I have a manner of teaching, which is very tedious to them that be learned. I am wont ever to repeat those things which I have said before, which repetitions are nothing pleasant to the learned: but it is no matter, I care not for them; I seek more the profit of those which be ignorant, than to please learned men. Therefore I oftentimes repeat such things which be needful for them to know; for I would speak so that they might be edified withal.[8]

Despite well-intentioned nitpicking, we must acknowledge that Latimer is easy to read and to hear read. P. E. Hughes speaks of him as a man “who was the most remarkable preacher of the day, and indeed one of the greatest preachers the Church universal has ever had.”[9] Bishop Ryle is no more restrained:

Few, probably have ever addressed an English congregation with more effect than he did. No doubt his sermons now extant would not suit modern taste. They contain many quaint, odd, and coarse things. They are very familiar, rambling, and discursive, and often full of gossiping stories. But, after all, we are poor judges in these days of what a sermon ought to be. A modern sermon is too often a dull, tame, pointless religious essay, full of measured, round sentences, Johnsonian English, bald platitudes, timid statements, and elaborately concocted milk and water. It is a leaden sword, without either point or edge: a heavy weapon, and little likely to do much execution. But if a combination of sound Gospel doctrine, plain Saxon language, boldness, liveliness, directness, and simplicity, can make a preacher, few, I suspect, have ever equalled old Latimer.[10]

With such testimonies before us, rather than try to identify and examine a typical sermon (for I am not sure one exists), we shall attempt to draw from the complete corpus briefly to explore and assess the principles and practice of this preaching prelate.

Part one ∙ Part twoPart three


[1] Latimer, Sermons & Remains (Cambridge: CUP, 1844), 1:60-62. All references to the sermons are from this edition, sometimes referred to as Latimer’s Works.

[2] 1:67.

[3] 1:70-71.

[4] Sometimes referred to as Latimer’s Works; they are readily obtainable online, or secondhand in the Parker edition from the Cambridge University Press.

[5] 1:xvi and 455, fn 5.

[6] 1:3.

[7] 1:537-8.

[8] 1:341. I have to think that the fact that in three sentences he twice states that he is given to repetition for the sake of the ignorant is an example of the preaching tongue firmly in the prelatic cheek.

[9] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 127

[10] J. C. Ryle, Five English Reformers (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 106.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 21 January 2012 at 20:03

Ryle’s resolutions

leave a comment »

Here are some good targets for the year to come. When Ryle tells us to lay aside every weight, he is aiming higher than the loss of a few pounds.

Walk more closely with God, get nearer to Christ and seek to exchange hope for assurance. Seek to feel the witness of the Spirit more closely and distinctly every year. Lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily besets you. Press towards the mark more earnestly. Fight a better fight, and war a better warfare every year you live. Pray more, read more, mortify self more, love the brethren more. Oh that you may endeavor so to grow in grace every year, that your last things may be far more than your first, and the end of your Christian course far better than the beginning!

HT: Main Things.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 2 January 2012 at 15:54

Posted in Christian living

Tagged with ,

The bud and the bloom

with 9 comments

Let us beware of despising the Old Testament under any pretence whatever. Let us never listen to those who bid us throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the germ of Christianity. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud. The New Testament is the Gospel in full flower.— The Old Testament is the Gospel in the blade. The New Testament is the Gospel in full car.—The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly. But they all looked by faith to the same Saviour, and were led by the same Spirit as ourselves. These are no light matters. Much infidelity begins with an ignorant contempt of the Old Testament.

Let us, for another thing, beware of despising the law of the Ten Commandments. Let us not suppose for a moment that it is set aside by the Gospel, or that Christians have nothing to do with it. The coming of Christ did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments one hair’s breadth. If anything, it exalted and raised their authority. (Rom. iii. 31.) The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal measure of right and wrong. By it is the knowledge of sin. By it the Spirit shows men their need of Christ, and drives them to Him. To it Christ refers His people as their rule and guide for holy living. In its right place it is just as important as ” the glorious Gospel.”—It cannot save us. We cannot be justified by it. But never, never let us despise it. It is a symptom of an ignorant and unhealthy state of religion, when the law is lightly esteemed. The true Christian “delights in the law of God.” (Rom. vii. 22.)

J. C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 5:13-20)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 28 October 2011 at 09:00

Preach like Latimer

with one comment

I have been enjoying reading up on Latimer for an upcoming address on his preaching, followed by a more developed biographical paper on the man as a whole. It being the Lord’s day tomorrow, it was somewhat timely to come across this brief description from Bishop Ryle of Latimer as a preacher:

Few, probably have ever addressed an English congregation with more effect than he did. No doubt his sermons now extant would not suit modern taste. They contain many quaint, odd, and coarse things. They are very familiar, rambling, and discursive, and often full of gossiping stories. But, after all, we are poor judges in these days of what a sermon ought to be. A modern sermon is too often a dull, tame, pointless religious essay, full of measured, round sentences, Johnsonian English, bald platitudes, timid statements, and elaborately concocted milk and water. It is a leaden sword, without either point or edge: a heavy weapon, and little likely to do much execution. But if a combination of sound Gospel doctrine, plain Saxon language, boldness, liveliness, directness, and simplicity, can make a preacher, few, I suspect, have ever equalled old Latimer.

J. C. Ryle, Five English Reformers (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 106.

Although not identical, the description of today’s modern sermon would probably not be overwhelmingly positive, but the remedy seems pretty timeless: “a combination of sound Gospel doctrine, plain Saxon language, boldness, liveliness, directness, and simplicity.” May God grant that such preachers would take such sermons into their pulpits tomorrow.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 22 October 2011 at 19:43

A shepherd’s reading

with one comment

S being another popular initial initial, as it were, for writers of pastoral theologies,today I offer you the Rs from the list and the first smattering of Ss (esses? Ssss?). The full list to date continues to be available here or from the sidebar under “Pastoral theology.” Comments and further recommendations are appreciated , and if you could put them on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily. Enjoy and profit!

Reymond, Robert L. The God-Centered Preacher: Developing a Pulpit Ministry Approved by God. Coming from a slightly different stable to some of the other volumes, this book comes in two parts, the former a survey of eight needs for the modern pulpit, and the latter a selection of ‘approved’ sermons intended to demonstrate the model established in the first part. Fairly technical at points, and interacting with some significant opponents, this Scripture-saturated, theologically acute, historically aware volume has much to offer. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Reynolds, Gregory Edward. The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age. Essentially a homiletical work developed out of some post-graduate research (I think), Reynolds sets out not to rehash some of the older classics, but to supplement them taking into account the rise of modern media. The bulk of the book is fairly typical academic hoop-jumping, all good stuff and very interesting, but interacting by obligation with things for the sake of racking up some scholarly points. In the latter portion of the book the pastor-preacher takes over and scores some good hits. Despite it being ten years old (and therefore not taking account of a decade of high-speed development) it covers a lot of ground and brings out some excellent principles. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Ryle, J. C. Simplicity in Preaching. Reminding us that in his collections of essays and addresses Ryle has a wealth of sound advice on preaching, this little booklet is concerned with simplicity, and – modelling its own counsel – gives us a series of pointed counsels as to how to develop it. Many a seminarian who has yet to discern the difference between his classroom disquisitions and his pulpit productions would benefit from this. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Shaw, John. The Character of a Pastor According to God’s Heart Considered. An ordination sermon grounded in Jeremiah 3.15, this is one of those more Puritanical treatments which drives at the heart of the ministry: the character of the minister. Short, simple, searching, will flush the spiritual system out. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Shedd, W. G. T. Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. Boy, how these 19th century gents liked to churn these things out! This one combines a series of lectures on sermon preparation and delivery and a survey of pastoral theology as it has to do with the various spheres of ministerial character and labour. Again, the style is of its time, but the counsels, directions and warnings are always substantial, Scripturally solid, often sweet, sometimes righteously severe, and properly searching. Will cover much of the ground that others cover, but these men have flashes of insight and turns of phrase that can make each individually valuable. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Smith, Steven W. Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit. A passionate and persuasive plea to preachers that they must embrace the cross in their pastoral ministry, dying to self so that others might live in imitation of Christ and, following the Lord, Paul. The focus is really on one’s theology of preaching. The author’s vigorous spiritual probing calls us back to self-examination as to whether we preach a crucified Lord in a crucified style. Review. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 14 September 2011 at 17:05

That Sunday feeling

with 6 comments

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

Posted in Christian living

Tagged with , ,

Mustard and yeast

with 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 14 January 2011 at 08:08

The school of sickness

leave a comment »

Brian Croft has written a book called Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness (or Amazon). He passes on some wisdom from J.C. Ryle on the benefits of physical sickness for the soul:

Sickness helps to remind men of death. The most live as if they were never going to die. They follow business, or pleasure, or politics, or science, as if earth was their eternal home. They plan and scheme for the future, like the rich fool in the parable, as if they had a long lease of life, and were not tenants at will. A heavy illness sometimes goes far to dispel these delusions. It awakens men from their daydreams, and reminds them that they have to die as well as to live. Now this I say emphatically is a mighty good.

Sickness helps to make men think seriously of God, and their souls, and the world to come. The most in their days of health can find no time for such thoughts. They dislike them. They put them away. They count them troublesome and disagreeable. Now a severe disease has sometimes a wonderful power of mustering and rallying these thoughts, and bringing them up before the eyes of a man’s soul. Even a wicked king like Benhadad, when sick, could think of Elisha (2 Kings 8:8). Even heathen sailors, when death was in sight, were afraid, and cried every man to his god (Jonah 1:5).  Surely anything that helps to make men think is a good.

Sickness helps to soften men’s hearts, and teach them wisdom. The natural heart is as hard as a stone. It can see no good in anything which is not of this life, and no happiness excepting in this world. A long illness sometimes goes far to correct these ideas. It exposes the emptiness and hollowness of what the world calls “good” things, and teaches us to hold them with a loose hand. The man of business finds that money alone is not everything the heart requires. The woman of the world finds that costly apparel, and novel-reading, and the reports of balls and operas, are miserable comforters in a sick room. Surely anything that obliges us to alter our weights and measures of earthly things is a real good.

Sickness helps to level and humble us. We are all naturally proud and high–minded. Few, even of the poorest, are free from the infection. Few are to be found who do not look down on somebody else, and secretly flatter themselves that they are “not as other men.” A sick bed is a mighty tamer of such thoughts as these. It forces on us the mighty truth that we are all poor worms that we “dwell in houses of clay,” and are “crushed before the moth” (Job 4:19), and that kings and subjects, masters and servants, rich and poor, are all dying creatures, and will soon stand side by side at the bar of God. In the sight of the coffin and the grave it is not easy to be proud. Surely anything that teaches that lesson is good.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 4 November 2010 at 10:25

Posted in While wandering . . .

Tagged with ,

Book blizzard

with 4 comments

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.

Rebuking sin

with 2 comments

I am not sure for whom this advice from J. C. Ryle is more terrifying – the gospel minister himself, or those whom he serves:

We see, in the third place, how boldly a faithful minister of God ought to rebuke sin. John the Baptist spoke plainly to Herod about the wickedness of his life. He did not excuse himself under the plea that it was imprudent, or impolitic, or untimely, or useless to speak out. He did not say smooth things, and palliate the king’s ungodliness by using soft words to describe his offence. He told his royal hearer the plain truth, regardless of all consequences, – “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Here is a pattern that all ministers ought to follow. Publicly and privately, from the pulpit and in private visits, they ought to rebuke all open sin, and deliver a faithful warning to all who are living in it. It may give offence. It may entail immense unpopularity. With all this they have nothing to do. Duties are theirs. Results are God’s.

No doubt it requires great grace and courage to do this. No doubt a reprover, like John the Baptist, must go to work wisely and lovingly in carrying out his master’s commission, and rebuking the wicked. But it is a matter in which his character for faithfulness and charity are manifestly at stake. If he believes a man is injuring his soul, he ought surely to tell him so. If he loves him truly and tenderly, he ought not to let him ruin himself unwarned. Great as the present offence may be, in the long run the faithful reprover will generally be respected. “He that rebukes a man, afterwards shall find more favor than he that flatters him with his tongue.” (Prov. 28:23.)

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, 119-120

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 1 July 2010 at 15:00

Preaching Christ

leave a comment »

What do some of the masters say?

Charles Spurgeon:

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”  “A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.  “A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.”  “Ay, no doubt of it.”  “Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”  “Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”  “Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon?  Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”  “Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”  “Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”  “Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”  “Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”  So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”  “Yes,” said the young man.  “Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ.  And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis – Christ.  And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”[1]

Bishop J. C. Ryle:

Let it be a settled principle in our minds, in reading the Bible, that Christ is the central sun of the whole book.  So long as we keep Him in view, we shall never greatly err in our search for spiritual knowledge.  Once losing sight of Christ, we shall find the whole Bible dark and full of difficulty.  The key of Bible knowledge is Jesus Christ.[2]

Alexander MacLaren:

A ministry of which the Christ who lived and died for us is manifestly the centre to which all converges and from which all is viewed, may sweep a wide circumference, and include many themes.  The requirement bars out no province of thought or experience, nor does it condemn the preacher to a parrot-like repetition of elementary truths, or a narrow round of commonplace.  It does demand that all themes shall lead up to Christ, and all teaching point to Him . . . . Preaching Christ does not exclude any theme, but prescribes the bearing and purpose of all; and the widest compass and richest variety are not only possible, but obligatory for him who would in any worthy sense take this for the motto of his ministry, “I determine not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”[3]

The Puritans, as reviewed by Joel Beeke:

The experimental preaching of the Reformers and Puritans focused on preaching Christ.  As Scripture clearly shows, evangelism must bear witness to the record God has given of his only begotten Son (Acts 2:3; 5:42; 8:35; Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:2; Galatians 3:1).  The Puritans thus taught that any preaching in which Christ does not have the pre-eminence is not valid experiential preaching.  William Perkins said that the heart of all preaching was to ‘preach [only] one Christ by Christ to the praise of Christ’.  According to Thomas Adams, ‘Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus’.  ‘Think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul, and scope of the whole Scriptures’, advised Isaac Ambrose.  In this Christ-centred context, Reformed and Puritan evangelism was marked by a discriminating application of truth to experience.[4]

William M. Taylor:

The Gospel, as Paul preached it, was far-reaching enough in its application to touch at every point the conduct and experiences of men.  The Cross, as he used it, was an instrument of the widest range and of the greatest power.  When, therefore, I insist that you like him should “preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” I do not mean to make the pulpit for you a battery, of such a nature that the guns upon it can strike only such vessels as happen to pass immediately in front of its embrasures.[5] On the contrary, I turn it for you into a tower, whereon is mounted a swivel-cannon, which can sweep the whole horizon of human life, and strike down all immorality, and ungodliness, and selfishness, and sin. . . . I do not mean that you should keep continually repeating the words of “the faithful saying” like a parrot-cry, until every particle of meaning has dropped out of them; but rather, that you should make application of the great principles that lie beneath the Cross, to the ever-varying circumstances and occurrences of life, and that in such a way as at once to succor the Christian and arrest and convert the sinner.[6]

Andrew Fuller:

If you preach Christ, you need not fear for want of matter.  His person and work are rich in fulness.  Every Divine attribute is seen in him.  All the types prefigure him.  The prophecies point to him.  Every truth bears relation to him.  The law itself must be so explained and enforced as to lead to him. . . . The preaching of Christ will answer every end of preaching.  This is the doctrine which God owns to conversion, to the leading of awakened sinners to peace, and to the comfort of true Christians.  If the doctrine of the cross be no comfort to us, it is a sign we have no right to comfort.  This doctrine is calculated to quicken the indolent, to draw forth every Christian grace, and to recover the backslider.  This is the universal remedy for all the moral diseases of all mankind.[7]

Thomas Foxcroft:

Ministers then must study to feed their flocks with a continual feast on the glorious fullness there is in Christ; they must gather fruits from the branch of righteousness, from the tree of life for those who hunger, not feeding them with the meat which perishes, but with that which endures to everlasting life.  They must open this fountain of living waters, the great mystery of godliness, into which all the doctrines of the gospel that are branched forth into so great a variety do, as so many rivulets or streams making glad the city of God, flow and concenter.

They must endeavor to set forth Christ in the dignity of His Person, as the brightness of His Father’s glory, God manifest in the flesh; in the reality, necessity, nature, and exercise of His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, in both His state of humiliation and exaltation; in the glorious benefits of His redemption, the justification of them who believe, the adoption of sons, sanctification, and an inheritance that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for the saints; in the wonderful methods and means in and by which we are called into the fellowship of the Son our Lord, and made partakers of the redemption by Christ; in the nature, and significance, the excellency and worth, of all the ordinances and institutions of Christ, with the obligations on all to attend upon them.

Whatever subject ministers are upon, it must somehow point to Christ.  All sin must be witnessed against and preached down as opposed to the holy nature, the wise and gracious designs, and the just government of Christ.  So all duty must be persuaded to and preached up with due regard unto Christ; to His authority commanding and to His Spirit of grace assisting, as well as to the merit of His blood commending – and this to dash the vain presumption that decoys so many into ruin, who will securely hang the weight of their hopes upon the horns of the altar without paying expected homage to the scepter of Christ.  All the arrows of sharp rebuke are to be steeped in the blood of Christ; and this to prevent those desponding fears and frights of guilt which sometimes awfully work to a fatal issue.  Dark and ignorant sinners are to be directed to Christ as the Sun of righteousness; convinced sinners are to be led to Christ as the Great Atonement and the only City of Refuge.  Christ is to be lifted up on high for the wounded in spirit to look to, as the bitten Israelites looked to the brazen serpent of old.  The sick, the lame, and the diseased are to be carried to Christ as the great Physician, the Lord our Healer; the disconsolate and timorous are to be guided to Christ as the Consolation of Israel, and in us the hope of glory.  Every comfort administered is to be sweetened with pure water from this Well of salvation, which only can quench the fiery darts of the evil one.  The promises of the gospel are to be applied as being in Christ “yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor. 1:20).  So the threatenings of the law are to light and flash in the eyes of sinners as the terrors of the Lord and sparks of the holy resentment of an incensed Savior, which hover now over the children of disobedience and will one day unite and fall heavy upon them.  The love of Christ for us is to be held forth as the great constraining motive to religion, and the life of Christ as the bright, engaging pattern of it.  Progress and increase in holiness are to be represented under the notion of abiding in Christ and growing up into Him who is the Head, even Christ.  Perfection in grace is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and eternal life is a being forever with the Lord where He is, beholding His glory and dwelling in our Master’s joy.

Thus, in imitation of the apostolic way of preaching, there must be a beautiful texture of references to Christ, a golden thread twisted into every discourse to leaven and perfume it so as to make it express a savor of the knowledge of Christ.  Thus every mite cast into the treasure of the temple must bear this inscription upon it which was once the humble language of a pious martyr in the flames, “None but Christ, none but Christ,” so that everyone, beholding in the Word preached as in a glass the glory of the Lord, may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory.[8]

 


[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, “Christ Precious to Believers,” sermon no. 242 in The New Park Street Pulpit (1860; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 5:140.  Also told, in slightly different form, in The Soul Winner (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 106-107.

 

[2] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke 11-24 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 501.

[3] Alexander MacLaren, Old Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, date not known) 204.

[4] Joel Beeke, What is Reformed Experimental Preaching? (Grace Online Library), http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/articles/full.asp?id=42|42|394 accessed 14 May 09.

[5] Embrasures are the openings in battlements.

[6] William M Taylor, The Ministry of the Word (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2003), 102-03.  This whole chapter on “The Theme and Range of the Pulpit” would bear close reading in this regard.

[7] Andrew Fuller, “Preaching Christ” in Complete Works (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 1:503-504.

[8] Thomas Foxcroft, The Gospel Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Soli Deo Gloria, 2008), 8-11.

Occasions of sin

leave a comment »

j-c-ryleMy friend, Johnny Farese, has circulated the following from the first Lord Bishop of Liverpool, John Charles Ryle.  It is direct and helpful – the square brackets are my additions.  It comes from his Thoughts for Young Men, coming under his ‘special rules’ for them.  Despite that, it is appropriate for every child of God.

Resolve, by God’s help, to shun everything which may prove an occasion of sin.

It is an excellent saying, “He that would be safe from the acts of evil, must widely avoid the occasions.” There is an old fable, that the butterfly once asked the owl how she should deal with the fire, which had singed her wings; and the owl counseled her, in reply, not to even look at its smoke. It is not enough that we determine not to commit sin, we must carefully keep at a distance from all approaches to it. By this test we ought to examine the ways we spend our time – the books that we read, [the websites we look at, the television programmes and films we watch,] the friends that we visit, the part of society which we interact with. We must not be content with saying, “There is nothing wrong here;” we must go further, and say, “Is there anything here which may cause me to sin?”

This is one great reason why idleness is to be avoided. It is not that doing nothing is of itself so wicked; it is the opportunity it affords to evil and empty thoughts; it is the wide door it opens for Satan to throw in the seeds of bad things; it is this which is mainly to be feared. If David had not given opportunity to the devil, by walking on his house-top in Jerusalem with nothing to do, he probably never would have seen Bathsheba bathing, nor murdered her husband Uriah.

This, too, is one good reason why worldly entertainments are so objectionable. It may be difficult, in some instances, to show that they are, in themselves, positively unscriptural and wrong. But there is little difficulty in showing that the tendency of almost all of them is most injurious to the soul. They sow the seeds of an earthly and sensual frame of mind. They war against the life of faith. They promote an unhealthy and unnatural craving after excitement. They minister to the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. They dim the view of heaven and eternity, and give a false color to the things of time. They take away time for private prayer, and Scripture reading, and calm communion with God. The man who mingles in them is like one who gives Satan an advantage. He has a battle to fight, and he gives his enemy the help of sun, and wind, and hill. It would indeed be strange if he did not find himself continually overcome.

Young men, endeavor, as much as you can, to keep clear of everything which may prove injurious to your soul. People may say you are too conscientious, too particular, and ask where is the great harm of such and such things? But don’t listen to them. It is dangerous to play tricks with sharp tools: it is far more dangerous to take liberties with your immortal soul. He that would be safe must not come near the brink of danger. He must look on his heart as a barrel of gunpowder, and be cautious not to handle one spark of temptation more than he can help.

What is the use of your praying, “Lord keep me from temptation,” unless you are careful not to run into it and “keep me from evil,” unless you show a desire to keep out of its way? Take an example from Joseph – Not merely did he refuse solicitation to sin from his master’s wife, but he showed his prudence in refusing to even be “with her” (Genesis 39:10). Take to heart the advice of Solomon, not only to “Not set foot on the path of the wicked,” but to “Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go your way” (Proverbs 4:15); “Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!” (Proverbs 23:31). The man who took the vow of a Nazarite in Israel, not only took no wine, but be even abstained from grapes in any shape whatever. “Hate what is evil,” says Paul to the Romans (Romans 12:9); not merely not to do it; “Flee the evil desires of youth,” he writes to Timothy; get away from them as far as possible (2 Timothy 2:22). Oh, how needful are such cautions! Dinah just had go out among the wicked Shechemites, to see their ways, and she lost her virginity. Lot just had pitched his tent near sinful Sodom, and he lost everything but his life.

Young men, be wise with your time. Do not always be trying to see how near you can allow the enemy of souls to come, and yet escape him. Hold him at arm’s length. Try to keep clear of temptation as far as possible, and this will be one great help to keep clear of sin.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 26 November 2008 at 10:22

Posted in General

Tagged with , , ,

The power of example

leave a comment »

In the previous post, I mentioned an adult Sunday School on being living sermons in our marriages.  In applying this to parents, I quoted the following section from a booklet by J. C. Ryle entitled The Duties of Parents.  Ryle exhorts parents to train their children “remembering continually the influence of your own example.”  He says:

Instruction, and advice, and commands will profit little, unless they are backed up by the pattern of your own life.  Your children will never believe you are in earnest, and really wish them to obey you, so long as your actions contradict your counsel. Archbishop Tillotson made a wise remark when he said, “To give children good instruction, and a bad example, is but beckoning to them with the head to show them the way to heaven, while we take them by the hand and lead them in the way to hell.”

We little know the force and power of example.  No one of us can live to himself in this world; we are always influencing those around us, in one way or another, either for good or for evil, either for God or for sin. They see our ways, they mark our conduct, they observe our behaviour, and what they see us practise, that they may fairly suppose we think right.  And never, I believe, does example tell so powerfully as it does in the case of parents and children.

Fathers and mothers, do not forget that children learn more by the eye than they do by the ear.  No school will make such deep marks on character as home.  The best of schoolmasters will not imprint on their minds as much as they will pick up at your fireside.  Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory.  What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told.

Take care, then, what you do before a child.  It is a true proverb, “Who sins before a child, sins double.” Strive rather to be a living epistle of Christ, such as your families can read, and that plainly too.  Be an example of reverence for the Word of God, reverence in prayer, reverence for means of grace, reverence for the Lord’s day. Be an example in words, in temper, in diligence, in temperance, in faith, in charity, in kindness, in humility.  Think not your children will practise what they do not see you do.  You are their model picture, and they will copy what you are.  Your reasoning and your lecturing, your wise commands and your good advice; all this they may not understand, but they can understand your life.

Children are very quick observers; very quick in seeing through some kinds of hypocrisy, very quick in finding out what you really think and feel, very quick in adopting all your ways and opinions.  You will often find as the father is, so is the son.

Remember the word that the conqueror Caesar always used to his soldiers in a battle.  He did not say “Go forward,” but “Come.” So it must be with you in training your children.  They will seldom learn habits which they see you despise, or walk in paths in which you do not walk yourself.  He that preaches to his children what he does not practise, is working a work that never goes forward.  It is like the fabled web of Penelope of old, who wove all day, and unwove all night.  Even so, the parent who tries to train without setting a good example is building with one hand, and pulling down with the other.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 14 July 2008 at 20:13

Posted in General

Tagged with , , ,

%d bloggers like this: