The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Sermons

Preparing sermons with John Owen

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After a cracking day on Monday at the Evangelical Library in London on “Reading John Owen” (opening, it has to be said, with Nigel Graham giving what may be one of the finest popular introductions to the life of Owen that it has been my privilege to hear – lively, careful, engaging, insightful) I want to do more reading and re-reading of John Owen. I was reminded, by my own efforts and those of others, why I do and may and must enjoy the privilege of reading such profound theology.

One of the works that piqued my fancy afresh was Owen on The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually-Minded (in volume 7 of the collected works). This was in Robert Strivens’ section of the works, and what prompted me to turn there again was the warning that preachers, accustomed to handling and speaking God’s Word, can develop a facade of spirituality which masks a spiritual dryness. Conscious that one can do much apparent working for God without much genuine walking with God, I thought it would be good to dip again into this work.

Re-reading can be as fascinating as reading. I am sometimes struck by what struck me the first time, or what failed to strike. The passage of time and the expansion of experience makes one wish, perhaps, that one could be as freshly excited as one was before, and one must learn to be more deeply excited than one was. Or, perhaps, some things have simply become more relevant because of the reader’s different circumstances while reading. On this occasion, I was struck by something in the preface to the work.

Owen, as you may know, had been unwell before preaching and preparing this material. He was so sick that not only was he unable to serve others, but he feared he might be taken by death and never able to serve again. Under such circumstances, he began to meditate on the grace and duty of spiritual-mindedness from Romans 8.6, where the apostle says that “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Later, Owen took the fruit of his sickbed meditations and turned them into sermons. “And this I did,” he says,

partly out of a sense of the advantage I had received myself by being conversant in them, and partly from an apprehension that the duties directed and pressed unto in the whole discourse wore seasonable, from all sorts of present circumstances, to be declared and urged on the minds and consciences of professors: for, leaving others unto the choice of their own methods and designs, I acknowledge that those are the two things whereby I regulate my work in the whole course of my ministry. (7:263)

I am, I confess, sometimes amused by the homiletical handbooks that pass for pastoral theology in our day. Some of the guidance given for the preparation of sermons seems entirely out of touch with the life of local churches. I am amused when I hear the big cheeses of the evangelical world assure congregations that they prepare their sermons, or perhaps know what they will be preaching on on any given Sunday, a year or so in advance. As the pastor of a small congregation, preaching and teaching several times a week, that seems to me to be ludicrous, even dangerous. I do not think I could do that even if I were in circumstances that seemed to allow it.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that pastors preach on a whim or without a plan. I am not against systematic, sequential expository preaching. But I do wonder how much even Owen’s aside might teach us here. This work of his springs from what I would call a topical expository series. But how did Owen come to it? And why did he choose to preach it?

He has those two answers: first, because it did much good to his own soul when he had considered it for himself; and, second, because he perceived that the same truths which had helped him would, with the blessing of God, prove a timely and profitable study for other believers under his care.

However, he goes on to confess that those two principles are the “things whereby I regulate my work in the whole course of my ministry.” That, in itself, is fascinating. Here is the great theologian and the profound scholar, sitting down as a pastor of God’s people, and asking, first and foremost, what has blessed me, and will it bless others also?

If you are a preacher and teacher, however far you are willing and able to plan ahead, do such considerations have a place in your own preparation? Are you so soaking in God’s truth that you can assess what has been of particular blessing to your own soul? Are you so attuned to and concerned for the saints that you can discern what would prove particularly timely and profitable for them? Are you visiting the congregation regularly and getting to know their lives and their needs so as to be able to make such a judgment? Are you prayerfully thinking of the particular congregation before whom you will stand, converted and unconverted, more and less mature, more or less wounded and wearied, more or less hale and hearty? Are you willing to put in the effort to invest in such ministry? Are you willing to get off the treadmill of your regular or scheduled course of exposition, perhaps to plough fields that would otherwise have remained unbroken, to invest in hours of composition that you had not scheduled into your work patterns? Are you improving your own studies and sufferings to this end?

Such an approach might require that you prepare far in advance a particular course of systematic and sequential exposition, compelled by the fact that this book or section of Scripture will serve those to whom you preach. It might keep you from changing to other, apparently easier or more palatable potions of the Bible, held fast by a sense of responsibility. It might demand that you drop such a long course of sermons and preach for a few weeks on a particular portion of God’s Word. It might compel you to preach a single sermon on a single text. It might prompt you to develop what you thought was a one-off into a shorter or longer series. Again, it is no excuse for a pastor-preacher simply riding his hobby-horses to death. You will note that Owen does not manipulate his hearers by the claim that the Spirit imposed the duty upon him, though I do not think anyone can fail to see the hand of God at work in the matter. This is a man who is sensitive to the truth, sensitive to the operations of the Spirit of God, sensitive to the circumstances and needs of the saints, sensitive to the spirit of the age, sensitive to the demands of a particular place and people, and deeply concerned to be a means of blessing to those to whom he speaks.

This, I would suggest, is pastoral preaching of the highest order – ministry of God’s truth that flows from the heart of a true shepherd of souls, a man who has drunk deeply of the sweet waters of the gospel, and is persuaded from the depths of his being that others need to taste and see that the Lord is good, and to obtain the blessing designed for those who trust in him.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 25 October 2016 at 18:41

Review: “Setting Our Affections Upon Glory”

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Setting Our Affections Upon Glory: Nine Sermons on the Gospel and the Church

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Crossway, 2013, 176 pp., paperback and ebook, $15.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-3265-8

These sermons were preached in 1969 and it is a measure of their biblical sense and substance that they still sound fresh. Indeed, at points – such as when Lloyd-Jones suggests that we are in danger of having only two or three preachers in the world and everyone else “listening to them on tapes or on television or something else” as if that is the way to evangelize the world – he sounds as if the sermons could have been preached a few months ago. Woven among some of MLJ’s familiar and often-debated emphases are other strands, more central and abidingly relevant. The hope of saints in death, the foolish reliance of many professing believers on worldly wisdom, the requirement for us to know our God and his truth experimentally, the need for all the saints of God to carry with them the savour of Christ and make him known, the narrowness of the way of life: these and other matters are handled with refreshing plainness and adroitness. Much here proves an antidote to some of the crass and even carnal patterns paraded in much of the modern church. While it is, perhaps, easy to think of certain thinkers and speakers who would benefit from taking certain chapters or pages to heart, the great concern is for every reader to learn these things for himself and apply them to his own faith and life. In that respect, I found these sermons bracing to the mind and spirit, providing a helpful measure of recalibration for the soul, and I hope others would as well.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 April 2013 at 16:53

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How long the sermon?

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It has been my unhappy lot to be served an overcooked dinner around a silent table by a scowling lady, having discovered that the regular preacher generally doesn’t preach for longer than 20 minutes. With such memories swirling within, I was interested to read Brian Croft on the question of sermon length:

I find many pastors, especially younger ones, are regularly wrestling with this question. The pressure to answer can be self-imposed, or forced by those in your church who complain your sermons are too long. The problem is there does not seem to be one right answer. The answer to this question largely depends on the kind of pastor you are, the quality of preacher you are, and the kind of congregation you serve. In light of this, here are a few principles that might help you answer this question in your particular context.

A pastor should determine the length of a sermon…

1) Based on where your people are, not where you think they should be.

2) Based on how good and seasoned a preacher you are.

3) To leave your people longing for more, not less.

Read his explanation of these principles here. From now on, I shall not be preaching for more than 75 minutes . . .

But, would you add any more? What about when the Spirit gushes (by which I assume that not only the preacher but the congregation also appreciates the reality)? What about by the demands of the text, breaking it up into more sermons if need be? What about the length of a series of sermons?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 8 August 2011 at 17:03

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Sermon design

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 19 May 2011 at 21:57

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Pressing home the truth

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Joe Holland offers parents some counsels and encouragements for pressing the truth into the (sometimes!) tender hearts of our children:

They sit there next to you and their feet don’t even hit the floor. You’re thinking, “What, if anything of this guy’s sermon is sinking into my kid’s head?” And with that little thought you’ve already decided not to engage your child about the sermon. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Let me introduce you to the most important rule when talking to your kids about the sermon: They retain more than you think they do. The second most important rule is like it: They understand more than you think they do.

Read all about it!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 3 March 2011 at 14:46

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Keeping it simple

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Quoting J. W. Alexander for support (see below), David Murray provides some helpful thoughts on simplifying sermons:

It is an interesting observation that some of the greatest sermons are deceptively simple in design and development. Simplicity in design, organisation and development is the mark of a great communicator. Complexity confounds – simplicity satisfies.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 30 November 2010 at 15:30

Are you prepared?

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A nice reminder from Iain D. Campbell:

But even if I do feel, at a human level, that I am adequately prepared for Sunday, what do I do if I have a burning conviction in the vestry five minutes before the service God wants me to say something different, and that I should preach on something other than the material I’ve been preparing? It surely belongs to the romance of preaching that God is doing more preparing than we ever can, not only of the sermon but of the preacher too. As I type this on a Saturday night, I realise that what God intends me to preach tomorrow may be very different to what I, at this moment, intend to preach. He is able to provide a sermon in an instant, and I should be open to the terrifying fact that what I have in front of me at the moment is making Heaven laugh.

Read the whole brief piece.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 9 February 2010 at 16:29

Murray on expository preaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 22 January 2010 at 12:14

Spurgeon’s forgotten sermons

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Sermons Beyond Volume 63 (CHS)If you appreciate Charles Haddon Spurgeon and have profited from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series, you are likely to be interested in this: a volume of 45 Spurgeon sermons from DayOne that might well have constituted the continuation of the series, had it been resumed after WWI.  The blurb says:

Here are 45 sermons which were awaiting publication in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit when it came to an abrupt end in 1917.

The 63 volumes and 3563 sermons of Spurgeon’s New Park Street and Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpits were a remarkable achievement, and it was only on account of the shortage of paper and metal caused by the First World War that publication ceased on 10th May 1917.

Many hundreds of sermons were ready and waiting for their weekly publication and notices in the last two sermons indicated that it was the intention to resume publication once peace had been restored. However, only twenty hitherto unpublished sermons were to appear in 1922 in a volume entitled ‘Able to the uttermost’.

It is the purpose of this volume to bring to light the sermons which probably would have appeared in te remainder of Volume 63 and at the start of volume 64 of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, sermons which originally appeared only in magazine format from 1877 to 1881.

Spurgeon appreciators and afficionados, read a taster or get purchasing!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 12 October 2009 at 10:02

Commenting on commentaries

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I enjoyed this from the Exiled Preacher, helpfully summarizing the content of a ministers’ fraternal meeting considering the pros and cons of the commentary, and its role in, benefits for and threats to sermon preparation.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 29 September 2009 at 14:45

“Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles (Chapters 1-7)”

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Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles (Chapters 1-7) by John Calvin, trans. Rob Roy McGregor

Banner of Truth, 2008 (688pp, hbk)

john-calvin-4In the midst of the proliferation of material related to Calvin being published around the quincentenary you will find scattered a few gems of original Calvin.  One such is this collection of John Calvin’s sermons on the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.  It is sadly incomplete, not only in the sense that we can proceed no further than chapter 7, but also insofar as one or two of the sermons in the series are also missing.  This does not impede the reader so much as it disappoints him.

The translation – at least from the perspective of a reader only in the English – seems rich, even ripe.  The bite and drive of Calvin’s simple vocabulary, plain delivery, and sometimes sarcastic humour are all well communicated.  No hearer of these sermons – and no reader either – is left in any doubt as to what the Word of God says and more, what it means, and further, what it means to and for me right here, right now.  Faithfulness to the text marks each sermon.  Some verses lend themselves to object lessons in particular doctrines or issues, but without disrupting the even flow of regular exposition.  While at points Calvin shows himself a man of his times, one rarely gets the sense that he is forcing anything upon the text.  The reader is stunned (or, at least, this reader was) by the occasional insight into a particular verse that stops him in his tracks and makes him ponder the truth, and where it takes him.

The organisation of the material is also fascinating.  Calvin is not without order and system in his individual sermons, but they are not usually structured in the obvious way we often see in, say, Spurgeon.  There is rather a natural progression in line with the text, with series of points attaching to a particular issue raised rather than framing the whole.

Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles (Calvin)While there are some typical emphases – the accurately low view of man’s heart, the importance of the church, the demand for consistent holiness of life, the demand for faith, the role of the Spirit, the centrality of Christ – the ignorant or prejudiced reader may be surprised at the breadth of Calvin’s reach.  This is the advantage of being governed by the text.  The preacher does not generally come across as riding particular hobby-horses, although – as one would expect – the Roman Catholic communion presents a ready and often-struck target (interestingly, yoked more often that you might anticipate with Islam, as representative of gross spiritual dangers).  Reading Calvin’s pulpit addresses gives one a sense of what Calvin’s ‘Calvinism’ really sounded and looked like, what it looked for and demanded, what it pointed to and exalted.  That is not to deny that a coherent, Scriptural system lies behind the whole, but rather to highlight the range and tone of this attempt to bring into being a full-orbed Biblical Christianity.

There are lessons here for Christians as Christians, in what it means to live in a fallen world.  There are lessons for preachers as preachers: lessons in a natural and easy style, in a close and pointed application of the truth, in the manifestation of one’s own humanity in preaching, and in how to close a sermon with a prayer that captures the nuggets of gold panned in the course of one’s exposition.

In short, this collection will leave you ready for more.  It will leave you regretting the sermons that are missing, and the fact that we have nothing beyond chapter seven.  It might, and should, whet the readers appetite for more of Calvin, and those who – like him – are governed by their Bibles in both the arc and the detail of exposition, seeking after Christ and seeking to make him known in the minds, hearts and lives of those whom they serve.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 21 August 2009 at 12:36

“Man’s husbandry and God’s bounty” by Benjamin B. Warfield

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Benjamin B. Warfield 2The address that follows comes from B. B. Warfield’s Faith & Life (Banner of Truth, 1974), a collection of discourses delivered at Sunday afternoon classes with the students of Princeton Seminary intended to explore the deeper currents of Christian faith and life.  This is a challenging and encouraging piece based on 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 that I read while preparing for a sermon a few weeks ago.  The repeated refrain of Warfield’s address is that God gives the increase.

Man’s husbandry and God’s bounty

1 Cor. 3:5-9: – “What then is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Ministers through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him.  I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.  So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.  Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.  For we are God’s fellow-workers; ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building.”

These verses form a natural section of this Epistle.  The Corinthians had sent a letter to the Apostle, making inquiries on several important matters.  But when the Apostle came to make reply, he had matters to speak to them about which were far more important than any of the questions asked in their letter.  Trusty friends had reported to him the serious deterioration which the Corinthian Church was undergoing, the strange, as we may think them, and certainly outbreaking, immoralities into which they were falling.  Chiefest of these, because most fundamental and most fecund [fruitful] of other evils, was the raging party spirit, which had arisen among them.  Greek-like, the Corinthians were not satisfied with the matter of the simple Gospel, in whatever form, but had begun to clothe its truths (and to obscure them in the act) in philosophical garb and rhetorical finery; and had split themselves into factions, far from tolerant of one another, rallying around special teachers and glorifying each, a special mode of presentation.  So far has this gone that the rival parties had long ago broken the peace of the Church, and were threatening its unity.

Paul devotes himself first of all to the shaming of this spirit and the elimination of its results.  In doing so he cuts to the roots.  He begins with a rebuke of the violence of the Corinthians’ party spirit, sarcastically suggesting that they had made Christ, who was the sole Redeemer of God’s Church and in whom were all, a share; and so parcelled Him out to one faction – as it others had had Paul to die for them and had been baptized in his name, and so on.  He then sets himself seriously to refute the whole basis of their factions and to place firmly under his readers’ feet the elements of the truth.  To do this, he first elucidates the relation of wisdom – philosophy and rhetoric, we would say now – to the Gospel; pointing out that the Gospel is not a product of human wisdom and is not to be commended by it; although, no doubt, it proclaims a Divine wisdom of its own to those who are capable of receiving it.  Thus he destroys the very nerve of their strife.  Then, with our present passage, he turns to the parallel occasion of their strife and explains the relation of the human agents through which it is propagated to the Gospel.  This he declares to be none other than the relation of hired servants to their husbandry of the good-man of the farm.  Proceeding to details, Paul and Apollos, he declares, are alike but servants, each doing whatever work is committed to him, work which may no doubt differ, externally considered, in kind, though it is exactly the same in this – that it is nothing but hired service, while it is God that gives the increase.  There is no difference in this respect; not that the work is not deserving of reward; reward, however, not as if the increase was theirs but only proportioned to the amount of their work as labour.  The harvest is God’s; that harvest which they themselves are.  They, the labourers, are fellow-labourers only, working for God.  They, the Corinthians, do not belong to them; they are God’s husbandry, God’s building.

Thus the Apostle not only intimates but emphatically asserts that the Church of God is not the product of the ministry; no, nor is any individual Christian.  Every Christian and the Church at large is God’s gift.  God sets workmen to labour in His vineyard; and rewards them richly for their labour, paying each all his wages.  But these labourers, it is not theirs to give the increase, nor even to choose their work.  It is theirs merely to work and to do each the special work which God appoints.  The vineyard is God’s and so is the increase, – which God Himself gives.

Now, looking at this general teaching of the passage in a broad and somewhat loose way, we see that the following important truths are intimated.

(1) Christianity is a work which God accomplishes in the heart and in the world.  It may even be said to be the work of God: the work that God has set Himself to do in this dispensation, and hence the second creation.

(2) Shifting the emphasis a bit, we perceive that the passage emphasizes the fact that Christianity is a work which is accomplished in the heart and in the world directly by God.

(3) Men are but God’s instruments, tools, “agents” (ministers) in performing this work.  They do not act in it for God, that is, instead of God; but God acts through them.  It is He that gives the increase.

(4) All men engaged in this work are in equally honourable employment.  If one plants and another waters and another reaps, it is all “one.”  They are all only fellow-labourers under God; equal in His sight and to be rewarded, not according to what they did, but according to how they did it.  This would not be true if man made the increase; but the reaper no more makes the harvest than the sower.  Nor would it be true if the reaper had the increase.  But it is not the reaper’s “field.”  He is a hired labourer, not an owner.  It is God’s field.  Each gets his wages; little or much according to the quality of his work.  Wages are measured by labour, not results.  And therefore it is all one to you and me, as labourers in God’s field, whether He sets us to plough, plant, water or reap.

Looking at these truths in turn:

What an encouragement it is to the Christian worker to know that Christianity is, so to speak (in the figure of the text), the crop which God the great husbandman has set Himself to plant and to raise in this “season” in which we leave.  Therefore this dispensation is called “the year of salvation.”  And therefore, when pleading a little later with these same Corinthians to receive the grace of God not in vain, Paul clinches the appeal with the pointed declaration that now, this dispensation, is that accepted time, that day of salvation, at last come, to which all the prophets pointed, for which all the saints of God had longed from the beginning of the world.  It is therefore again, leaving the figure, that this same Apostle declares that our Lord and Saviour has for the whole length of this dispensation assumed the post of the Ruler of the Universe, in order that all things may be administered for the fulfilment of His great redemptive purpose; in order that all things may, in a word, be made to work together for good to those that love Him.  In a word, God is a husbandman in this season which we call the inter-adventual period; and the crop that He is planting and watering and is to reap is His Church.

No wonder our Saviour declared the Kingdom of Heaven like unto a sower who went forth to sow; who spread widely the golden grain, and reaped it too, a harvest of many-fold yield.  For God’s husbandry cannot fail.  Other husbandmen are not in this wholly unlike their hired servants: they plant and water, – but they cannot compel life; and what may be the results of their labour they know not.  The floods may come, the winds may blow, the sun may parch the earth, the enemy may destroy the grain.  But God gives the increase.  It is therefore that the Redeemer sits on the throne, that floods and rain and sun – all the secret alchemy of nature – may be in His control, that “all things shall work together for good to them that love Him.”  There, I say, is our encouragement.  Christianity is the work of God, the work He has set Himself to do in this age in which we live.  As we go forth as His servants to plant and water, we may go upheld by a deathless hope.  The harvest cannot fail.  When the sands of time run out and God sends forth His reapers, the angels, there will be His harvest thick on the ground – and the field is the world.  The purpose of God stands sure.  We may not be called to see the end from the beginning.  But if God calls you and me to plant or to water, it is our blessed privilege to labour on in hope.

All this is just because the result is not ours to produce or to withhold.  It is God that gives the increase.  As Christianity is the work which God has set before Himself to accomplish in this age; so Christianity in the world and in the heart is a work which God alone can accomplish.  It is not in the power of any man to make a Christian, much less to make the Church – that great organized body of Christ, every member of which is a recreated man.  Why, we cannot make our own bodies; how much less the body of Christ!  If in this work Paul was nothing and Apollos nothing, what are we, their weak and unworthy successors!  This is the second great lesson our passage has to teach us; or, rather, we may better say this is the great lesson it teachers, for it was just to teach this that it was written.  The fault of the Corinthians was that they had forgotten who was the husbandman, who alone gave the increase.  Hence their divisions, making Christ only the share of one party, while others looked to Paul or Apollos or Cephas, just as if they stood related to the harvest in something of the same way as Christ.  Nay, says Paul, Christ alone is Lord of the harvest.  It is God alone who can give the increase.

Paul had reason to know this in his own experience.  He knew how he had been gathered into the Kingdom.  He was soon to acquire new reason for acknowledging it, in that journey of his from Ephesus to Macedonia, in which, while his heart was elsewhere, all unknown to himself God was leading him in triumph, compelling ever-increasing accessions to his train.  Nor did he ever stint his declaration of it.  Thus, take that passage (Eph. 2:10), where he, completing a long statement of God’s gracious dealings with Christians in quickening them into newness of life, without obscurity or hesitation outlines the whole process as a creative work of God.  “For it is by grace that ye are saved, through faith: nor is this of yourselves, it is God’s gift; not of works, lest some one should boast.  For we are His workmanship – creatures – created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath afore prepared that we should walk in them.”  This is Paul’s teaching everywhere: that as it is God who created us men, so it is God who has recreated us Christians.  And the one in as direct and true a sense as the other.  As He used agents in the one case – our natural generation (for none of us are born men without parents), so He may use instruments in the other, our spiritual regeneration (for none of us are born Christians where there is no Word).  But in both cases, it is God and God alone who gives the increase.

Let us not shrink from this teaching; it is the basis of our hope.  Though we be Pauls and Apolloses we cannot save a soul; though we be as eloquent as Demosthenes, as subtle as Aristotle, as convincing as Plato, as persistent as Socrates, we cannot save.  And though we be none of those, but a plain man with lisping lips, that can but let fall the Gospel truth in broken phrases – we need no eloquent Aaron for our prophet.  We need only God for our Master.  It is not we who save, it is God; and our place is not due to our learning or our rhetoric or our graces, it is due to the honouring of God, who has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardens.

Hence we have the great consolation of knowing that the responsibility of fruitage to our work does not depend absolutely on us.  We are not the husbandman; the field is not ours; its fruitage is not dependent on or limited by our ability to produce it.  All Christian ministers are but God’s “agents” (for that is the ultimate implication of the term used), employed by Him to secure His purposes; God’s instruments, God’s tools.  It is God who plans the cultivation, determines the sowing and sends us to do it.  Now this is to lower our pride.  Some ministers act as if they owned the field; they lord it over God’s heritage.  More feel as if they had produced all the results; made, “created,” the fruit.  They pride themselves on the results of their work and compare themselves to others’ disadvantage with their neighbours in the fruits granted to their ministry.  This is like a reaper boasting over the sower or ploughman, as if he had made the crop it has been allowed him to harvest.  Others feel depressed, cast down, at the smallness of the fruitage it has been allowed them to see from their work, and begin to suspect that they are not called to the ministry at all, because the work given them to do was not reaping.  And herein is the consolation: just because we are not doing God’s work for Him, but He is doing His own work through us; just because we do what work He appoints to us; not we but He is responsible for the harvest.  All that is required of stewards is that they be found faithful.

Hence – and this is the final and greatest consolation to us as ministers – it ought to be a matter of indifference to us what work God gives us to do in His husbandry.  Reaping is no more honourable than sowing; watering no less honourable than harvesting.  Men disturb themselves too much over the kind of work they are assigned to, and can scarcely believe they are working for God unless they are harvesting all the time.  But in the great organized body of labour it is as in the organized body to which Paul compares the Church later: if all were reapers, where were the sowing, where were the cultivating, where the watering?  And if no sowing, and no watering, where were the reaping?  It is not ours to determine what work we are to do.  It is for us to determine how we do it.  For none of us will fail of our wages and the wages are not proportioned to the kind of work, as if the reaper because he reaped would have all the reward.  The field is not his, and the harvest is not his.  He does not get the crop because he reaped it.  He gets just what the planter and waterer get, his wages.

Wages, I say, not proportioned to the kind of work, but to the labour he does.  Each one, says Paul, shall receive “his own reward” according to his own labour.  The amount of labour, not the department of work, is the norm of our reward.  What a consolation this is to the obscure workman to whom God has given much labour and few results; reward is proportioned to the labour, not the results!  And this for a very good reason.  God apportions the work on the one hand and gives the increase on the other.  But it is we that do the labour.  And, of course, we are rewarded according to what is done by us, not God.  Let us then labour on in whatever sphere God gives it to us to labour, content, happy, strenuous, untiring, determined only to do God’s work in God’s way; not seeking to intrude into work to which He has not appointed us, and not repining because He has given us this work and not that.  Each one to his own labour, and God the rewarder of all!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 11 July 2009 at 14:46

Sermon preparation

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 4 April 2009 at 08:07

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Light and life

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My father, Austin Walker, is in the United States at the moment.  He will be lecturing later today, God willing, at a conference at the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies on The English Baptists of the 17th Century. His paper is entitled Benjamin Keach and the Protestant Cause Under Persecution and it’s good, stirring stuff.

In his absence I had the whole day here at Crawley last Lord’s day, but – because we are on a summer break from our Sunday School – only had two services.

In the first, I preached from John 12.36 under the title While there is light.  I was disappointed that there were fewer unconverted people present than is often the case, but preached nonetheless from Christ’s earnest warning and invitation to those in danger of being utterly lost in spiritual darkness.  This is issued as his death approaches, and in the face of continuing confusion and resistance to his person and work.

Our Lord identifies a precious privilege: “you have the light.” The light was shining upon the Jews in the person of Christ Jesus, and shines still upon us in the gospel read and preached and heard under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

This is a passing opportunity: “while you have the light.” The gospel is not an inalienable right but a gracious gift. Bibles, preachers, capacity of mind and body to hear the truth, days of life in which to respond – none are guaranteed to us. This demands an urgent and immediate response.

Christ also issues a gracious command: “believe in the light.” We are called to trust in the Lord Jesus in all the fullness of his glorious person and saving work. Not to believe is to disobey, but the reality of the gospel command is also a great blessing and encouragement to the fearful.

Christ explains the gracious result of believing: “that you may become sons of light.” In Christ by faith, we are characterised by light: we live in it, love it, walk in it and shine with it. This is the instant and final change of nature, from darkness to light, associated with faith in Christ.

Finally, though, and soberingly, there is a grievous warning. Many of those who heard Jesus’ words resisted the message and rejected his person. He is light, but some choose darkness. Which will you have?

In the evening I continued through Colossians, preaching on being Rooted and rejoicing in Christ.  Paul uses verses 6 and 7 of Colossians 2 as a summary and a springboard for what is to come. He speaks of receiving Christ and then walking in him, and describes what it means so to walk.  He mixes his metaphors as a means of communicating the richness of this notion.

There is stability and solidity: we are rooted in Christ, anchored in him, drawing life and nourishment from him. We are built up in Christ, held together by him as a community, and making progress in dependence upon him.

Walking in Christ, we enjoy increasingly strong and settled faith. It grows as we are established in the apostolic faith in which we are instructed. We need no bigger and better saviours, but rather a bigger heart to love Christ Jesus, and a better grasp on who he is and what he has done.

These issue in and involve a sincere thankfulness. Gratitude to God for all his kindnesses to us in Jesus keep the saint in a spiritually healthy and happy condition, humbly looking away from self to the God of salvation. These blessings are ours insofar as we receive and rest upon Christ Jesus the Lord.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 26 August 2008 at 12:34

Parents, prophets, and ‘postles

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In Sunday School we continued with our studies in parenthood, considering the manner in which parents are prophets to their children, bringing the Word of God to bear.  We set out the fundamental duty from Deuteronomy 6.6-9, emphasising first of all that the Word must be written on our own hearts before we bring it to bear on the hearts of our children.  How many believers have rich Scripture texts on their walls and fridges, but hearts largely devoid of the same truths?  When we are ourselves conquered by the truth, and see the world through the lens of God’s Word, we shall be able to bring the Word to bear on the world for our children, helping them to see everything in the light of God’s truth, and demonstrating that no part of life, and their life, is to be considered off-limits for God’s revelation.  God’s world is to be seen through the glasses of God’s Word.

With help from Samuel Davies and Henry Venn, we considered some of the more formal and informal means of exercising this prophetic duty: more formally, in family worship, in times of discipline (explaining sin, grace, repentance, forgiveness), in times of particular instruction.  More informally, at all times and seasons we are to show our children that the world must be perceived and interpreted through God’s truth: “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Then in the morning worship, I completed another section of Colossians, reaching the fifth verse of chapter 2, under the title Paul’s joyful spiritual survey.  As Paul engages with the errorists of Colosse, dismantling their heresies with the hammer of truth and crowbar of warning, he launches into them from the platform of a joyful endorsement and vigorous encouragement to the saints in Colosse.

We observe here the fact of Paul’s bodily absence – he is in a Roman prison, and evidently aware of the potential dangers and disadvantages of prolonged absence. Fellowship may not be severed by the distance, but it is in danger of being compromised.

The apostle therefore assures the church of his spiritual presence. This is not some weird and wacky notion, but the reality the flows from their union with Christ, the relationship between them which God has ordained, accuracy of knowledge and depth of feeling. Paul understands and feels and enters into their circumstances as if he were actually present.  If this is true of Paul, how much more true of the Lord Jesus himself!

Finally and most significantly, there is the joy of Paul’s spiritual survey. As he casts a mental eye across the Colossian congregation, he sees an unbroken line and intact discipline: the army of the Lamb is in good order, with steadfast faith in Christ. This is the great concern and great joy of any gospel minister: while this is true, a church can withstand whatever comes against them.

Paul no longer casts a distant eye over the church, but Christ is always present: what is his assessment of us? Does our good order and steadfast faith bring a smile to his face?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 28 July 2008 at 13:00

Spiritual vitality and spiritual discernment

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This past Lord’s day my father and co-elder was preaching away in Portsmouth, at Grace Baptist Church, so I had all three ministries at the church here.  We had a freak week when we had an unusual number of people absent: there were holidays, sicknesses, care responsibilities.  The net effect was that we were thin on the ground both morning and evening.  While the absences were for the most part legitimate, this was somewhat disappointing, as this Sunday was the first day of a week of prayer that we are undertaking as a church, and the ministry this weekend was geared primarily toward our concerns as a congregation: spiritual vitality and spiritual discernment.

In the Sunday School, though, I continued with our regular studies in the Christian family, moving into the realm of parenting.  We began by identifying – very carefully, I hasten to add – the God-ordained role of a parent to children as that of a mediator.  This is not any suggestion of a direct salvific role, but there is a sense in which a parent brings the character and Word of God to bear upon his children.  We contrasted this with the rationalistic, traditional, pragmatic, or fatalistic models that our society offers or imposes, and made plain that it is essential for a parent to see themselves in God’s role, and not be pressured into any others.  We took into account both the light of special revelation and the light of nature, and how to manage the latter in the context of the former.  We will delve into the role of the parent in more detail in coming weeks, God willing.

In the morning ministry, I took up Colossians 2 again, concentrating on verses 4 and 5, and The danger of deceit.  Here Paul expresses plainly what before he has only implied, and makes his first direct reference to the errorists in Colosse.

We saw the vehicle for Paul’s warning: it rides a wave of intense pastoral affection, demonstrated by earnest desire for and pursuit of the spiritual well-being of these saints, joy at every evidence of grace among them, and felt fellowship with them in Christ.  This opens a door to their hearts for a sober warning.

Observe also the alertness required of healthy saints: danger looms, and Satan orchestrates a campaign of deliberate deceit to undermine God’s character and word, just as he did in Eden.  He assaults the person and work of Christ Jesus.  Some will be utterly deluded and proved false, but even true saints will feel the debilitating effect of losing sight of Jesus as he truly is, being temporarily and partially crippled.

Finally, the danger lies in the persuasiveness of deceit: it is plausible.  It destroys by degrees – deceit is not a street thug but a cunning assassin.  It is not simply embracing gross heresy.  Orthodox saints can be deceived when they either believe or live as if Jesus is something less or other than he truly is.

Where the true knowledge of Christ declines, spiritual declension and debilitation follow, and all manner of errors and follies can enter in.  By contrast, clear and believing views of Christ are a shield against deceptive rhetoric, and the only means to attain spiritual vitality.

In the evening I turned to Psalm 119, and suggested that the psalm as a whole provides a profitable starting point for our prayers of this week, weaving together as it does pleas to God both for renewed vigour of faith and experience, and wisdom to walk in accordance with God’s will.  The opening stanzas make plain that genuine attention to the Word of God is always joined with prayer to the God of the Word.  Verse 10 was our focus, as we concentrated on Seeking God.  Here the author demonstrates a total engagement with God. David seeks him with the whole heart – with thoroughness and intensity. In approaching God, we must come in conscious, deliberate, entire dependence on Christ, aware of both the grace and glory God to whom we come.

We also see a singleminded pursuit of God: David seeks the Giver over the gifts, the Benefactor before the benefits, the Guide and not only guidance. We need God as creatures to be sustained, as sinners to be saved, and as servants to be sanctified. We need him always, but there are times when our sense of need is heightened by particular circumstances. It is God himself we need.

Finally, there is a humble request to God. Character does not purchase communion with God, but communion with God precedes and produces godly character. The more we know of God, the greater desire we will have for him, and the greater our holy fear of offending him. David therefore pleads with God, recognising that he is prone to wander the moment he might be without God’s presence. His desire is that he might live a life governed by the Word of God, neither deliberately transgressing nor ignorantly wandering, but upright from beginning to end, inwardly and outwardly, righteous in principle and in practice. For this, we do not need all the answers all the time, but rather light for obedience step by step.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 21 July 2008 at 18:27

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Living sermons and loving Jesus

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I have been out and about a bit in the last few days, so this covers just the last Lord’s day, and I hope to post again about my more unusual comings and goings.

On Sunday, I had the adult Sunday School class, in which we sought to wrap up our studies on husbands and wives before heading into the more specific material on parenting.  We considered the husband and wife as living sermons who will preach the gospels as much by their lives as by their lips, and will preach by their lives a sermon so powerful that it will undo multitudes of spoken sermons.  We live before our children, parents, brothers and sisters, neighbours, colleagues, and we are either preaching the Jesus of Scripture or a false gospel by our very lives.  Every Christian marriage must preach the gospel in two dimensions: it must preach the beautiful realities of Christ’s love for his church and the church’s submission to her Christ, modelling Christ and his elect by being first modelled on them – the whole relationship should be gospel shaped.  But there is a second dimension: we preach the gospel through the dynamic which operates in our marriages.  Biblical idealism holds up Christ and his church as the paradigm for every marriage.  Biblical realism accepts that there is an ongoing struggle with sin in the life of every redeemed man and woman that will manifest itself in the marriage relationship.  A gospel dynamic addresses the tension between these.  It involves recognising sin, repenting of it, confessing it to God and others against whom we have sinned, seeking and receiving forgiveness for that sin, obtaining grace and strength from Christ, setting out once more to attain to the ideal – this teaches those around us the beauties of life in Christ, the realities of sin and its forgiveness, the realities of grace and its bestowal.

Then, in the morning worship, I turned again to Colossians 2, where Paul develops the third express goal he has for the Colossians and others: the desire that they might attain to all riches of the full assurance of understanding.  In explaining and applying this, Paul implies the necessity of God’s revelation, for this is a mystery, a truth that God himself has revealed.  No mere worldly wisdom could attain to this.  He identifies the content of God’s revelation, God making himself known in Christ for salvation.  The treasures of divine truth are stored up in Jesus, the revealer of God.  He speaks of the riches of God’s revelation: Paul never undersells the gospel!  All that is deepest in God is summed up in Christ, the full, final, accurate spiritual encyclopedia – no supplements, updates, upgrades, or passwords to new levels required!

Man’s own search for spiritual substance is a legitimate desire with a misguided method.  God cannot be savingly known apart from Christ.  But, having Jesus Christ, we have God as our God and our Redeemer, and our life should reflect this reality.  The root of assurance is a grasp on Christ Jesus the crucified Saviour.  When our hearts are full of him, we are safe and blessed, for there is no room for anything else.  The essence of the sermon was Jesus Christ as The treasury of truth.

Today my son woke me at about 5.30am, and – in an attempt to give my wife some more rest – I tried to lie down with him on his bed.  He wasn’t interested, and I eventually drifted back off to sleep while he played with his toolbench, smashing away with hammers about four feet away.  It was only when my wife woke me up at about 9am that I realised that I must have been quite tired.  Our plan for the day was to go to Drusilla’s Park, and we arrived at about 11am.  As with every such attraction, I eventually left it glad that – thanks to the power of our magic vouchers – I had not paid the full entrance price.  I enjoyed it (don’t get me wrong) but I would not have wanted to pay quite so much as I might have done for that particular level of enjoyment.  We had a great family day out: Caleb loved not only the wide variety of animals on display, but also got to play in the play area and ride a ‘real’ Thomas the Tank Engine.  My wife, Alissa, enjoyed everything but getting dive-bombed by fruit bats, which the boy and I thought was cool!  I was struck on more than one occasion by how God’s “invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom 1.20), and by man’s wilful blindness in denying that he is, and that we are made in his image.  For example, did you know that raccoons have a brain cell for each individual finger, which makes their paws so sensitive as to allow them to ‘see’ with their hands in darkness, or when feeling in murky water?  There are times when one looks at this fallen world and thinks, “If this is the beauty and wonder of a world into which sin has come, what will the new heaven and the new earth be like?”

I am reminded of the story of a preacher who stopped at the most wretched hovel in the village he was visiting because he heard someone crying out.  Stopping to the one grimy window and wiping away some filth, he saw an old crone, half-blind and bent over, hunched at a table on which a lump of black bread and a cup of dirty water were sitting.  She had her hands lifted to heaven, and was calling out “All this, and Jesus too!  All this, and Jesus too!”  On the one hand, how much more now ought we to be calling out “All this, and Jesus too!” when we have received so much of the blessing of this world?  On the other, when we come at last to the re-crafted earth in all its splendour, will we not still – in a world untouched by sin and death – cry out in thankfulness to God, “All this, and Jesus too!”?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 14 July 2008 at 20:09

Catching up

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I didn’t get out an update earlier this week, because on Monday I spent the day in London helping my brother and his wife to move home.  They had some help from friends in their home church at Amyand Park, and my father and I were there also.  The rain was torrential at times, the work was fairly demanding (they moved from a first floor flat – for my American friends, a second floor apartment), but the fellowship and food were good.  We left at 7.15am and returned at about 10pm.

On the Lord’s day previously we had spent time in the adult Sunday School considering Christlike communication as we completed our specific studies on Christian husbands.  Taking the Gospel of Matthew as our starting point, we reviewed the manner in which and matter of which Christ spoke to his disciples.  What did he say?  How did he say it?  To what end did he say it?  Building on the principle that Christlike (and, therefore, husbandly) love is expressed in words and demonstrated in deeds, we considered the way in which Christ cares for his church, nourishing and cherishing it, by means of his speech.  From Matthew’s gospel we stepped back, and identified some of the same patterns in the whole revelation of God.  We then applied that more closely to the married men, and men generally, and discussed issues such as the fact that Christ knows us absolutely and perfectly, and communicates accordingly, but we do not so know our wives.  It was a good lesson – a little different, but seemingly appreciated.

Then in the morning, I preached again from Colossians, this time looking at three Powerful protective petitions which express the apostle’s prayerful desires and goals for the Colossian saints.  In Colossians 2.2, he speaks of his aim that the hearts of these beloved believers may be strengthened, united (“knit together in love”), and assured (“attaining to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding”).  Paul does not faff about with minor concerns, but – in every sense – gets to the heart of the matter, the primary concerns to do with the core of a Christian’s being.  These three concerns intertwine, binding together the blessings of God’s Spirit and the blessings of true fellowship.  We have made these desires the essence of our praying as a church in the last few days.

In the evening, my father preached on Hebrews 9.12 in preparation for the Lord’s supper, considering The virtue of Christ’s own blood.  I was taking care of our son for this service, so was not able to participate fully in the worship, but I do know that he focused on Christ’s sacrifice: its unique quality, its immediate outcome, and it lasting effects.

The last couple of days have been full of work, and the coming ones promise to be busy.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 10 July 2008 at 09:36

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On the road again

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Last Lord’s day I spent the day at Alexandra Road Congregational Church in Hemel Hempstead, pastored by Ian Densham.  I have known Ian for several years, largely through his labours in recording sermons at the annual Banner of Truth conferences for young people and for ministers.  The previous minister at Alexandra Road was the much-missed John Marshall.  I did preach for Mr Marshall (memorably for me, on the weekends immediately before and after his death some years ago), and once or twice afterwards, but this was the first time I have sought to fill Ian’s shoes.

It was my privilege to spend the day with Mrs Susan Marshall, Mr Marshall’s widow, who has an overflowing heart for God and his people, and who is a delightfully straightforward and forthright mother in Israel, who stands no messing, and for whom the word “doughty” might have been coined.  She also had the Toms family over for the day, a lovely family with whom – since I first preached the church – I have enjoyed an easy and warm relationship.  To learn more about Mr Marshall, I recommend John J. Murray’s John E. Marshall: Life and Writings (Banner of Truth).  John Marshall was in many respects an archetype of the man we need for these days.

I preached in the morning from Hebrews 7.25, on Salvation to the uttermost.  This is a sermon that I have used before, but it speaks truths of which I never tire.  It is truth that I would gladly seek to preach anywhere: “Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”  I asked and sought to answer three simple questions: What is Jesus Christ able to do?  For whom does Jesus Christ do this?  How does Jesus Christ do this?  The answers spring from the words of the text themselves.  It does my own soul good to know and preach these glorious realities, with a view to calling the unsaved to faith and encouraging the faith of God’s own.

In the evening I returned to Mark 4 to preach again on The growing seed.  My mind and heart turned to this because of Mr Marshall’s faithful sowing in Hemel Hempstead: every Saturday for years he could be found in the local marketplace declaring God’s free grace in Christ to all and sundry.  I wanted to encourage the saints there to maintain such a faithful witness, and to anticipate that God’s word that goes forth from his mouth shall not return to him void, but it shall accomplish what he pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing for which he sent it (Is 55.11).

Incidentally, John J. Murray is preaching at Alexandra Road’s anniversary weekend (twice on Saturday, twice on the Lord’s day) this coming weekend (05-06 Jun 08).  Those with an opportunity might consider going to hear this man of God bring the Word of his truth to the church of Christ.

This last few days one of my wife’s sisters has been visiting us, so on Monday we drove around, visiting Brighton – a truly needy place in spiritual terms – and various other places not too far from Crawley.  It was a pleasant day in many respects, and a good break from some of the labours of the last few days.  Today was back to whatever passes for normal.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 1 July 2008 at 18:12

An Italian odyssey I

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I returned from Italy with my family last Monday evening, having been away for almost a couple of weeks. It was a busman’s holiday of sorts, trading off hospitality from friends for preaching engagements.

We arrived at Milan’s Malpensa airport on Wed 28 May, and were collected by Pastor Andrea Ferrari of Chiesa Battista Riformata Filadelfia. We went to his home overnight, before being sent away to Venice for a two day break. The Eurostar train took us from Milan (Milano) to Venice (Venezia) in good time, and we spent two wonderful days wandering through the city (although pushchairs and canal bridges are not the best of combinations), travelling around and about the island by boat (including a visit to the famed Island of Murano, where much glass is blown).

From Venice, we returned late on Friday night to Milan, and stayed with the Ferrari family (Andrea & Cristina, and their lads Simone and Daniele) until the following Wednesday. On the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, the church had organised a family conference, originally due to be held in Turin (Torino). However, by the time we had returned, persistent heavy rain in the Turin area had caused the cancellation of these plans, and so some swift re-jigging led to our meeting in their church building (they have been meeting there for only a few months). The topic of the conference was “The Christian family.” With such a large topic, I could only deal with some basics, and concentrated on the relationship between the Lord God and a husband and wife, issues that we have recently covered in our adult Sunday School. I did this under five headings, drawing heavily on material by Albert N. Martin from old Banner of Truth magazines, and also bringing in material from Alan Dunn‘s Headship in Marriage in the Light of Creation and the Fall.

We considered the Scriptural approach – how do we serve God in our families? Where do we begin? Concentrating on the foundation and the framework, we assessed four flawed foundations and one firm foundation. The four flawed foundations are: rationalism (making human reason the ultimate authority); traditionalism (doing what has always been done, either unconsciously or deliberately); pragmatism (doing what seems to work, usually a series of short-term fixes with no long term goals); and, fatalism (can we really know what can be done, and is there any point anyway). Opposed to this is Biblicism – taking the Scriptures as our rule of faith and life. Here we went back to the gospel dynamic that governs our entrance into and progress in true Christian living. We can do nothing apart from Christ, and it is in the tension between Biblical idealism and Biblical realism, resolved by the grace of God in the forgiveness of sins and grace for cheerful obedience, that we make progress in this struggle.

We moved on to look at the essential equality that exists between men and women. Many texts in Scripture say that men and women are different to each other, none say that one is better than the other. Men and women are equal in their created dignity (both are made in the image of God), their native depravity (both are equally fallen, both are equally lost), and in redemptive reality (both are equally saved by the same Christ, and receive the same redemptive privileges). There are four consequences of this equality: a joint commission together to be fruitful, to multiply, to have dominion; a genuine correspondence (men and women were made to complete and complement each other); a profound cleaving (the intimacy of the one-flesh union of marriage, true togetherness); and, a total commitment to one another within the bonds of marriage.

From there we went on to consider the distinctive roles, looking first at women of God. Our four key texts were 1Cor 11.3-16, Eph 5.22-33, Col 3.18-19, and 1Tim 2.8-15, where we observe the created order and the redemptive pattern. On these two pillars the distinctives stand, without denying or negating the essential equality. The keynote for women is submission, a positive and active yielding of her gifts to her husband and employing them for him. The particular nature of this submission is religious – “as to the Lord”: it is an expression of our attitude to God. We saw its broad extent: “in everything” – it is extensive, not occasional or selective. Nevertheless, it is not absolute. She is to submit in everything except when her husband requires what God forbids or forbids what God requires. We also looked at some of the distortions and perversions women must labour to avoid: effacement on the one hand, and domination/manipulation on the other.

From there we moved to the distinctive role of Christian men. We used the same key texts and observed the same order and pattern. The keynote for men is love. We considered the character of this love: it is Christlike – it is intelligent, realistic, sweet and (above all) sacrificial. We looked at the quality of this love: it is purposeful – it seeks a wife’s highest development and greatest blessing. We identified the anchor of this love: union – it is grounded in a husband’s being one flesh with his wife. We then looked at the activity of this love: “nourishing and cherishing” – a profound tenderness and principled care. There are also distortions and perversions here for men to avoid: abdication on the one hand (a failure to lead lovingly) and tyranny on the other (a failure to love in leading).

In the final address we considered the Christian family as the living sermon – does my home, my relationship, preach Christ and his church to those around me? What does my relationship to my wife say to others about how Christ acts toward his church? What does my relationship to my husband say about how the church acts toward Christ? A Christ-exalting marriage is full of gospel blessing. We find blessing for ourselves when true happiness and harmony are established in the home. We bring blessing to our families by our testimony to gospel realities, and in providing a model for Christian homes. We bring blessing to our churches, for a healthy Christian home is a vital building block in a healthy congregation, and an example of grace and a centre of ministry to others. We also bring a blessing to our societies – both common blessings (good citizens having an influence) and saving blessings (true Christians testifying of Jesus and enjoying God’s favour). But we must pursue gospel transparency rather than entertain gross hypocrisy. The kind of Pharisaic hypocrisy we see in Matthew 23 will destroy all blessing. Reality matters more than appearance and performance. We must face the facts of sin, embrace the Christ of grace, and go in the strength of gospel grace along the way of gospel obedience in the exercise of the gospel dynamic.

With this, the conference closed. Andrea translated throughout, and we were both weary. The church then watched the film The Pursuit of Happyness, and there followed a discussion about the particular roles and values demonstrated in the film in the light of the material delivered from the Scripture. We looked at what we might learn positively and negatively from the examples we saw.

With that, we went home and slept. On the Tuesday we had our next rest day, wandering round an open market before a relaxed afternoon, then packing our bags for the next leg of the trip – south to Sicily.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 June 2008 at 12:55

Abortion 40 years on

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Following on from the conference on Saturday, I had two ministries yesterday. In our adult Sunday School class, I continued our studies in the Christian family, as we consider the distinctive roles of men and women.

Then, in our morning worship, I preached in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the implementation of the 1967 Abortion Act on 27 April 1968. Since that time, nearly 7 million unborn children have had their lives taken, some 98% of those abortions having been carried out for what are designated “social reasons.” 550 children a day are being destroyed, and currently 1 in 5 recorded pregnancies in the UK come to an unnatural end (not even taking into account such things as the morning-after pill). In a sermon entitled Abortion: the blood cries out, I tried to identify the issues and suggest a Biblical response.

Firstly, we considered the essence of the sin: it is murder, the unlawful taking of the life of a child made in the image of God.

Secondly, we considered the aggravations of the sin: its defenceless victims; its gross unnaturalness; its wicked motives; its awful brutality; its vast scale; and, its fearful high-handedness.

Thirdly, we looked at the effects of this sin, tearing at the social fabric of the UK, including: the hardening of the nation’s heart; the cheapening of all life; the scarring of individual consciences; and, the incurring of dreadful guilt and divine, righteous punishment.

Fourthly and finally, we sought to ask what our response ought to. We must commit to the sanctity of life in God’s image; we must seize every legitimate opportunity to defend and promote the sanctity of life; we must practically demonstrate our commitment to God’s plan and purpose as families in our society (Rom 12.1-2); we must mourn over, repent of, and turn from our national sins; we must pray that God would raise up a Wilberforce to take the lead in overturning this legislation; and, we must minister with Christlike compassion and sacrificial love to those who have been and are enmeshed in this sin.

In preparing this sermon I found helpful statistics, quotes and insights at the Christian Institute here and at Albert Mohler’s blog here and here. Thanks also to Gary Brady for a post that sparked some fresh thoughts.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 28 April 2008 at 14:51

Lukewarm Joash the lightweight king

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I have just returned from Hailsham Baptist Church, where I was preaching at the Sussex Conference which they co-sponsor. The title for the day was Striking without stopping, a study in the character of Joash from 2 Kings 13. There were not too many present, but still some good fellowship to be enjoyed.

There were three preaching sessions. The first session set the scene. Joash of Israel calls upon the dying Elisha, whose acted oracle – firing a bow toward Syria – was a statement of martial intent. Joash was given the promises of God and the prospect of victory, and yet this man – dismissed with four formulaic and none-too-positive statements in the Scripture record – is afforded a brief character portrait in which he is revealed as a man who fails to be stirred by the Word of God or energised by the prospect of victory. The character and attitude of Joash pose the people of God a challenge: are we three arrow men or six arrow men?

To answer this question, we first considered the matters in which we are called upon to shoot arrows, those elements of our life in which we too are given promises and offered the prospect of advance: our plans for God’s glory, our prayers for Christ’s kingdom, our warfare with sin, our cultivation of graces, our grasp of the truth, our fruitfulness in service, and – if not yet saved – our pursuit of salvation. In these areas – and as they bite into other, more specific, areas of our lives – are we three arrow or six arrow men?

In the second session, we considered some of the reasons why God’s people only shoot three arrows. Some only shoot three because of unbelief, others because of lack of zeal. For some, the matter is simply one of disobedience. Others are hindered by pride and presumption. Some entertain doubts about themselves, some have an unhealthy dependence on others, and some are afraid of appearing foolish. Some cultivate a false sentimentality, some love applause, and others are simply lazy. In these respects we need to look into the mirror of God’s Word, search our own hearts, and ask: am I a Joash or a Joshua (Jos 8.26), a lukewarm king or a zealous Caleb (Jos 14.11-12). Am I a three arrow man or a six arrow man?

In the third and final session, we considered motives to bind to our hearts to stir up ourselves and others to be six arrow men and women. We need to shoot six arrows because: the vigour of our enemy demands it; the honour of God is bound up in it; the extension of Christ’s kingdom is involved in it; the health of Christ’s church requires it; the blood of the Saviour cries out for it; and, the cause of Christ is worthy of it.

Joash had great promises and great prospects and great motives, and yet through a lack of vigour he lost his opportunities to glorify God. Scripture dismisses him with four formulaic statements and a character sketch revealing a feeble heart. Great opportunities to do good and to glorify God passed him by. God is writing your history, your character is being sketched on the pages of time. We too have great promises and great prospects, and the Lord has put a bow in our hands and said, “Strike the ground!” The question is: will I be a three arrow man or a six arrow man?

The next Sussex Conference is due to take place, Lord willing, on 06 Sep 08, when Pastor Achille Blaize of Grace Baptist Church, Stratford, will be preaching from the life of Joseph. This is a conference well worth supporting, and these will be sermons well worth hearing.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 26 April 2008 at 20:35

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