The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘spiritual warfare

The deal

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“I’m just not being fed,” s/he said. “This is not a very friendly church. No one really speaks to me. I am not the only one who feels this way. There are lots of people who are struggling. I’m just not sure that this is the right place for me. Why can’t we be more like Broadstreet Evangelical? I really think that I would be better off there.”

“I am very sorry to hear that,” said the pastor. “Might I suggest a deal? I recommend that you go to Broadstreet Evangelical for six months, but on the following conditions:

  • You must not arrive more than two minutes before any service begins. If possible, slip in just afterwards. You should leave as soon as it is over, or – ideally – just before it is properly finished.
  • Please do not attend more than one service a week, certainly not more than once on any given day. When you are able, miss occasional days altogether.
  • Please minimise all contact with others who attend the church. Avoid face-to-face communication at all costs, but – if possible – filter out any notes, cards, texts, emails, or any other such interaction. Cut right down on meaningful conversation.
  • You should not go to anyone’s home, nor invite anyone to yours.
  • Under no circumstances must you engage with the elders. Don’t call them or answer the phone if they call. If you can, wait until they are looking the other way or engaged with someone else before you leave. If necessary, find an alternative exit. Make all conversation as perfunctory as possible. Do not come to them for counsel, consult with them in difficulty, seek them out when distressed, or listen to their advice.
  • Cultivate a healthy sense of resentment (passive-aggressive behaviour is fine) toward anyone who might even begin to suggest that you could make some sort of contribution to the life of the church. Maintain the stance that your occasional presence is quite sacrifice enough.
  • If you must engage with others, seek out the least spiritually healthy in the church. As soon as possible, steer the conversation round to the faults of the church, her members, and her elders.
  • Maintain a healthy circle of worldly friends. Spend as much time with them as possible, going to all the places they attend, engaging in all the chatter they pursue, indulging in all the activities they embrace. Keep up a lively social media engagement with such.
  • Put the advice of friends, family, doctors, self-help books, and anything else really, above and before the advice of any spiritually mature Christian.
  • Should anyone seek to reach out to you to minister to you, cultivate unreliability: assure them of your best intentions, but evade, postpone, or cancel all such interaction with varying degrees of notice. Train them to expect you to seem vaguely positive but never actually available.
  • Sleep through some sermons.
  • Don’t read. Just don’t.
  • Don’t push yourself. You’re worth it!
  • Minimise private devotion, especially private prayer. Make sure that you are at least as busy with other significant demands as you have been for the last couple of years. Don’t read any ‘tricky bits’ from the Bible, and don’t overdose on the obvious stuff.
  • Take long holidays, and give yourself plenty of time on your return to ‘get back into the swing of things.’
  • Never volunteer. Avoid being nominated.
  • Under no circumstances make meaningful eye contact.
  • Look out for others now at Broadstreet who left this congregation for the same reasons as you are giving. If they are speaking, you might want to listen.
  • Also, if anyone at Broadstreet tries to pin you down, I would recommend an occasional visit to Gaping Lane Community Church. By all means be subtle, but make clear that if Broadstreet is becoming a little narrow, the open-minded congregation over at Gaping Lane might be the place for you.

“There’s some other stuff,” said the pastor, “but that should do for starters. It should not take a great deal of investment – no new skills to learn, no additional duties to embrace. Perhaps if you would be willing to give it a go for six months, and then come back and let me know how your soul has prospered and your walk with the Lord has developed? Then we can chat again. Deal?”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 25 January 2018 at 17:21

The privilege of dangerous seasons

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You will doubtless have heard on a number of occasions those who bewail the present day. I admit to having limited sympathy with those who argue that we are living in the absolute worst of times. I read of the social conditions, cultural norms and spiritual battles of past days and I sometimes think, “We do not have it so bad.” However, very often, those who have decided that these are the worst of days use that conclusion to drive a certain way of thinking and acting. Perhaps it is the pastor’s conference where the prevailing mood is one tending to despair, where most of the older men are quick to suggest that the nation is under judgement, or some such assertion, ready to root any sense of believing anticipation out of the heart of those naive young bucks who think they have a prospect of blessing. Perhaps it is the crippling affliction of a whole congregation, maybe under the influence of a more negative spirit in the preaching, by which the diagnosis of local, national or global malaise has become an excuse to attempt and expect nothing. After all, why bother?

My gut instinct – and, I hope, my scriptural instinct – is to reject that spirit of defeatism, even where it comes from men whom I otherwise esteem and respect. And yet, it is worth bearing in mind that there are harder times and easier times. Paul wants Timothy to “know this, that in the last days perilous times will come” (2Tim 3:1). It seems that Paul means that, in the period between the first and the second and last coming of the Lord Christ, there will be seasons marked out by distinctive and heightened spiritual danger, periods of intensified spiritual combat. The apostle goes on to describe those seasons: “men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2Tim 3:2–5). I would suggest that it takes no great exegete to recognise that, in the modern West, and perhaps in other particular places around the world, we seem to be heading into – if we are not already in – a perilous time.

And so Paul goes on to counsel Timothy: “Whatever you do, boy, don’t try anything. The Spirit has departed and prospects are poor. Keep your head low, and don’t make eye contact. Batten down the hatches, retreat behind the barricades, and hope against hope that somehow you and a few others make it through relatively unscathed. Dodge, duck, dive, and do whatever it takes to survive. Try and keep it painless. Maybe once the storm has swept over you will be able to creep out of your hole and try again. Keep face, of course! Learn to preach and pray primarily against the failings and compromises of other Christians and churches. Build up your sense of superiority on the graves of their reputations. Teach about faithfulness in the midst of trials in such as way as to allow everyone to paint their own face in the portrait. Present revival as a panacea, as something that happens to bad people out there, resolving all our difficulties without requiring faith, repentance, or Spirit-stirred activity among the saints. Press on in this way, Timothy, and perhaps I will see you on the other side.”

What nonsense! I trust we are all aware that Paul spoke in rather different fashion:

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2Tim 4:1–5)

So it is quite possible that we look out and see something of a present spiritual wasteland, perhaps increasingly a spiritual battleground. We may be troubled at a perceived paucity of proven men and fear a sickly trickle of younger ones. We recognise surges in atheism, paganism, idolatry and false religion, some of it militarised. Old errors are stalking the land, and capturing many hearts. And it may in some measure, even in large measure, be true. We may shortly be living through one of the perilous times, if we are not already doing so.

But is now the time to run or hide? Can we responsibly and righteously walk away when others may be ready to walk in and make the sacrifices necessary to exalt Christ? Who will call sinners to repentance? Who will hold the line and set the standard for those who may be following? Should we interpret these as the days of small things, and so make our excuses for little faith and low expectations?

Surely a field of battle on which holding the line, let alone advancing it, is hard, is a field of honour? If our analysis is in any degree right, have we considered the privilege of being called to serve Christ in this hour? To what has he called us? “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2Tim 2:3–4). We cannot say we were not warned! In the words of Andrew Fuller, “A servant that heartily loves his master counts it a privilege to be employed by him, yea, an honour to be intrusted with any of his concerns” (Complete Works, 3:320). How much more ought we to count it a privilege and an honour to serve such a Saviour as Christ in dangerous seasons?

We must of course beware of vainglory, that casual and carnal bombast that presumes that heroism runs in our veins. It is probably still the case – it certainly has been in past conflicts – that the men who are most full of themselves on the training ground are not often (even rarely) the ones who acquit themselves well on the battleground. It may be worth remembering the words of Ahab, albeit in a different context: “Let not the one who puts on his armour boast like the one who takes it off” (1Kgs 20:11).

All the same, surely now is the time to rise to the challenge. Now is not the time to step back, but to step up. It may or may not be ours to see great advances made, but those advances might need to be weighed rather than numbered. To accomplish a little something in the darkest hours of the hardest fights may be worth as much in the grand scheme of things as to do great deeds when the enemy is already running. Brands snatched from the burning are worth risking much to save. The enemy may not start running until some of those hard stands and have been taken and those hard yards have been won. Besides, “when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Lk 17:10).

Now is the time to assess the days, count the cost, and preach the Word. We must be ready in season and out of season. It is our duty and our privilege to convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. This is part of the good fight of faith, what Spurgeon called “the greatest fight in the world.” It is the hardest; it is the best; it is the most worthy, being fought for the best cause and the best Master, and offering the best reward.

Remember how Mordecai spoke to Esther as the people of God faced devastation and she began to explain her circumstances and make her excuses. He informed her bluntly that her circumstances would not save her. He assured her confidently that the Lord had not forgotten his people. He promised her soberly that cowardice might see her swept away. And he questioned her graciously, stirring her soul: “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Are we living in the last days? Certainly? Is this one of the dangerous seasons? Possibly, even probably. Yet who knows whether or not this is our high privilege: that we have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 26 January 2015 at 11:28

The armour of God

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An exhortation from John Calvin:

Put on the whole armour. God has furnished us with various defensive weapons, provided we do not indolently refuse what is offered. But we are almost all chargeable with carelessness and hesitation in using the offered grace; just as if a soldier, about to meet the enemy, should take his helmet, and neglect his shield. To correct this security, or, we should rather say, this indolence, Paul borrows a comparison from the military art, and bids us put on the whole armour of God. We ought to be prepared on all sides, so as to want nothing. The Lord offers to us arms for repelling every kind of attack. It remains for us to apply them to use, and not leave them hanging on the wall. To quicken our vigilance, he reminds us that we must not only engage in open warfare, but that we have a crafty and insidious foe to encounter, who frequently lies in ambush; for such is the import of the apostle’s phrase, the wiles of the devil.

via The Old Guys.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 15 June 2012 at 11:54

“Worthy of our best efforts”

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Henry Havelock 2In 1839, as now, the British Army was engaged in Afghanistan.  Among them was a young soldier called Henry Havelock, a devoted Christian and an outstanding man of valour.  Struggling up the ranks (he was then a captain), he had recently been promoted aide-de-camp to Sir Willoughby Cotton, and was among “the Army of the Indus” that marched into Afghanistan under General Sir John Keane to accomplish, among other things, the capture of a fort called Ghuznee.  One biographer of Havelock says,

It should be remembered that the strength of Ghuznee was the boast of the Affghans, and that it was the design of Dost Mahomed [who then sat on the throne of Kabul, the Afghan capital) that Afsal Khan and Hyder Khan, having suffered our army to advance a march or two beyond Ghuznee should fall on its rear, while Dost Mahomed himself should give us battle in the front.  (William Owen, The Good Soldier, 72)

In other words, Ghuznee was not expected to fall.  The British Army reached Ghuznee having suffered much affliction by the terrain and the climate, including painful deprivations of food and water on the march toward the fortress.  On their arrival, they discovered that their intelligence had not been of the highest quality and that the fortress, which they were informed was the scene of a retreat by the Afghan forces, was – in Havelock’s words – “now evidently occupied by a numerous garrison, from whose minds nothing seemed to be further removed than thoughts of retreat” (Owen, 74).  The enemy were entrenched in the fortress, and displayed no small skill with their artillery during British reconnaissance.  Havelock sums up the scene in these stirring words:

Ghuznee, one front of which we had thus satisfactorily reconnoitred, certainly far exceeded our expectations, and the tenor of all the reports we had received as regarded the solidity, lofty profile, and state of repair of its walls and citadel; and now we saw that we had at last before us an enterprise worthy of our best efforts.  (Owen, 74-75)

City of GhuzneeHavelock’s response was the reaction of a principled man of courage.  Constitutionally, most men are cowards; culturally, we are increasingly trained to give up at the sight of obstacles, to capitulate to circumstances, to look for easy options and to circumvent with lazy ease anything that seems to oppose us.  Too often, the church of Christ is crippled by just such a constitutional and cultural cowardice and love of ease.  We see great obstacles before us and our immediate response is to find something easier, to look for a way out or a way round, to find some easier sphere of service, less dangerous and less demanding.

How different was Havelock’s response: “we saw that we had at last before us an enterprise worthy of our best efforts.”  What a lesson this is for those enlisted not in the armies of this world but in the armies of the Lamb.

The Christian faces greater fortresses than Ghuznee.  We are called to pull down “strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2Cor 10.4-5).  The fortified places of men’s minds and hearts are the object of the gospel soldier.  The believer, in the name of Christ Jesus, assaults the very gates of Hades (Mt 16.18) with the intention of rescuing the lost and advancing the kingdom of Christ.  How solid, high and severe are these fortresses, how well-defended, how seemingly insurmountable the obstacles!  The people with whom we have to deal, the service we have to perform, the tasks we have to contemplate all militate against a righteous and rigorous response.

Battle of GhuzneeThe Christian faces greater foes than the armies of Ghuznee.  “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6.12).  Our primary enemies are not men as such, but the forces of spiritual wickedness who stand ranged against Christ and his people.  Our great Adversary is no mere man, but that Satan whose rage, violence, malice and deceit ought to be bywords, and whose minions partake of all his unholy character and endeavour.  These foes are found within and without.  We are called to defend against them and to assault them, and we know that they will ask and give no quarter in the combat.

But the Christian has a greater Captain than Sir John Keane.  The Captain of our salvation is none other than Emmanuel, the Crown Prince of heaven.  His personal courage cannot be doubted.  His spoils of war are already assured.  His wisdom for strategy and tactics cannot be distrusted.  Not one of his soldiers fights alone, for he is with them in every exhausting assault and every desperate defence.  His honours and triumphs are already writ large, and he will ultimately tread down every foe.

The Christian has a greater cause than the defence of empire or “the Great Game.”  Our King is Christ, and it is his kingdom for which we contend.  His kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, his people would fight as do the servants of this world’s kingdoms, but his kingdom is not from here (Jn 18.26).  It is for his glory and not our own that we fight, for the name of Jesus that we contend, for the good of the needy that we strive, for the bringing in of the otherwise eternally lost into a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  Though now for a little while we have been grieved by various trials,  it is that “the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love” (1Pt 1:6-8).

The Christian has greater weapons than artillery and small arms: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2Cor 10.4-6).  We do not use the world’s weapons to accomplish earthly ends, but the mighty weapons of heaven to accomplish Christ’s purposes.  “Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints – and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph 6.13-20).

All things considered, the Christian faces a greater fight than the Army of the Indus.  Consider the fortresses and foes against which you stand.  There will be difficult days, hard times, and painful occasions.  There will be unlovely people to love, ungrateful people to serve, antagonistic people who will fight against the very medicine that will alone deliver their souls from death.  There will be difficult saints to love and serve, challenges to the church, new vistas to explore, new ground to break, greater wickedness to overcome, greater needs to meet, and in it all great enemies that will come boldly against us or snipe at us from the fringes.

Henry HavelockHow will we respond?  How will you respond?  Consider your Captain and your cause.  We have before us “an enterprise worthy of our best efforts.”  We should be stirred up by it to great endeavour, not crippled by it into craven fear and retreat.  The day we are in calls not for cowardice and capitulation, but for courage and conviction.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  The challenges of the hour will soon be upon us; there will come into our orbit enterprises worthy of our best efforts, and we must take up the divine weaponry and go forth conquering and to conquer in the name of Christ.  Honours are now given to the heroes of this world’s battles.  Our medals and honours will not be the medals and honours of the world, but the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to all who have loved and longed for his appearing (2Tim 4.8).  Now is the time to fight the good fight of faith (1Tim 6.12); when Christ returns in glory, then we will see and enjoy the consummation of his victory and all its spoils.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 11 November 2009 at 12:55

Lavenham: battleground of William Gurnall

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KelvedonStambourneColchesterLavenhamDedham ∙ Maldon

Lavenham signLavenham houseLavenham is a beautiful Suffolk village.  It is characterised by an abundance of half-timbered houses, and every street – especially those around the market place – speaks of a rich medieval and Tudor history.  Lavenham owes its prominence and wealth to the wool trade of the 15th and 16th centuries, which was the foundation of the fortunes of its richest and most generous benefactors.  Some of that wealth can be seen in the massive and impressive “wool church,” St Peter and St Paul, which marks out the village as one travels toward it.  The prominent tower (141 feet, or 43 metres, the highest of a village church in Britain) was known during the Second World War as “Thank God tower” to the airmen of USAAF Station 137 – flying in to Lavenham airfield on return from bombing missions, it was one of the first identifiable indications that they were safely home.

St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham - 'Thank God tower'

St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham, tower

My interest in Lavenham lies in the fact that it was the place in which William Gurnall plied his holy trade.  Gurnall was the author of the magnificent volume, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth; also in three volumes and online).  I do not underestimate the value of the book when I suggest that you should sell your second-best pair of trousers in order to become its owner.

Gurnall was born in 1617 at the thoroughly Protestant town of King’s Lynn, Norfolk.  Gurnall might well have heard godly and faithful preachers during his formative years.  Here he would also have developed that familiarity with the sea, sailors and shipping which provided the foundation for the regular appearance of nautical illustrations in his writings.

He was educated at the free grammar school of his native town, which had two scholarships to the eminently Puritan Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in its gift.  Gurnall received a nomination to one of these scholarships in December, 1631.  He graduated B.A. in 1635 and M.A. in 1639.  There is little known of him for the succeeding five years, though there is a suggestion that he officiated as curate at Subury, not far south of Lavenham.  He was made rector of Lavenham in 1644, doubtless a good living.  During the period of his service there, men such as John Owen, Stephen Marshall, and Matthew Newcomen would have been at one time or another living within twenty miles.

St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham

After the Restoration, Gurnall the Puritan nevertheless continued Gurnall the Churchman: he signed the declaration required by the Act of Uniformity 1662, remaining with the Church of England when multitudes of faithful men were turned out, unable for conscience’ sake to remain within.  The reasons are unknown.  It is plain that Gurnall’s theological sympathies were with the Puritans; his ecclesiastical commitment kept him within the Church of England.  This, surmises J. C. Ryle, probably led to his being ostracised by both sides.  Ryle also notes unsubstantiated and possibly malicious “floating traditions” that suggest that his ministry lost its power and saw little blessing after 1662.

Gurnall died on 12th October, 1679, and was buried at Lavenham (the precise spot is not known).  The evidence suggests that he had always been a man of weak health.

The Christian in Complete Armour was first published in three volumes, dated 1655, 1658 and 1662.  It consists of sermons on Ephesians 6:10-20 delivered by Gurnall in the course of his regular ministry: in dedicating it to his hearers, he calls it “a dish from your own table ” (1:1).  All the indications are that Gurnall was an effective, earnest, appreciated minister of the gospel.  St Peter and St Paul is no mean building, and it is suggested that it would have been very full during Gurnall’s sermons.  A sixth edition of his work was published in the year he died, indicating a ready appreciation of its quality.  It is, in essence, a training manual in Christian warfare.  Weighty in every sense, Gurnall is sober, balanced and insightful, never failing to make piercing practical application of his text.  His style is relatively easy, full of illustration, well-organised, and clear, with some wonderful pithy declarations scattered throughout.

Gurnall says:

The subject of the treatise is solemn, A War between the Saint and Satan, and that so bloody a one, that the cruellest which ever was fought by men, will be found but sport and child’s play to this.  Alas, what is the killing of bodies to the destroying of souls?  It is a sad meditation indeed, to think how many thousands have been sent to the grave in a few late years among us by the sword of man; but far more astonishing, to consider how many of those may be sent to hell by the sword of God’s wrath. It is a spiritual war you shall read of, and that not a history of what was fought many ages past and is now over; but of what now is doing, the tragedy is at present acting, and that not at the furthest end of the world, but what concerns thee and every one that reads it.  The stage whereon this war is fought, is every man’s soul.  Here is no neuter in this war.  The whole world is engaged in the quarrel, either for God against Satan, or for Satan against God (1:2-3).

Charles Haddon Spurgeon commented:

Gurnall’s work is peerless and priceless; every line is full of wisdom; every sentence is suggestive.  The whole book has been preached over scores of times, and is, in our judgment, the best thought-breeder in all our library.  This ‘Complete Armour’ is beyond all others a preacher’s book: I should think that more discourses have been suggested by it than by any other uninspired volume.  I have often resorted to it when my own fire has been burning low, and I have seldom failed to find a glowing coal upon Gurnall’s hearth.  John Newton said that if he might read only one book beside the Bible, he would choose ‘The Christian in Complete Armour’, and Richard Cecil was of much the same opinion.  J. C. Ryle has said of it, ‘You will often find in a line and a half some great truth, put so concisely, and yet so fully, that you really marvel how so much thought could be got into so few words’.  Happy Lavenham, to have been served by such a pastor!

Note that at the time of writing the church has no rector.  There was no sign of Gurnall’s work in the little shop within the building (Joyce Meyer made an appearance, though!), and I hope to correct that, if I am able.  However, the sign below I found on the wall of the church.  It is a prayer that those who love the truth for which Gurnall stood and still stands might invest with the best meaning in seeking God’s continued blessing upon this church and its ministry.  You might pray that Lavenham would be made happy by another true Christian who will preach the gospel of Christ in all its saving and sanctifying excellence, and equip his people once more for the best fight in the world.

St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham, request for prayer

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 June 2009 at 12:55

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