Ian Hamilton – Christ is All and in All

Pentru traducere automata, fa click aici – Romanian

via Banner of Truth Trust, UK
John Brown was one of the most illustrious Bible commentators of the nineteenth century. The Banner of Truth publishes his commentaries on Galatians and Hebrews in the ‘Geneva’ series, and his 3-volume work on The Discourses and Sayings of our Lord. Also published by Banner of Truth, but currently out of print, is his 2-volume commentary on 1 Peter. Why mention him at the beginning of my pastoral letter? For this reason: While recently perusing Brown’s commentary on 1 Peter, I came across this wonderful paragraph that I wanted to share with you. He is commentating on the opening verses of 1 Peter 2 and in particular on the Christ-saturated content of these verses:

The religion taught in the New Testament, of which our text is a fair specimen, is Christianity in the most emphatic and peculiar sense of the term, ‘Christ is all in all’. It is his religion. It is all by him; it is all about him; he is its author, he is its substance; he is the sum of this system, the soul of this body. Every thing is viewed in its connexion with him. Every doctrine and every precept, every privilege and every duty, every promise and every threatening. The ground of acceptance is his sacrifice; the source of light and life, holiness and peace, his Spirit; the rule of duty, his law; the pattern for imitation, his example; the motives to duty, his authority and grace; the great end of all, his glory, God’s glory in him . . . let the language of our hearts be that of the dying martyr: ‘None but Christ, none but Christ’. [1 Peter, Volume 1, pp. 238-239]

Are these not stirring, moving, and true words?

In essence, Brown is telling us that Christianity is Christ. He is the ‘so great salvation’ that God holds out to us in the gospel. This was something Jesus himself was self-consciously aware of. When you read through the Gospels you cannot miss that he preaches himself. This is seen perhaps most startlingly in Matthew 11:28-30 ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest . . .’ Jesus does not prescribe for the weary and burdened some spiritual panacea; he prescribes himself. Jesus’ personal sense of his comprehensive ability to meet the needs of a broken, sin-weary world is staggering: ‘Come to me’!

Now, why am I saying this? For one simple reason, to encourage you (and me) to look alone to our Lord Jesus for the comfort, help, strength, reassurance, and hope that we all need to sustain us in our walk with God. It is in Christ that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (Eph. l:3). God has nothing else to give you, for in his Son he has given you everything. Not just everything you need, but everything!

This is but another way of saying what our Lord himself tells us in John 15: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ He is our life. To live by faith is to live ‘out of Christ’ (see Gal. 2:20). Faith is like a bucket that we drop into the inexhaustible riches and depths of our Saviour, to draw up out of him all we need to live a godly, God-pleasing, gospel-useful life. Do you lack wisdom? Go to Christ who is the wisdom of God. Do you lack patience? Go to Christ the epitome of godly patience. Do you lack constancy? Go to Christ who was obedient unto death. Do you lack courage? Go to Christ ‘who endured the cross’. John Calvin puts this truth beautifully in The Institutes (2.16.19):

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is ‘of him’ (1 Cor. 1:30). If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth . . . If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission from the curse, in his cross (Gal. 3:13) . . . In short, since a rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.

Now that is theology at its most biblical and glorious. Ponder that. Thank God for that. Live in the great good of all that Jesus Christ is.


(Post #1,000 ) All glory, laud and honor to the Redeemer King!

Ephesians 1:18-19

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Reclame

But God… What man cannot do is altogether within God’s power

Photo via

(via) Banner of Truth Trust (09/10) by Kenneth McLeod

It is easy to see that the world is in a terrible state – with war, civil disobedience and crime affecting, in varying degrees, people across the globe. But, more fundamentally, we must recognise the terrible spiritual state of every individual human being, for frictions between nations and problems within individual countries and communities only exist because each human being is by nature a fallen creature with a sinful heart. Paul describes the fallen human condition in stark terms: ‘dead in trespasses and sins’, living ‘according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’, having ‘our conversation . . . in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind’ (Eph. 2:1-3). If sinners ignorant of the gospel focus on this list of terms which so emphasise the seriousness of their spiritual condition, they would be left entirely without hope – provided they really believed the accuracy of the testimony God has given in the Scriptures.

This makes the opening words of the next verse tremendously significant: ‘But God’. What man cannot do is altogether within God’s power. And while there can be no hope on the merely-human level, there is every reason for hope if we receive this further testimony from the Bible.

That God would rescue anyone who is ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ depends on what Paul next refers to: ‘God . . . is rich in mercy’. He is willing to do good to those who, spiritually, are in a desperate condition, who have rebelled against himself, whose enmity against him is such that they will resist his offers of mercy, who are under the power of Satan. It is mercy beyond what we could reasonably imagine that leads God to rescue sinners whose mind ‘is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Rom. 8:7).

This speaks of human inability; no individual can, by his own power, bring himself to submit to the authority of God’s law. This is one of the consequences of spiritual death; just as a man or a woman who has died can no longer walk or talk, or even breathe, so a spiritually-dead sinner is completely unable to engage in any spiritual activity – to trust in Christ, for example, or to love God or to desire to live a holy, God-glorifying life. It is utterly impossible for sinners to do anything that will please God; they are spiritually dead. But God, in infinite mercy, can so subdue them that they submit to his law. Those who are now God’s children were unbelieving, resisting the gospel, but God the Holy Spirit has given them grace to trust in Christ. They had no love for God, for ‘the carnal mind is enmity against’ him, but the Holy Spirit, in regenerating the soul, implanted the grace of love. They lived in an environment of sin; they ‘were dead in trespasses and sins’; they did not want to be holy; but God has ‘quickened’ them (Eph. 2:5); he put new life in their souls and, from then on, their desire has been to live holy lives – to do what will glorify God.

Sinners are also ‘by nature the children of wrath’. They are guilty, not least because of original sin, and therefore subject to God’s anger – his righteous purpose to punish them because of their sin. It is because he is just that he cannot pass by their sin; he cannot treat their transgressions as if they had never happened; he must punish. Accordingly all unconverted sinners are under sentence of eternal destruction and nothing they can do can deliver them from that fearful situation. But God can deliver sinners, for he has given his Son to be their substitute – ‘for his great love wherewith he loved’ them. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).

The love of God was acting in harmony with the justice of God; only thus could sinners be saved. Apart from the revelation God has given, it must have appeared impossible for sinners justly to escape the punishment which they so much deserve. But God, in infinite wisdom, was able to exercise mercy in perfect harmony with his justice, for the salvation of sinners. So when the Father gave the Son to a lost world in love, the Son must suffer and die; he must endure the full punishment that would otherwise fall on those sinners whom he was representing.

There are some sinners whose wickedness is so great that it may seem totally impossible for them to be saved – men such as Manasseh, who committed unspeakable crimes on a vast scale. But God showed that he was able to save this brutal king of Judah, which directs our attention to the greatness of the redemption accomplished by Christ. Yet, in this context, we should focus less on the greatness of Manasseh’s sin, although clearly his sins were unusually heinous, and place more emphasis on the seriousness of every sin, for every sin is committed against an infinite and pure God. We must never underestimate the seriousness of any sin, but however great the guilt of a particular sin – and the guilt of every sin is infinitely great – the redeeming work of Christ, being the work of a divine, infinite Person, is totally effective to blot out sin of every kind, for ‘the blood of Jesus Christ . . . cleanseth us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7).

There are other sinners whose beliefs seem to stand in the way of their salvation. They follow some false religion such as Islam or Buddhism, or they adhere to some perversion of Christianity such as Roman Catholicism or Mormonism, or they claim to believe that there is no God, professing to be atheists and underpinning their unbelief by placing supreme confidence in the philosophy of evolution. But God is able to save them. However tenaciously they may hold on to their beliefs, God can make them willing to receive the truth about himself and about themselves. The Holy Spirit can bring them to submit to the whole of the revelation he has given to mankind in Scripture and lead them on to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the One who came into the world to save sinners. This is what took place in pagan Ephesus and Corinth during the time of the Apostles, and even in the case of a few people in Athens, where everyone seemed to show such disdain for Paul and his teachings.

We may notice a third group of people: those who accept that God exists and that the Bible is true, who listen to preaching and say their prayers, but who are still outside the kingdom of God. It might seem relatively easy for them to be converted, but the fundamental difficulty for them is the same as for every other sinner: they are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’. They do not believe, and they cannot believe. Their heart is in the world, and they are totally unwilling to come to Christ in order that they may be saved. It is completely impossible even for such people to be saved by their own efforts, although most others would describe them as good people – like Saul of Tarsus, for instance, who could look back on his past life and declare that, as ‘touching the righteousness which is in the law’ he was ‘blameless’. But God can save them. Christ’s redemption must become their only hope, and they must see that the work of the Holy Spirit is the only power that can change their hearts and set them on the way to heaven.

The world is indeed in a terrible state. Governments and commentators of every conceivable viewpoint may put forward endless suggestions as to how the situation in various parts of the globe may be improved, or even solved. There may indeed be a degree of merit in many of these ideas. Yet we must never lose sight of the fundamental human problem: man has gone away from God and, apart from divine grace, he will go on living out his life in a fallen condition, ‘dead in trespasses and sins’. But God is able to save individuals and communities and nations, because of what Christ has done. For that blessing we must pray earnestly and constantly. It must be our only hope, ‘for there is none other name . . . whereby we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).



Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the September 2010 issue of which the above editorial has been taken.

www.fpchurch.org.uk

Holy Ghost Fire

by Rev. Allen Baker – Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. From Banner of Truth Trust, UK (11/2010)

And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:3)

If Brett McCracken’s observation is correct — that seventy per cent of those age eighteen to twenty-two, who grew up in the church, leave it never to return again,1 then surely we can agree that the evangelical church is in big trouble. Ever since the late 1970’s when evangelicalism began to suffer the loss of members, she has tried numerous schemes to stop the bleeding. First it was the church growth movement with its emphasis on homogeneity, that we ought to worship with people ‘just like us.’ Then came the seeker friendly movement with its use of drama and ‘how to’, psycho-therapeutic sermons, seeking to reach the Baby Boomer generation who was bored with church. Then came, for a brief period of time, the Emerging Church movement which sought to connect the Generation X culture with the ancient past. And now we have hipster Christianity where pastors don metro-sexual dress, sport $80 haircuts, and use shocking speech and address even more shocking topics from the pulpit in order to reach the Millennial generation.

In each of these movements there can be no doubt that some were truly converted, and surely mega-churches, for good or for ill, have come out of all these approaches. The question, however, is this — are these offerings of strange fire to the Lord? God was terribly displeased with Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, when they brought their strange fire on the altar (Num. 3:4). He killed them on the spot. There are at least three underlying false assumptions in each of these movements. Consequently the embrace of any or all of them will fail to bring the substantial, biblical growth evangelicalism wants and needs. What are they and what is the remedy? First, each of these movements assumes a semi-Pelagian view of man. Pelagius, the fourth century A.D. heretic, denied the doctrine of original sin, believing that mankind therefore was not corrupted by Adam’s fall into sin. In other words, man was completely free to choose or reject the overtures of the gospel. The semi-Pelagian (modern day Arminianism) does not go that far. It says that while man was definitely and adversely affected by Adam’s fall, he still has some ability to decide on his own free will to follow Christ. The moment one takes this position is the moment he becomes a pragmatist in gospel work. If man has the key to the jailhouse of his sin in his pocket, then we ought to use any method necessary to coerce or seduce him to use it. So, anything goes in church services with entertainment, music, sermons. If a sixty year old pastor wants to reach the Millennial and X generations then why not bring his wife on the platform, having a bed there as a prop, and talk openly and specifically about sexual intercourse, urging the married couples to engage in that activity every night for a week?2

The second false assumption is that the Word of God preached is insufficient to get the job done. No evangelical pastor will admit this of course, but this is the practical outcome. Therefore sermons are becoming shorter and shorter, more and more devoid of solid Biblical exposition and content. The emphasis in many churches seems to be on the unbeliever, ‘dumbing down’ the sermon in order to appeal to him, leaving the rest of the congregation spiritually malnourished. No wonder, then, that the problems of marital infidelity, divorce, wayward children, and varied addictions are as rampant inside the church as outside it.

And the third false assumption is that the Word of God is sufficient. ‘Al, what are you saying? Are you contradicting yourself? Didn’t you just say that many today believe the preached word is insufficient? Which is it?’ Here’s what I mean — some who hold to the sufficiency of the preached Word of God believe that is all that is required, that all a preacher needs to do is stand up, open his mouth, after studying well and preparing a good, solid Biblical sermon, and all will be well, that God will bless the simple preaching of the Word. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But this also is a faulty assumption. I hear it all the time from Reformed types. This, however, was not enough for Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, or Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Did they believe in the total inability of man to believe the gospel? Absolutely! Did they believe in the complete sufficiency of Scripture? Yes, of course. But they also believed in the preached Word energized by the Holy Spirit. Their preaching and their lives were marked by Holy Ghost fire. What is that? John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus, said that One was coming who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11). Isaiah said that an angel came and touched his depraved mouth with coals of fire from the altar (Isa. 6:6-7). The men on the road to Emmaus, after hearing Jesus open the Scriptures to them about himself said that their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32). Malachi said that the coming of the Lord would be like a refiner’s fire (Mal. 3:2-3). Applying the words of the Psalmist, the writer to the Hebrews says that God makes his messengers a flame of fire (Heb. 1:7, Psa. 104:4) Paul tells us that we will be saved by fire (1 Cor. 3:15). Hebrews exhorts us to worship the Lord with reverence, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). And Luke says that one of the manifestations of the coming Holy Spirit was tongues that resembled fire (Acts 2:3). This was the fulfilment of John’s words (Luke 3:16).

What does this mean? Fire in the Bible is symbolic of three things — purity, power, and passion. Isaiah is purified by altar coals. Jesus’ baptism of the Spirit and fire promises the coming power of God. And God’s messengers are a flaming fire, filled with passion to take the gospel to the nations. By all means, we ought to reject semi-Pelagianism and what comes from it; but we must also reject the notion that all we need is the sufficiency of the Scripture. We need both the Scripture and the Spirit. We need to take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17) but we must also pray with all perseverance and petition in the Spirit for all the saints, that the Word may go forth with boldness (Eph. 6:18-20). How do we get there? We must have Holy Ghost fire. We must have the unction of the Spirit (1 John 2:20). There is only one way, and that is earnest prayer and supplication, pouring out our hearts to God in repentance, asking for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), seeking his presence and power until we get it (James 4:8). If you are a preacher then make this your highest priority in ministry. If you support your preacher in prayer, and surely you should do so, then pray that the unction, Holy Ghost fire, will come with fulness in purity of motives, power in preaching, and passion in pursuit of ministry. I know — it looks strange, decidedly uncool in our day when hip and laid back is in — but we ought to go to church and watch our pastor burn with Holy Ghost fire as he stands to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. This is not a casual thing. This is not a ‘maybe you ought to think about it’ proposition. This is life and death (2 Cor. 3-4). Our words are a savour of life unto life or death unto death (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

Samuel Chadwick said that when the church talks a lot about its problems, when conferences increase then she is in trouble. She is looking to activities to overcome the lack of true spiritual power. ‘We are acting as though the only remedy for decline were method, organization, and compromise.’3 Surely we can do better. Surely we must do better. We must have Holy Ghost fire!

Brian Robinson – Show no pity

Brian Robinson is a Pastor in Ontario,Canada and Editor of the Sovereign Grace Journal of Canada. The article was published in the Banner of Truth Trust, United Kingdom, January 2011 edition.

The adoration of the calf

In Deuteronomy 13:8 God tells Israel to show no pity. The situation is this: a dear one, whether father, mother, brother or sister is enticing other family members ‘to go and worship other gods’. God tells Israel, ‘. . . do not yield to him or listen to him – show him no pity.’ We are all aware of the importance of compassion, mercy and forgiveness. James 2:13 informs us that ‘Mercy triumphs over justice.’ And certainly we all need lessons in forgiveness and pity. But is there a time to show no pity. A time when the quality of mercy is strained? I wonder!

For example, we are all familiar with Eli and his refusal to discipline his sons. His boys were priests of the Most High God, but were violating the sacrifices and corrupting the morals of God’s people. Eli was warned by God to rein his sons in (1 Sam. 2:22ff.), but all he did was give a stern lecture. Also, in David’s own household one of his own sons raped his sister, but tragically David held his peace (2 Sam. 13) and showed ‘pity’ rather than meting out proper punishment. In both cases the failure to act and do the hard work of discipline, ended in tragedy for both families. Often a pastor in observing his congregation can recognize parents making a terrible mistake in the raising of their children by their failure to discipline as an act of love or kindness.

Churches can also fall into the same trap and show pity when no pity ought to be shown. Even though it is a violation of God’s will for his church, friendship, sentiment and false compassion can undermine truth and righteousness. It can also cause those who are observers to distrust and even lose their awe of God. Peter’s quick response to Ananias and his lie caused ‘great fear’ to all who heard what happened (Acts 5:5). I recall early in my ministry urging my congregation not to attend a ‘Women’s World Day of Prayer’ in the United Church of Canada, because the guest speaker was a Jewish lady. Following the service my hand was squeezed very forcibly as I was reprimanded for picking on a dear little Jewish lady. The truth is there were times in Scripture where God taught his people to show no pity, no matter how close or how dear that person was or is to us.

Certainly, one of the ways heresy makes its way into our churches is by false pity. The professor is a very nice person with a very loving personality, and so we can make allowances. Sincerity is also a quality that demands ‘pity’. This is also true in the sentimentalizing of the Gospel. We hold back certain truths of the gospel because they are unpalatable, or we deem them rather harsh. Funeral services are the worst. Granted one needs to tread softly, and wishes to be kind and comforting, but to say things that are patently false causes unbelievers to think that heaven is gained simply by dying.

One place where we are to show no pity is the cross of Jesus Christ. The temptation to sandpaper the cross was very strong even in Paul’s day. But his response was to show no pity. So in Galatians 1:9, ‘As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!’ Strong words, but words that need to be heard again in our meeting places. To show false pity marks us out as men pleasers, which in the long haul does harm to the message and those for whom it was intended.

John Stott in his book The Cross of Christ warns about reducing Christ’s cross work to something to be pitied. He writes,

The essential background to the cross, therefore, is a balanced understanding of the gravity of sin and the majesty of God. If we diminish either, we thereby diminish the cross. If we reinterpret sin as a lapse instead of rebellion, and God as indulgent instead of indignant, then naturally the cross appears superfluous. But to dethrone God and enthrone ourselves not only dispenses with the cross; it also degrades both God and man (p. 110).

False pity is also rampant in our society as a whole. We find that justice is weighed now with considerations of someone’s rearing, poverty or some social aberration, or a minority status. Judges hand down sentences that in no way do justice to the crime or the criminal. In Israel a man was to be given stripes not over forty depending on the offence. God commanded men to shed the blood of those who shed blood (Gen. 9:6), but because of false pity we allow killers access to the streets to kill again. We may out of ‘pity’ abrogate capital punishment and feel good about it, but our failure to obey God by shedding the blood of killers has caused untold pain and sorrow.

Mercy is a wonderful thing, and our Lord taught us to pray for forgiveness only as we ourselves forgive others. So when is pity false pity? When we see what God has commanded, and fail to apply both the precept and the punishment for disobedience. Pity can be freely given where offences are personal, but there should be no pity when God’s commands are deliberately violated. In some cases it may mean time in prison, or even the death penalty. In some cases discipline administered in the church, so that others might fear. In other cases it may mean a public rebuke as we see in Galatians (Gal. 2:11-14). But in the Bible there is a case for no pity. And while we may well pity those who know not our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they must be warned that there is no pity for those who reject God’s gracious offer of salvation.

(VIA) Banner of Truth Trust


Puritan Advice on Discovering God’s Will via Jonathan Parnell, Desiring God

(via) desiringGod.org

John Flavel:

If therefore in doubtful cases you would discover God’s will, govern yourselves in your search after it by the following rules:

  1. Get the true fear of God upon your hearts. Be really afraid of offending him. God will not hide his mind from such a soul. „The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14).
  2. Study the Word more, and the concerns and interests of the world less. The Word is light to your feet (Psalm 119:105), that is, it has a discovering and directing usefulness as to all duties to be done and dangers to be avoided. . .
  3. Reduce what you know into practice, and you shall know what is your duty to practice. „If any man do his will he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17). „A good understanding have all they that do his commandments” (Psalm 111:10).
  4. Pray for illumination and direction in the way that you should go. Beg the Lord to guide you in straits and that he would not permit you to fall into sin. . .
  5. And this being done, follow Providence so far as it agrees with the Word and no further. There is no use to be made of Providence against the Word, but in subservience to it.

The Mystery of Providence, 1678, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 188-9, emphasis mine.

Who was John Flavel (via) Monergism.com

jfla.jpgJohn Flavel (1628 – 1691)

John Flavel (or Flavell) was born in 1628 in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. He was the son of Richard Flavel, a minister who died of the plague in 1665 while in prison for nonconformity. John Flavel was educated by his father in the ways of religion, then “plied his studies hard” as a commoner at University College, Oxford. In 1650, he was ordained by the presbytery at Salisbury. He settled in Diptford, where he honed his numerous gifts.

He married Joan Randall, a godly woman, who died while giving birth to their first child in 1655. The baby died as well. After a year of mourning, Flavel married Elizabeth Stapell and was again blessed with a close, God-fearing marriage, as well as children.

In 1656, Flavel accepted a call to be minister in the thriving seaport of Dartmouth. He earned a smaller income there, but his work was more profitable; many were converted. One of his parishioners wrote of Flavel, “I could say much, though not enough of the excellency of his preaching; of his seasonable, suitable, and spiritual matter; of his plain expositions of Scripture; his talking method, his genuine and natural deductions, his convincing arguments, his clear and powerful demonstrations, his heart-searching applications, and his comfortable supports to those that were afflicted in conscience. In short, that person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected” (Erasmus Middleton, Evangelical Biography, 4:50-51). read more….

Excerpt from Meet the Puritans by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

 

Everything in the Christian life flows from our union with the Lord Jesus Christ.

by Ian Hamilton via Banner of Truth Trust, UK
The Fragrance of the Knowledge of Christ

I read some time ago in James Denney’s commentary on 2 Corinthians these words:

as Paul moved through the world, all who had eyes to see saw in him not only the power but the sweetness of God’s redeeming love. The mighty Victor made manifest through him, not only His might, but His charm, not only His greatness, but His grace.

These are surely striking words. Denney is reflecting on the phrase in 2 Corinthians 2:14, where Paul speaks of God, through his saved people, spreading ‘everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.’ Just as the sweet smell of burning incense filled Rome when a victorious general returned from battle, so, says Paul, the triumph and truth of the Crucified is proclaimed fragrantly by the lips and lives of Christ’s captive people.

That Paul should speak of the ‘fragrance’ of the knowledge of Christ is both deeply striking and profoundly searching. We are accustomed, and rightly so, to think of the profound importance of gospel truth being proclaimed accurately. Truth is at a discount in our so-called post-modern world. Christians need more than ever today to assert, and to do so passionately, the objective, unassailable truth of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. But when we proclaim the gospel, and when we live out the gospel (the gospel inevitably issues in a transformed, that is commandment-obedient, life), do we always succeed in manifesting it fragrantly? Or, is the truth that the gospel’s fragrance, sweetness, winsomeness, charm and attractiveness, is the very thing that is most easily and often missing?

We all surely have known the compelling appeal and power of a sermon, a life, that has radiated the ‘fragrance of the knowledge of Christ.’ The truth has come to us, not coldly or clinically, but clothed in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have heard the dark and solemn truths of sin and righteousness and judgement; but we heard them come from lives which expressed the fragrance of the ‘Rose of Sharon’. The truth was clothed with grace and winsomeness. Why is it then, that Reformed Christians, Calvinists if you will, are so often accused of being cold and clinical, ‘the frozen chosen’?

The answer could well be, of course, that our fellow Christians are simply reacting against our unyielding commitment to let God be God, and to reverence him who is a ‘consuming fire.’ But the answer could also be that we have been guilty of divorcing the truth of Christ from union with Christ. Let me explain. In 2 Corinthians 2:15, Paul speaks of God leading ‘us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spread(ing) everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.’ Everything in the Christian life flows from our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. All the saving and sanctifying blessings we enjoy in the gospel, come to us in union with Christ. He is the vine, we are the branches. The sap of his life, by the Holy Spirit, flows through the believer’s life. This is why Paul can write of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (see Gal. 5:22-23), and give us a description of the life of the Saviour, with all its grace, winsomeness and charm. If gospel truth is not clothed then with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is it really ‘gospel’ (‘good news’) truth? This in no sense means that gospel truth will never be stern or searchingly humbling. But it does mean that we will speak it and live it as men and women humbled by its grace, filled with its joy, excited by its possibilities, harnessed to the One who is ‘full of grace and truth’.

James Denney was not over-stating the point when he wrote: ‘We miss what is most characteristic in the knowledge of God if we miss this. We leave out that very element in the Evangel which makes it evangelic, and gives it its power to subdue and enchain the souls of men.’ How ‘fragrantly’ do our lives and our sermons commend the Saviour? He is the ‘Rose of Sharon’.



Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.

www.cambridgepres.org.uk

What the world needs to be told – Spurgeon

(via) DesiringGod.org by Jonathan Parnell including paraphrasing. From .Lectures to My Students, 1875-94, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 87-88,(from Desiring God’s „They Still Speak” Series.)

Charles Spurgeon:

Of all I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, preach Christ, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme.

The world needs to be told of its Saviour, and of the way to reach him. Justification by faith should be far more than it is the daily testimony of Protestant pulpits; and if with this master-truth there should be more generally associated the other great doctrines of grace, the better for our church and our age. . .

We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-axe and weapons of war.

We have enough to do to learn and teach these great truths, and accursed be that learning which shall divert us from our mission, or that wilful ignorance which shall cripple us in its pursuit.

J.I.Packer – Old Gospel vs. New Gospel

by J.I.Packer (via) Banner of Truth Trust. This is an extract from the Introductory Essay to John Owen’s „Death of Death” published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

The Old Gospel and The New

The old gospel of Owen, first of all, contains no less full and free an offer of salvation than its modern counterpart. It presents ample grounds of faith (the sufficiency of Christ, and the promise of God), and cogent motives to faith (the sinner’s need, and the Creator’s command, which is also the Redeemer’s invitation). The new gospel gains nothing here by asserting universal redemption. The old gospel, certainly, has no room for the cheap sentimentalising which turns God’s free mercy to sinners into a constitutional softheartedness on His part which we can take for granted; nor will it countenance the degrading presentation of Christ as the baffled Saviour, balked in what he hoped to do by human unbelief; nor will it indulge in maudlin appeals to the unconverted to let Christ save them out of pity for His disappointment. The pitiable Saviour and the pathetic God of modern pulpits are unknown to the old gospel. The old gospel tells men that they need God, but not that God needs them (a modern falsehood); it does not exhort them to pity Christ, but announces that Christ has pitied them, though pity was the last thing they deserved. It never loses sight of the Divine majesty and sovereign power of the Christ whom it proclaims, but rejects flatly all representations of Him which would obscure His free omnipotence.

Does this mean, however, that the preacher of the old gospel is inhibited or confined in offering Christ to men and inviting them to receive Him? Not at all. In actual fact, just because he recognises that Divine mercy is sovereign and free, he is in a position to make far more of the offer of Christ in his preaching than is the expositor of the new gospel; for this offer is itself a far more wonderful thing on his principles than it can ever be in the eyes of those who regard love to all sinners as a necessity of God’s nature, and therefore a matter of course. To think that the holy Creator, who never needed man for His happiness and might justly have banished our fallen race for ever without mercy, should actually have chosen to redeem some of them! and that His own Son was willing to undergo death and descend into hell to save them! and that now from His throne He should speak to ungodly men as He does in the words of the gospel, urging upon them the command to repent and believe in the form of a compassionate invitation to pity themselves and choose life! These thoughts are the focal points round which the preaching of the old gospel revolves. It is all wonderful, just because none of it can be taken for granted. But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all – the holiest spot in all the holy ground of gospel truth – is the free invitation which „the Lord Christ ” (as Owen loves to call Him) issues repeatedly to guilty sinners to come to Him and find rest for their souls. It is the glory of these invitations that it is an omnipotent King who gives them, just as it is a chief part of the glory of the enthroned Christ that He condescends still to utter them. And it is the glory of the gospel ministry that the preacher goes to men as Christ’s ambassador, charged to deliver the King’s invitation personally to every sinner present and to summon them all to turn and live. Owen himself enlarges on this in a passage addressed to the unconverted.

„Consider the infinite condescension and love of Christ, in his invitations and calls of you to come unto him for life, deliverance, mercy, grace, peace and eternal salvation. Multitudes of these invitations and calls are recorded in the Scripture, and they are all of them filled up with those blessed encouragements which divine wisdom knows to be suited unto lost, convinced sinners…. In the declaration and preaching of them, Jesus Christ yet stands before sinners, calling, inviting, encouraging them to come unto him.

„This is somewhat of the word which he now speaks unto you: Why will ye die? why will ye perish? why will ye not have compassion on your own souls? Can your hearts endure, or can your hands be strong, in the day of wrath that is approaching?… Look unto me, and be saved; come unto me, and I will ease you of all sins, sorrows, fears, burdens, and give rest unto your souls. Come, I entreat you; lay aside all procrastinations, all delays; put me off no more; eternity lies at the door… do not so hate me as that you will rather perish than accept of deliverance by me.

„These and the like things doth the Lord Christ continually declare, proclaim, plead and urge upon the souls of sinners…. He doth it in the preaching of the word, as if he were present with you, stood amongst you, and spake personally to every one of you. He hath appointed the ministers of the gospel to appear before you, and to deal with you in his stead, avowing as his own the invitations which are given you in his name, 2 Cor. v.19,20,”

These invitations are universal; Christ addresses them to sinners, as such, and every man, as he believes God to be true, is bound to treat them as God’s words to him personally and to accept the universal assurance which accompanies them, that all who come to Christ will be received. Again, these invitations are real; Christ genuinely offers Himself to all who hear the gospel, and is in truth a perfect Saviour to all who trust Him. The question of the extent of the atonement does not arise in evangelistic preaching; the message to be delivered is simply this – that Christ Jesus, the sovereign Lord, who died for sinners, now invites sinners freely to Himself. God commands all to repent and believe; Christ promises life and peace to all who do so.

Furthermore, these invitations are marvellously gracious; men despise and reject them, and are never in any case worthy of them, and yet Christ still issues them. He need not, but He does. „Come unto me . . and I will give you rest” remains His word to the world, never cancelled, always to be preached. He whose death has ensured the salvation of all His people is to be proclaimed everywhere as a perfect Saviour, and all men invited and urged to believe on Him, whoever they are, whatever they have been. Upon these three insights the evangelism of the old gospel is based.

It is a very ill-informed supposition that evangelistic preaching which proceeds on these principles must be anaemic and half-hearted by comparison with what Arminians can do. Those who study the printed sermons of worthy expositors of the old gospel, such as Bunyan (whose preaching Owen himself much admired), or Whitefield, or Spurgeon, will find that in fact they hold forth the Saviour and summon sinners to Him with a fulness, warmth, intensity and moving force unmatched in Protestant pulpit literature. And it will be found on analysis that the very thing which gave their preaching its unique power to overwhelm their audiences with broken-hearted joy at the riches of God’s grace – and still gives it that power, let it be said, even with hard-boiled modem readers – was their insistence on the fact that grace is free. They knew that the dimensions of Divine love are not half understood till one realises that God need not have chosen to save nor given his Son to die; nor need Christ have taken upon him vicarious damnation to redeem men, nor need He invite sinners indiscriminately to Himself as He does; but that all God’s gracious dealings spring entirely from His own free purpose.

Knowing this, they stressed it, and it is this stress that sets their evangelistic preaching in a class by itself. Other Evangelicals, possessed of a more superficial and less adequate theology of grace, have laid the main emphasis in their gospel preaching on the sinner’s need of forgiveness, or peace, or power, and of the way to get them by „deciding for Christ.” It is not to be denied that their preaching has done good (for God will use His truth, even when imperfectly held and mixed with error), although this type of evangelism is always open to the criticism of being too man-centred and pietistic; but it has been left (necessarily) to Calvinists and those who, like the Wesleys, fall into Calvinistic ways of thought as soon as they begin a sermon to the unconverted, to preach the gospel in a way which highlights above – everything else the free love, willing condescension, patient long-suffering and infinite kindness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Without doubt, this is the most Scriptural and edifying way to preach it; for gospel invitations to sinners never honour God and exalt Christ more, nor are more powerful to awaken and confirm faith, than when full weight is laid on the free omnipotence of the mercy from which they flow. It looks, indeed, as if the preachers of the old gospel are the only people whose position allows them to do justice to the revelation of Divine goodness in the free offer of Christ to sinners.

Then, in the second place, the old gospel safeguards values which the new gospel loses. We saw before that the new gospel, by asserting universal redemption and a universal Divine saving purpose, compels itself to cheapen grace and the Cross by denying that the Father and the Son are sovereign in salvation; for it assures us that, after God and Christ have done all that they can, or will, it depends finally on each man’s own choice whether God’s purpose to save him is realised or not. This position has two unhappy results.

The first is that it compels us to misunderstand the significance of the gracious invitations of Christ in the gospel of which we have been speaking; for we now have to read them, not as expressions of the tender patience of a mighty sovereign, but as the pathetic pleadings of impotent desire; and so the enthroned Lord is suddenly metamorphosed into a weak, futile figure tapping forlornly at the door of the human heart, which He is powerless to open. This is a shameful dishonour to the Christ of the New Testament.

The second implication is equally serious: for this view in effect denies our dependence on God when it comes to vital decisions, takes us out of His hand, tells us that we are, after all, what sin taught us to think we were-masters of our fate, captain of our souls-and so undermines the very foundation of man’s religious relationship with his Maker. It can hardly be wondered at that the converts of the new gospel are so often both irreverent and irreligious, for such is the natural tendency of this teaching. The old gospel, however, speaks very differently and has a very different tendency. On the one hand, in expounding man’s need of Christ, it stresses something which the new gospel effectively ignores – that sinners cannot obey the gospel, any more than the law, without renewal of heart. On the other hand, in declaring Christ’s power to save, it proclaims Him as the author and chief agent of conversion, coming by His Spirit as the gospel goes forth to renew men’s hearts and draw them to Himself.

Accordingly, in applying the message, the old gospel, while stressing that faith is man’s duty, stresses also that faith is not in man’s power, but that God must give what He commands. It announces, not merely that men must come to Christ for salvation, but also that they cannot come unless Christ Himself draws them. Thus it labours to overthrow self-confidence, to convince sinners that their salvation is altogether out of their hands, and to shut them up to a self-despairing dependence on the glorious grace of a sovereign Saviour, not only for their righteousness but for their faith too.

It is not likely, therefore, that a preacher of the old gospel will be happy to express the application of it in the form of a demand to „decide for Christ,” as the current phrase is. For, on the one hand, this phrase carries the wrong associations. It suggests voting a person into office – an act in which the candidate plays no part beyond offering himself for election, and everything then being settled by the voter’s independent choice. But we do not vote God’s Son into office as our Saviour, nor does He remain passive while preachers campaign on His behalf, whipping up support for His cause. We ought not to think of evangelism as a kind of electioneering. And then, on the other hand, this phrase obscures the very thing that is essential in repentance and faith – the denying of self in a personal approach to Christ. It is not at all obvious that deciding for Christ is the same as coming to Him and resting On Him and turning from sin and self-effort; it sounds like something much less, and is accordingly calculated to instil defective notions of what the gospel really requires of sinners. It is not a very apt phrase from any point of view.

To the question: what must I do to be saved? the old gospel replies: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. To the further question: what does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? its reply is: it means knowing oneself to be a sinner, and Christ to have died for sinners; abandoning all self-righteousness and self-confidence, and casting oneself wholly upon Him for pardon arid peace; and exchanging one’s natural enmity and rebellion against God for a spirit of grateful submission to the will of Christ through the renewing of one’s heart by the Holy Ghost.

And to the further question still: how am I to go about believing on Christ and repenting, if I have no natural ability to do these things? it answers: look to Christ, speak to Christ, cry to Christ, just as you are; confess your sin, your impenitence, your unbelief, and cast yourself on His mercy; ask Him to give you a new heart, working in you true repentance and firm faith; ask Him to take away your evil heart of unbelief and to write His law within you, that you may never henceforth stray from Him. Turn to Him and trust Him as best you can, and pray for grace to turn and trust more thoroughly; use the means of grace expectantly, looking to Christ to draw near to you as you seek to draw near to Him; watch, pray, read and hear God’s Word, worship and commune with God’s people, and so continue till you know in yourself beyond doubt that you are indeed a changed being, a penitent believer, and the new heart which you desired has been put within you. The emphasis in this advice is on the need to call upon Christ directly, as the very first step.

„Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him”

so do not postpone action till you think you are better, but honestly confess your badness and give yourself up here and now to the Christ who alone can make you better; and wait on Him till His light rises in your soul, as Scripture promises that it shall do. Anything less than this direct dealing with Christ is disobedience of the gospel. Such is the exercise of spirit to which the old evangel summons its hearers. „I believe-help thou mine unbelief”: this must become their cry.

And the old gospel is proclaimed in the sure confidence that the Christ of whom it testifies, the Christ who is the real speaker when the Scriptural invitations to trust Him are expounded and applied, is not passively waiting for man’s decision as the word goes forth, but is omnipotently active, working with and through the word to bring His people to faith in Himself. The preaching of the new gospel is often described as the task of „bringing men to Christ ” – as if only men move, while Christ stands still. But the task of preaching the old gospel could more properly be described as bringing Christ to men, for those who preach it know that as they do their work of setting Christ before men’s eyes, the mighty Saviour whom they proclaim is busy doing His work through their words, visiting sinners with salvation, awakening them to faith, drawing them in mercy to Himself.

It is this older gospel which Owen will teach us to preach: the gospel of the sovereign grace of God in Christ as the author and finisher of faith and salvation. It is the only gospel which can be preached on Owen’s principles, but those who have tasted its sweetness will not in any case be found looking for another. In the matter of believing and preaching the gospel, as in other things, Jeremiah’s words still have their application:

„Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” To find ourselves debarred, as Owen would debar us, from taking up with the fashionable modern substitute gospel may not, after all, be a bad thing, either for us, or for the Church.

More might be said, but to go farther would be to exceed the limits of an introductory essay. The foregoing remarks are made simply to show how important it is at the present time that we should attend most carefully to Owen’s analysis of what the Bible says about the saving work of Christ.

Build Your Library – Books on the Puritans

For the beginner wanting to build a Classic library, or for someone who has not yet encountered any Puritanical writings here come some recommendation as to where to start from The Banner of Truth Trust, UK:

When thinking ‘Puritan,’ we will limit ourselves to the period 1600–1688 (alas, no Ryle!). In addition to the evangelical party of the Church of England (‘the Puritans’ proper), we ought also to consider the works of Independents, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc. My goal here is to whet your appetite from each of three areas: the praying Puritan, the contented Puritan, and the frowning Puritan. Then I’ll suggest a Puritan companion. Perhaps you’ll want to read more from the Puritans to learn better how to live the pilgrim life in this hostile world, for the alien life wasn’t just the lot of the patriarchs of Genesis or the saints of the New Testament church — it will ever be the life of Christ’s people until he comes. No one has produced better reflections upon the pilgrim life than the Puritans.

1. A wonderful introduction to the Puritan at prayer is the collection edited by AArthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision. Meditate on a prayer each day upon first waking, and allow a great saint to lead you into God’s presence. Get the little leather edition, if you can.

2. The Puritans were pre-eminently preachers of the heart. And they could warm a right stony heart at that. Try this little gem: Thomas Watson, All Things for Good. He preached these messages on Romans 8:28 in 1663, the year after two thousand pulpits were vacated by order of the Crown.

3. The Puritans carried the rod to the pulpit as well. Prepare to be quite stunned upon reading Joseph Alleine, A Sure Guide to Heaven (sometimes entitled Alarm to the Unconverted). Am I really a Christian after all?

4. Lastly, what sort of companion do you want? Frequently chosen over the years have been John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (you can’t go wrong if you get the story of your life from the pen of the tinker, for we are all pilgrims on our way to the heavenly city), William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest, Samuel Rutherford’s Letters, William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour, Henry Scudder’s The Christian’s Daily Walk, Thomas Brooks’s Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, and John Owen’s The Glory of Christ.

Most of these books have been reprinted by Banner of Truth and are extremely reasonably priced.

 

Gems from Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) Puritan Series

via Banner of Truth Trust UK

1. When we come to be religious, we lose not our pleasure, but translate it. Before we fed on common notions, but now we live on holy truths.

2. The whole life of a Christian should be nothing but praises to God.

3. Is it not an unreasonable speech for a man at midnight to say, It will never be day? It is as unreasonable for a man in trouble to say, O Lord, I shall never get free; it will be always thus!

4. Having given up ourselves to God, let us comfort our souls that God is our God. When riches, and men, and our lives fail, yet God is ours. We are now God’s Davids, God’s Pauls, God’s Abrahams. We have an everlasting being with him, as one with Jesus Christ his Son.

5. God takes it unkindly if we weep too much for the loss of a wife, or child, or friend, or for any cross in this life; for it is a sign that we do not fetch our comfort from him. Nay, though our weeping be for sin, we must keep moderation, with one eye looking on our sins, and the other on God’s mercy in Christ. If, therefore, the best grief should be moderated, how much more the other!

6. That is spiritual knowledge which alters the relish of the soul; for we must know there is a bitter opposition in our nature against all saving truths; especially, there is a contrariety between our nature and that doctrine which teaches us we must deny ourselves and be saved by another. The soul must relish before it can digest.

7. When thou art disappointed with men, retire to God and to his promises; and build upon this, that the Lord will not be wanting in anything to do thee good.

8. Faith makes us kings, because thereby we marry the King of heaven. The church is the queen of heaven, and Christ is the king of heaven.

9. If we have a time of sinning, God will have a time of punishing.

10. If the touch of Christ in his abasement upon earth drew virtue from him, certain it is that faith cannot touch Christ in heaven but it will draw a quieting virtue from him which will in some measure stop the issues of an unquiet spirit.

11. Sin is not so sweet in the committing as it is heavy and bitter in the reckoning.

12. He wants no company that hath Christ for his companion.

13. Most of our disquietness in our calling is that we trouble ourselves about God’s work. Trust God and be doing, and let him alone with the rest.

14. God is never nearer his church than when trouble is near.

15. Every Christian may truly say, God loves me better than I do myself.

16. God hath two sanctuaries; he hath two heavens: the heaven of heavens and a broken spirit.


* An extract from Words Old and New: Gems from the Christian Authorship of all Ages
selected by Horatius Bonar
408 pages, paperback
£5.50, $9.00
ISBN 978 0 85151 643 1

The Trust publishes The Works of Richard Sibbes in 7 volumes, and the following titles taken from them:

In the Puritan Paperbacks series:
The Bruised Reed
Glorious Freedom

Joseph Hart – A Dialogue between a Believer and his Soul (a Poem & biography)

via Banner of Truth Trust UK
Joseph Hart (1712 – May 24, 1768) was an 18th-century minister in London. His works include „Hart’s Hymns”, a much-loved hymn book amongst evangelical Christians throughout its lifetime of over 200 years, which includes the well-known hymn, „Come ye sinners, poor and needy”.

One of Joseph Hart’s early publications was a tract denouncing Christianity (prior to his conversion) called The Unreasonableness of Religion, Being Remarks and Animadversions on the Rev. John Wesley’s Sermon on Romans 8:32. His other works include a short autobiography and a few poetical translations of ancient classics.

Joseph Hart preached at Jewin Street chapel in London, a building with multiple galleries, to a congregation of significant size.

Only one of Hart’s sermons remains discovered to us: that of Christmas 1767. Several of his hymns appear in the Sacred Harp.
Hart’s Conversion-
Hart later considered that there was a need both to do good works and to believe in God. But then came the uncertainty: Was he really and truly saved? He had no indication from God, no elaborate vision, telling him that he had been saved. This was a great worry to Joseph Hart. He began to pray to God that there would be some revelation granted him, or perhaps just a little sign. This tormented Hart for more than a year.

Then, the week before Easter of the year 1757 Hart „had such an amazing view of the agony of Christ in the garden [of gethsemane]” [2] showing to Hart that all Christ’s sufferings were for him (along with the rest of the church).

But soon after this, Hart again began to be afraid of the life to come- eternity, and feared exceedingly when reading about the condemned in passages in the Bible.

But It was on Whitsunday that Hart’s true conversion came. Hart was converted under the ministry of George Whitefield, and felt blessed in his soul.

After these times Hart still had sufferings and uncertainties as to his conversion, but he could always look back to his conversion, and believe that God saved his soul.

Hart’s motto after this time was: „Pharasaic zeel and Antinomian security are the two engines of Satan, with which he grinds the church in all ages, as betwixt [between] the upper and the nether [lower] millstone. The space between them is much narrower and harder to find than most men imagine. It is a path which the vulture’s eye hath not seen; and none can show it us but the Holy Ghost.”

Hart died on May 24, 1768, with a congregation estimated at tens of thousands around his graveside at Bunhill Fields. (via) Wikipedia

Believer:
Come, my soul, and let us try,
For a little season,
Every burden to lay by;
Come, and let us reason.
What is this that casts thee down?
Who are those that grieve thee?
Speak, and let the worst be known;
Speaking may relieve thee.

Soul:
O, I sink beneath the load
Of my nature’s evil!
Full of enmity to God;
Captived by the devil;
Restless as the troubled seas;
Feeble, faint, and fearful;
Plagued with every sore disease;
How can I be cheerful?

Believer:
Think on what thy Saviour bore
In the gloomy garden.
Sweating blood at every pore,
To procure thy pardon!
See him stretched upon the wood,
Bleeding, grieving, crying,
Suffering all the wrath of God,
Groaning, gasping, dying!

Soul:
This by faith I sometimes view,
And those views relieve me;
But my sins return anew;
These are they that grieve me.
O, I’m leprous, stinking, foul,
Quite throughout infected;
Have not I, if any soul,
Cause to be dejected?

Believer:
Think how loud thy dying Lord
Cried out, ‘It is finished!’
Treasure up that sacred word,
Whole and undiminished;
Doubt not he will carry on,
To its full perfection,
That good work he has begun;
Why, then, this dejection?

Soul:
Faith when void of works is dead;
This the Scriptures witness;
And what works have I to plead,
Who am all unfitness?
All my powers are depraved,
Blind, perverse, and filthy;
If from death I’m fully saved,
Why am I not healthy?

Believer:
Pore not on thyself too long,
Lest it sink thee lower;
Look to Jesus, kind as strong
Mercy joined with power;
Every work that thou must do,
Will thy gracious Saviour
For thee work, and in thee too,
Of his special favour.

Soul:
Jesus’ precious blood, once spilt,
I depend on solely,
To release and clear my guilt;
But I would be holy.

Believer:
He that bought thee on the cross
Can control thy nature,
Fully purge away thy dross;
Make thee a new creature.

Soul:
That he can I nothing doubt,
Be it but his pleasure.

Believer:
Though it be not done throughout,
May it not in measure?

Soul:
When that measure, far from great,
Still shall seem decreasing?

Believer:
Faint not then, but pray and wait,
Never, never ceasing.

Soul:
What when prayer meets no regard?

Believer:
Still repeat it often.

Soul:
But I feel myself so hard.

Believer:
Jesus will thee soften.

Soul:
But my enemies make head.

Believer:
Let them closer drive thee.

Soul:
But I’m cold, I’m dark, I’m dead.

Believer:
Jesus will revive thee.

Holy Ghost Fire

by Rev. Allen Baker – Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. From Banner of Truth Trust, UK (11/2010)

And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:3)

If Brett McCracken’s observation is correct — that seventy per cent of those age eighteen to twenty-two, who grew up in the church, leave it never to return again,1 then surely we can agree that the evangelical church is in big trouble. Ever since the late 1970’s when evangelicalism began to suffer the loss of members, she has tried numerous schemes to stop the bleeding. First it was the church growth movement with its emphasis on homogeneity, that we ought to worship with people ‘just like us.’ Then came the seeker friendly movement with its use of drama and ‘how to’, psycho-therapeutic sermons, seeking to reach the Baby Boomer generation who was bored with church. Then came, for a brief period of time, the Emerging Church movement which sought to connect the Generation X culture with the ancient past. And now we have hipster Christianity where pastors don metro-sexual dress, sport $80 haircuts, and use shocking speech and address even more shocking topics from the pulpit in order to reach the Millennial generation.

In each of these movements there can be no doubt that some were truly converted, and surely mega-churches, for good or for ill, have come out of all these approaches. The question, however, is this — are these offerings of strange fire to the Lord? God was terribly displeased with Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, when they brought their strange fire on the altar (Num. 3:4). He killed them on the spot. There are at least three underlying false assumptions in each of these movements. Consequently the embrace of any or all of them will fail to bring the substantial, biblical growth evangelicalism wants and needs. What are they and what is the remedy? First, each of these movements assumes a semi-Pelagian view of man. Pelagius, the fourth century A.D. heretic, denied the doctrine of original sin, believing that mankind therefore was not corrupted by Adam’s fall into sin. In other words, man was completely free to choose or reject the overtures of the gospel. The semi-Pelagian (modern day Arminianism) does not go that far. It says that while man was definitely and adversely affected by Adam’s fall, he still has some ability to decide on his own free will to follow Christ. The moment one takes this position is the moment he becomes a pragmatist in gospel work. If man has the key to the jailhouse of his sin in his pocket, then we ought to use any method necessary to coerce or seduce him to use it. So, anything goes in church services with entertainment, music, sermons. If a sixty year old pastor wants to reach the Millennial and X generations then why not bring his wife on the platform, having a bed there as a prop, and talk openly and specifically about sexual intercourse, urging the married couples to engage in that activity every night for a week?2

The second false assumption is that the Word of God preached is insufficient to get the job done. No evangelical pastor will admit this of course, but this is the practical outcome. Therefore sermons are becoming shorter and shorter, more and more devoid of solid Biblical exposition and content. The emphasis in many churches seems to be on the unbeliever, ‘dumbing down’ the sermon in order to appeal to him, leaving the rest of the congregation spiritually malnourished. No wonder, then, that the problems of marital infidelity, divorce, wayward children, and varied addictions are as rampant inside the church as outside it.

And the third false assumption is that the Word of God is sufficient. ‘Al, what are you saying? Are you contradicting yourself? Didn’t you just say that many today believe the preached word is insufficient? Which is it?’ Here’s what I mean — some who hold to the sufficiency of the preached Word of God believe that is all that is required, that all a preacher needs to do is stand up, open his mouth, after studying well and preparing a good, solid Biblical sermon, and all will be well, that God will bless the simple preaching of the Word. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But this also is a faulty assumption. I hear it all the time from Reformed types. This, however, was not enough for Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, or Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Did they believe in the total inability of man to believe the gospel? Absolutely! Did they believe in the complete sufficiency of Scripture? Yes, of course. But they also believed in the preached Word energized by the Holy Spirit. Their preaching and their lives were marked by Holy Ghost fire. What is that? John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus, said that One was coming who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11). Isaiah said that an angel came and touched his depraved mouth with coals of fire from the altar (Isa. 6:6-7). The men on the road to Emmaus, after hearing Jesus open the Scriptures to them about himself said that their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32). Malachi said that the coming of the Lord would be like a refiner’s fire (Mal. 3:2-3). Applying the words of the Psalmist, the writer to the Hebrews says that God makes his messengers a flame of fire (Heb. 1:7, Psa. 104:4) Paul tells us that we will be saved by fire (1 Cor. 3:15). Hebrews exhorts us to worship the Lord with reverence, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). And Luke says that one of the manifestations of the coming Holy Spirit was tongues that resembled fire (Acts 2:3). This was the fulfilment of John’s words (Luke 3:16).

What does this mean? Fire in the Bible is symbolic of three things — purity, power, and passion. Isaiah is purified by altar coals. Jesus’ baptism of the Spirit and fire promises the coming power of God. And God’s messengers are a flaming fire, filled with passion to take the gospel to the nations. By all means, we ought to reject semi-Pelagianism and what comes from it; but we must also reject the notion that all we need is the sufficiency of the Scripture. We need both the Scripture and the Spirit. We need to take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17) but we must also pray with all perseverance and petition in the Spirit for all the saints, that the Word may go forth with boldness (Eph. 6:18-20). How do we get there? We must have Holy Ghost fire. We must have the unction of the Spirit (1 John 2:20). There is only one way, and that is earnest prayer and supplication, pouring out our hearts to God in repentance, asking for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), seeking his presence and power until we get it (James 4:8). If you are a preacher then make this your highest priority in ministry. If you support your preacher in prayer, and surely you should do so, then pray that the unction, Holy Ghost fire, will come with fulness in purity of motives, power in preaching, and passion in pursuit of ministry. I know — it looks strange, decidedly uncool in our day when hip and laid back is in — but we ought to go to church and watch our pastor burn with Holy Ghost fire as he stands to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. This is not a casual thing. This is not a ‘maybe you ought to think about it’ proposition. This is life and death (2 Cor. 3-4). Our words are a savour of life unto life or death unto death (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

Samuel Chadwick said that when the church talks a lot about its problems, when conferences increase then she is in trouble. She is looking to activities to overcome the lack of true spiritual power. ‘We are acting as though the only remedy for decline were method, organization, and compromise.’3 Surely we can do better. Surely we must do better. We must have Holy Ghost fire!

Ian Hamilton – Christ is All and in All

via Banner of Truth Trust, UK
John Brown was one of the most illustrious Bible commentators of the nineteenth century. The Banner of Truth publishes his commentaries on Galatians and Hebrews in the ‘Geneva’ series, and his 3-volume work on The Discourses and Sayings of our Lord. Also published by Banner of Truth, but currently out of print, is his 2-volume commentary on 1 Peter. Why mention him at the beginning of my pastoral letter? For this reason: While recently perusing Brown’s commentary on 1 Peter, I came across this wonderful paragraph that I wanted to share with you. He is commentating on the opening verses of 1 Peter 2 and in particular on the Christ-saturated content of these verses:

The religion taught in the New Testament, of which our text is a fair specimen, is Christianity in the most emphatic and peculiar sense of the term, ‘Christ is all in all’. It is his religion. It is all by him; it is all about him; he is its author, he is its substance; he is the sum of this system, the soul of this body. Every thing is viewed in its connexion with him. Every doctrine and every precept, every privilege and every duty, every promise and every threatening. The ground of acceptance is his sacrifice; the source of light and life, holiness and peace, his Spirit; the rule of duty, his law; the pattern for imitation, his example; the motives to duty, his authority and grace; the great end of all, his glory, God’s glory in him . . . let the language of our hearts be that of the dying martyr: ‘None but Christ, none but Christ’. [1 Peter, Volume 1, pp. 238-239]

Are these not stirring, moving, and true words?

In essence, Brown is telling us that Christianity is Christ. He is the ‘so great salvation’ that God holds out to us in the gospel. This was something Jesus himself was self-consciously aware of. When you read through the Gospels you cannot miss that he preaches himself. This is seen perhaps most startlingly in Matthew 11:28-30 ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest . . .’ Jesus does not prescribe for the weary and burdened some spiritual panacea; he prescribes himself. Jesus’ personal sense of his comprehensive ability to meet the needs of a broken, sin-weary world is staggering: ‘Come to me’!

Now, why am I saying this? For one simple reason, to encourage you (and me) to look alone to our Lord Jesus for the comfort, help, strength, reassurance, and hope that we all need to sustain us in our walk with God. It is in Christ that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (Eph. l:3). God has nothing else to give you, for in his Son he has given you everything. Not just everything you need, but everything!

This is but another way of saying what our Lord himself tells us in John 15: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ He is our life. To live by faith is to live ‘out of Christ’ (see Gal. 2:20). Faith is like a bucket that we drop into the inexhaustible riches and depths of our Saviour, to draw up out of him all we need to live a godly, God-pleasing, gospel-useful life. Do you lack wisdom? Go to Christ who is the wisdom of God. Do you lack patience? Go to Christ the epitome of godly patience. Do you lack constancy? Go to Christ who was obedient unto death. Do you lack courage? Go to Christ ‘who endured the cross’. John Calvin puts this truth beautifully in The Institutes (2.16.19):

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is ‘of him’ (1 Cor. 1:30). If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth . . . If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission from the curse, in his cross (Gal. 3:13) . . . In short, since a rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.

Now that is theology at its most biblical and glorious. Ponder that. Thank God for that. Live in the great good of all that Jesus Christ is.


(Post #1,000 ) All glory, laud and honor to the Redeemer King!

Ephesians 1:18-19

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Al Baker – Why are we Losing our Children?

Via Banner of Truth Trust, UK (05/11 issue)
It was a turn of events from God. (2 Chronicles 10:15).

In his book, Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it, author Ken Ham sites a survey that says two-thirds of evangelical young people will leave church by their early twenties.1 Surprisingly, Ham has found that those who attend Sunday School are the most likely to leave the church. Why? The children are more than likely told that God made the world out of nothing (so far so good) but their exposure to atheism in general and evolution in particular in public schools and in television and movies undermines what they hear at church. That’s because pastors, parents, and Sunday School teachers are not giving their children a reason for the hope that is in them (1 Pet. 3:15). These twenty somethings are living with a gross inconsistency and they opt for the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14).

While no doubt true, there is also a deeper cause for this apostasy. In 2 Chronicles 10 we are told that after Solomon’s death, Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who had been in exile since Solomon’s attempt to murder him, ventures back into Israel with hopes of repairing the rift between him and Solomon’s administration. Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, is made king after his father’s death, and Jeroboam comes to him, hat in hand as it were, agreeing to serve him if he will ‘lighten up’ on Jeroboam and his friends. Rehoboam tells him to go away for three days and then return for his answer. Rehoboam consults the older men who had been his father’s consultants, asking them what they thought he should do. They said that by all means he should go easy on them. If he did so, then they would serve him forever. We are told twice, however, that Rehoboam did not listen to their counsel, and instead consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him. They told him to be hard on them. In their sophomoric bravado they, in essence, were saying, ‘You are the king. You must show your power and authority. Anything less is a sign of weakness not becoming such a great, young king.’ Jeroboam returned for Rehoboam’s answer and he said, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ The people naturally rebelled saying, ‘What portion do we have in David? Every man to your tents, O Israel!’

If we stop here then we may conclude that the moral of this historical narrative is to listen to wise counsel coming from older people and reject ungodly counsel coming from young people. But not all older people give wise counsel and not all young people give foolish counsel. Something deeper is brewing here and that’s where verse 15 comes into play. A vast portion of the kingdom was taken from Solomon and given to Jeroboam. Why? ‘It was a turn of events from God that the Lord might establish his word, which he spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat,’ (1 Kings 11:29-39). Why was God upset with Solomon? We are told in 1 Kings 3:3 that as he began his reign Solomon loved the Lord and walked in the statutes of his father. By 1 Kings 11:1, however, he loves foreign women and has gone after their gods. More specifically, Solomon brought to Israel Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, the female counterpart of Baal, the fertility god and goddess. In order to ensure prosperity by having many children, animals, and crops people regularly engaged in cult prostitution to appease Ashtoreth. Solomon also built a high place for Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, on the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus would sweat drops of blood for us some nine hundred years later. Solomon did so for geo-political reasons. He felt threatened by the Moabites and needed a way to keep them in check. But the worst of all was the Ammonite god Milcom, a bronze god with a bull’s head, having outstretched arms with a hole in its belly. This god was made red hot with fuel and while drums were beating to drown out the cry of babies, parents regularly placed their infants in Milcom’s arms, rolling them down into his belly, they being burned alive as sacrifices to their parents’ desire for pleasure.2

Solomon forfeited ten of the twelve tribes because of his idolatry. This came not merely as a divine fiat. Cause and affect are always in play. Rehoboam grew up in a household where he heard his father Solomon say one thing, but do another. He said that he loved Yahweh, but in addition to Yahweh he also bowed down to Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom. So Rehoboam never considered the fear of Yahweh as important. Instead he was prejudiced against the counsel of the older men. He considered himself to be one with the young men in their sophomoric bravado. He was filled with pride too. He loved the idea of running roughshod over Jeroboam. After all, he was the king. He could do as he pleased.

Solomon turned his heart away from God

As with Solomon and his idolatry, the big three of sex (cultic prostitution through Ashtoreth), power (geo-political security through Chemosh), and money (sacrificing children to Milcom to allow a woman the lifestyle she chooses or sacrificing one’s children for one’s career) are very much at play today. So bottom line — we are losing our children, just as Rehoboam lost most of the kingdom, because of our idolatry. Sex, power, and money still plague us, threatening to destroy our children, seeking to tear them from our covenantal grasp.

Are you bowing to the god of sex? Women, are you dressing immodestly? Are you spending too much time and money on the way you look? Men, are you secretly on the internet looking at pornography? Sin always costs us dearly. You may think you are getting away with your actions but your sins will eventually find you out. You will be exposed. It will negatively impact your children. Count on it! Are you worshipping at the high place of power? Do you compromise biblical convictions to get to the next level in your company? Women, are you buying into the world’s lie that you get your worth from your career, that staying home with young children is boring and below your gifts and talents? Are you seeking the god of wealth? Jesus says that you cannot serve both God and mammon, that you will love the one and hate the other (Matt. 6:24). Do you sacrifice your young children’s spiritual lives by placing them in public schools because you want to work outside the home? Is there no other alternative?3 Have you really thought about the implications of exposing your children to seven hours per day, one hundred and eighty days a year, to godless atheism? As I am wont to say from time to time — just raising the question. Can there be anything more precious to us than our children and grandchildren! We lose our children, as Rehoboam lost the kingdom, because of idolatry. May God give us grace to tear down these altars that threaten to undo us all!



Notes:

1. Pages 37ff address this ‘Sunday School Syndrome.’

2. Can you see the parallel today with these abhorrent gods? Worship of Ashtoreth, the fertility goddess, observed through sexual perversion, reminds us of our god of sex. Setting up Chemosh on the Mount of Olives to solidify geo-political power smacks of worshipping at the altar of power. And sacrificing children to Milcom reminds us of a woman’s ‘right’ to her own body, aborting her children because she wants nothing to get in the way of her career; of men sacrificing their children’s nurture by working ridiculous hours to make more money and gain more financial security. As Solomon says, ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ (Eccles. 1:9). Man still pursues the big three — sex, power, and money.

3. Sometimes there is no alternative. A single mother must work. Perhaps the husband does not make enough money to put the children into a Christian school. Perhaps the mother does not have the gifts or patience to home school her children. And it may be that older children, say teens, are able to ‘stand above the crowd’ and go to public schools, having been firmly grounded on the Christian world view. My intent here is to challenge you to your present way of thinking on these matters.

Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. His sermons are available at sermonaudio.com

Al Baker – A New Kind of Fasting (from the world)

via Banner of Truth Trust UK

Do not love the world. (1 John 2:15)

It is no coincidence that the men whom God uses powerfully in the work of his kingdom always have one thing in common. This is true with the early church fathers — men like Irenaeus, Origen, and Polycarp. And this one thing in common is also found with men of a more modern era, whether they be Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Phillip Melanchthon of the sixteenth century; John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, or Joseph Alleine of the seventeenth century; Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, or George Whitefield of the eighteenth century, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Daniel Baker, or Charles Spurgeon of the nineteenth century, or A.W. Tozer, Oswald Chambers, or Martyn Lloyd-Jones of the twentieth century. And what is that one common thing? All these men had a holy hatred of worldliness.

Consider the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne in a sermon on 1 Peter 1:14-19, preached in 1838,

My dear friends, if you wish to obey the word of God here laid before you, flee from all circumstances, from all places or companies, where you know you may be tempted to sin . . . do you know a company where holy things are slighted, where things are spoken that should not be named, where late, unholy hours are kept, where you have already been tempted to sin? Then, child of God, I charge you not to cross that threshold again, no, not once. I charge you, flee temptation, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear . . . I fear, young persons, a holy provocation, after the holiest exercises, plunging into the unholiest companies, praying in the house of God, or in a class for religious instruction one hour, and entering into ungodly company the very next.1

M’Cheyne hated anything that drew his people away from God.          So should we!

The Apostle John commands us in his epistle not to love the world or the things of the world. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones so ably puts it, John is not referring to mountains or rivers, nor is he writing generally of life in the world of family, business, or state. Instead, by world John means living independently of God. It is an outlook, a mindset that ignores God and his Word. John further explains what he means by the world, calling it the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Simon Kistemaker calls the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes sinful desires while the boastful pride of life refers to sinful behaviour. Lloyd-Jones suggests that the lust of the flesh deals with physical bodies, living for sensual gratification. The lust of the eye refers to living for the ungodly values of outward show. And the boastful pride of life means self-glorification. So by this John is saying that living for the world means living independently from God, and thus taking and owning the temporal and sensual values of the unredeemed world.

Paul commands us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and to make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Rom. 13:14). We all battle the debilitating effects of indwelling sin, a strong craving to do the very things we are commanded not to do. As believers we, at the same time, have a regenerate heart that loves God and hates sin, giving us a desire to obey God. So we can say we have within us a pig (indwelling sin) that loves to eat anything, including garbage; and we have a lion (the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lord Jesus) which lives within us by the Holy Spirit. The lion is a carnivore, as it were, which lives off the meat of the Word of God. So, if we feed the pig with garbage then he gets bigger and the lion gets smaller. On the other hand, if we feed the lion the meat of God’s Word then he gets stronger and the pig gets weaker. Holiness comes through a strengthened lion and a weakened pig. So in order to see progress in holiness we must limit the garbage we take into our eye and ear gates; and we must increase the quality and quantity of the meat of the Word of God.

And herein lies our problem. Even if we are careful not to take into our eye and ear gates ungodly music, DVD’s, or television programming; even if we don’t read books, magazines, or internet sites saturated with an ungodly worldview; the simple truth is that we daily battle the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the boastful pride of life. We are not called to be hermits. We live in the world. However, after a hard and stressful day of work, when you finally make it home at night, you may decide to watch a little television to see your favourite team, or catch a couple of hours of news commentary before going to bed. Now, I am not saying we should never watch television, but I am reminding you that television is an amusement (a means ‘no’ and muse means ‘to think’, that is no thinking), a totally passive exercise. Neil Postman brilliantly put forth this thesis years ago in Amusing Ourselves to Death4. Just watch your children when they watch television. What are they doing? Nothing! When you read to them you see in their eyes their little minds brimming with imagination, and that is a very good thing.

So here’s my proposal — should we not consider a new kind of fasting, a fasting from anything that feeds the pig and starves the lion! Consider this analogy — most of us today must be intentional about physical exercise. We pay money for gym or health club memberships, we join running or cycling clubs, or we find friends with whom we can walk daily or several times per week. Coming up with exercise programmes was unheard of one hundred years ago. That’s because most people engaged in some form of physical labour or they walked to work. Today, of course our work and life styles are very different. We are sedentary and must find ways to maintain or improve our physical health.

Likewise, due to the incessant exposure to worldliness, perhaps we should consider cutting back on our television and movie time? We struggle with progress in holiness because worldly distractions suck the life out of us. We have far too many options. One hundred years ago there was no television so people read at night or they talked with one another. Many of us now sit like zombies in front of the screen for hours. These worldly amusements feed the pig and starve the lion. Why not fast for a month from television and other things that feed the pig within you? Should you not at least consider cutting it way back from present levels, and spend that time in reading, holy contemplation, or edifying conversation? You will feed the lion and growth in holiness will surely result.

Ian Hamilton – Planks in Our Eyes; Specks in the Eyes of Others

via Banner of Truth Trust, UK (05/11)

Ephesians 4:32

Jesus is not saying that ‘specks’ don’t matter. Everything in our lives matters to God. If there are things wrong in our lives, they need to be dealt with, removed. When Jesus says in Matthew 7:1, ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’, his words have often been misunderstood. Our Lord is not saying absolutely that we are not to judge. Indeed, in verse 6, Jesus encourages us to make judgments: ‘Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs’! What, then, does Jesus mean? His illustration is surely obvious: the man with the plank sticking out of his eye is the man who only too clearly sees sins in others, but is acutely blind to recognising the sin in his own life. Indeed, he is blind to the fact that the sin in his life is greater than anything he sees in the lives of others. He is a ‘censorious man’. This was one of the besetting sins of the Pharisees.

This spirit of censoriousness is only too common. We can all, only too easily, slip into this sin, for sin it is. What is often missed here, is the fact that the censor usually has a point. There are specks, lots of them, and they need pointing out and removing – but not by those who are ‘holier than thou’. In pastoral ministry – and all Christians are pastors to one another – the application of truth is not the only objective. We are told of our Lord Jesus, ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out’. He knows our frame, but he remembers we are dust! The spirit in which we comfort, counsel and rebuke one another is of paramount importance.

Paul urges Timothy to ‘gently instruct’ those who oppose him, and reminds the censorious Corinthians, ‘Love is patient, love is kind . . . it is not self-seeking . . . Love . . . rejoices with the truth’.

In pointing out the sins of others, boldness is usually needed, and many of us shrink from that. But no less is tenderness needed, the tenderness of the One who was so extraordinarily patient and forbearing with his errant and slow to learn disciples.

It’s not hard to see ‘specks’ – they are everywhere. It’s also not hard to see ‘planks’, except when it’s your own plank. May the Lord preserve us all from ‘holier than thou’ spirituality. It has at least one distinguishing feature – it prizes the ‘head’ more than the ‘heart’. Of course, they belong together, the former nourishing the latter. But only too easily, as we see in Scripture and in the history of the church, they can be separated, and spirituality becomes metallic, clinical, and sadly often censorious.

The most effective antidote to such censoriousness is conformity to our Lord Jesus. None were holier than he, none were gentler than he. So Paul could write, ‘be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children . . .’

(All emphasis- bold type is mine)

Geoff Thomas – A Minister’s Regrets (really applies to you and me, also)

via Banner of Truth Trust UK
I remember every member of the congregation who stayed for a few services, or maybe a few years, and then grew disillusioned with my life and preaching and drifted off disgruntled. But that is not of first priority in my areas of failure. None left to hear more of Jesus Christ or a better gospel than the one they heard sitting at my feet. I thank God for that. They had another agenda hidden from me and the congregation, different ecclesiastical, social and philosophical convictions, and some of them moved on to where they could find their own prejudices gently rearranged on Sundays. It happens. But my regrets are more substantial than the dynamics of the movement of people into and out of a congregation.

i] I am sorry that I have not done more personal evangelism The times I have defended the faith with a critic have been rare. Occasions on which I have gone back to a non-Christian’s home and explained the faith, answered his objections and spelled out the nature of Christianity have been too infrequent. I could have made a rule for myself that for every occasion on which I had preached publicly I would seek to speak to one unbeliever about the Lord Jesus, and then to seek and pray for such opportunities.

The occasions on which I have spoken to sinners have been fruitful. Some of them have come to church and become Christians. Their objections were paper thin, no weighty considered arguments – not at all. They had read an article or briefly heard a sentence or two, and all their complaints about the Christian religion were hanging on that. For example, that ‘most of the wars in the history of the world have been fought over religion.’ They were the ones to be believing myths; my life was rooted in the history of the Sermon on the Mount, the cross and the empty tomb. I said a few words to them and they agreed with me instantly. When they said half smiling, ‘Who made God?’ I said ‘He is eternal and uncreated,’ and they nodded their heads satisfied. They changed and would hear more. Why haven’t I put myself in places where those sorts of exchanges could take place? I love to speak about Jesus Christ to people, more so these days than ever before. May God guide.

A mother from Swansea asked me to visit her son at the University in Aberystwyth. I was happy to do so, but he was resistant and embarrassed and did not want to hear of the claims of Christ. It seemed an unfruitful tense time, but his room mate sitting on a bed in the room was listening to all the conversation and the next week he turned up in church, became a Christian and married a girl in the congregation. I had not even been talking directly to him and yet the word was effectual.

The most fruitful evangelism in our church has been done by members of the congregation showing friendship to people to whom God has led them. I should have been more of an example in this. I should be explaining to them each week the people I was seeing, and encouraging these new arrivals to feel at home in the Sunday congregation. It has been a failure in my life; my life has been consumed in preparing two sermons for Sundays. I pray that my last years will be my most fruitful years in personal evangelism.

ii] I am sorry that I did not do a Spurgeon on Sunday nights for the first five years of my ministry. In other words I wish I had given myself to the great texts of the Bible once a Sunday for that period. Consider these famous words of Jesus in Luke chapter 9:

Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23-26).

There are three or even four great texts there: The Cost of Discipleship, Losing your Life in order to Save it, The Folly of Gaining the World and Losing your Soul, and Who will be those Whom the Lord will be Ashamed of when He Comes Again? These sorts of texts have been honoured by God to the salvation of hearers for twenty centuries. They are plain and they focus on the heart of the Christian message. These themes are what Ryle and Spurgeon and Whitefield and Wesley preached on. Those of us who listened to Dr. Lloyd-Jones on his visits around the United Kingdom heard him preaching on such passages as those with a heavenly anointing. Today there are entire and influential preaching movements which are cold towards such mighty texts being declared on single occasions. The followers of those schools regard those four verses of Luke 9:23-26 as a sub-section within a single sermon on the whole of Luke 9. They would make a few comments on each of those texts, moving on and on restlessly to their goal of completing their studies of the entire gospel of Luke in six months. Such sermons are mere glorified Bible studies.

There are mighty texts of Scripture which are gems of truth, summaries of the gospel. They are in the Word of God to be preached; their power is to be felt by a congregation, by the young and the old. If the Christian religion is divided into three sections – its devotional emphases, its ethics and its teaching – then the usual method of expounding the devotional is to take the Lord’s prayer and go through it clause by clause. The customary way of expounding the ethical is via the ten commandments and seeing it expanded in Matthew six and Romans twelve. It is a commendable expository approach. However, how have the divines dealt with the third section, the nature of the Christian faith? They have turned away from the big texts and mightiest passages and built the exposition of the faith on the Apostles’ Creed or the Westminster Shorter Catechism or the Heidelberg Catechism, admirable helpful statements, sure, but the great passages from Genesis 1, Genesis 3, Isaiah 6, Isaiah 53, John 1 and 3, Romans 1, 5, 6 and 8, Ephesians 1 and Ephesians 2 are those which present the heart of Christianity more naturally and winsomely.

I am pleading that texts that present the essence of the faith should not be dealt with en passant in the flight to ‘finish the book,’ even made more cerebral by being dissected on a screen from a PowerPoint projection. Where is the prophetic declaration? Where is the excitement of digging a hole in a field and discovering that the spade has struck the lid of a treasure box; ‘Look at this . . . and consider this diamond . . . and here is gold dust . . .’ The preacher, upheld by God, brings these themes to bear on the consciences of his hearers. Do they see this beauty? Do they feel the weight of these truths? Are they almost crushed? Do they feel they are teetering on the brink of a precipice almost falling off . . . ‘O the depth . . .’ not hitting the buttons on the laptop built into the pulpit and bringing up the next coloured box with its three points on the screen. This is an exercise in addressing the intellects of the congregation. The atmosphere is one of the classroom rather than Pentecost. The doxology is diluted, and God himself in his power, holiness and grace beseeching men by one he has appointed and gifted is marginalized.

I wish I had learned early on how to preach the gospel from those vivid verses that sum up the plight of man and the power of God to save. Consecutive expository preaching at both services on a Sunday when you are actually beginning your ministry is an unwise self-imposed burden. You are forced to consider passages that do not readily lend themselves to popular preaching, and there is no greater need in our pulpits today. Now that I have learned my craft I preach evangelistically morning and evening, intermingling the emphases of my role-models, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones. I love to sit under expository, consecutive evangelistic ministry.

iii] I am sorry that I did not rest in a routine of personal devotions early on. Settled into a place at a time and seeking the face of God sounds natural, like morning ablutions, but it is a living holy world you are entering and so there is bound to be dark spiritual resistance. It is the Holy One, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, whose face you are seeking. What a struggle for some of us, to impose upon the flesh a spirit of contrition, penitence and hunger for the divine, yet how essential to gain some progress there. How many pitfalls would have been avoided if only one had prayed more faithfully about issues and people. It was an issue spotted by the apostles themselves. They were the busiest of men; they had the grandest of concerns, to keep alive and joyful in God the holy widows, both Hebrew and Greek, of the persecuted congregation. They came to the conclusion that their balance of the ministry of mercy and the ministry of the word and prayer was askew to the detriment of the kingdom of God. They concluded that their priority as church leaders was this; ‘We will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ There is no explanation of how they worked this out, 50% praying and 50% the word? The latter could not have been study solely; it must have been declaration, the defence of the faith, pastoral visitation and so on. How did they spend their time dedicated to praying? In praise, in corporate prayer, in praying with the dying, in private devotions? Those elements are all present in the later chapters of Acts and in the epistles. The effect of this decision is indicated a few verses later; ‘the word of God spread.’ There is no possibility of that without the prior commitment to prayer and the word. No spiritual growth, no conversions, no impact on a community, no revival of religion, no victory over temptation, no Christ-likeness without the word and prayer. Prayer is simply impotence stretching out to omnipotence. Did Jesus pray? Was there any man who less needed to pray, humanly speaking? He was full of the Holy Spirit, beloved by God, overcoming every temptation and sin, yet he prayed. How much more ourselves, especially before the big events that rise and advance irresistibly towards us.

When I mention prayer I’m not thinking about rolling on the floor, but about simple earnest praying regularly, and praying all the time. A young theological student named Prichard made an appointment with the greatly loved Rev. Henry Rees of Liverpool. He recounted his interview some years later. He never forgot that time together. He was taken upstairs to the study and they sat each side of the fire. Henry Rees spoke to him; ‘So your mind is bent on preaching the gospel. That is the most serious and solemn duty any man can ever engage in.’ His hands were on his knees and he rocked slightly to and from as he spoke. ‘Praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . .’ repeating it many times, and then adding, ‘We are not aware of the thousandth part of the power praying has upon preaching . . .’ Then, again slightly rocking back and for he went on repeating that word, ‘. . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying.’ Then he paused for a moment and said, ‘If I were called upon suddenly to preach on any great occasion, and had only two hours of time to prepare for it, I should spend them every moment in praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying.’ He wept a great deal as he spoke. Then he regained his composure and said, ‘I cannot tell you what are the best books to read. I don’t know much about books, but try to read those books which will be most likely to nourish and strengthen the spirit of prayer in you. The great thing with preaching is praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying.’ Soon the interview came to an end and Prichard went away convicted thinking that these were the most awesome moments he had experienced. If you want to humble a minister then ask him about his praying.

iv] I am sorry that I did not meditate more on the Word of God. Of course that goes with prayer. Where I do meditate is over a passage of Scripture I am to preach upon. It seems a holy word to employ for such a functional task. I am talking about looking at a section of Scripture from as different an angle as I can envisage, putting it in different settings, seeing it from the perspective of different states and conditions of man, placing it in the context of the whole of redemptive history. But I have heard, as all of us have, of men who have spent hours in prayer. Some of that must have been in meditation. It must have been. They have considered a word that they read that day and then they looked at it word by word in the presence of God and responded to him . . . God (who is he? What has he done? What is he doing now? What will it be when I come into his presence?) commands (the God who spoke and it was done, who commanded and all things stood fast, the God who brought all things into being by his fiat, the God who gave his law on Sinai, the God who will judge the world by his law . . .) all men (without any exception at all, the greatest and the least, the people with learning difficulties, the scientist, the most moral of men . . .) everywhere . . . to repent. And so on, thinking about the words individually and in their structure, each one breathed out by God. To taste the cordial of heaven in what the Lord has written for our good. Our preparation for preaching overwhelms our personal communion with the Almighty. It is serving another end rather than the drawing near to God himself.

v] I am sorry that I did not learn to disciple people. I hear people talking about it, maybe more in the USA. I would like to have been there, unobtrusive, tucked away in a corner, watching and learning, seeing how they did that, the mechanics of it, the programme, the length, the homework, the expectations and the fruit. Where do men get the time to disciple? They have more discipline and so they can disciple, I guess. Every disciple I have met who announced he was seeking my input into his life ended up showing his own agenda and wanting confirmation. At first it had been hidden and I was naive, but then it came out and there were tensions.Is there a generally recognized approach to discipling? Is there a book to advise us that everyone else knows and uses? ‘I was greatly helped being discipled . . .’ men say. Tell us how. It is to my loss that I know so little about discipling.

vi] I am sorry to be the frequent prisoner of circumstances, though kept sane by my assurance of the holy, wise and powerful providence of God, ruling and governing all his creatures in all their actions. The life of a minister is hazardous, dealing with events that are unpredictable and problems met for the first time and intractable. No book gives any assistance; fellow ministers shake their heads. Normally the minister feels he is not in control. He would like a five year plan, a year plan, a monthly plan and one for each week, the wheels of which are silently turning without any human involvement. You could tell the time by them. Such a minister envies the fixed routines of a monk. He would preach away a certain number of neatly spaced out Sundays, read through a dozen classic books a year, visit the members in turn and have six weeks’ annual writing time to produce a book on a topic no one else has written upon.

It is not like that, except for cult leaders; it has never been like that. There are the phone-calls that make you sit down. There are the e-mails with their questions and invitations, the books that have to be read because the congregation is reading them, the queries from people whose marriages are breaking up for the most bizarre reasons, people who are leaving the church for undisclosed reasons (they never say, do they? They just write that they are leaving). The local group of gospel churches need a reassuring elderly presence; there are also committees. Then there is the family and one’s delightful duty to nourish and cherish one’s wife and not provoke one’s kids to wrath. In theory one seems to have loads of spare time, but one never has enough. So one makes lists, and the tough neglected issues are copied onto the next list, and onto the list after that. But in all these things we are more than conquerors. Its diversity and challenge is fulfilling.

My own conviction is that people come first, not study, not preparation, not writing, not further degrees, but people. I can say that so confidently because I am not disturbed by a host of folk knocking on my door or lining up to discuss something with me after the services. What a rare delight that someone actually wants to talk to you and ask your opinion and advice. At the end of many a day I write in my journal something like, ‘Nothing much happened . . . not much done . . . loads of little things.’ One deals with people at the old people’s home, one sits with the students on a Sunday night, one is going across to the hospital, one is compiling the church newsletter or drawing up the agenda for the church meeting or answering one’s correspondents. One would not want it to be different, asking, ‘Choose Thou for me my time, my friends, my ministry, my days, my priorities.’ God save us from being locked into book-lined studies with a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob, protected by a secretary or two in outer offices, emerging for graciously given interviews with favoured people. Tell them often, ‘The doors of this church are always open to you, and the door of the Manse.’

vii] I fear I have watched too much TV. TV is like fire, necessary for warmth and washing and cooking, but also able to burn and destroy. It is present in our own house like some fascinating knowledgeable uncle whom yet we can shut up in a moment when he gets too garrulous. He can present live rugby 6 or 7 times in a year when Wales is playing. He can show us reports of snowfalls and tsunamis and planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York and revolutions on the streets of Iran, all unmissable spectacles. Then he comes closer to home and he shows us farming programmes about Welsh rural communities in the Welsh language which are a personal delight. He has documentaries about history and science and medical breakthroughs. He has programmes about antiques, and quizzes between various universities. I can thank God for TV; if I could not I would not tolerate it in the house. I am not interested in films and comedy programmes and soaps and cooking and political discussions and motor cars and music and most of what is on the box. It leaves me sad and cold to glance at the announcements of what is going to be shown in fifty channels. ‘No thanks, Uncle. Not in this house.’

One night in 1962 we students were watching some TV programme in the lounge at Westminster Seminary, just four of us having popped in from different corridors for a break of ten minutes or so before making ourselves some chocolate and going to bed. There were always that kind of number briefly watching an extract of some trivia on a black and white screen, but usually no one at all was there. Dick Van Dyk’s programmes were popular I think. Then into the room came John Murray and he watched it for a half minute and finally said, ‘Sometimes you’d like to put your fist through the screen,’ and left. Quite so. I want to watch what is good-humoured and edifying, but feel that over the years I have found myself drifting into grey areas. Then shutting up uncle is not so straightforward. A pastor friend of mine decided to read Latourette’s fat volume of church history at the end of the day rather than watch the TV the news programme, and he completed the book. Good for him. I do not want to watch any of the grey area and even keep the true, just, holy and praiseworthy firmly under control, not always successfully. Let redeeming grace triumph over common grace always. That phrase in a succinct Latin quip would be memorable . . .

viii] I am sorry that my love for Jesus Christ is cool and shallow. ‘Weak is the effort of my heart and cold my warmest thought.’ It was true for Newton and it is true for us today. Sometimes I think, ‘Do I love him at all?’ Where is the affection, the glow, the delight and anticipation of meeting with him? M’Cheyne wrote in his diary, ‘Rose early to meet him whom my soul loves. Who would not rise early to meet such company?’ I wish that that reflected my own heart’s longing for the Saviour. I wish I could give myself to him anew each Sunday, thinking, ‘I am going to go where the Lord Jesus is.’ When I have nothing else to think about I wish my mind naturally gravitated to him. Here is someone who laid down his life for me. This is the one who delivered me from hell. Behold my Saviour who is taking me to glory for ever. Here is my beloved and here is my friend who is working all things together for my good. This dear Lord of mine is going to do an eternal makeover on my whole life. The Lord Jesus is my personal teacher and personal trainer and personal counsellor and personal bodyguard. He can protect me from the biggest devil in hell. Christ is so fascinating a personality, wise, caring, fresh, creative, stimulating, patient and so kind to me. It is my chief complaint, that my love is weak and faint. I who encourage others to love him am amazed that I can love him so little, but what is more amazing is the fact that I love him at all.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones – Spiritual Depression: Its Cause and Cure

Read more such articles from the Banner of Truth Trust, United Kingdom. This article is written by Geoff Thomas.

A new hardback edition of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual Depression: Its Cause and Cure has been produced by Granted Ministries Press, Hannibal, Missouri (www.grantedministries.org). The following biographical foreword has been written by Geoff Thomas.

There was no one in the twentieth century more suited to preach, counsel and write on this subject of spiritual depression than Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This subject has always been addressed by pastors, but particularly so from the time of the Reformation when the wrappings of human traditions were removed from biblical Christianity. The Puritan period especially excelled as an age when sermons were life and power, and many kinds of men and women were drawn to faith in the Lord Christ. They brought their past with them into the kingdom of God and were troubled with doubts and periods of darkness. Their pastors became physicians of the soul and learned to deal with various conditions of spiritual desertion and depression and their books on this subject are read today. Dr Lloyd-Jones was a living representative of that tradition. He was exceptionally gifted in dealing with this subject, and Spiritual Depression has done much pastoral good in the last fifty years. We ministers give it to particular people whom we believe would profit from it. Perhaps we point out to them one of the sermons in the book which we feel could help them. I am especially fond of the message entitled ‘That One Sin’ and a striking incident recounted there by the Doctor from the days of his ministry in Wales. It has often done homiletical duty for me. Why was Dr. Lloyd-Jones so well-equipped to write on a subject like this?

i] He was such a well-rounded, intelligent, and tender personality. Although a mighty intellect with a formidable presence, he was accessible and not at all intimidating. There was not a trace of snobbery in him whatsoever; he loathed that sin. He had a particularly blessed marriage. Mrs. Bethan Lloyd-Jones, herself a qualified doctor, came from one of the foremost Calvinistic Methodist families in Wales rooted in the ethos of the local countryside of south Cardiganshire, an evangelical home where warm affection, godly living, the importance of education and reverence for God were prized and natural graces. Her father was an ophthalmic surgeon and her grandfather was one of the leading preachers in Wales who ministered in one congregation in Newcastle Emlyn for half a century, preaching there throughout both the 1859 and 1904 revivals. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones was also a descendant of the Baptist preacher Christmas Evans. Out of the harmony and affection of that home with the two daughters they were given came the pastoral ministry and counselling that strengthened multitudes. I remember telling the Doctor on one occasion that my parents were moving from South Wales to live just around the corner from us in Aberystwyth, and his face lit up with delight at that news. His family was vitally important to him.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones once spoke to a group of doctors about the essentials needed to counsel men and women. He said this:

[The counsellor] is not doing something outside himself. He is giving something of himself and his experience, and there is an exchange taking place between the patient and himself. Hence the most important thing of all in counselling is the character and personality of the counsellor. What is the greatest essential in a counsellor? I would say that it is a quiet mind, and that he is at rest in himself. You will remember how our Lord put this on one occasion — ‘Can the blind lead the blind? If the blind lead the blind they will both fall in the ditch.’ In other words, if a man is in trouble within himself, and is restless, he is really in need of counselling himself. How can he give useful counsel to another? The first requisite, therefore, in a counsellor is that he himself is possessed of a quiet mind, a mind that is restful. It is at that point, of course, that the importance of the Christian faith comes in. I am prepared to defend the proposition that no man ultimately can have a quiet mind, a heart at rest, and at leisure from itself unless he is a Christian. He needs to know a true peace within — the peace of God which is able to keep both mind and heart. The patient comes in to see him in an agitated troubled condition, and can detect if there are similar manifestations in the counsellor.1

It is not enough to have an unusual testimony; in itself that will not enable a man to deliver others from spiritual

ii] He was also utterly committed to the faith of the Scriptures. Confessionally he stood in the tradition of the 1823 Confession of the Calvinistic Methodist Church of Wales. In 1952 he began a series of sermons on Friday nights which was to last for three years on the ‘Great Doctrines of the Bible’. They have been published in an 800 page book and they show his grasp of the subtlety of biblical theology, his total trust in the teaching of the Bible and his desire that all his thinking should be controlled by it. I wish many more knew this book; it is truth that lives and involves you, moving you to doxology through its lucidity and the preacher’s love for his God. Could he have counselled the depressed if he did not know the Bible’s analysis of the human condition, man’s depravity and inability, human responsibility and also God’s sovereignty, the battle in the regenerate man of the flesh and the spirit, the certainty of the work begun by Christ also completed by him, irresistible grace and man’s chief end being to glorify this God?

It is not enough to have an unusual testimony; in itself that will not enable a man to deliver others from spiritual depression. It can even be a hindrance, as Dr. Lloyd-Jones told that group of doctors:

For example, when Christians have come suffering from various forms of spiritual depression they have been treated by other Christians to a thumping slap on the back and the suggestion — ‘Pull yourself together, cheer up!’ But that may do more harm than good, because it is the one thing which the poor man cannot do at the time. I have known problems exaggerated and aggravated by this sheer lack of knowledge of skilled ‘doctoring’. It is not enough to have had the experience yourself. You need to reason with people and to take them on step by step, until you have brought them out of their difficulty. But you can only do that if your answers, and your whole approach, are governed by an understanding of the Christian life as a whole. It is a whole life.2

Dr. Lloyd-Jones read theology. He discovered the value of Jonathan Edwards at a time when no one in Britain and few in the USA were reading him. He devoured the volumes of Benjamin B. Warfield’s Works, and he followed both those men into the schools of thought of which they were leading lights – Puritanism with Edwards and the Princeton school of Presbyterianism with Warfield. He did not neglect his own roots. While other thinkers, weary of the rationalism of 20th century religion, opted for Rome, Dr Lloyd-Jones read the two volumes of The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales3 to discover experiential religion. He also kept abreast of contemporary religious thought, for example of Barthian teaching. There is a happy pen portrait of him in his dark suit sitting on a beach with his family reading Brunner’s Divine Imperative, but though acquainted with that theology it had no attraction to him. Where has a congregation been revived and multitudes converted through that neo-orthodoxy? Has it raised up any evangelists? Historic Christianity found another of its great champions in the pastor of Westminster Chapel.

iii] He was a man who maintained the disciplines of private devotion. He would preach in our town alternate years and would stay for a couple of days with a local doctor who as a medical student had sat at his feet in London. I was invited to our General Practitioner’s home for coffee with the Doctor on one of these occasions. I came across him completing reading from his pocket Bible with its tiny print, his portion for that day. He had, from the early days of his ministry adopted Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s daily Bible passages as his own, portions which take the reader through the Scriptures each year, and he commended such a scheme to his congregation. His special exhortation about praying is significant. This is what he said:

This I regard as the most important of all — always respond to every impulse to pray. The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text. I would make an absolute law of this — always obey such an impulse. Where does it come from? It is the work of the Holy Spirit. This often leads to some of the most remarkable experiences in the life of the minister. So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy. Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing, but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect. You will experience an ease and a facility in understanding what you were reading, in thinking, in ordering matter for a sermon, in writing, in everything, which is quite astonishing. Such a call to prayer must never be regarded as a distraction; always respond to it immediately, and thank God if it happens to you frequently.

He told me, smiling, of his little room high up in Bart’s Hospital while he was still working for Lord Horder before he became a preacher, saying ‘I had some good times there.’ His counselling and pastoring as much as his preaching came from a man who knew communion with God, and the mark of deliverance from spiritual depression would result in a return to a former blessed fellowship.

iv] He was a man to whom people went for spiritual help. At the end of his services he retired to his room behind the pulpit, was taken a cup of tea and soon a line of people would wait to have a private conversation with him. Some were there merely to bring greetings from their pastors in Australia or the USA, but others brought their concerns about a call to the ministry or their lack of assurance about a personal knowledge of God. He would give himself totally to these people, listening, questioning, advising and praying with them. A friend was a member of Westminster Chapel and what she missed most of all after his retirement from the pastorate there was a minister to consult as once she had had. ‘I could say anything to him,’ she said to me. For example, in 1954 an American evangelist held a long campaign in London which was not supported by Lloyd-Jones but was enthusiastically taken up by churches all over England – in fact claims were made that this was a revival. My friend had become a counsellor at this crusade and was excited with the whole event and its methods of evangelism, so much so that she went to see her beloved minister and sat down with him in his room at Westminster Chapel and said to him, ‘We don’t preach the gospel in this church.’ She repeated the story to me slightly blushing and shaking her head in amazement at herself that she had actually said those words to the Doctor. He asked her had she been to the crusade, and then he explained to her why he did not give an altar call and ask for an immediate public response by walking to the front. He explained to her his theology of evangelism from the Scriptures, and the methodology that he had erected on these convictions. He saw his own calling most of all as an evangelist to London. He addressed her question and criticisms to her entire satisfaction and she came to appreciate his counsels all the more as time passed. He asked her on that night was she a counsellor at the crusade and she told him that she was. He prayed for her that God would help her.

‘Later on I went to see him again,’ she told me, at a time of darkness in her life, when she had said to him, ‘We don’t love one another in this church.’ ‘Don’t say that,’ he said to her tenderly. ‘It’s the devil makes you say that.’ Again she shook her head ruefully at her uncharacteristic boldness and folly that had made her speak out like that. Yet the point she was making to me was her trust in him, that she could go to him whenever she desired and speak her mind and share her fears and worries and he would not disdain her at all, or pretend to be shocked, or show annoyance. How she missed that when his ministry ended. I quote those examples to underline the tenderness of Dr. Lloyd-Jones. Speaking to the group of doctors about counselling people he told this:

What is needed is great patience and sympathy, and the power to put oneself in those people’s situation. The adviser must not hold to his own rigid position otherwise the man will simply become a tangent to a closed circle. The adviser may end by feeling that he has taken the ‘Christian stand’ and said all that was right. He may feel happy; but he may, by this very fact, have left the person in extreme misery. This is obviously bad counselling. The point is that we must be very careful not to foist our opinions on others. The counsellor is not a dictator, he is simply there to give help. While he may give his views and, with care, put them quite strongly if asked, yet all that is put to the patient must be in a spirit of real sympathy, love and understanding. As counsellors we must never be in the position of dictating to another person’s conscience. We have no right to imagine ourselves as ‘the conscience’ of another! We are there to share with those who consult us experience, knowledge, wisdom and suggestions concerning the way of cure. There are, unfortunately, Christians who feel it their duty to impose their own legalistic views on others. Our business, however, is to persuade, never to force. We must always be careful to avoid condemnation — especially in the case of a sick or agitated person. If the plain truth of the situation comes home to the patient that is one thing; but it is not our place to condemn.4

v] He was a man confident that to grasp the person and work of Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the ethical demands of the Bible is itself a mighty power to transform people, to elevate and ennoble and enrich their lives. He told me that the question he was asked virtually more than any other was whether he could recommend a Christian psychiatrist to the questioner. No doubt there were such men, and he did recommend them, but speaking to a general congregation he was giving the solution that applied, by far, to the majority of them. His confidence supremely was in the sanctifying energy of the public means of grace, week by week, Sunday worship, the prayers and praises, the preaching of the Word and the mysterious influence which Christians have over one another. These were the chief means of transforming men and women, of ‘lifting up the downcast’ Christian. A balanced preaching ministry would solve the majority of the personal problems of a congregation. Of course Dr. Lloyd-Jones had the highest view of gospel preaching. He expressed it like this:

One thing I have looked for and longed for and desired. I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him. Preaching is the most amazing, and the most thrilling activity that one can ever be engaged in, because of all that it holds out for all of us in the present, and because of the glorious endless possibilities in an eternal future.5

He was confident of the power of the preached Word of God to deliver people from the darkness of sin and keep them in the joy of salvation.

vi] He was a man who was prepared to help people in every way he could. He would stay at Westminster Chapel until the last person had been counselled. He would write letters to people all over the world. When he began his ministry in Aberavon people wrote to him requesting medical advice and he examined them as they travelled to his manse. My father’s twin brother, Bryn, was a theological student in the Congregational College in Brecon but in his first week there he was informed that he was not in a good enough shape physically to become and continue as a pastor. His heart wouldn’t be strong enough for this work. He was quite crestfallen about this and then a friend told him about a heart specialist named Lloyd-Jones who had come to pastor a church in Aberavon. Why shouldn’t he write to him and explain his dilemma to him? Perhaps he could have a medical examination from the Doctor. So it was that Uncle Bryn became one of hundreds who sought such help from Dr. Lloyd-Jones. The result was that the Doctor pronounced my uncle in fine shape, that there was no problem with his heart at all, and so he returned to college and entered the ministry. When I recounted this incident to Dr. Lloyd-Jones he had no recollection of the it at all, and then he asked me how Uncle Bryn had got on. ‘He lived until he was 82,’ I told him. He beamed and laughed out loud smacking his hands, ‘O very good!’

He also journeyed extensively all over the United Kingdom to support ministers and evangelical causes. What anticipation to have Dr. Lloyd-Jones preaching for you! No one else could draw a congregation except him and no one since his decease. How we miss him, the full church, earnest, moving singing of great hymns, happy crowds staying around for an hour after the service was over, quietly talking together and the central themes of the gospel preached by the Doctor with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. These occasions are remembered by some from 70 years ago, and people will tell you they remember the text on which Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached at that distant meeting. Men struggling in divided small congregations would get such an uplift when he visited them. ‘This is the preaching, and these are the kinds of services we are aiming for,’ they would tell their church officers.

vii] He was a man with a lucidity in explaining the human condition, engaging men’s minds in such an interesting and increasingly gripping manner that the troubles and fears that they had brought with them soon became forgotten distractions. They were being filled with the Word of the Lord as they felt themselves addressed by the Lord of the Word. So their cares were put into perspective as God was magnified before them. On one occasion I was walking home hand in hand with my 8-year old daughter Eleri after we had heard Dr. Lloyd-Jones preaching in Aberystwyth. I said to her, ‘What did you think of the meeting?’ She replied, ‘It was like Sunday mornings, only simpler.’ Ouch! There is no doubt that his preaching was so clear that young children could follow his reasoning.

The sermons of Spiritual Depression are accessible and very understandable. I also found Studies in the Sermon on the Mount most helpful, and yet Dr. Michael Haykin says,

Personally I will never forget the impact made upon me by the reading of the first volume of Iain Murray’s biography6 of the Doctor, as he came to be affectionately called. It transformed my whole view of pastoral ministry and planted my feet in the rich loam of biblical Christianity. I had read his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount in the mid-1970’s, but they had had little effect on my thinking at the time. But after that first volume of Murray’s biography, I became an ardent reader of as many of Lloyd-Jones’ books as I could find.

His lectures given at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia on his retirement from Westminster Chapel entitled Preaching and Preachers are a fascinating read to any Christian and indispensable to any pastor. It has revolutionized the approach to ministry of many preachers.

viii] He was a man persuaded that the person who had come to seek his counsels had more knowledge of all the circumstance involved than he himself had. So he would interrogate the inquirer, who might have wanted a straight directive word to his problem, asking him, ‘Now what do you think?’ Leigh Powell of Toronto was once a member of Westminster Chapel. He went to Dr. Lloyd-Jones as he had met a certain dilemma, but he was constrained by the Doctor to think through the issue as clearly and biblically as he could. Leigh Powell was helped and impressed by this approach. This is his thought:

If there was no contradiction of Christian teaching, then the Doctor encouraged the individual to think it through logically and then to take the appropriate action. His counselling was a lifting up of the downcast. He used a variety of methods but would invariably engage the responsibility of the counsellee by requiring him to respond to a series of logical questions. The counsellee was taught to stand back from his small self-absorbed world and to view it from new perspectives. We often carry our own burdens of worries as if we were some mighty Atlas. In fact, we are sinfully usurping the place of the Almighty sovereign Lord ‘upholding all things by the word of his power’ (Heb. 1:3). I found the Doctor’s personal advice a great help when he showed me the biblical method of asking oneself questions: ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?’ (Psa. 42:5). You do not slip into neutral gear and thereby open your mind to all the temptations of the devil. I later discovered that the psalms of lamentation began with these arresting questions and invariably ended in doxology, songs of praise and adoration: ‘Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God’ (Psa. 42:11).7

This is the minister who wrote these studies on spiritual depression. May their counsels do much good to all who read them.

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