The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘James Henley Thornwell

“Woe is me if I do not . . .”

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. . . the true doctrine [of the call to gospel ministry] is that no man, whether young or old, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, should presume to dispense the mysteries of Christ without the strongest of all possible reasons for doing so – the imperative, invincible call of God. No one is to show cause why he ought not to be a minister; he is to show cause why he should be a minister. His call to the sacred profession is not the absence of a call to any other pursuit; it is direct, immediate, powerful, to this very department of labor. He is not here because he can be nowhere else, but he is nowhere else because he must be here.

James Henley Thornwell, “The Call of the Minister,” The Collected Writings (Richmond, 1873), IV:25. Italics original.

via The Call – Ray Ortlund.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 December 2010 at 21:34

Seeking substance

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This week has been odd.  I am still snatching at that strange beast called paternity leave, while trying to cover a few bases.  My firstborn son has been having more issues at night than my newborn son, which leaves me with very broken sleep and a fair amount of weariness.  I am also trying to get ahead of the game with some tasks around the house (so the fence that got kicked in last weekend has now been fully replaced, which is nice – it’s actually a vast improvement on the old situation).

puritan-galleryAnyway, the long and short of it is that I have been feeling weary and dull this week.  I have felt the need to have my soul fed on good food.  When I am feeling flat, there is not always a great deal modern that appeals to me.  When I am looking for something to do me good, I look not for something light and quick, but substantial and solid.  I suppose it is like feeling a real hunger, when the spiritual equivalent of McDonalds or Burger King won’t cut it, neither will the new-fangled theological counterparts of an alfalfa, guava and bean-curd wrap from some recent high-street start-up.  I want meat – real spiritual steak, nourishing and dense.  It does not need to be easy to ingest and digest, but rather substantial and profitable once ingested and digested.  I do not need tonnes of the stuff, either – but enough to satisfy my heart and mind and soul.

I want something careful, reasoned, solid.  I want the truth, extensively and pithily, well-ordered and engaging, assured and enjoyed, known and felt.  I want high views of God the Father, ardent views of God the Son, devoted views of God the Ghost.  I want the overwhelming simplicities of the truth and I want its entrancing intricacies.  I want the uplifting and humbling of true worship.  I want my head in the clouds and my feet upon earth.  I want sure guides with clear eyes and warm, pastoral hearts.  I want Jesus Christ applied to my soul in the power of God’s Spirit.  I want my mind touched and my heart fired.  I want my sins exposed and rebuked, my graces cultivated and catalysed, my thoughts directed and instructed, my feelings trained and raised, my Saviour exalted and made glorious in my eyes.

Where do I turn?  Generally, to the Puritans.  I might occasionally head for their forebears – Calvin, Knox, Luther, and the like will sometimes do it for me.  I might seek out their successors – men like Fuller, Spurgeon, Thornwell, or Warfield.  But I will most usually turn to those men of God who represent, in many ways, a high water mark for Biblical Christianity in the United Kingdom.  A few pages of their Scripture-saturated prose will generally give me something to walk away with, however weary and dull I might have been.

This week, it was Stephen Charnock on regeneration with a few propositions explaining the necessity of the new birth.  Nothing staggering, but all soaked in Scripture, pressed down and running over with the realities of God himself.

When my soul desires something of God, after the Bible, I look for someone who will bring the Bible to bear on my soul.  These men of God do so time after time.  Oh, for more of their kind, and more of their spirit.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 November 2008 at 18:29

A throne for Self

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James Henley Thornwell somewhere speaks of the desire to serve the living God with all one’s heart and soul and strength, and then speaks the chilling words: “. . . but self is a powerful idol.”  I recall hearing Pastor Ted Donnelly preaching on justification, and speaking of self-righteousness and self-congratulation, and the horror of finding – even in the very outward act of exalting Christ – a little voice whispering in the minister’s own mind, “Didn’t you do that well?”

I was first and most powerfully struck by this when reading a biography of the Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson, called To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson (Judson Press).  At one point (382-3), the biographer is seeking to describe a seminal moment in the ministry of Judson, a time of extreme trial (many grievous deaths in his family).  It was his father’s death that brought poignant memories to the missionary of the “glowing ambitions” his pastor father had had for him.  Anderson writes that,

Reliving these memories, Adoniram began to realise that no matter how he had rebelled, his father had succeeded in instilling in him, consciously or unconsciously, a goal of earthly ambition, an intense determination to surpass his fellows.

Judson began to search his heart, and discerned that his fundamental desire in being and doing what he had sought to be and do was not “genuine humility and self-abnegation but ambition . . . [to be] . . . first in his own eyes and the eyes of men.”  Courtney continues thus:

He had always known that his forwardness, self-pride and desire to stand out were serious flaws in his nature.  Now he began to suspect that they were more than flaws.  They made his entire missionary career up to now a kind of monstrous hypocrisy, a method of securing prominence and praise without admitting it to himself.  He had deluded himself.  But he had not deluded God.  Perhaps here was the intention in all these deaths: to teach him true humility. . . . No wonder it took death itself, by wholesale, to teach him better.  For Adoniram’s mission, God had approval; for Adoniram and his self-love, a harsh lesson.

How truly awful to have the pall of such a conclusion hanging over the scene of one’s ministerial labours: “a kind of monstrous hypocrisy, a method of securing prominence and praise without admitting it to himself.”  Such pride and self-elevation is an act of wicked folly on the part of any child of God, but how much more so for one whose very existence calls him to decrease, that Christ might increase?

Few of us need to be taught earthly ambition by our parents; we inherit it from our first parents.  The idol-factory of the heart has a great forge in which is constantly being hammered into shape a fearful throne for that most insistent god, Self.  How often do we need to pause and ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?  What is my true goal?”  Behind the facade of righteous endeavour, of generous effort, do we hide a drive to excel not for the glory of Christ, but for our own reputation?  Are we driven by love to self, or love to God?  How much, how often, we need to examine our hearts, to search our souls, remembering always that “self is a powerful idol” and that God may approve the work but condemn the motive.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 3 October 2008 at 09:49

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