The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘John Bunyan

Bunyan exhorts

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John Bunyan exhorts:

Reader, you have heard of the necessity of coming to Christ; also of the willingness of Christ to receive the coming soul; together with the benefit that they by him shall have that indeed come to him. Put thyself now upon this serious inquiry, Have I indeed come to Jesus Christ?

1. Thou art in sin, in the flesh, in death, in the snare of the devil, and under the curse of the law, if you are not coming to Jesus Christ.

2. There is no way to be delivered from these, but by coming to Jesus Christ.

3. If thou comest, Jesus Christ will receive thee, and will in no wise cast thee out.

4. Thou wilt not repent it in the day of judgment, if now you come not to Jesus Christ.

5. But thou wilt surely mourn at last, if now thou shalt refuse to come.

6. And lastly, Now thou hast been invited to come; now will thy judgment be greater, and thy damnation more fearful, if thou shalt yet refuse, than if thou hadst never heard of coming to Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 February 2010 at 09:53

Posted in Good news

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Books for Baptists (and others)

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Solid Ground Christian Books is doing ‘A Year With Baptist Classics’, offering an excellent discount on a theological reading programme, drawing on some of the faithful men who have gone before.  They are suggesting a book or so a month, and here is the outline:

January –  Benjamin Keach The Travels of True Godliness
This is a work, written in the style of The Pilgrim’s Progress, tracing the growth, struggles and temptations faced by ‘True Godliness.’ It is an enjoyable journey depicting the path of growth in holiness.

FebruaryAndrew Fuller: A Heart for Missions (Pearce Bio)
One of the best Christian biographies ever written! Samuel Pearce was the Baptist version of Robert Murray McCheyne–a young pastor known for godliness and zeal whose life was brief but impact was profound.

March – Hercules Collins Devoted to the Service of the Temple
A mighty man of God, Hercules Collins was a pastor of a very large London Congregation during the 17th century. This little book very helpfully collects some of his wonderful doctrinal and devotional writings.

April – Adoniram Judson On Christan Baptism
The Congregational Missionary Society was shocked when its first missionary, Adoniram Judson, adopted credobaptist views while on his way to serve in India. In this book, Judson demonstrates the nature of Christian baptism.

May – Southern Baptist Sermons on Sovereignty and Responsibility
American Baptist history is full of great preachers. Here is a collection of sermons by Southern worthies, expounding vital topics; by Basil Manly, Sr., W.B. Johnson, R.B.C. Howell & Richard Fuller.

JuneJohn Broadus: Jesus of Nazareth
Our Lord Jesus is wonderfully presented by another great Southern preacher, John Broadus.

July/AugustBenjamin Beddome’s Exposition of the Baptist Catechism
Here is a gem, long out of print, but recently reprinted. Theology is made practical by this pastor from the village of Bourton-on-the-Water in the English Cotswolds.

SeptemberAndrew Fuller: The Backslider
Christians struggle with sin–this is a fact. We need to consider this truth, learn about its dangers, and find the right method of recovery. This book will help.

October John Bunyan: Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ
We can’t neglect Bunyan! In this book, he calls us to find our full satisfaction in Jesus Christ.

NovemberBenjamin Keach: The Marrow of True Justification
We live in a day when the doctrine of justification by faith alone is under attack. One of our fathers, Benjamin Keach, ably explains this doctrine here. This is the heart of the gospel.

DecemberCharles Spurgeon: Sermons on Men or Women of the Bible
What a great way to conclude the year! As always, Spurgeon shows us how the men and women of the Bible point us to Jesus Christ.

Shipping overseas is possible, and some of these titles will be available through Evangelical Press, but it is a good deal for the package direct from the publisher: the list price for all eleven titles is $151, but there is a special deal for the whole collection for $69.95.

Whether or not you are a Baptist by conviction, this would be a marvellous collection of books to own, and a better one actually to read.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 17 December 2009 at 10:42

I like dead guys

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Dave Bish highlights a  fairly interesting comment/complaint from Phil Whitall:

I read this morning that Josh Harris is a fan of JC Ryle, which in itself is hardly something to get upset about but it did spark this mini-rant. Good for Josh, Ryle is a worthy hero of the faith. But it seems to me that the Yanks get all excited by CS Lewis, CH Spurgeon, JC Ryle, CT Studd and other guys with initials instead of first names. Lewis and Spurgeon in particular are highly exalted, oh and Dr MLJ of course.

On the other hand, if you pay close attention to the names that are bandied around amongst us Limey’s are John Piper, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Rob Bell and whoever else is leading some very large church.

What you don’t seem to find are Brits talking about dead American Christians of any note and any Americans talking about living Brits of any note (our churches are too small).

The whole thing is fascinating and completely unsubstantiated and has the ring of truth about it (everyone should get hold of this piece of jewellery – useful in so many situations).  You should read it all, not least so that you can argue with it.

Because I beg to differ to a degree.  It depends to whom you are listening.  Yes, most of us – sometimes of necessity – interact with the Pipers, Mahaneys, Driscolls, Mohlers, etc. of the evangelical hypersphere.  Our peers and sometimes the wider church is reading them, listening to them, concerned about them, aping them.  I do think it is often the desire to find what works, to discover what will make us (read, “me”) big and successful.  But there is an undercurrent of men and women who have not entirely abandoned those who have gone before us on these shores.

You will find us quoting, at least occasionally, Charles Spurgeon, John Ryle, Matthew Henry, Robert McCheyne, John Owen, Jeremiah Burroughs, Stephen Charnock, Thomas Brooks, Hugh Latimer, Andrew Fuller, William Carey, John Bunyan, not to mention Flavel, Knox, Traill, Eadie . . . I could go on, and I could come forward to men like Poole-Connor and Lloyd-Jones, and back as far as some of the church fathers.  We love those men who have followed Christ, and whom we now follow in the path of Christian discipleship.  We have not forgotten their lives and their lessons, and – in fact – we sometimes get a little bit troubled at the selective embrace offered by some of our American brothers.  Who knew C. S. Lewis was Reformed until he was co-opted by the New Calvinists and given a fairly robust air-brushing in the process?

If we’re going to make C. S. Lewis our patron saint, we should at least listen when he is talking sense.  This is from the introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation:

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why – the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (”mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

If we followed Lewis here, perhaps we would have a little more discretion and discernment in how far we follow others, and which others we follow, and how slavishly?  In fact, when we listen too long and too hard to the old, sometimes the new get a bit annoyed with us, and accuse us of being crusty, hidebound, and reactionary.  Funny, that.

Samuel Davies (American, but with Welsh roots and long dead, so not a bad note to finish on), wrote a few lines that still decorate my study.  They are worth recalling:

I have a peaceful study, as a refuge from the hurries and noise of the world around me; the venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me, and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.

So, Phil, come hang out with us.  We hang out with the venerable dead, often British, although if they followed hard after Jesus we’re happy to see them sitting on our shelves wherever they hail from.  We listen to them, learn from them, engage with them, debate and even argue with them.  We converse across the years, and enjoy the relief they afford us from the nonsense of surviving mortals.

We like dead guys.

“Fearless Pilgrim: The Life and Times of John Bunyan”

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Fearless Pilgrim: The Life and Times of John Bunyan by Faith Cook

Evangelical Press, 2008 (528pp, hbk)

john-bunyan-1John Bunyan has had a good number of biographers, but Faith Cook’s new work sits in a niche of its own.  It is at once carefully-researched and popular; it considers the man himself yet puts him in his historical, social, political and cultural context; it recognises his literary brilliance yet sees him primarily as a man of God; it appreciates his own mental and emotional constitution but also takes account of spiritual realities.

In structure, the book essentially traces the turbulent life of John Bunyan through the turbulent times in which he lived.  But there is more to it than that.  Mrs Cook carefully situates her man in his times, showing evidence of careful research and thought.  This journey is illuminated by judicious quotes from Bunyan’s writings.  Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners obviously has a prominent place, especially in the earlier years of Bunyan’s spiritual journey, but various other works come to the fore in their turn.  This literary element is particularly enjoyable: we keep track of Bunyan’s work alongside his passing years, and the circumstances out of which his books were written provide insight into his life, and vice versa.  At points along the way there is a little necessary reading into the white spaces of Bunyan’s life.  Mrs Cook usually keeps closer to reasonable surmise than to narrative licence to fill the gaps that exist.

The author is certainly and understandably sympathetic to her subject, but she does not cut him unreasonable slack.  She spells out the trials of his sensitive conscience, but also has wise words of warning with regard to hypersensitivity of conscience.  She recognises his constitutional frailties, but also appreciates his spiritual struggles, interacting with others who have sought to assess (and, in some cases, diagnose) Bunyan’s spiritual and mental condition.  She does not shy away from the conflicts that Bunyan had with those outside the church, nor the debates with those within her arising from his distinctive views (for example, on the relationship between baptism and church membership).  In these matters, however, she is generally careful to report rather than to judge.  These elements, together with consideration of a variety of other issues – often drawing on other movers and shakers from the period (both in the religious and other spheres) – enrich the tapestry of Bunyan’s life.

fearless-pilgrimIt will be interesting to see how this volume fares in the academic realm.  It is soundly researched and well-written, and yet the author’s own commitment to the same truths which fired Bunyan’s heart is likely to compromise the worth of the book in the eyes of many specialists in the fields of literature and history.  This would be a great shame.  However, while academia might struggle to understand and acknowledge the heart of Bunyan, Christian scholars will be glad to have a competent, substantial yet sympathetic work to assist in understanding this early Baptist in his context and to validate their approach to him as a Christian man and minister.  Christians outside of this context should be able simply to enjoy this well-paced and insightful treatment.

The book is also well-illustrated with various prints, photographs and sketches.  However, a proliferation of fonts does not necessarily improve the reading experience.  With regard to substance, this deserves to be a standard work among Christians interested properly to grasp the life, work and times of this eminent servant of God.  It is heartily recommended.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 January 2009 at 07:15

John Bunyan faces death

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john-bunyan-2John Bunyan, having been committed to jail following his trial, was powerfully assaulted by Satan with doubts and fears concerning his condition after death (a death threatened in no uncertain terms by the magistrates who had imprisoned him).  He records something of his experience, and God’s grace to him in it, in the following paragraphs of Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:

337. I thought also, that God might choose, whether he would give me comfort now or at the hour of death, but I might not therefore choose whether I would hold my profession or no: I was bound, but he was free: yea, it was my duty to stand to his word, whether he would ever look upon me or no, or save me at the last: wherefore, thought I, the point being thus, I am for going on, and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no; if God doth not come in, thought I, I will leap off the ladder even blindfold into eternity, sink or swim, come heaven, come hell, Lord Jesus, if thou wilt catch me, do; if not, I will venture for thy name.

338. I was no sooner fixed upon this resolution, but that word dropped upon me, “Doth Job serve God for nought?” As if the accuser had said, Lord, Job is no upright man, he serves thee for by-respects: hast thou not made a hedge about him, &c. “But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” How now, thought I, is this the sign of an upright soul, to desire to serve God, when all is taken from him? Is he a godly man, that will serve God for nothing rather than give out? blessed be God, then, I hope I have an upright heart, for I am resolved, God giving me strength, never to deny my profession, though I have nothing at all for my pains; and as I was thus considering, that scripture was set before me (Psa 44:12-26).

339. Now was my heart full of comfort, for I hoped it was sincere: I would not have been without this trial for much; I am comforted every time I think of it, and I hope I shall bless God for ever for the teaching I have had by it. Many more of the dealings of God towards me I might relate, but these, “Out of the spoils won in battles have I dedicated to maintain the house of the LORD” (1 Chron 26:27).

May God grant to more of his people  in this day, facing often lesser and sometimes equal trials, the same stripped-down and ready faith that he gave his sensitive servant, John Bunyan.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 23 December 2008 at 14:58

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Carrying forth God in Christ

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Hurrah and huzzah!  As hoped, on Friday night we managed to track down a group of the young people with whom we have had contact before.  My friend A was spot on.  One of the fellows in the church phoned to offer his services and we headed out at just after 9pm.  We arrived at the designated spot just in time to see the gang we were after being ushered away from the local off-licence with some vigour on the part of the police and much stupidity on the part of at least one member of the group.  We pulled up quickly, and with a prayer for safety for them and us, leapt out in pursuit.  We were temporarily waylaid by a homeless fellow who asked for some money.  It was an apostolic moment: I was utterly without wonga.  Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: a brief explanation of Christ’s goodness, a promise to come back and speak to him (and to find some way of giving him some food), and a tract with an earnest invitation to come to church on Sunday where he would be fed as much as he wished, and to hear the good news proclaimed.  His name was John.

We then headed off after the lads.  By the time we had finished speaking with John, both the police and they had disappeared.  We wandered down a couple of blind alleys (almost literally) before we tracked a few of them down.  It was like being back at university: the marijuana smoke hung heavy in the air, even outside.  One young man was clearly out of it, probably drunk as well, and was immediately abusive and threatening.  It was the first time I thought that I might get lumped in the course of the night.  We persevered, and soon others were arriving, including A and D from last Wednesday.  The mouthy one eventually backed down, and we had an opportunity to speak of Jesus for a good hour or so with various ones.  There were two main chunks of chat: in the first, one appreciative young man spoke of the emptiness and pointlessness of his life, accepting that what we offered was attractive, compelling and coherent, but it was a big thing and he wasn’t sure he was going to bite.  Another couple of lads were listening intently, and chipping in now and again.  Then, later on, several young women joined us.  Unusually, on this occasion they were more hostile than the men, and assailed us quite aggressively with questions and arguments, not being entirely willing to hear the answers.  The chat broke up when the most earnest of the lads from earlier began having would-be-comedy fake sex in a nearby bush with one of the girls.  They were clearly losing interest.  In speaking with them, whether interested, appreciative, or aggressive, it is no longer possible to compartmentalise them mentally: they become people, men and women with immortal souls on their way to hell unless they are turned into the path to heaven.  We distributed several tracts and CDs with sermons, and handed out about eight or ten gospels (including to the young drunkard who wandered back towards the end to apologise for his crudity and anger earlier: would that not be a trophy to grace if he were brought in?).  We look for fruit from out labours.

I spent Saturday in preparation for the Lord’s day.  My fellow-pastor was away preaching in Milan over the weekend.  It is the anniversary of the church’s constitution, and they are going through a rough patch.  He therefore preached to them on suffering, and the reports are that it was timely and profitable, and that – despite his sickness from last week – the Lord upheld him through all the preaching, and assisted both him and Pastor Andrea Ferrari in the translating.

john-bunyan-1In the Sunday School hour, with the year drawing to a close, rather than take up for one Lord’s day the material on godly family life, I headed in a similar direction to my father in recent weeks (he has been working on Reformation history).  I was not quite as focused, going down a more biographical-historical-literary-introductory route.  My topic was John Bunyan and The Pilgrim’s Progress.  After giving a very brief overview of Bunyan’s life, I looked at the key qualities and themes of The Pilgrim’s Progress before giving some suggestions and hints with regard to profitable reading.  The material – less the asides and tangents – is here, here and here on this blog.

shining throughIn the morning worship, I preached from Nahum 1.2-3.  Man in his wisdom does not know God: he twists and misrepresents him in various ways and for various reasons.  Christians, too, can be tempted to water God down, smooth off his rough edges, and seek to explain and defend what God has simply chosen to reveal.  Not so Nahum: he has A right view of God. He puts his oracle against Nineveh in the context of God’s character, weaving together threads of colours that fallen reason would declare clashing, but which – in his inspired hands – become a dazzling and harmonious tapestry.

He speaks of the holiness of God.  God is jealous for the glory of his name and the good of his people.  He cannot bear for either one to be assaulted.  His fiery zeal for his own glory works itself out in a righteous indignation against all sin and transgression, a pure and perfect anger directed against wickedness.

He speaks of the mercy of God: he is “slow to anger.”  God is slow to frown, to threaten, to punish, and to execute punishment, but quick to smile, promise, forgive and reprieve.  If he were not, the world, every nation, every community, and every person would be consumed, destroyed and desolate, or sunk into hell.

He speaks of the power of God: he is “great in power.”  His power is demonstrated in the government of his anger: there is no sin in it, but it is “wrath reserved” – controlled and contained.  But we must not forget might when we remember mercy, for if we abuse the latter we will feel the former.  The Lord can accomplish all his purposes with regard both to his friends and his enemies, his promises and threatenings, blessing and curse.

Finally, he speaks of the justice of God: “he will not at all acquit.”  God’s justice is inflexible, and he never treats sin as innocence.  He responds to all unrighteousness with perfect justice.  Down through history, this reality is demonstrated, but nowhere more fearfully than in hell, nor so awesomely as at Calvary.  The atonement at Calvary tells us that the God who will not at all acquit nevertheless puts forth power in mercy to save sinners.

In part, this sermon arose from the grief and frustrations of engaging unconverted men and women, and their ignorance about the Lord God.  As Christians, we must let God be God, and declare him in all the fulness of his character, not being ashamed of all he is, nor willing to water down the perfections of any of his attributes.  Let saints rejoice, then, if the holy, merciful, powerful, and just God is our God: if God is for us, who can be against us?  Let sinners tremble, and flee at once to Jesus in order to be delivered from wrath: if God is against us, who can be for us?

wandering-sheep-in-dangerIn the evening service, I preached from Mark 6.34 on The good Shepherd’s compassion.  How do we respond to the multitudes milling around us as we make our way through the world?  Apathy bordering on disregard?  Alarm breeding fear?  Distaste mutating into disgust?  Horror leading to despair?  Bewilderment producing abandonment?  Dislike growing into loathing?  Pity sneering into contempt?  A sense of duty that twists into guilty action?

All such reactions are unlike that of Jesus.

We considered Jesus Christ’s reaction to the multitude.  He was “moved with compassion” – the sight of these men and women gripped his soul with a heartfelt sympathy.  His heart went out to them in sincere and genuine pity.  This is the sinless reaction of the God-man.  If we are to have the same reaction, we must build on the same foundation.  Therefore we must observe Jesus Christ’s perspective on the multitude.  He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd.”  There was, to his eye, a physical resemblance, and to his heart, a spiritual reality.  They were lost and needy: wandering, exposed, hungry, and vulnerable.  This is God’s heart toward sinners.  How do we know?  Because it was Jesus’ heart toward sinners, and we have known ourselves the compassion of the Saviour if we are believers.

Finally, we must note Jesus Christ’s response to the multitude.  Mark focuses on instruction: he began to teach them many things.  Mark 6.12 and Luke 9.11 suggest that his message was what it was from the beginning: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1.15).  He shepherded them with gospel truth, dealing faithfully and tenderly with their souls, shepherding them as God had promised he would (Ex 34.11-16).  But there is also provision: he both healed their sicknesses (Lk 9.11) and fed their bodies (Mk 6.35 ff.).  The open heart that is good produces both an open mouth to speak good and an open hand to do good.

Is this our heart toward the milling multitude?  Do we have an increasingly Christlike sacrificial love for the lost and needy?  We must pray for and cultivate such a spirit as we come into contact with the wandering sheep of our day, pointing them always to the great and good Shepherd himself, Jesus the compassionate Christ.

We were thin on the ground during the day.  There were a number of people away, and a good number who were sick.  Our regular fellowship meal suffered an imbalance: the generous sick sent in their contributions, and the happy healthy were overwhelmed with a feast of good things.  After the evening service the normal refreshments became an exercise in consuming leftovers, and we were able to send away a good bit of food with young families and some of the more needy members of the congregation.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 15 December 2008 at 09:03

Free grace and fierce Christianity

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A few days ago I preached at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Ashford, Kent.  I have been going there occasionally for a few years.  In that time, the church has grown quite significantly, and it was my privilege only a little while ago to preach for them at the baptism of a young man.  Others have also joined the church, and they are earnestly praying for and seeking out a man to be a shepherd to them, under Christ.  I preached at their midweek meeting, and it was a pleasure to renew fellowship with the saints there.

On Wednesday we celebrated the Lord’s supper at church – we usually do so on the first Sunday and third Wednesday of each month – and we considered the love of God in the light of our needing, God’s timing, and Christ’s dying.  It was a good time, and we had a good number present.

On Thursday, my wife had a treat lined up for me.  With the birth of our second child impending, we had been looking for an opportunity to take some time out together, and she planned an outing for us, and simply directed me where to go.  We travelled to Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn (second wife of Henry VIII).  The grounds were absolutely splendid, albeit substantially the creation of the Astor family, who owned the castle from the end of the nineteenth century for several decades.  Most of the interior decor dated from their ‘reign’ in the castle, also, but the emphasis lay on Henry and his wives and mistresses.  As I read the various documents, I was overcome with a sense of sadness and unease, that so much sin and misery had been enacted in some of the rooms through which we walked.  Here was the room in which Henry would have probably held court, agitating in his affection for Anne (having already, it would seem, enjoyed an adulterous relationship with her sister, Mary).  Here was Anne’s letter thanking him for appointing her to the court, gushing and breathy, offering herself entirely to His Majesty’s pleasure.  Here was the tension of Anne’s inability to be his wife and first refusal to be his mistress, and then the record of Henry and the pregnant Anne – not then his wife – on their travels.  But here also were her prayer books, with some touching notes.  Here also was the noble and sober last letter that she wrote to her estranged husband, shortly before her death, pleading with dignity that he reconsider his decision to cut her off (in every sense).  There is some evidence that Anne became a true-hearted champion of the Reformation during her reign: if so, what a glorious demonstration of divine grace in the midst of so much ungodliness and moral muck.

My wife and I then enjoyed an evening drive through the autumn light back toward Crawley, where we went out for a meal before returning home.  Mamgu (‘Grandma’ for those with any sensitivities to the Welsh!) was looking after our son for the afternoon and night, and he has been struggling with his sleep patterns for a couple of weeks, so we enjoyed a full night’s refreshing sleep, which was a blessing.

On Friday I had a lot of work to do in the morning, and then in the afternoon to sit in on a long medical appointment with one of our members with special needs.  In the evening we had a church officer’ meeting which started later than usual and ran quite late.  However, afterward as I drove away, I spotted some of the teenagers to whom we had spoken last week.  Having a special dispensation from my wife to stay out late under such circumstances, I stopped and chatted for some thirty minutes.  “Hey, it’s the preacher!” – at least, a positive response to my approach.  These youngsters lead an empty existence, with many material privileges but little purpose and much selfishness and sin.  Some have some knowledge of true things, but none have a knowledge of the truth.  God helped to answer the serious questions, and to deal with some of the more foolish responses – much of it simply due to ignorance, although it is in itself sad and even blasphemous – and to take time again to explain some of the good news.  Even the most boisterous will generally listen for a few minutes, and there were two or three to whom I spoke for ten minutes at the end more personally, explaining the cross-work of Jesus Christ.  It truly demonstrates the need of the Spirit to open the eyes of the inwardly blind – the fact of God’s sovereign love is to them a thing not just strange but preposterous.  That someone should die to save the unrighteous seems to them the height of folly; that the wretchedly wicked should be granted free pardon seems to them entirely strange.  The scandal of the cross remains.  I hope to maintain contact for as long as possible, preaching to them as I can, praying that God would make them feel their sin as I explain it to them, and then bring them to Jesus to be washed and made new.

Saturday therefore became a long working day in preparation for the Lord’s day.  I started early without any powerful sense of what I might preach, and God gave me a degree of direction and purpose, and I was able to make good progress.  In the evening, we were visiting a friend from the congregation, and had a good meal with her and a good time speaking with her and her unconverted housemate.  Then home to finish off the preparation for the Lord’s day.

In our adult Sunday School class we moved on from considering the role of the parent to the task of the parent.  Our key texts were Proverbs 22.6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”) and Ephesians 6.4 with Colossians 3.21 (“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” with “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged”).  We began to look at what it means to accomplish this task, putting the task in the context of the man/woman/parent’s influence in the home, the church and society, and not least the fact that the children raised in one home would go on, God willing, to become the parents in another.  Before diving into the actual work of training, though, a question had been asked some weeks ago about the role of grandparents.  We therefore took the opportunity to have a look at grandparent-parent-(grand)child relationships.  We did not have time to get far, concentrating on the developing relationship of a parent to his growing children, and the issues of responsibility, maturity and accountability as a child grows up.  We will move on next week, God willing, to consider the child leaving home and setting up themselves, the change of relationship that comes with marriage, and then the dynamic of authority that operates across and between generations.  It promises to be interesting – I was intrigued by the fact that this topic immediately threw up some matters of pastoral casuistry: you can often tell if you are itching where the people are scratching by the questions that get asked.

In the morning worship, I preached from Romans 13.11-12: Paul’s call to Wake up! The Apostle identifies a dangerous condition: sleeping saints, and the consequent degrees of inactivity, unresponsiveness, forgetfulness, dreaminess, and sleepwalking that are suffered by such.  Here is Bunyan’s ‘Enchanted Ground’ – the spirit of the age makes the saints sleepy as they buy into the dullness and laziness of Western society, and succumb to the restraining and sidelining of Christianity as a vital religion.  In the light of this, Paul brings an urgent message: “Wake up!”  He calls upon the church to rouse itself, for spiritual sleepiness is incompatible with the position we occupy in the grand drama of redemption.  He presents a pressing reason: the day of our salvation is nearer than when we first believed, the day is close at hand.  Since Christ has died and risen, we are all living in history’s epilogue, “the last days,” and we need to live accordingly, in the light of Christ’s imminent return.  This leads to an earnest exhortation: Paul provides a blueprint for Christian liveliness and alertness in these days – to stop sinning and start striving, to avoid all sinful indulgence, sexual impurity and selfish aggression and to put on the armour of light by which we fight the good fight of faith.  I urged the people of God here not to be the generation or the church that heard the call of God’s Spirit, “Wake up!” and who then rolled over and went back to sleep.

We had my mother (my father is away in the US, at the Pastors’ Conference hosted by Trinity Baptist Church, Montville) and another friend from church for dinner, together with two friends from Scotland who are in London (he on business) for the weekend.  Unfortunately, my son has picked up something curious called ‘hand, foot and mouth disease’ (not the bovine foot and mouth job, of course, but something that has left him feverish and not at all himself).  He struggled throughout the day, and so my wife kept him home for the evening.

I was preaching on Abounding grace from Hosea 14.4.  This grim book speaks not only of the righteous anger of an offended God but also the faithfulness and mercy of our covenant Lord.  At the end of the prophecy, the Lord declares of his repenting people, “I will love them freely.”  We considered the nature of God’s love – that it is both free (a spontaneous act of his holy will, the voluntary inclination and affection of his heart apart from issues of apparent worthiness and unworthiness) and full (not only everflowing but overflowing).  Then there are the people whom God loves – self-destructive, God-rejecting, hell-bent rebels.  No love other than one freely bestowed would reach such sinners as we have been.  That contrast leads us to consider the glory of God’s love: it springs forth unbidden to redeem those both repugnant to holiness and resistant to goodness; it answers the need of such sinners absolutely, dealing with the abundance of sin, absence of righteousness and antagonism to God that characterises us; it is irresistible, nothing and no-one can prevent, resist, or undo the love of God; and, it is demonstrated at Calvary.  The death of Jesus is the fruit and not the cause of God’s love.  He dies because God loves; God does not love because he dies.  Finally, we turned to the effects of God’s love: a reason to hope, an anchor for faith, a spur to humility, a ground for comfort, a reason for joy, and the spring of our own thankful love to him who loved us first.

In both sermons I think that the Lord gave me some liberty to declare the truth, and I can only pray that it would be effective.  We had visitors both morning and evening, although – as yet – none of the youngsters to whom we have been speaking have darkened the doors of the church.  They spoke appreciatively of the ministry and fellowship, and we hope to see them back again soon.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 20 October 2008 at 12:09

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